Pardon for hiding pedophile shakes Orbán government in Hungary |  International

Pardon for hiding pedophile shakes Orbán government in Hungary | International

Pardon for hiding pedophile shakes Orbán government in Hungary |  International

Viktor Orbán is experiencing some of the most eventful weeks in his 14 years as president of Hungary. The scandal generated by the pardon of a man convicted of hiding a pedophile has not subsided, despite the resignations last Saturday of President Katalin Novák and the former Minister of Justice and future head of the Fidesz list , the party in government. , for the European elections, Judit Varga. The lack of explanation for the reason for the pardon and the attacks by Varga’s ex-husband against those close to the prime minister keep open one of the biggest crises the ultraconservative and nationalist leader has faced. This Friday, the head of the Calvinist Church, Bishop Zoltán Balog, also presented his resignation, who interceded with the president in favor of the pardoned person. Tens of thousands of people gathered in Budapest for a demonstration in defense of the victims, one of the largest demonstrations in recent years.

Orbán finds himself in one of the “most dangerous” moments for his government, according to András Bíró-Nagy, director of the thinking group Political solutions. The scandal strikes “at the heart of Viktor Orbán’s policies and the narrative he has tried to construct in recent years, about conservative family values ​​and the defense of children”. Novák, who was family minister before becoming president, embodied the Hungarian executive’s fixation on promoting birth rates and on the LGTBI community as a threat, particularly to children. For a government which has defended as its flagship measure a homophobic law supposed to protect children and link homosexuality to pedophilia – the cause of one of its most notorious clashes with Brussels – the affair is particularly damaging.

The profound lack of transparency in Hungary extends to pardons, which are not public. The one that caused the crisis dates back to April 2023, when, coinciding with the Pope’s visit to Budapest, the president pardoned a group of prisoners. As revealed on February 2 by the information portal 444, Among them was Endre Konya, sentenced to three years and four months for hiding from his boss. They both worked in an orphanage in Bicske, half an hour from Budapest. The warden sexually abused some inmates – one of whom committed suicide – and the subordinate attempted to cover up the affair and pressured some victims to withdraw their complaints.

The scandal has broken through the thick propaganda barrier of pro-government media and reached its own supporters. “This is the type of content that spreads like wildfire; “People were talking about it in the street, on public transport, on social networks,” explains Bíró-Nagy. Márton Tompos, vice-president of Momentum, a centrist liberal opposition party, also emphasizes that “the government has lost control of the daily media agenda”. According to Tompos, the ultra-conservative executive tried to handle the situation with different tactics such as downplaying the matter, diverting attention, throwing different theories at the same time to mislead or accuse the opposition, and finally, “they sacrificed two important figures, the president and the former minister. The only two women holding important positions in the country’s heteropatriarchal political power.

As Hungarian political scientist Krisztina Arató, researcher at the European University Institute in Florence, points out, uncertainty marks the next episodes of this crisis, which could further intensify because many questions remain open, such as the reason for the pardon and who promoted it. “The government’s communication tried to keep Orbán above the scandal,” he says. The Prime Minister announced last Thursday a constitutional reform aimed at banning pardons for any type of crime related to children. Since then, he has remained unusually aloof until this Wednesday, when he broke his silence with a brief message on Facebook accompanying some images of the Council of Ministers: “The government in action,” he declared. He is due to deliver his annual speech on the state of the country this Saturday, a speech that he will not deliver in front of Parliament, but among Fidesz supporters, and where independent Hungarian and foreign media are banned.

Demonstration in Budapest

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This Friday, Gergely Gulyás, minister responsible for Orbán’s cabinet, wanted to resolve the matter by announcing a tightening of the law on child protection and ensuring that the Prime Minister was informed of the pardon by the press. Hours later, according to organizers, at least 50,000 people demonstrated on Heroes’ Square in Budapest – and up to 30,000 people went online simultaneously. online— summoned by nine influencers and celebrities across social media to show support for victims and call for reform of the child welfare system. The organizers, including YouTuber Zsolt Osváth, who also grew up in an orphanage, and singer Azahriah, they denounced a system that does not protect the weakest and they promised to keep this matter on the public agenda. “There are monsters, and the state is the biggest monster. But a society that silently tolerates it is no better than them,” comedian Edina Pottyondy told a crowd devoid of political flags, as they had been asked to do.

Despite attempts to distance the prime minister from the uproar, independent media are looking for links, such as the fact that the pedophile director’s lawyer is the same one handling the Orbán family’s affairs. And that the pardoned person is linked to the Reformed Church, the same one to which Orbán belongs and which Balog leads. The bishop, who presented his resignation this Friday after resisting pressure from within and outside the Church for several days, was Minister of Human Resources between 2012 and 2018 and is the spiritual leader of the Prime Minister. Balog recognizes that he was wrong to defend his pardon in front of Novák, whose boss and then advisor he was, but he refuses to apologize.

The fall of the former minister, who resigns as president of the Synod but will remain bishop, is another example of the government’s attempts to contain the damage. But there remains a dangerous element that is currently beyond his control. This is Péter Magyar, ex-husband of former minister Varga, who, since last Saturday’s resignations, details the corruption, nepotism and pressure methods of the system.

In many Facebook Posts and an interview in Partizan, an independent YouTube channel; Magyar avoided talking about the Prime Minister, but pointed the finger at his surroundings. The former minister’s ex-partner also resigned from her positions in several public companies and demanded the same from one of the most powerful people in the government: Antal Rogán, Orbán’s chief of staff, in charge of communications and secret services. He also denounced the fact that “half the country is in the hands of a few families” and pointed the finger at the Prime Minister’s son-in-law, István Tiborcz, who has become one of the 50 richest men in Hungary.

Varga’s ex-husband threatens new revelations. What matters is what the opposition and civil society have been denouncing for more than a decade. “What he said is not surprising, but who said it: someone from the system,” says Bíró-Nagy of Policy Solutions.

While the European and municipal elections are scheduled for June 9, the opposition, which has spent four terms trying to overthrow Orbán from power, has in this affair “a high ball that it just needs to hit”, believes the political scientist Arato. The six main parties – which failed to compete together with Fidesz, the prime minister’s party in the 2022 elections – are, however, more focused on sharing candidates than following up on the scandal. “The most active is Momentum, which has organized several demonstrations,” adds the expert, who believes that it will be interesting to see if participation drops in the elections. Support for the Prime Minister’s party remains stable in the polls for the moment, adds Bíró-Nagy.

The vice president of Momentum assures that training will continue to demand explanations: “The feeling that if you belong to the system and have good relationships, you can get rid of everything is terrifying,” says Tompos. The party does not intend to let the crisis die down: “We have six or seven avenues on which to continue to build. »

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