The presidential decision to pardon a convict involved in a child molestation case last April caused outrage in the country.
Political earthquake in Hungary: President Katalin Novak, close to Viktor Orban, resigned on Saturday after the indignation caused by her decision to pardon a convict involved in a child crime case. Almost at the same time, Judit Varga, another ally of the prime minister, announced her “withdrawal from public life” for giving her endorsement as Minister of Justice – a post she left last summer to lead the European campaign.
A scenario that was still unthinkable a few days ago. The controversy was provoked by the pardon granted in April 2023, on the occasion of Pope Francis’ visit to Budapest, to a former deputy director of a children’s home, sentenced in 2022 to more than three years in prison for having covered up the actions of his superior.
Since the revelation last week by the investigative site 444 of this decision, anger has been growing in the country. Protesters gathered Friday evening at the opposition’s call in front of the presidential palace, and three of the presidential advisers left their posts.
Orban “save your skin”
Faced with the scandal, Katalin Novak, who was in Qatar to attend a match between Hungary and Kazakhstan at the World Water Polo Championships, rushed her return to Budapest. As soon as her plane landed, she announced that she was giving up her post, acknowledging during a solemn speech that she had committed “a mistake”. “The pardon granted and the lack of explanations may have raised doubts regarding zero tolerance in matters of pedophilia. But there can be no doubt about this.”underlined the 46-year-old manager, before presenting her “apologies” to those she may have hurt.
This former minister of family policy became in March 2022 the first woman to occupy this essentially ceremonial function. “It was quick: first Novak, then Varga. But we know that no important decision can be taken in Hungary without the approval of Viktor Orban.commented on Facebook MEP Anna Donath, of the small liberal Momentum party. “He must take responsibility and explain what happened (…), it’s his system”.
The nationalist leader, aware of the potential devastating impact of a scandal touching at the heart of his stated policy of “protection of children”, announced Thursday that he wanted to revise the Constitution in order to exclude the possibility of pardoning child molesters. Without procrastinating, he “skillfully deflected the scandal” and decided to “sacrifice two of his faithful – simple soldiers of the party – to save his skin”summarizes political analyst Richard Szentpeteri Nagy, quoted by the Nepszava newspaper.
Viktor Orban has made the fight against child crime one of his hobbyhorses. In 2021, it also adopted a law prohibiting any mention of homosexuality among minors in public, in a merger with pornography and pedophilia denounced by Brussels.
Katalin Novak, temporarily replaced by Parliament Speaker Laszlo Kover, was presented last year by Forbes magazine as the most influential woman in public life in Hungary. Originally from the town of Szeged (south), graduated in economics and law, studied at Sciences-Po Paris before training at ENA (the former National School of Administration in France), Ms. Novak speaks French fluently and was made a knight of the Legion of Honor in 2019.
Appointed Secretary of State for Family and Youth in 2014, this mother of three obtained her ministerial stripes in 2020. Ms. Novak’s mission was to put an end to the country’s demographic decline through pronatalist policies, declaring that Hungary does not want “neither immigration nor population replacement”. With his departure, the Hungarian political landscape is now very masculine, knowing that since mid-2023 there have been no women in Viktor Orban’s cabinet, made up of 16 men.