On December 5th, the sparsely populated genre of Hungarian LGBT movies will welcome a new member. Aptly titled ‘Coming Out’, the film is a romantic comedy that has generated tension even as a trailer: though it has been viewed by over 28,000 people, it has only received 25 likes and 36 dislikes, suggesting a general public reluctance to comment, and, perhaps, a general feeling of public ‘dislike.’
Beginning this academic year, first and fifth grade Hungarian students must attend an hour of religious or ethical studies per week. Pupils, specifically their parents, can choose between the two. The new classes are to be introduced more and more broadly in time; in three years, if all goes according to plan, all students from first to eighth grade will be obliged to participate. Children will be given marks for their work in these highly-subjective matters, and teachers of religious studies are not required to have a teacher’s degree. The new classes are, not surprisingly, aligned closely with the principles of the populist/ right-wing/ conservative/ pro-Christian/ casually absolutist ruling party, Fidesz, which holds a majority in the Parliament.
New subjects require new textbooks, and one of the latter turned out to be exceptionally daring in its conclusions. The textbook, written for fourth grade religious studies students (so, fortunately, kids have not actually used it yet), is the work of the sister of the only Hungarian cardinal, Péter Erdő. Mária Fülöpné Erdő is also the Rector of a college. In her book, she writes that ‘Homosexual acts mean sexual activity between people of the same sex. These are serious, deadly sins’.
At first it seemed that the indignation in the media and the social pressure it generated would be enough to change the book. Despite the fact that the textbook had obviously been sanctioned by the state board of education, the long-criticized Secretary of State For Formal Education, Rózsa Hoffmann, declared that the matter was an internal affair of the church, and the state had nothing to do with it. To make things worse, the Hungarian Association of Catholic Journalists then tried to, rather pathetically and controversially, defend the church. They claimed that the book was not homophobic because it did not unitarily call homosexual activity a deadly sin; it merely parroted what is ‘clearly’ stated in the Bible (Book of Leviticius 20:13), and is also part of Christian and Jewish traditions.
I am deeply concerned by the course of events. The publication of a book like that is one thing – it happens all the time; however, its acceptance by the religious media and the government is quite another. It is not a great discovery that one of the best places to indoctrinate the youth is schools. Even if kids do not want to learn or remember what they are told, ideas, especially preaching and moral threats, will inevitably stay with them. In a country where a romantic comedy featuring a gay couple gets more dislikes in a week than likes, there are evidently social issues that need to be redressed, not perpetuated. It could be a coincidence, but it is most likely not.
The real problem is that the government does not want to help to stop the spread of discriminative and intolerant ideas. How can the secretary of education condone what is a clear incitement of hatred against a particular group of people? This issue is not “just” about LGBT people and not “just” about religious studies, but about the government’s role in protecting its people against bigotry.
The new System of National Cooperation presents the terrifying, distorted social of the current government as common sense, nonpartisan, universally accepted principles. Among these is the notion that marriage is only valid between a man and a woman, excluding same-sex couples. Another such idea is that homeless people are an organic abomination rather than a product of a flawed sociopolitical system; under the new System, they are therefore criminalized and banned from the city centre. Fidesz representative József Balogh commits domestic violence, leaves the party, but is not expelled from the Parliament. The very next day, he is allowed to vote in favor of fining the women of the opposition who dared testify against him in the Chamber. The list goes on.
Education can be a way to brainwash children into absolute and unqualified intolerance; however, it could also be a genuine way to show them other ways of living and help them to accept those who are different.
In an ideal world children, would only consider the Like button. Today, it’s “just” the homosexuals, tomorrow it’s “just” the Gypsies, next week it’s “just” the redheads … what if you are next?