Hungarian gay rights activist’s fight with fascism

Persecuted by far-right sympathisers, Andrea Giuliano has pushed police to investigate hate crime – without success.

Hungarian activist fights for police protection against fascists
Gay rights activist Andrea Giuliano has been repeatedly threatened while police stand by [Courtesy: Andrea Giuliano]

Budapest, Hungary – Andrea Giuliano barely raised an eyebrow at the first few insulting Facebook messages he received after attending the Budapest Gay Pride parade.

Some backlash to his priest costume and the phallic image he’d drawn on the logo of far-right group National-Hearted Motorcyclists had been expected.

For the 32-year-old activist, however, it marked the beginning of months of persecution by far-right sympathisers, which would see him forced to move apartments several times, have his workplace stormed, and be called a “faggot” by police when he turned to them for help.

As unwanted messages flooded in, Giuliano’s office began receiving emails from fascists and fundamental Christian activists. He soon discovered his name, address, and place of work, had been posted on a right-wing website along with a photograph taken of him as he left his apartment in the Hungarian capital.

By that evening, the threats had intensified.

“I started receiving a storm of messages, but this time it was death threats, seriously talking about lynching, castration, shooting, crucifixion even,” Giuliano told Al Jazeera.

Andrea Giuliano at a Gay Pride parade in Budapest [Courtesy: Andrea Giuliano]
Andrea Giuliano at a Gay Pride parade in Budapest [Courtesy: Andrea Giuliano]

The next day a former MP for Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party filmed himself inside Giuliano’s work building with two accomplices. Police were called to block a gathering crowd from entering after Giuliano received messages saying people were waiting for him outside. Then, on returning to the police station to update the statement he had filed the previous night, Giuliano said he heard an officer call him a “faggot”.

“That was the end of my relations with the police. I told [the detective] that I really don’t like this, and that I am not accepting such treatment from an authority that is meant to protect citizens. His reaction was: ‘It was not me, it was my colleague.’ That is the moment I went away. I never heard from them again.”

Working with NGO Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ), Giuliano has been fighting to have police properly investigate his case ever since. Of the hundreds of death threats he saved, about 50 were made by identifiable people.

Despite this, Giuliano’s lawyer discovered the police – after avoiding their phone calls – had archived the case as one of “defamation” and told a tribunal the perpetrators were “unknown”.

“In our view it is not defamation, but harassment and the sharing of personal data, which is much more serious,” said TASZ’s LGBT coordinator Ferenc Bagyinszky.

Only after Giuliano’s lawyer filed two requests for the case to be reconsidered did a court tribunal last month order police to properly investigate the complaint.

Budapest’s police department did not provide requested comment before publication time.

Mass harassment

Giuliano is not alone in feeling threatened. In a survey of more than 2,000 LGBT people from Hungary by NGO Háttér Society, half said they had been harassed and 75 percent of the incidents were because of their sexuality. Consequently, 68 percent avoided certain places for fear of being assaulted or threatened – the highest figure in the European Union.

These incidents come at a time of increasing conservatism in Hungary where, since Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party won the election in 2010, a series of changes to the country’s constitution have been introduced, strengthening conservative religious values.

Family is now defined as the product of marriage between a man and a woman, bolstered by a Family Protection Bill that said preparing for a heterosexual family life should be in the school curriculum, and media broadcasts should respect the institution of marriage.

“In Hungary, the current government, much more than previous times, is actively homophobic,” said Hadley Z Renkin, an assistant professor at Budapest’s Central European University and a researcher on eastern European sexual politics.

“They have made clear their position on sexuality. This strongly affects how the police and other state organs understand their role. It is totally understandable the police would think ‘homophobically’ and express it.”

Bagyinszky agreed, adding this extends to how authorities qualify crimes.

“The problem [with the police] is firstly to do with bias motivation and, secondly, if they do investigate, they investigate a different crime. When the police don’t investigate or don’t want to deal with hate crime it is because they don’t have the knowledge to do so.”

These fascists who were rioting against the government then realised 'we can be part of a growing groundswell of opposition'.

by Hadley Z Renkin, Central European University

This issue also affects other minorities such as the Roma. “The reasons [for attacks] are the same roots of hatred. And in all these cases we find very similar problems with police investigation,” Bagyinszky said.

Rise of the right

If Fidesz makes life difficult for these communities, Bagyinszky warned it would be a lot worse under the far-right political alternative. Following elections last year, the third biggest party in Hungary is now Jobbik, a former MP of which founded the motorcycle group that reacted to Giuliano’s mock-up of their logo by putting a price on his head online.

Some of Jobbik’s rhetoric includes a 2012 proposal to criminalise the “promotion of sexual deviations”, carrying jail time of eight years. Their members are among those who verbally and physically attacked the Pride parade.

Renkin emphasised that such homophobia was once less problematic in Hungary, but as disillusionment with the EU grew, so did the strength of attacks on those viewed as “outsiders”. As some people looked to cement their idea of Hungarian nationalism, the LGBT community was one group that fell victim to it.

“Budapest had 10 years of mostly peaceful [Pride] marches between 1997 and 2007. There was homophobia, sure, but physical opposition was very low key,” Renkin said.

In 2007, the parade was violently attacked following huge protests against the pro-Europe Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány.

“These fascists who were rioting against the government then realised ‘we can be part of a growing groundswell’ of opposition,” said Renkin. “In this turn, LGBT groups came to stand as a symbol for something else. They see a stereotypical image of gay people as a symbol of the modern West that they are concerned about.”

Since 2007, security at the Pride march has been strengthened and the route changed to make it safer, but attacks on people leaving the parade still take place. “And when those people look for help from the police, these investigations are not happening,” said Bagyinszky.

With little support from authorities or opposition parties, Giuliano is left wondering: “Who am I going to ask to protect me?”

Source: Al Jazeera