What is the context? Hungary already passed a law in 2021 that was supposed to tighten measures related to the protection of minors from sexually motivated crimes. Although the original purpose of the law seemed legitimate, prior to its adoption, a provision clearly targeting the LGBTIQ+ community was inserted into the text, providing for a ban on minors accessing content that “promotes or depicts deviation from one’s own identity corresponding to the biological sex at birth, gender reassignment or homosexuality”. This content is prohibited for minors in the field of public education (textbooks) or media (fairy tales), under the conditions described above. Thus, under the guise of protecting the interests of the child, a discriminatory measure strikingly similar to a law that was adopted on purpose against the same community in Russia has crept into the Hungarian legal system.
Why is the topic relevant now? The controversial law was soon attacked by the European Commission, headed by President Ursula von der Leyen, who called the law a “disgrace” that goes “against all the fundamental values of the European Union”. The Commission went on to say that it saw the substance of the law as violating several individual rights protected by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, including the right to dignity and freedom of expression, privacy or non-discrimination.
Despite strong criticism of the law, Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga recently promised to stand up for the law in a case alleging that Hungary had violated EU obligations and defend it before the EU Court of Justice. In response to this development, a number of human rights organisations have called on EU member states to join the action and submit written comments condemning the legislation defended by Hungary. The closely watched trial could become the largest human rights infringement case ever brought before the CJEU, they say. Some states have already expressed their support for the Commission’s intention.
Why is the topic important for the Czech Republic? Violations of the fundamental rights that the Czech Republic has committed to uphold at the constitutional level should not leave us cold under any circumstances. This is doubly true in a situation where it is happening essentially “around the corner” and Hungary, an EU member, is incorporating Russian legislation into its regulations, which for years has served as the basis for the alarming persecution of the LGBTIQ+ community there. The dangers of adopting this practice through the templates of reprehensible authoritarians are quite obvious. These inhumane practices trample on the foundations of advanced democracies and the Czech Republic should work to ensure that they do not become an alternative in Europe.
Although we have pointed out that legislation targeting the LGBTIQ+ community in Hungary does not reflect the mood of Hungarian society (which sees the fundamental problems as quite different from the government’s demonised ‘gender propaganda’), formal norms can have significant radicalising effects on the public. At a time when we are unfortunately seeing increasing expressions of hatred towards the LGBTIQ+ community, this ‘inspiration’ could thus have fatal consequences.
Yet similar measures are also on the table in Romania. Moreover, the same narrative can be expected from Orbán’s sympathiser in Slovakia, Robert Fico, whose SMER party will seek to seize power in the elections precisely by exploiting fear and hatred in society. There are plenty of such populists waiting for an example to follow in other countries. The Hungarian Government may thus once again contribute to the destabilisation of the region at a time when Europe should, on the contrary, be holding together the most. It is both our duty and our best interests to prevent this scenario and to send a signal to Fidesz and others who would like to follow in Russia’s footsteps that the countries of the Union and its governments are not indifferent and that this is simply not the way to go.
How should the government proceed? First and foremost, the Czech Republic should express its support for the protection of fundamental values such as freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities, which form the pillars of our society. The Czech Republic should also use its position as a reminder that laws that discriminate against vulnerable minorities have no place in 21st century Europe. The Czech Republic should therefore use its right to submit written observations to the Court of Justice by 27 March 2023 in these proceedings, emphasising the inadmissibility of the Hungarian law. The statement should call for zero tolerance of unfair discrimination against the LGBTIQ+ community in the world, and especially in the EU. The same approach should be inherent in every state that honours European values.