The pandemic has revealed and worsened entrenched inequalities within Hungarian society. Moreover, the refusal to ratify the Istanbul Convention in May 2020 exposed women to increased risks during the COVID-19 crisis. LGBTQ+ rights were again the focus of Orbán’s populist strategies to divert the public's attention from the controversial management of the crisis. In this piece, I will approach the impact of the Hungarian response to the COVID-19 pandemic on LGBTQ+ rights demonstrating that democratic backsliding, already the main issue of EU criticism of Hungary, were enhanced during the crisis.
It has been almost a year since governments declared war against COVID-19. Although the recent pandemic has put public health in danger, it poses another threat since extraordinary powers are a source of enormous temptation for politicians, particularly, illiberal populist leaders such as the one in Hungary. Hungary has had one of the most controversial responses to COVID-19 due to the increase in democratic backsliding. Worldwide, precautions taken against the pandemic have been unprecedented, and these extraordinary measures have been utilized by some countries to maintain processes of hollowing out democracy. As people were already frightened by the news presented to them by their governments , they became more willing to adopt extraordinary measures and confer their precious liberties and rights to their leaders who claimed to be their protectors. The risk here is that the measures that were introduced as temporary can remain in place longer than they were supposed to.
Orbán’s government began to portray LGBTQ+ Hungarians as a ‘threat’ to Hungary to consolidate his power. After the outbreak of the pandemic, it is logical to expect that Orbán would try to shift public attention away from the decline in the Hungarian economy and unpreparedness in the healthcare system. The current pandemic exemplifies the enhancement of authoritarian tendencies that have emerged in Hungary. Orbán has been labelled a “Viktator'' due to his authoritarianism, all the while reminding his enemies and allies that he was elected democratically. Orbán has built an effective monopoly in a nominally competitive environment. Thanks to an electoral system that secures majoritarianism and suffers from electoral fraud, Orbán has achieved a two-thirds majority in parliament which has allowed him to gain the legal power to alter the constitution at will. The inadequate representation of the opposition in the parliament stops it from acting as a check on the executive.