Publishers Call for EU Condemnation of New Hungarian Censorship

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Budapest’s new bill banning content in schools on homosexuality and transgender issues prompts the three top international publishers’ and booksellers’ organizations to call on Brussels to respond.

Cyclists wear masks in Budapest’s Madách Imre Square, a shot from May 23. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Anna Linda Knoll

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Einarsson: ‘Ill-Considered and Discriminatory Amendments’
Today (June 21), on the eve of the ministerial-level European General Affairs Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday (June 22), the International Publishers Association (IPA), the Federation of European Publishers (FEP), and the European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF) are joining Hungarian publishers in criticizing the Viktor Orban government for its new ban on school content relative to homosexuality and transgender issues.

Their three-agency statement of solidarity aligns them with the stance taken by the Hungarian Publishers and Booksellers Association one day after last week’s passage of the measure in Budapest. The IPA, FEP, and EIBF are calling on Hungarian president János Áder to return the bill to the country’s constitutional court.

In their statement, the international publishers and booksellers’ organizations say, “The new bill, originally intended to tackle pedophilia, was adopted with late amendments that ban dissemination in school of content deemed to promote homosexuality or transgenderism.

“The law effectively conflates LGBTQ issues with pedophilia, affecting books on the national school curriculum and representing further erosion of the freedom to publish in Hungary.”

The stance has been announced a day after Munich’s mayor, Dieter Reiter said on Sunday (June 20) that he’s asking the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) for permission to light up the German stadium on Wednesday (June 23) in rainbow colors for the match with Hungary.

As Ciarán Fahey writes for the Associated Press, “Munich’s city council had already called for the stadium to be lit in rainbow colors for the final Euro 2020 group game to protest a law passed by Hungarian lawmakers on Tuesday that prohibits sharing with minors any content portraying homosexuality or sex reassignment.”

Last week saw thousands of Hungarians protest Budapest’s legislation as, Reuters’ Marton Dunai wrote, “Hardline nationalist Viktor Orban has grown increasingly radical in his social policy, railing against immigrants and LGBT people in his self-styled illiberal regime, which has deeply divided the central European nation …

“Orban’s government has redefined marriage in the constitution as the union between one man and one woman, and limited gay adoption. It also outlawed legal status for transgender people.”

In response to the passage of the legislation on Tuesday (June 15), the presidency of the Hungarian Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Association has issued a statement saying that it  “considers T -16365, adopted by the parliament, to be worrying and ill-considered. We are therefore asking the legislators to review it as soon as possible.

“Our organization fully supports the protection of children and juveniles, but we do not in any way agree with the blurring of criminal pedophilia and sexual orientation, which is a fundamental human right. However, instead of ensuring greater protection for children in its accepted form, it creates conditions for restricting freedom of the arts and speech, publishing and distribution of books, which we consider unacceptable.

“Furthermore, it is not clear to us what the prohibition of self-serving sexual content and depiction of gender change means. It is masterpieces of world and Hungarian literature, including many authors (Szapphó, Ovidius, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Thomas Mann, Proust, Shakespeare, etc.), and also poems by Mihály Babits, Sándor Weöres, György Faludy containing erotic allusions [which] may be banned, which we assume could not have been the goal of the legislators.

“The members of the Association of Hungarian Book Publishers and Distributors represent a wide range of tastes and worldviews, but they all consider it their duty to serve the needs of readers, to communicate and disseminate Hungarian and world literature and universal culture, and to read and publish. you have to stand up at all times.”

Paagman: ‘An Attack on Freedom of Expression’

Kristenn Einarsson

Speaking for the IPA, its Freedom to Publish committee chair Kristenn Einarsson says, “The International Publishers Association fully supports the statement of the Hungarian publishers.

“The range of works that could be affected by these ill-considered and discriminatory amendments represent a who’s who of international and Hungarian literary greats.

“We urge the Hungarian government to reconsider.”

Ricardo Franco Levi

For the FEP, the organization’s vice-president Ricardo Franco Levi is quoted, saying, “The Federation of European Publishers calls on the European Commission and the ministers of foreign affairs meeting on June 22 to uphold fundamental rights as key values in Europe.

“That day, holding a hearing on the ‘values of the European Union in Hungary,’ they need to ensure that freedom of expression remains at the center of the European model.”

Fabian Paagman

And Fabian Paagman, who is co-president of the EIBF, says, “The European and International Booksellers Federation stands with the bookselling and publishing sector in Hungary and calls for a decisive European response on the attack of freedom of expression in the country.

“Censorship of books and the written word should have no place in any modern democracy.”

Benjamin Novak, in an article for The New York Times as the new bill was passed in Budapest on June 15, wrote, “The new rules, unexpectedly added to the bill by government-aligned lawmakers last week, require the labeling of all content that might fall into that category of ‘not recommended for those under 18 years of age.’

“Such content would be restricted for media like television to the hours between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. The restrictions extend to advertisements and even sexual education, which the law would restrict to teachers and organizations approved by the government. The bill would also create a public database of sex offenders.”

In its coverage drawn from wire services, France 24 wrote, “The European Parliament’s rapporteur on the situation in Hungary, Greens lawmaker Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, slammed the new law on Tuesday, saying, ‘Using child protection as an excuse to target LGBTIQ people is damaging to all children in Hungary.'”

More from Publishing Perspectives on censorship is here, more on the International Publishers Association is here, more on the Federation of European Publishers is here, more on the European and International Booksellers Federation is here, more from us on the Hungarian market is here, and more on Europe is here. Publishing Perspectives is the international media partner of the International Publishers Association.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter

Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.