Katalin Novák has resigned

February 10. 2024. – 07:17 PM


Katalin Novák has resigned
In June 2022, Katalin Novák gave her first written interview after her inauguration to Telex – Photo: János Bődey / Telex


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The Head of State announced her resignation in an extraordinary broadcast on the public broadcaster M1 on Saturday afternoon. Her resignation comes after Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, reacting to the scandal surrounding the presidential pardon, initiated a constitutional amendment to make it impossible for anyone who has committed a crime against a minor to receive clemency.

Katalin Novák said she had made a mistake and apologised to those who felt she had wronged them.

"I made a mistake. The decision to pardon and the lack of justification were capable of generating doubts. But there is no doubt here, and there cannot be. I would never grant clemency to anyone who abuses children. Protecting children is our shared responsibility. I apologise to those I have hurt and to any victims who may have felt that I did not stand by them. Today is the last time I am addressing you as Head of State. I am resigning from the office of President of the Republic", said Katalin Novák.

"It was not for personal reasons that this decision was difficult. It was difficult because I took an oath. The question I now had to answer was: would I be able to continue to serve as President for the benefit of the Hungarian nation, true to my oath? Would I have the room for manoeuvre necessary to fulfil my duties as a sovereign head of state? The answer to both questions is no. I apologise to those who now feel that I have let them down. Those, who now feel that hate has triumphed over love," the head of state said.

Katalin Novák added:

“The world of politics is hard, and at times cruel. Some people think it is not for us women. I do not agree with that. We should not give in to that. Women are needed in public life too, because I believe that the presence of women will with time make this world a fairer, more peaceful and certainly more meaningful place. I am grateful for the opportunity to have served the Hungarian nation.”

It became public last Friday that on account of the Pope's visit to Hungary last year, Novák had pardoned Endre K., the former deputy director of the Bicske children's home, who, according to the court, helped cover up the director's case of paedophilia. The decision also sparked outrage because it ran counter to Fidesz's key political message of recent years, that children and families must be protected at all cost. As a result of the scandal, several well-known public figures have quit Novák's advisory board.

Former justice minister Judit Varga has also resigned

The former justice minister, Judit Varga also announced her resignation from all her functions on account of the scandal, just a few minutes after Novák's resignation. As Justice Minister, it was Varga's responsibility to propose the pardon and countersign the president's decision. It is difficult to imagine that the ex-minister would have decided on such a matter without the knowledge and approval of Viktor Orbán.

Judit Varga speaking at the conference of the European Union's Council for Civil Cooperation (EuCET) at the Ensana Thermal Hotel, Budapest, 24 November 2023 – Photo: Zoltán Máthé / MTI
Judit Varga speaking at the conference of the European Union's Council for Civil Cooperation (EuCET) at the Ensana Thermal Hotel, Budapest, 24 November 2023 – Photo: Zoltán Máthé / MTI

On Saturday afternoon, she wrote on her Facebook page:

"I am retiring from public life, resigning from my mandate as a Member of Parliament and from leading Fidesz’ EP list. I accept the political responsibility for countersigning the President's decision".

Varga stepped down from her ministerial post in July 2023, but she was expected to play an important role in Fidesz:

they had intended for her to head the Fidesz-KDNP list for the European Parliament elections in June.

At first, there was deflection and silence

After the news first broke, Katalin Novák and the government-affiliated press were deflecting criticism by claiming that no paedophile had been pardoned, even though no one was claiming that. However, up until today, the President still has not given a public explanation for granting clemency to Endre K. At a press conference earlier this week, she said:

"I am disgusted by paedophilia, I consider it one of the most disgusting and most serious crimes. There has been no pardon for paedophiles under my presidency, and that was the case in this instance as well.”

This was not the first time that Katalin Novák pardoning someone has caused a serious outcry: the release of György Budaházy, who had been given a definitive prison sentence for terrorism, also caused a scandal.

For days, opposition parties have been united in demanding the resignation of Katalin Novák. DK and MSZP have launched impeachment proceedings against the President, while Momentum organised a demonstration in front of the Presidential Palace. At the same time, LMP and Párbeszéd-Greens tabled a legislative amendment initiating that the reasons for granting clemency be made public in the future.

The only person from the government to speak up at first was Balázs Orbán, the Prime Minister's Political Director, who said that the government respects Novák's decision. The government-friendly press simply kept quiet about the whole scandal, while the propaganda machinery known as Megafon united in trumpeting that the left are all paedophiles.

From the bigger governing party, Fidesz, which has a penchant for accusing its political opponents of paedophilia, group leader Máté Kocsis first reacted to the matter by bashing the left. However, a week after the scandal broke and a day after Orbán's speech, he stated that there were grounds for all the criticism and that this situation should not have arisen.

On Friday evening, a demonstration was held in front of the Presidential Palace, with opposition politicians and citizens demanding Novák's resignation. On Saturday morning, Fidesz publicist Zsolt Bayer also sent a message to Katalin Novák in the pro-government Magyar Nemzet, writing that “the President cannot remain silent any longer.”

Orbán noticed that she had the strength and the guts needed

Katalin Novák was elected as Hungarian President by the Fidesz-majority Parliament on 10 March 2022. She was the first female president in the history of Hungary and, at 44, the youngest. After Pál Schmitt, who was caught up in a plagiarism scandal in 2012, Novák is the second Hungarian president to resign under Fidesz's governance since 2010. Novák is also the second head of state in Hungarian history to resign.

Novák holds two degrees: in law and economics, and speaks four languages. She became the government's lead family policy adviser in 2014. During her political career, she successfully built the image of the sporty housewife-mother, and she was seen by many as the most approachable Fidesz politician. Over time, Viktor Orbán also took notice of her, and on one occasion said that she had the strength and the guts needed for the job.

While working as a state secretary in 2017, Novák became vice-president of Fidesz. Gergely Gulyás, who was the Fidesz parliamentary group leader at the time, justified the decision with her performance in family policy and her language skills. Starting in 2020, she propagated the government's family policies as a minister without portfolio. She resigned from the post after her nomination for head of state became official in 2021.

Although Novák has repeatedly spoken out against some Fidesz politicians' anti-female statements, her commitment to Fidesz was never in doubt: at the party's 29th leadership election congress, she gave a speech while sporting earrings with the inscription OV22. Admittedly, she did have some rather controversial statements, such as when she used the Covid-19 epidemic to justify why the Fundamental Law should be changed to say that 'a mother is female, a father is male', or when she said that women should not compete with men.

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