Hungary’s populist government has tabled plans to ban content that “promotes” homosexuality and gender transition among young people, in what critics call a cynical pre-election ploy that mimics an infamous Russian law against “gay propaganda”.
After backing Hungarian soccer fans who booed Irish players for taking the knee in protest against racism before this week's match in Budapest, prime minister Viktor Orban also said Hungary must make its asylum policy even tougher to stop "migrant armies" overwhelming Europe during an "age of epidemics and migration".
His flurry of strident statements seems intended to shore up his right-wing base before 2022 elections, after a big opposition rally last weekend against his bid to build a campus for a Chinese university in Budapest prompted him to put the project on hold.
Mr Orban’s populist Fidesz party now wants to tighten controls to ensure that under-18s cannot see any media content, educational material or advertisements that are deemed to encourage homosexuality and gender transitioning.
The proposed amendments would also allow only government-approved groups to offer sex education in schools, and demand that all such courses respect Hungary’s Fidesz-penned constitution, which outlaws marriage and adoption for same-sex couples.
David Vig, the director of Amnesty International Hungary, accused Mr Orban of launching a "frontal attack" against freedom of speech and the rights of children and the LGBT+ community by seeking to ban educational programmes that address issues of sexuality.
He said Mr Orban’s proposals were “very similar” to a 2013 Russian law that banned the dissemination of “gay propaganda” among minors, and would “result in more bullying and [an] unsafe environment for LGBT kids”.
Organisers of the Budapest pride festival urged US activists to call on their country's president, Joe Biden, to challenge Mr Orban over his proposals when both leaders attend EU and Nato meetings early next week.
During 11 years in power, Mr Orban has said he wants to build “illiberal democracy” in Hungary and “embed the political system in a cultural era”.
This has prompted a conservative shift in many state-funded arts venues, and his government has combined what it calls “family friendly” policies with growing hostility towards LGBT+ Hungarians, some of whom are fighting in court against a 2020 law that bans people from changing their gender on identity documents.
Mr Orban frames his social reforms and draconian asylum policy as part of the same drive to defend Hungary and its “traditional Christian values” from threats posed by an overly liberal EU and the arrival in Europe of mostly Muslim migrants.
He told national radio on Friday that “migrant armies are banging on Europe’s doors” and suggested banning all migration for two years, while offering a pre-election income tax refund to families if Hungary’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis is robust this year.