BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – Some bookstores in Hungary placed notices at their entrances this week telling customers they were selling “non-traditional content”. The signs were installed in response to a new law that prohibits “portraying or promoting” homosexuality and gender transitions in material accessible to children.
While some writers, publishers and booksellers claim that the law restricts freedom of thought and expression in Hungary, the country’s second-largest bookstore chain, Lira Konyv, has published the security advisories. The new ban went into effect last week, but the government has not released official guidelines on how or to whom it will be enforced and enforced.
“The word ‘portrayed’ is so general that it can include anything. This could apply to Shakespeare’s sonnets or Sappho’s poems, as these describe homosexuality, ”Krisztian Nyary, creative director of Lira Konyv, said of the legislation. adopted by the Hungarian parliament last month.
The law, which also bans LGBT content in school education curricula, leaves many members of the Hungarian literary community perplexed, even nervous, unsure whether they would be prosecuted if minors were found with children. books containing storylines, characters or information about sexual orientation or gender. identity.
Hungary’s populist government insists the law, which is part of a larger statute that also increases criminal penalties for pedophilia and creates a searchable database on sex offenders, is needed to protect children.
But critics, including senior European Union officials, say that the measure confuses LGBT people with pedophiles and is another example of Hungarian government policies and rhetoric that marginalize people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.
The bureau said the bookstore broke consumer protection rules by failing to indicate that the book contained “content that deviates from the norm.”
The fine, Nyary said, set a precedent for potential new sanctions against publishers and booksellers. With the threat of new sanctions looming, all of Lira Konyv’s 90 or so bookstores will now carry warnings to customers that read: “This store sells books with non-traditional content.”
Noemi Kiss, the author of several short stories that tackle contemporary social issues and feature characters who are not straight or whose gender identity does not match the one assigned to them at birth, said she supported parts of the law that aim to end pedophilia to protect children from pornographic content.
But she called “absurd” making the literature banned on the basis that it contained LGBT themes and “a limitation on freedom of opinion and expression”.
“On what basis will writers be ranked? If (an author) writes a gay story, will he be completely discredited or do we have to completely rewrite all of world literature? Kiss said.
The EU Executive Board on Thursday launched two lawsuits against Hungary over the new law and in response to previous labeling requirements for children’s books that “display behavioral patterns that differ from gender roles traditional ”- although the authorities have not specified what is not traditional. gender roles involve.
“Hungary restricts the freedom of expression of authors and publishers of books, and unjustifiably discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation,” the European Commission said in a statement, adding that the government had not provided ” no justification as to why children’s exposure to LGBTIQ content would be detrimental to their well-being.
In addition to banning LGBT content for children, the law also prohibits portraying “sexuality for itself” to young audiences – a ban which Nyary argues could arguably apply to the majority of titles sold. by Lira Konyv.
“If anyone wanted to, he could report three quarters of the world’s literature based on this definition,” he said.
The Hungarian government did not respond to a request for comment.
Nyary says he’s compiling an anthology of classic literature that contains LGBT themes. The collection of stories, poems and plays will include writings by Homer, Shakespeare and Sappho, among others, and will be marked with an 18+ sticker to indicate that only adults should read it.
“We want to show what this law prohibits young people from accessing,” Nyary said.
Mark Mezei, a Budapest novelist who published a book on a lesbian relationship, says that while he believes established authors will not practice self-censorship, the new law could “pull the quill out of the hands” of young designers. words and delay a new generation of Hungarian writers.
“If they find that they face enormous resistance to their early work, it can certainly put them back into the creative process or even take them away from their calling,” he said.
Mezei said he is likely to simply ignore the law, insisting that perpetrators must “create and live independently.”
“I think interfering in people’s privacy is one of the attributes of a governing power. But very good works are born one way or another, ”he said. “They’ll be on library shelves when current powers are just a footnote in the pages of history books.”