Hungary no Longer a Safe Haven?

The President’s signing on April 25, 2011 of Hungary’s first constitution in almost 62 years raised more than a few eyebrows, both locally as well as internationally, especially among the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The problem is that although it was modeled on the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (EU), and therefore ought to be the most modern constitution in Europe, it failed to guarantee equality before the law and to prohibit discrimination; both fundamental principles of human rights.

Instead of 'modern' it should therefore be labeled 'homophobic' and 'transphobic.' First, because it fails to recognize same sex marriages, and second, because it fails to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In effect, the constitution has become discriminatory in its own right. The Hungarian LGBT Alliance calls it: “a political pamphlet motivated by homophobic prejudices.” Ulrike Lunacek, MEP and Co-President of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights, called the Hungarian government “out of touch with the EU’s shared values of freedom and protection of minorities.”

Having lived in Hungary for more than 15 years, having been excited by the prospect of contributing to an emerging democracy in central and eastern Europe when I moved here in 1994 and having watched the government ‘abuse’ its position as president of the Council of the EU this last six months (recalling the embarrassing historic carpet row), to say I was disappointed with this piece of legislation would be an understatement. In fact, I have begun to wonder whether it is time to move on.

The truth is that every one of us as citizens should be able to make a difference within society and its decisionmaking processes. But despite the repeated attempts of the Hungarian LGBT Alliance to influence the text of the constitution, negligible result was ultimately achieved. It becomes embarrassing when relatives and friends in the UK and Germany ask; “What’s going on in Hungary?” and “Can you give us the inside view on what we read in the papers?” What does one answer to that?
  - If you are LGBT, you are not legally safe and secure in Hungary?
  - This country is an ideological state founded on traditional values. If you don't confirm, you are not welcome?
  - Even when the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, criticised eastern European countries as early as 2009 for trying to restrict same-sex marriage in their respective constitutions, the political authorities prefer not to listen (it’s true even outside the field of human rights...I tried to get my road fixed recently, only to be given a long list of excuses and apologies).

Fortunately there is a glimmer of hope. On July 5th the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution calling on the Hungarian authorities to amend the new constitution – or adopt ordinary laws to protect human rights universally. Citing widespread criticism of it by international bodies and human rights organizations, the text asks Hungary to “guarantee equal protection of the rights of every citizen”, and further “explicitly protect in the new Constitution all fundamental civil and social rights in line with Hungary’s international obligations.”

The question is, will the political authorities listen?

Your views and suggestions as to how the proposed amendments can be quickly realised before the constitution's entry into force on January 1, 2012 are more than welcome via my online form. Inesita[1] will then digest and share these both here and with the relevant local and international lobby groups. Thank you in lieu of your support!

[1] Inesita's male persona has worked with civil society for over 15 years, most recently organising a series of ‘Master Class’ training courses in 2008 for NGOs in the Western Balkans on key functions such as lobbying, watchdogging and legal recourse.