József Szájer: What does the MEP sex scandal tell us about Viktor Orban's Hungary? - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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József Szájer is one of Orban's closest ally and a founding member of his Fidesz party. Considering that he was responsible for drafting anti-gay legislation in Hungary, it's remarkable that he was caught by police in a sex orgy in Brussels with 24 other men because the party violated Covid restrictions. The police caught him with drugs in his backpack after he tried to escape through a window.

That leading politicians are violating the law is bad enough; however, the hypocrisy of these people engaging in gay sex orgies abroad while repressing gays at home is unbearable.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the Orban regime uses its control of the media to suppress that news in Hungary.

The hypocrisy of right-wing populists who keep on ranting about the "lying media" while actively working to abolish press freedom altogether when they come to power is even more unbearable.

József Szájer: What does the MEP sex scandal tell us about Viktor Orban's Hungary?

The resignation of a scandal-embroiled politician is always going to make political waves and headline news.

But what sets the case of Hungarian MEP József Szájer apart is not just the nature of the scandal he finds himself at the centre of, but also the manner in which it is being reported on by the media is revealing in itself.

Szájer, the most senior figure of Hungary's governing Fidesz party in Brussels, was caught by police attending what has been reported as a gay sex party in an apartment above a café in the Belgian capital on Friday evening. As well as trying to escape via the guttering of a neighbouring apartment, police found drugs in his backpack, something he denied in a statement to the Hungarian media.

The matter would be enough to sink any political career but in Szájer's case, the potential damage to the credibility of a Hungarian government pursuing staunchly anti-LGBTQ policies is even greater given the hand he has had in shaping the country's domestic politics.

Hypocrisy condemned
"Szájer is probably most well-known in Hungary as one of the persons who drafted the constitution and actually the constitution is one of the central pieces in this story because first of all, in 2011 when it was drafted, it banned same-sex marriage. Or at least it said it was unconstitutional," Aron Demeter, programme director at Amnesty International Hungary, told Euronews.

Legal recognition of gender changes was ended in May and more recently, the former MEP has been instrumental in drafting proposed new amendments to the constitution, driven by Viktor Orbán's right-wing government which seek to enshrine "Christian values".

One amendment, which defines the relationship between a parent and child as "the mother is a woman and the father is a man," would amount to a constitutional ban on same-sex adoption.

"That this is something that Szájer affected and he is the most senior figure of the Fidesz government in Brussels, makes this story even more absurd," Demeter said.

Szájer's actions, and those of the Fidesz government, have been called hypocritical in Brussels.

"He is enjoying the freedom of LGBTI community here in Brussels and at the same time, his party is condemning the LGBTI community back in Hungary," French MEP Manon Aubry told Euronews.

"He was even one of the main writers of the constitution that criminalises that community in Hungary".

Obviously here the issue... is not the sex party or in itself the sexual orientation of József Szájer. The issue is the hypocrisy of the Hungarian government and the Fidesz party, and I think this definitely impacts on the image of the government
Zsuzsanna Végh
Associate researcher, European Council on Foreign Relations

However, the full facts behind Szájer's fall from power have arguably been stifled in Hungary, thanks in no small part to strict government control of the media landscape which has been years in the making.

"The messages that have been communicated about the Szájer case in both pro-government media and state media have been clearly controlled daily about much of the sensitive details; every reference to this being a sex party where the MEP participated," Zsuzsanna Végh, an associate researcher on Hungary at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), told Euronews.

"If you listen to state radio or watch the state news, you wouldn’t even understand why he has to resign just because he participated in some party and broke the current COVID restrictions, because that is the story that they communicate and that’s where it ends".

Restrictions on press freedom
Along with Poland, Hungary has become a bête noire in EU circles because of its apparent erosion of core values of EU membership, namely the primacy of the rule of law and a free press.

Hungary is ranked 89th on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, falling two places behind where it was last year, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and dropping 33 places overall in the last eight years.

"One of the areas that have particularly suffered over the last decade under the Orbán government has been the freedom of media, starting really from 2010-2011," Végh said.

Orbán has asserted his party's control over Hungary's media, including influencing the output of public broadcasters.

According to independent research cited in a 2019 report by the European Federation of journalists, nearly 80 per cent of news is "financed by sources decided by the ruling party".

The latest assault on press freedom came with the establishment of the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA) in 2018. As well as concentrating nearly 467 media outlets under one monopoly with a board made-up of government appointees, KESMA has also acted as a tourniquet on media advertising revenues to all but pro-government outlets.

Nearly all regional media outlets have also fallen under the auspices of Orbán's media empire. Those outlets that retain their freedom face an uphill battle to accurately report the goings-on in the country.

"Free media, independent media, has very little access to official sources, which was even worse during the pandemic situation," she said. "They regularly are ignored when they are posing questions in press conferences and very often also attacked by politicians and pro-government outlets".

The disparity of reporting in the Szájer case between independent and state-controlled media has been stark. While news outlets like news website Index.hu and have widely reported the full facts behind his resignations, including Szájer's involvement in a sex party, the story itself largely absent from pro-government outlets - including newspapers Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap which instead focused on familiar Fidesz target billionaire George Soros - or reported in brief that he had stood down because he broke local lockdown restrictions.

Changing the narrative
Given its dominance of the Hungarian media, will the government succeed in mitigating the fallout from the scandal?

"It’s quite early to tell but it’s clear that the state media and the pro-government media are in distress as I think they are still looking for the angle how to report on that story," Demeter said. "One quite recent angle from today is that these allegations that this has been done by an unknown foreign power, or more likely some kind of secret service. That Szájer is a victim in this case because he is such a strong advocate of traditional values in a liberal city and a liberal regime".

Demeter is not alone in suggesting that the likely tack of the government will be to sell the idea that Hungary, and Szájer in particular, had befallen a conspiracy to subvert its domestic agenda.

Végh, too, believes Orbán and pro-government media outlets will try their best to spin the story.

"Obviously here the issue, in my opinion, is not the sex party or in itself the sexual orientation of József Szájer," Végh said. "The issue is the hypocrisy of the Hungarian government and the Fidesz party, and I think this definitely impacts on the image of the government and that is why they are trying to hush the whole case and push it under the rug."

Orbán has already attempted to limit the damage of the scandal, confirming to Hungarian newspaper Magyar Nemzet that Szájer not only apologised and resigned over the matter but has also left the Fidesz party, of which he was a founding member.

"What József Szájer did does not fit in the values of our political community. We will not forget nor deny the work he did in the past 30 years, but his act is unacceptable and can not be defended," he said. I

It's unclear whether Orbán's distancing from Szájer will be enough to quell the tempest.
Hypocrisy seems to be the political angle these days. Although I have to admit when I heard of this scandal a few days back it made me laugh. Not so much what happened which is itself self evident. But that today anyone is still ashamed to be gay and would try and climb out a window to hide that fact. Perhaps East Europe is still behind the times. It's a shame because the rest of Europe has moved on. And when you think of Turing, Wilde, DeGeneres, Elton John, Warhol and Mercury, what you see is that every man or woman is an asset to society regardless of what happens behind closed doors. He resigned by the way. I suspect you already knew that. He would rather leave his position then admit who he was. Although I suspect being Obrans righthand man meant he had little choice in that regard.

I wonder what concerns Szajer more? That he broke Covid restrictions or that he is outted as homosexual?
@B0ycey, I think he doesn't care about Covid restrictions or about how many men he can fuck with at the same time. He cares about power and how his right-wing friends can hold onto power. He obviously had to resign so as to hide the scandal to the Hungarian public. I'm sure he won't fall on hard times, though. His political friends are bound to find him a cozy job somewhere.
B0ycey wrote:Beren is just as critical of Orban than anyone else on PoFo. You cannot blame one man for the political clusterfuck of your nation. And I say that with experience. I couldn't even begun to explain Johnson. I certainly wouldn't justify him if I could.

I wouldn't compare Johnson to Orbán. Johnson's just an unscrupulous political opportunist, whereas the Devla really must be Orbán's god.
Beren wrote:I wouldn't compare Johnson to Orbán. Johnson's just an unscrupulous political opportunist, whereas the Devla really must be Orbán's god.

I think Orban is just as much an opportunist as Johnson. Orban is testing the limits of how far he can go with the EU. When he realizes he's reaching a red line, he'll retreat. I think Erdogan is the same, even if some here prefer not to believe it. Neither will jump off the cliff for the sake of principle.
Can I get some clarification?
Is the Hungarian banning of same-sex marriage part of a package of anti-gay laws (homosexuality = sin, fines, prison, etc), a looking the other way when others act badly towards gays (violence, no-cause firing, etc) or is it no recognition (no gay marriage and no adoption) ?
Hungarian state views being a kin to 1980s USA or 1940s Germany is quite the difference, degrees mater.

What level was József Szájer involved in the above?
Greek kathimerini has an interview with the Polish ambassador clarifying his government's stance:

ekathimerini wrote:Poland and Hungary ‘are being attacked,’ Polish ambassador tells Kathimerini

Artur Lompart became the head of the Polish diplomatic mission in Athens in July 2020. ‘Abortion has not been banned in Poland, neither have contraception and sexual education, as some media have reported,’ he says in an interview with Kathimerini.

The European Union’s proposed rule-of-law mechanism, which prompted Poland and Hungary to veto the bloc’s budget, resembles a coordinated attack on the two countries, according to Warsaw.

Poland’s Ambassador in Athens Artur Lompart responded to written questions by Kathimerini on the issue, as well as on the country’s near-total ban on abortion (which triggered huge rallies in the country), LGBTQI rights and the country’s reluctance to receive refugees.

In the same interview, Lompart ruled out the prospect of a Polish exit from the EU.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban visited Warsaw recently. The common mission of the two countries is to block the EU budget if the European Union attaches rule-of-law conditions to the disbursement of EU cash. Is this a game of chicken, a bluff? Who do you think will blink first?

To answer your question we must look back to the meeting of the European Council in July this year. The European Council – all EU countries – did not support the European Commission’s proposal of the regulation on the rule-of-law conditionality. Its legal basis raised serious doubts, including from the Legal Service of the Council. The proposed mechanism included a broad criterion of “sufficiently direct risk” which is susceptible to free and arbitrary interpretation and can mean absolutely everything. It is so vague and broad that in reality it will allow for a very wide interpretation to be used against any country of the European Union, not only against Poland. It can be used against Greece in the future.

We could see that numerous statements of politicians in Brussels and other European capitals clearly showed that the goal of the proposed mechanism is not to protect the rule of law, but to attack Poland and Hungary. High-ranking politicians do not hide these intentions. One example is a statement made by Vice President of the European Parliament Katarina Barley, who explicitly spoke of the intention to “starve” Hungary and apply the same treatment to Poland. She did not face any consequences for this statement, which means that many politicians in Brussels share her position.

Poland was against mandating the German Presidency to start negotiations with the European Parliament on the new draft of the regulation. This draft was neither in line with the Treaties, nor with the July conclusions of the European Council. Poland rejected the outcome of those negotiations presented by the Presidency on November 6 as well.

We do not just complain but also try to find solutions. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki sent the EU leaders a letter regarding the budget and the conditionality mechanism. We are open to dialogue but new regulations, especially those linking EU funds with the so-called rule-of-law mechanism cannot contravene the Treaties. We believe that the legislation must be very precise, so as not to allow any politically motivated abuses. We advocate equality of all countries before the law and compliance with EU treaties and we welcome the proposed legislation on budget implementation and effective measures to prevent financial fraud and irregularities. However, we cannot agree to mechanisms that are conditioned by political wishes of another member-state or an EU institution – the European Commission or the European Parliament. The current version of the proposal for the regulation is not in line with the European Council conclusions of July 2020.

I hope that within the next couple of days a better compromise will be found that will ensure legal certainty of all of the elements of the budgetary package. From the very beginning, we stressed that it will apply a package approach. There is one element of the package – the general conditionality regime – that has not received unanimous support from all of the member-states, including Poland. Poland is committed to have the agreement on the budgetary package in due time to start the implementation of all of the MFF [Multiannual Financial Framework] instruments without delays. As you can see, it is not a card game but hard negotiations to preserve our EU as the union of independent, sovereign and equal member-states, as it is.

Poland systematically refuses to take in refugees in the name of its homogenous Christian population. How can European solidarity work if every country finds a pretext not to share the burden of the refugee crisis?

Poland does not refuse to welcome asylum seekers or migrants. Poland accepted almost 3 million foreigners within the last few years, many of them were accepted as asylum seekers, mainly from Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Iraq or Syria. Every year thousands of residence permits are issued for people from countries outside the EU. Mostly for people from Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Vietnam or India, to mention some of the countries of their origin. Like Greece, we are an EU frontline country and – like Greece – we protect our common European external border against illegal crossings. Coming back to your question – a quick transfer of some migrants could be recognized as a simple and easy solution to solve the migration crisis. But it is not – we see it as a pull factor. Additionally, even if they do not want to stay in Greece, migrants don’t want to be relocated to Poland. They want to be transferred to Germany, France, Benelux or Scandinavian countries, where their families and relatives live, or where smugglers who helped them cross the border promised them a wealthy life in a paradise. Thus, by obligatory relocation we create an additional factor for secondary movement. At the same time, the relocation of people with undetermined status encourages new tides of others who do not meet the requirements of international law. That is why we support the effectiveness of returns and the battle against the roots of migration – poverty, inequality or the effects of war and conflicts – is so crucial for us. We have to fight against human smugglers exploiting the poor and desperate people dreaming of stability and peace. Without eliminating the criminal groups responsible for smuggling, protection of the EU against illegal and uncontrolled migration will not succeed.

The far right and Russian jabs

Aren’t you afraid that by entertaining extreme positions in immigration, women’s and LGBT rights, as well as Europe, you will end up strengthening the far-right in your country?

Poland, just like Greece, has a right to pursue a policy that is in accord with the wishes of the people. And those wishes are expressed by the results of parliamentary elections. We want a European Union in which every country is a sovereign entity and is treated like an equal partner.I do not think that implementing a policy according to your defined national interests is extremism.

In the face of the standoff with the European Union, it seems that Hungary is willing to close a deal with Russia to obtain a Russian coronavirus vaccine. Are you planning similar moves?

Poland joined the common EU procurement for purchasing the vaccine and is working closely with the EU institutions and member-states to finish the process as soon as possible. Our current discussion with the EU institutions on internal issues has not changed it.

‘We faced turbulent acts of hatred’

There are ongoing demonstrations against the new abortion law, almost banning abortions. Why did your government take such a backward decision, becoming a pariah in the EU in terms of women’s rights?

Let me start from the beginning: Abortion has not been banned in Poland, neither have contraception and sexual education, as some media have reported. The fact is that a group of MPs decided in 2019 – in accordance with the Constitution – to bring provisions legalizing eugenic practices with regard to unborn children to the Constitutional Tribunal – the body responsible for adjudicating the conformity of legal provisions to the Constitution. The MPs’ decision was caused by the fact that most of the abortions in Poland involved children who were suspected of having Down syndrome. The tribunal decided after almost one year that the article of the existing law is inconsistent with Article 38 of the Constitution, which states, “The Republic of Poland shall ensure the legal protection of the life of every human being.” The Constitutional Tribunal decided that unborn children suspected of having disabilities should not be discriminated against as the state is obliged to protect human life and dignity. These are the facts. I regret that instead of a discussion on arguments that are a norm in every democratic country, we faced turbulent acts of hatred against religion, politicians and police. These acts endanger human health, increasing the number of Covid cases in Poland.

What about LGBT rights? There are proclaimed LGBT-free zones in your country. Do you agree with that? Is it a state policy? A Swiss researcher implied recently that the country tried to obscure Chopin’s homoerotic relationships. He even said biographies and retellings of some letters swap male pronouns to female ones and downplay, whether intentionally or not, any evidence of the composer’s relationships with men.

There are no LGBT zones in Poland. The so-called LGBT-free zones are a typical fake created by Mr Bart Staszewski, a Pole born in Sweden. His actions have been widely reported by some members of the European Parliament and media, leading to it becoming a public fact, which is very easy in our times of disinformation and fake news. This year, when Mr Staszewski was sued by some Polish local communities, he announced that it was just an “artistic performance.”

The fact is that Poland was the only country in Europe where homosexuals were never persecuted. And still they are not as Polish people are tolerant and open-minded, although they do not accept violent and aggressive actions against family and freedom of speech or religion.

And, referring to Chopin, I have lived too long and I have seen so many researchers who, in pursuit of fame, presented so-called newly discovered theories or sources. I think that the story should be discussed by historians and I am waiting for brilliant and sincere debates on it.

Is there a chance of a Polexit? If so, wouldn’t your country be vulnerable to Russian influence?

The idea of a so-called Polexit is a typical disinformation, a narrative spoken by those who want to scare Polish citizens for their own political purposes. If there is any form of a discussion, then it is because that is normal in every democratic society, where freedom of discussion is sacrosanct. The truth is that over 80% of Poles show a positive attitude toward the European Union. Probably like the Greeks. There were not and there are not any plans to leave the EU by Poland. Several Polish politicians, including the president, our prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, Professor Zbigniew Rau, stated it clearly and loudly. Poland is a part of Europe, so how can it leave?

The EU has no mechanism to penalise countries if they do something that disagrees with Brussels. For the past 10 years Brussels has been adding arbitrary clauses here and there under the cover of the fiscal crisis in order to be able to exercise control in national budgets, politics and now social policy too. This was precisely the reason David Cameron called on the Brexit referendum in the first place. During the fiscal crisis, the EU's consensus became "qualified majority", now the EU is trying to use "qualified majority" to impose its social ideology in Hungary and Poland and so Poland and Hungary are vetoing the EU's budget because they cannot veto the EU's imposition of its social ideology on them as that law is subject to a "qualified majority" rule so they are vetoing something else to get leverage for something else.

The EU is pushing forward what most people consider extreme conspiracy theories in a very open and shameless manner as if the EU wants to tease people to turn around and call it: "the liberal spawn of satan". It is very easy to formulate conspiracies about "global cabals" when you have an EU that is proud to pose as such a thing.
Beren wrote:No, he's only a Fascist, while Johnson's just an unusual Tory opportunist.

Is he a fascist, though?

I think Orban is just an autocrat who finds democracy too cumbersome. In a communist country, he would have tried to move to the top via the communist party.

Johnson is a populist who has hijacked the Tory party like Trump hijacked the GOP. While Trump sees himself as the messiah who will rule from Jerusalem, Johnson can't switch off the movie in his head in which he plays Churchill facing the 3rd Reich in 1940.

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