Hungary will not participate in next year’s Eurovision song contest, amid speculation that the decision was taken because the competition is “too gay” for the taste of the country’s far-right government and public media bosses.
While no official reason has been given for the withdrawal, the move comes amid an increase in homophobic rhetoric in Hungary, where the anti-migration prime minister Viktor Orbán has launched a “family first” policy aimed at helping traditional families and boosting birth rates.
Earlier this year, the speaker of the Hungarian parliament compared gay adoption to paedophilia, while a pro-government television commentator referred to Eurovision as “a homosexual flotilla” and said not participating would benefit the nation’s mental health.
A source inside MTVA, Hungarian public television, told the Guardian that while no reason was communicated internally for the decision to withdraw from the contest, the assumption among employees was that Eurovision’s association with gay culture was behind the move.
“I was not surprised. It comes from the organisational culture of MTVA,” said the source, adding that positive coverage of LGBT rights at the media holding was discouraged, save for annual coverage of Budapest Pride.
Public media in Hungary is closely linked to the government and has been instrumental in spreading its messages around migration and other issues.
Earlier, the Hungarian website index.hu quoted unnamed sources inside public media speculating that the reason for the withdrawal was likely to be that Eurovision was deemed “too gay”.
Orbán’s spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, described the Index story as “fake news” on Twitter, but did not specify any other reason for Hungary’s non-participation.
In an emailed statement to the Guardian, MTVA said: “Instead of taking part in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2020, we will support the valuable productions created by the talents of Hungarian pop music directly.”
In previous years, the winner of a series called The Song would go on to become Hungary’s Eurovision entry. This year, the programme will continue, but the prize will now be appearances on various domestic media outlets and festivals rather than a trip to Eurovision.
MTVA did not respond to a question on the reasons for the decision.
Orbán has steered clear of incendiary homophobic rhetoric, although he has repeatedly emphasised that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. But in recent months, the homophobia among the prime minister’s inner circle has ratcheted up.
An MP from Orbán’s Fidesz party called for a boycott of Coca-Cola earlier this year, after the brand launched an advertising campaign using photographs of a gay couple, while László Kövér, the speaker of the Hungarian parliament, compared proponents of gay marriage and adoption to paedophiles. “Morally, there is no difference between the behaviour of a paedophile and the behaviour of someone who demands such things,” he said.
Kövér contrasted those who wanted gay adoption rights to a putative “normal homosexual” who understood his lower-status place in the world. “He tries to fit into this world while he doesn’t necessarily think he is equal,” said Kövér.
There has been no official acknowledgement that the withdrawal from Eurovision is linked to the competition’s LGBT associations. Last week, an opposition MP asked a government minister what the reason for the withdrawal was, and was told it was a decision taken by public media with no government input.
But on pro-government television shows, the link was drawn explicitly.
“I welcome the decision, including from a mental health perspective, that Hungary will not take part in the homosexual flotilla that this international song competition has been reduced to,” said András Bencsik, editor of a pro-government magazine and frequent television commentator.
“Many young people thought that this is something for people under 18, but at this event the destruction of public taste takes place with screaming transvestites and bearded women,” he said.
The scandal recalls opposition to Eurovision in Russia, where a homophobic MP called for the country to withdraw in 2014, saying that participating would “contradict the path of cultural and moral renewal that Russia stands on today”.