Voices of the Youth on the 2022 Hungarian General Election10 min read

 In Central Europe, Civil Society, Interview
On 3 April 2022, Hungarian citizens in Hungary and abroad will elect the National Assembly, coinciding with the controversial 8th national referendum on Hungary’s child protection law introduced by the government last summer. Lossi 36 reached out to three young people for their opinions on the current political situation and the upcoming elections. 

As a result of the 2011 electoral law amendment, Hungary has a one-round two-ballot mixed electoral system. According to the Hungarian National Assembly, 106 members of parliament are elected in local constituencies nationwide, while 93 MPs are from party-list proportional representation. The last Hungarian general election was in April 2018, when the ruling Fidesz-KDNP alliance won a two-thirds supermajority. This led to the incumbent Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, securing his third successive term. However, this year, he is facing the six-party opposition alliance “United for Hungary” led by Peter Márki-Zay, along with four other parties. Pre-election polls suggest a tight race between Fidesz-KDNP and the opposition alliance. This weekend, along with over 40,000 local volunteer poll observers, the OSCE will have a full-scale monitoring mission in Hungary.

As for the referendum, the background reveals a tense history. The Hungarian Child Protection Act, enacted in June 2021, prohibits the depiction and limits access to content displaying the so-called “divergence from self-identity corresponding to sex at birth, sex change or homosexuality” to minors. Many critics have said that the measures attempt to reduce LGBTQ+’s rights and remove them from the public discourse, prompting immediate criticism from EU top politicians, who have accused the law of conflating homosexuality with paedophilia and pornography. The Hungarian government rejected the criticism, saying that the law merely aims to protect children and uphold traditional family values, not discriminate against sexual minorities. It also refused to nullify the bill. In July 2021, the European Commission opened a case against the Hungarian government, stating that the legislation complies with neither the EU law nor its core values. Combined with Poland’s case on judge appointment law, the disputes between Brussels vs Warsaw and Budapest were brought to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). In February 2022, the ECJ ruled that the European Commission can impose the conditionality mechanism to withhold the EU budget to member states that violate the Rule of Law, which could mean a freezing of COVID-19 recovery funds amounting to around €43bn for both Hungary and Poland.

The four questions on the ballot paper, proposed by Hungary’s ruling party, are as follows:

  1. Do you support the teaching of sexual orientation to minors in public education institutions without parental consent?
  2. Do you support the promotion of sex reassignment therapy for underage children?
  3. Do you support the unrestricted exposure of underage children to sexually explicit media content that may affect their development?
  4. Do you support the display of sex-change media content to minors?

What do the youth of Hungary think about the upcoming elections? This is exactly what Thapanee Tubnonghee asked when speaking with three young people currently living in Hungary.

On the parliamentary election

“The driving force behind my vote has always been to weaken current abusive powers and to counter-balance” – Gábor, male, 28

When it comes to the political rhetoric of Fidesz, I find it unbalanced regarding both COVID-19 and Brussels. The aim of their methods is to intensify the pre-existing anxiety in people about the problem, then to offer a solution that only they can fix. As for the rhetoric on war, the situation is slightly better, but some exploitation is present there as well. Yes, it is difficult to navigate your way around information correctly, but that’s the symptom of current times. Theoretically, you can find all the relevant information about anything, including election campaigns, but practically there is a flood of information and it’s overwhelming. There are no proper filters defined as guides on how to be well informed. The information is ideologically manipulated from all sides. The so-called objective information does not exist. No wonder they are talking about disinformation war these days. I am definitely going to vote this Sunday but making a decision was very difficult. Unfortunately for many years, I haven’t been able to wholeheartedly support any party in particular. The driving force behind my vote has always been to weaken current abusive powers and to counter-balance. Without a doubt, Fidesz will win unless a miracle happens. The whole war situation is in their favour anyway. But even if there were no war they would still win. In case another party on a different political spectrum won, I wouldn’t really be satisfied either.

“I don’t sympathize with any party right now” – N., female, 26

The thing is, I am aware of basic political issues, but I am not very well informed.

COVID-19 and the Russo-Ukrainian war have brought uncertainty to most people. COVID-19 was the first thing that changed people’s mindset because such an unexpected and seemingly unimaginable change hit us hard and changed our everyday lifestyles. Many lost their jobs. Many got sick and had to stay in quarantine. As soon as we started to get over the pandemic, unfortunately, the war broke out in Ukraine. It affects Hungary a lot because many of us have acquaintances and family members who live in Ukraine. The Hungarian government is trying to do its best in Ukraine because there are a lot of Hungarians living beyond the national borders. It has always paid great attention to the Hungarian diaspora because they can also vote in elections. (Author’s note: Since the 2014 election, the Hungarian diaspora are permitted to vote in Hungarian elections.) By the way, many people do not agree with this way, because those who live abroad do not live under the same payment and tax system as those living in Hungary, so the majority of Hungarians in the country don’t consider it fair that Hungarians abroad can vote for their future.

Hostile attitude towards LGBTQ+ is also trying to win over the older generation, most of whom are already against it. Unfortunately, those who are less educated or older are usually informed through television, and most of the channels show that there is always some external “threat”, from which the government “is protecting” us. In the past, Syrian immigrants and refugee terrorists were the public media’s enemies, and now they say that the LGBTQ+ community is on the verge of destroying the children.

In my view, unfortunately, I don’t sympathize with any party right now. Opposition parties aren’t convincing to me. I don’t always follow every news but I see that unfortunately, both sides have adopted a ridiculous political style. I know it’s a strategic method, but I don’t like it because I don’t see any positive development, change, or real achievement from the Hungarian government. I only see who and what we have to fear, and the opposition party has already begun to follow suit.

Therefore, I think that because the war broke out just before the election, people aren’t as interested in the election campaign as they were in the past. I think that Fidesz-KDNP will win again. Since most people are still in a period of uncertainty, many may vote for them again. Well, let’s hope that I’m going to be wrong.

On the referendum on Hungary’s child protection law

“The nature of the question should not be political to begin with” Anonymous, male, 26:

I think that the current political issues regarding public schools’ sexual education are more deeply rooted than how they are generally portrayed by both political sides. My main point is that the nature of the question should not be political, to begin with. In my opinion, both Fidesz and the opposition party are intentionally escalating and politicizing the issue. They are both using the people and the strong division for grabbing votes.

I don’t believe that this is unique to Hungary, it’s much more global as an ancient tactic — divide et impera — in ever-changing forms. Whether it is about the war between Ukraine and Russia, sexuality, or being vaccinated, it is effective. It prevents fruitful discussion and progress by providing two extremes and the pressure to choose either one or the other. Proposing that certain issues are more complex than what either party wants us to believe, people are easily labelled and stigmatized as pro-Russian, homophobe, or anti-vaxxer. For the most part, there are two opposing views on how children’s sexual education should be addressed. One is “liberal”, another is “conservative”. A popular recipe in politics, it has been like that for a while in modern societies. Eventually, Hungarian politics have caught up to this level of duality. 

Until now, parenting has come down to the individual responsibility and choice of the parents. Through that, I believe that Hungary has been taking the right steps in the direction towards becoming an accepting — or at least tolerant — society in the past decades, more or less organically. I have noticed that a lot has changed even in the past 10-15 years since I was a teenager. The jokes, comments, or even mockery that used to be acceptable during my parents’ youth would be generally attacked or frowned upon by the current youngest generations of adults and adolescents. 

Although I would argue that being a young adult is even more confusing in 2022, it was also confusing to be a kid. We had sex education in school on a biological basis around the age of 10 or so, where we learned about how children are made and born, how period and nocturnal emissions work, etc. The narratives on sexual orientation, concepts of gender, etc., were left to the parents’ world views and moral compasses. As all the other aspects of parenting. I definitely support the idea that each school should have a therapist. Those less unfortunate children without trustworthy and understanding parents need to have someone they can talk to.

Truthfully, when I was in elementary school, most of us were not deliberately trying to figure out our sexual orientation. We had all the other aspects of life and self to figure out too, and sexuality did not seem to stand out any more than the rest. As teenagers and adults, we learn that it’s important. And it really is. However, sexuality is also a tool that is constantly used to sell us products and ideas, and concepts. Consequently, the sooner today’s children rush into adulthood and develop their sexuality, the sooner they become part of this system. I’m sure it’s good for business.

Sexuality is one aspect of self though. I certainly don’t mean to undermine it. Sometimes I just wish that people dedicated the same amount of energy to reflect on other aspects of themselves, so they wouldn’t be so easily manipulated. In my opinion, the real question at play is whether governments should take away such parenting choices and institutionalize them or not. Voters are currently divided about how the public school system should raise their children, losing sight of the real question, of whether they should be in an authoritarian position at all. 

I believe in individual freedom and that it comes with responsibility. I believe that giving up our responsibilities means losing our freedom too. Without a doubt, those with both “conservative” and “liberal” values should be respectful towards each other. That includes respecting each other’s values by which they raise their children. I also believe that change cannot be forced as otherwise, it is counteractive.

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