Local LGBTQ activists react angrily to the Eurovision pull-out by Hungary
LGBTQ activists in Hungary have reacted angrily to news that Hungary will not participate in next year’s Eurovision song contest.
While no official explanation has been given by Hungarian authorities, media speculation has highlighted the anti-LGBTQ sentiments of the government, with some officials viewing the song contest as being ‘too gay’.
“During the years that I’ve been living in Hungary, LGBTQ peope were an invisible topic, hidden under the carpet…” explains Budapest resident Germán Henao, when we begin discussing the Eurovision pull-out. “That’s mostly because the hate speech was focused against the European Union, refugees, immigrants, and progressive education. It makes sense that a new card needs to be pulled and it seems as if it’s time to make LGBTQ people the enemy.”
“Pulling out of Eurovision is not about LGBTQ rights in Hungary but about setting up a new target that the government’s supporters can get busy with – while yet another stadium is built in the country or another corruption scandal calms down…” adds Henao. “Negative sentiment against LGBTQ people is being led by the ruling political party and amplified by sympathetic media.”
Henao recenrecently appeared in a same-sex advertising campaign for Coca-Cola.
“In my day-to-day life in Hungary – living as an openly gay man – I’ve never experienced any homophobia…” confirms Henao. “In fact, following the publicity that was sparked by the Coca-Cola campaign, we’ve received so much support and positive comments from so many different people that it gives me a lot of hope for the future.”
“Hungary is not a homophobic country…” says Henao. “It’s sad that small actions like this, taken by the government, hurt the image of the Hungarian people to the world.”
LGBTQ equality is on the agenda in Hungary in part because of the #LoveIsLove campaign promoted by Coca-Cola.
To coincide with the massive Sziget music festival in Budapest – a week-long festival that brings about 500,000 people into the city – the soft-drink brand ran a poster campaign featuring same-sex couples. backed up by slogans such as ‘zero sugar, zero prejudice’.
One of the couples featured in the campaign were Germán Henao and his boyfriend Krisztián. They were selected to be part of their campaign when they submitted their photos in response to an open casting call.
Coke’s inclusive campaign annoyed members of Viktor Orbán’s ruling nationalist Fidesz party. Orbán’s party opposes marriage equality.
While the deputy speaker of Fidesz publicly called for a boycott, Coca-Cola stood firm – standing by its promotion of equality and inclusion.
“We believe both hetero and homosexuals have the right to love the person they want, the way they want,” the company said, in response to criticism in Hungary.
Ultimately, the government fined Coca-Cola €1,500 on the basis that the campaign damaged the moral development of young people.
Shifting public opinion
According to a 2018 study by LGBTQ advocates Háttér, around 65% of Hungarians believe LGBTQ people should be free to live as they please, up from less than 50% in 2002.
Is Budapest queer friendly?
One of Budapest’s tourism authorities has been actively promoting the city as a queer travel destination for a number of years. I caught up with Zsolt Erdei, the man behind the Pink Budapest campaign, to look at whether Budapest should be on our travel wish-list.
“Budapest is a really wonderful city in the heart of Europe…” explained Erdei. “The cultural scene, the gastronomy, the thermal baths, the nightlife are all amazing facets of our capital. Budapest is a sexy city for everyone, and we’d really like to share our city with the LGBTQ community of the world.”
I asked Erdei what sort of reaction there’s been to the Pink Budapest campaign from tourism providers in Hungary.
“The overall response has been positive, both from tourism professionals and the broader public…” confirmed Erdei. “The Hungarian Tourism Board and the Budapest Tourist Office have both congratulated us on the campaign.”
What to see in Budapest
On a clear day, take the Funicular to Buda Castle and enjoy the breathtaking views of the Danube and the Pest side of the city from the grand terrace. From there, wander through the Castle district to Fisherman’s Bastion and the awe-inspiring Matthias Church. A stone’s throw away, you’ll find a street full of small privately-owned galleries showcasing local art and design talents.
If your feet are up for it, take a stroll along the beautiful, tree-lined boulevard towards the imposing monuments at Heroes’ Square. This is also home to The House of Terror. The building, which was the main city’s headquarters for both the Nazi and Communist parties, gives a chilling insight into Budapest’s troubled past.
If you’re looking for some quirky shopping - and can handle a bit of bargaining – make a visit to the Ecseri flea market for Soviet relics, World War Two artefacts, and random treasures.
For an authentic taste of Hungary, head to one of the many no-frills canteens across the city that serve local staples such as goulash for a reasonable price. The local markets such as the one held in The Great Market Hall also offer up some tasty treats, including Mangalica - a special breed of Hungarian pig.
On a night out, the first thing you should do to initiate yourself into Hungarian culture is have a shot of Pálinka. House parties are popular, but you’ll need to befriend some of the locals for access.
If you’ve indulged in a few too many shots of Pálinka, you can detox in one of Budapest’s legendary thermal baths, such as the Király Baths.