Budapest's 20th Pride Parade will take place today, and LGBT activists are out to make a statement.
After the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage on a nationwide basis in June and Ireland's historic "yes" vote in a referendum to legalize gay marriage, Pride the world over has been a celebration of victory for the LGBT community. But in Hungary, it's a different story. Budapest's 20th Pride Parada will take place today, behind a police barricade, where activists from the community still experience threats and hostility.
LGBT Italian activist and queer artist Andrea Giuliano has lived in Budapest for eight years and has been an active participant in Budapest Pride for the past five years. His antics have landed him in the media before, but after a provocative parody of a nationalist group in 2014, Giuliano has received countless threats, had to temporarily leave work and was forced to move three times, in addition to several other temporary shelters. To add insult to injury, the group he parodied sued Giuliano for defamation.
"I was expecting a reaction, but I was not expecting a witch hunt."
Giuliano's protest certainly got noticed. Dressed up as a priest, he not only took a stab at the Catholic Church, but also incorporated a flag parodying the emblem belonging to the "Nationalist-Hearted Motorcyclists," Nemzeti Érzelmű Motorosok in Hungarian, group, in which he replaced the black motorcycle on the image with a phallic symbol, renaming them the "Nationalist-Hearted Cocksuckers." While he chose the group since it was "both graphically and linguistically perfect for the parody," his message was addressed to the whole far right.
"It was a critique toward the situation we live in, which is imposed by severe and strict Catholic rules, along with the political and social arrogance of the right wing, especially of the extreme right," Andrea Giuliano told VICE, "The symbolism behind it was to address it to the right recipients, which means bigots, the church, and far-right politics."
Giuliano's "symbolic middle finger," as he puts it, went viral and the harassment began. First came the articles protesting the parody, followed by threats via Facebook and email. Two days later, after being photographed outside his home by two strangers, his full name, address, and picture was featured on far-right portal Deres.tv, including the picture taken outside his house that morning. That's when serious threats began.
The next day, right-wing and neo-Nazi protestors assembled outside his workplace, and even György Gyula Zagyva, a former MP from the radical nationalist Jobbik Party, forced his way into the building. Giuliano had to take a few weeks off from work and was driven underground, literally, escaping through a subterranean parking lot to a friend's car.
"I was expecting to be criticized and seen, definitely, however I was not expecting to get death threats, stalked, or insulted in such a scale. And I didn't expect it to have such consequences, especially with my private data online, published for everyone to see," he said. "I was expecting a reaction. I was not expecting a witch hunt."
The Bounty, the LawSuit, and Police Negligence
While Giuliano filed his own case for harassment a year ago, which has since stagnated, the president of National-Hearted Motorcyclists, Sándor Jeszenszky, took Giuliano to court on charges of defamation on June 10, 2015.
"Before I was sued, a few days after Pride, the official Facebook page of their movement published a bounty, a price on my head. You know, it was a little funny, strange Western style, 'Wanted Dead or Alive' for $10,000," said Giuliano. "So if a person is offended and wants to sue me, because I defamed them, then please go ahead, but have the decency not to do it after you put a price on my head, no? Interestingly enough, after this was taken into account, maybe half an hour later [in court] the charges were dropped."
Giuliano's own harassment case against the hundreds who threatened, harassed, and published his private data has seen little to no development. After overhearing a police officer call him a "faggot," Giuliano and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) don't believe this stagnation is a coincidence.
"We often see that the police is not often interested in working on cases in which minority groups are involved, we see this in our Roma program," Dalma Dojcsák, a Political Liberties Program Officer at TASZ, told VICE. "There are Roma people who are Hungarian citizens who suffer some injustices, either from far right groups or from the State itself, like discrimination, and the police either explicitly refuse to carry on with the investigation or they are just really slow and we see the same thing as in the case of Andrea."
"It's still an ongoing case and I'm starting to lose patience, and if the authorities think I'll get tired and forget about it they are fucking wrong," Giuliano added.
The LGBT Situation in Hungary
Despite a cordoned-off Pride, when compared to nearby countries like Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and in the Balkans, Hungary comes across quite moderate.
"Since 2009, you can have civil unions in Hungary. In some countries, that is not possible. So if you look at an International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association map, Hungary is in the middle: It's not among the worst," TASZ's Self-Determination Rights Program Officer Katalin Holland told VICE, "but in 2013, in the 4th amendment of the constitution there was the definition of the family, a marriage, as being between one man and one woman."
However, after the last election, Jobbik got over 20 percent of the vote, which TASZ is concerned points to a shift toward right wing ideology. In 2014, the party hung out a sign for last year's Pride saying "The Parliament Does Not Want Any Deviants," and recently, members affiliated with Jobbik youth defaced upcoming Pride posters in the city of Györ, calling it "Homosexual Propaganda." VICE tried to contact Jobbik to find out their stance on the situation, but there was no response.
Although, even the current ruling government, Fidesz, has been criticized for its stance on LGBT issues.
"As we approach Budapest Pride festival, there are a lot more homophobic and transphobic speeches among politicians, publicly, and it's a very dangerous thing since, in some way, it legitimizes homophobia and transphobia among the general population as well," said Dominika Milanovich, one of the Budapest Pride organizers.
On the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) in May, the press asked Prime Minister Viktor Orbán if he had a message for homophobic people. He had no specific message but his response on the situation was that he views it as being "peaceful, calm, and balanced."
"Also, he explicitly asked the gay community not to provoke the majority," said Dojcsák.
"So now the gay community is wanting to provoke them even more," added Holland.
However, activist Andrea Giuliano believes the LGBT community's main obstacle comes from within.
"The biggest problem of the community is inside—it's the community itself. It's the fact that they don't have the slightest bit of courage to stand up for their own rights and the fact they are fine being discriminated against every fucking day and feeling like they believe they are an inferior category of people," he said. "In many cases people are just fine with having less rights than others and they just hang on—for many people survival is enough."
The 20th Budapest Pride: Celebration or Cause for Concern?
As events marking Budapest Pride have kicked off across the city, offering a weeklong festival in the lead up to the march, do the LGBT community have a cause for concern?
"I know that Pride want lawyers to be with the march in groups settled at strategic points. There will be 20 lawyers, I will be one of them, and we will be responsible for giving legal advice. We will also carry cameras to record anything that will happen, so yes, I think they expect something bigger," comments Dalma Dojcsák.
However, despite the high energy surrounding the event, Dominika from Budapest Pride feels optimistic, and expects 10,000 people to join the march on Saturday.
"While the political and legal context is quite difficult, somehow there is a growing support from mainstream society," says Dominika, "For example, 25 embassies have published a joint statement supporting Budapest Pride—the biggest number who ever signed this statement."
Giuliano will continue to participate in Pride and will not let the threats deter him.
"I do, I always did, and always will, support Pride, and I understand it's a very difficult task for the organization themselves to organize these things, however what I believe coming now in 2015 with the 20th Pride, I think that a very pretty and sweet communication is not going to work anymore," he asserted. "It doesn't work anymore to be nice, it should work to go there and demand politicians to treat us as ALL equal!"
When VICE asked him if he would have gone ahead with his performance knowing the consequences, he replied with a grin: "Completely, and I probably would have done it even bigger!"