Over the past months, Boldizsar Nagy has had to grapple with things he never expected. He was never anyone “special,” the journalist and children’s book editor said — certainly not a household name, as he is today.
When he and his team published a fairy tale book entitled Meseorszag mindenkie, or Wonderland belongs to Everyone, last year, he expected no more than a few reviews in the papers. He was wrong: A right-wing politician shredded the book live on camera because it included gays and lesbians, transgender people and Roma. Hungary’s chancellery minister slammed the book as “homosexual propaganda.“
Nagy still receives daily death threats on social media. He is gay. He says he looks over his shoulder when he goes out, especially at night. He no longer feels safe.
“This is my new reality,” he told DW. With a shy gesture, he points out his ring. He and his partner have been in a registered civil partnership for five years. They want to adopt a child, but the authorities have kept putting obstacles in their way. For this reason they had already decided to leave the country, Nagy says, declining to add where they plan to go.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing nationalist government has been toughening its stance on the LGBTQ community for quite some time.
In May 2020, lawmakers passed a law banning trans people from changing their gender and in December, they enacted a constitutional amendment stipulating “the mother is a woman, the father is a man.” Recent legislation also makes it virtually impossible for same-sex couples to adopt children.
This June, parliament passed a purported child protection act that prohibits the “portrayal and promition” of homosexuality and sex to minors in general.
‘Will they ban Shakespeare?’
“Do they want to close art exhibitions and libraries now? Do they want to ban Shakespeare in schools because there are gay characters in it?” wondered Kriszta Szekely, director at Budapest’s Jozsef Katona Theater.
The law is hurtful, the artist, who is lesbian, told DW. “It’s like they’re saying, ‘Stay hidden, stay unnoticed, and just be happy that we let you live like this.'” She fears artists will self-censor in the future or that they could be fined if they don’t comply with the new law.
Earlier this month, Lira Konyv, Hungary’s second-largest bookstore, was fined the equivalent of €700 ($824) because, according to the authorities, customers were not adequately warned about a book showing a family with same-sex parents. The book should have come with a notice stating that its “content deviates from the norm,” the government agency said.
To try and avoid having to pay fines in the future, Lira Konyv, which is against the new law, has placed a warning to that effect at the entrance of all its stores. The sign’s wording says the store content deviates from “the traditional.”
Customer warning in a bookstore in Budapest: ‘In this bookstore we also sell books with content that is different from traditional ones’
Disclaimers and customer warnings
Andras Urogdi, the founder and CEO of Pagony, Hungary’s largest chain of children’s bookstores, refuses to put up customer warnings in his 11 stores. “Of course we will not start censoring books on the Hungarian market now,” Urogdi told DW.
He pointed to the law’s vague wording, explaining that it is almost impossible to implement in practice. But this is not the only reason why almost the entire Hungarian book market firmly rejects the law, he added. “The term censorship has a very bad connotation in Hungary when you think of the 40 years of Soviet dictatorship,” he said. “Anything even remotely resembling censorship sets alarm bells ringing among Hungarian booksellers.”
‘Do you fear for your child because of homosexual propaganda?’ the poster in Budapest reads
Urogdi recalls what happened when he, too, had Wonderland belongs to Everyone on his book shelves — harassment in the form of emails and phone calls, “disgusting” posters stuck to the walls of his stores.
At the time, people hostile to the LGBTQ community — and to books merely mentioning to community — had no legal basis to harass bookstores and publishers, Urogdi says. “But now, because of this incoherent and incomprehensible law, they can go from bookstore to bookstore and report them to the authorities. And that’s very, very disturbing.”
People involved in Hungary’s culture scene seem to have resigned themselves to the situation. Many are even thinking of leaving the country, especially LGBTQ people. “With this law, anything can happen. We are afraid of losing everything,” Nagy says.
Tibor Stefan-Racz, a well-known gay author who frequently addresses LGBTQ issues in his books for young adults, told DW in an email that he plans to “leave the country if Fidesz [Orban’s party] wins the elections again in 2022.”
At the same time, the country’s LGBTQ community can count on international solidarity. The European Commission strongly condemned the law and has launched legal action against Hungary. “Celebrities, actors, artists, and politicians are now more actively advocating for our community than ever before,” Szekely said.
“It [the law] unites many people who oppose it. Now we are finally visible,” said Nagy, adding he hopes many people will take to the streets for the Budapest Pride March on July 24.
Meanwhile, the Hungarian government has remained unimpressed by growing opposition to its law and dismissed any criticism as an “international hate campaign against Hungary.”
This article has been translated from German.