LONDON – When Germany faced Hungary in a fiercely competitive Euro 2020 soccer match on Wednesday night, the two countries’ athletic competition reflected a much larger clash off the pitch.
The two countries represent radically opposed government positions on LGBT rights, with Hungary facing international criticism for a law, formally enacted this week, that bans and links the promotion of homosexuality or transgender issues in schools. apparently to pedophilia.
Meanwhile, German politicians have called for the colors of the rainbow to light up the Munich stadium during Wednesday’s soccer game in a gesture of support for LGBT rights and in direct criticism of Hungary’s position .
The request was rejected by the European football governing body, UEFA, for violating the rules of impartiality. After strong criticism, especially on social networks, UEFA then clarified its position in a statement Wednesday, saying it was “proud” to wear the colors of the rainbow but the “request in itself was political “and” related to the presence of the Hungarian football team in the stadium. “
The move was castigated by German and EU lawmakers as a goal against his UEFA side and a victory for the right-wing Hungarian government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Nonetheless, many football fans took matters into their own hands by waving rainbow flags during the match, which also saw a German fan running around the pitch waving a rainbow flag. Other stadiums and landmarks in Germany also lit up in rainbow colors during the match.
The match ended in a 2-2 draw, but the battle over Hungary’s progressive values and uncompromising social conservatism rages on, with increasing pressure on the 27-country European Union – to which both belong. country – to intervene.
It’s a debate pitting the ultra-nationalist Hungarian prime minister against the liberal-leaning leaders of the EU, who exist to ensure that all of its members meet a uniform standard of international laws, rules and regulations.
The controversy over the Hungarian LGBT bill also turned the football match into a larger symbolic showdown between competing visions for the future of Europe, pitting Orbán against the largely liberal consensus in Western Europe.
The football scandal came just over a week after Hungary’s parliament passed a bill banning the sharing of material in schools deemed to promote homosexuality or gender transition.
Hungarian opposition parties boycotted the voting session, while human rights groups denounced the bill as anti-LGBT and staged protests in the Hungarian capital, Budapest.
“This Hungarian bill is a disgrace”, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday.
The European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, pledged to take all necessary measures to thwart the new law, which will come into effect in two weeks.
Lawmakers in at least 17 European countries – including Belgium, France, Germany and Ireland – also issued a statement this week condemning the law as a “blatant form of discrimination and stigmatization of LGBTIQ people,” stating that she violated fundamental rights “under the pretext of protecting children.”
But Orbán does not change course.
Speaking on his arrival at an EU meeting in Brussels on Thursday, he ruled out withdrawing the law, insisting it does not target gays.
“It’s not about homosexuality, it’s about children and parents,” Orbán said. “I defend the rights of homosexuals but this law does not concern them.”
Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó also defended the law and said on Tuesday that it only targeted pedophiles: “This law says nothing about the sexual orientation of adults.”
For Hungarian LGBT activist Viktória Radványi, 25, solidarity on the football field of other Europeans was welcome and “truly heartwarming,” she told NBC News.
“It gives us power.… It makes people believe that this horror will end someday,” she said.
But the EU’s lack of action has so far left many people feeling “abandoned” and “disappointed”, according to Radványi, who is also a member of the Budapest Pride board.
“Everyone is really anxious and really fearful,” she added, many, herself included, considering leaving Hungary for safety and security reasons. “The constant anxiety and fear takes its toll on you.”
Orbán challenges the broad social-liberal consensus across the EU since his return to power in 2010. He has frequently criticized multiculturalism and immigration and has sought to restrict press freedoms.
His message resonates with some Hungarians who do not appreciate Brussels’ interference and perceived condescension on the part of the EU – a sentiment that was also part of the UK’s Brexit decision in 2016.
Meanwhile, the EU has long accused Hungary of undermining the rule of law and has launched a formal judicial inquiry into Orbán’s government.
Marc Angel, a member of the European Parliament and his LGBTI intergroup, told NBC News that the EU must take tougher action, both judicial and financial, against Hungary’s populist government.
“He’s an autocrat,” Angel said of Orbán. “It’s not the EU against Hungary.… Most Hungarians are happy to be part of the European family.”
However, Orbán’s government’s stance on LGBT rights was likely gaining votes among conservatives ahead of elections in the country next year, Angel said.
“Their way of doing politics is terrible, always trying to find scapegoats,” he added. “They learned from Trump, I’m afraid.… They don’t respect the ground rules and our values.”
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Lydia Gall, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch specializing in Eastern Europe, also said Hungary’s “growing authoritarian tendencies” put the country on a “collision course” with the EU, warning that ” Orbán’s manual ”was in danger of being exported successfully to other neighboring countries, notably Poland.
With an election next year, Orbán has become increasingly combative on social issues, claiming he wants to safeguard traditional Christian values in the predominantly Catholic country, against what he sees as the excesses of Western liberalism. .
However, a battle between liberalism and populism between the EU and Orbán may be too simplistic, believes Hans Kundnani, senior researcher on Europe at the London-based think tank Chatham House.
Instead, Kundnani said that as the political left and right increasingly converge around economic issues, the political debate has shifted to cultural issues and identity politics.
“Both sides have an interest in talking about culture wars,” he told NBC News. “Gender and LGBT equality issues have really become central to how the EU thinks of itself.”
The Euro 2020 football tournament has already become a battleground for competing identity politics, after fury around players kneeling before matches in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Earlier in the tournament, during a friendly match in Budapest between Ireland and Hungary, Hungarian fans booed Irish players as they knelt on the pitch in solidarity against racism.
Orbán quickly denounced the kneeling gesture, stating that “politics has no place in sport”, and berated the Irish team, telling them not to “provoke the host if you come as as guest “. Hungarians only kneel before God, their country and their lovers, he said.