Hungary’s populist government has called a referendum on its drive to restrict access to LGBT content, in what critics decried as a bid to stoke a “culture war” before elections and distract from allegations that the state spied on critics and journalists.
The European Union has launched legal action against Hungary over a new law that makes it illegal to show any material that “promotes” LGBT lifestyles or gender transition to children, in a move opponents say will block everything from effective sex education in schools to the broadcast of many mainstream movies before a 10pm watershed.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen denounced the “disgraceful” law for linking LGBT people to paedophilia. But Hungary’s nationalist prime minister Viktor Orban insists the measures are intended only to protect children and give parents more control over their sex education.
He said Hungarians would be asked to vote on five questions, including: “Do you support the promotion of gender reassignment treatments for minors?” and “Do you support minors being shown, without any restriction, media content of a sexual nature that is capable of influencing their development?”
He also accused EU officials of “attacking” Hungary over the new law because “they disapprove of the fact that we do not allow what has already become established in western Europe”.
“There, LGBTQ activists visit kindergartens and schools and conduct sexual education classes. They want to do this here in Hungary as well, which is why the bureaucrats in Brussels are threatening us and initiating infringement procedures – that is, abusing their power,” said Mr Orban on Wednesday.
“The future of our children is at stake so we cannot let Brussels have its way,” he said, arguing that “only the will of the common people can protect Hungary” and recalling a referendum that his government held in 2016 on migration issues.
“I ask that we say no to these issues together, as we said no five years ago when Brussels wanted to force Hungary to accept migrants . . . We have already succeeded once and together we will succeed again.”
Politics by misdirection?
Opponents of Mr Orban linked his referendum plan to government efforts to divert attention from revelations that Hungary used Israeli-made “Pegasus” spyware to hack the phones of reporters, lawyers, politicians and businessmen.
“Orban’s strategy to deflect from the Pegasus spying scandal (which he is yet to say a single word about) – Double down on LGBTQ+ hate-mongering, this time with a national referendum,” tweeted Katalin Cseh, an MEP for Hungary liberal’s Momentum party.
Opposition deputies want an inquiry into the scandal, but the ruling Fidesz party denies wrongdoing while also trying to portray the furore as an attack on the government by political enemies, and suggesting that the targets of the hacking and those who uncovered it could be linked to foreign intelligence services.
“Hungary gave the most incriminating response I’ve ever seen to a request for comment on the Pegasus surveillance scandal,” said Edward Snowden, the former US intelligence agency contractor turned whistleblower.
“I mean, whenever I’m ‘not aware’ of whether I did something or not, I demand to know if foreign spies tipped you off about it.”