Politics

‘Buda-sex’ and the Hungarian porn industry

Article published on May 27, 2008
Article published on May 27, 2008
Budapest is famous for being one of the world’s sex capitals. Pornography, sex toursim and prostitution converge in the Hungarian capital, to the delight of some and the frowns of others

‘Hungarian models are the best.’ This is why Budapest has become one of the world’s porn capital cities, according to Istvan ‘Kovi’ Kovacs, 50. He is the head of LUXx, Hungary’s largest porn movie production company, which he prefers to call ‘adult cinema’. ‘Movies made in other countries like the Czech Republic use Hungarian models because they are better,’ he says from his porn-poster and award-lined modern office on the outskirts of Buda. A framed photo of his wife hangs above his desk. The economic factor also has its importance, he adds. ‘Setting up a production company in Hungary is cheaper, and this country is full of perfect locations.’

The Hungarian porn industry employs a great number of professionals, though it is difficult to provide an exact figure, given the fact that a lot of them are temporary employees. Kovi estimates the number of actresses at about a hundred, whilst there are only between thirty and forty actors. Kovi feels worried about the crisis that the industry is going through. ‘The internet is a problem. More movies are being produced than the market can take. This causes income to decrease, and encourages the direction of more extreme porn,’ he comments. Despite this crisis, adult cinema is still a very lucrative business: porn in Hungary generates around 636 million euros a year, representing around 0.5% of the country’s GDP.

Porntastic fantastic

Over the telephone Mya Diamond, one of the most promising figures in Hungary’s adult cinema, explains how she joined the industry for the money. ‘I come from a small village. I wanted to flee poverty and help my brothers and my mother financially.’ For the 27-year-old Porn Wars actress, an income determines the quality of an actress. ‘Eastern models are usually better because they have a poor background. They do everything possible to stay in the business as long as they can and make the most money.’ ‘It’s not enough to just have a good body to be a porn star. You should be classy,’ Kovi reflects, before asking our opinion whilst flicking through pictures on his computer of an aspiring porn actress, a naked French blonde in a compromising pose. ‘What do you think? She’s pretty, but she moves like a piece of wood!’ exclaims the former photo journalist, who became a porn industry tycoon after an accident which has given him an eternal limp.

Porn fairytale

Porn is like an adult fairytale. You are not allowed to watch it until you turn eighteen, a mentality which Kovi explains has developed because of criticism that porn is ‘bad for your mental health’ - at least until you reach a so-called ‘age of sexual maturity’. Vilmos Szilagyi is one such critic. The 79 year-old Hungarian psychologist and sexologist has written more than twenty-six books about sexology and runs a website specialised in sexual psychology. We are at his apartment in the northern part of Buda, on the sixth floor of a huge communist-style square building. He describes how he has dealt with patients having problems related to pornography throughout his fifty-year career. His view on porn is ‘absolutely negative. In pornography, there is no depiction of sexual culture. There are only techniques. There are a lot of cases where problems related to pornography are dealt with, especially with addiction.’ Szilagyi is especially worried about the negative effect that pornography has on actors since it makes them feel like objects, banalising sex and provoking emotional disorders.

Hajnalka Györi is resigned when asked about the image that Budapest projects to the outside world as a porn capital. The young journalist from Budapest works in Brussels for the European Youth Press, and accepts the fact that Hungary is famous for that, even though she prefers it if people could learn about other aspects of her country’s culture. Hungary’s reputation also affects her personally, she says. ‘Sometimes people from other countries think that because I’m from here I’m more ‘open’ and people approach me differently.’ She tells an anecdote of an acquaintance of hers who had problems with her foreign husband’s family: ‘Her in-laws thought that she would only marry him for his money and that she was a porn star, just because she was Hungarian!’

Does porn equal prostitution?

Could porn be seen as the same thing as prostitution? ‘There is a connection in both ways,’ says Ágnes Földi, president of the Hungarian prostitutes’ association, at her flat near Kovi’s office. ‘Producers look for prostitutes for their movies and actresses make extra money with this activity.’

Prostitution is also becoming internationalised in Hungary. ‘There are a lot of people who visit Hungary for its sex tourism, and there is even a veritable calendar of nationalities during different seasons. During Christmas, for example, we get an influx of Italians. Formula One attracts a lot of Germans, so we organise our general assembly to coincide with the races,’ Ágnes says matter-of-factly. Prostitutes also tend to work abroad in Italy, Greece or England for short periods, having to move on quicker because of legal reasons.

Ágnes is an activist who militates for prostitutes’ rights in Hungary. She mentions the economic factor as one of the main reasons pushing young women to work in the prostitution business. Female prostitutes who work in the streets are usually the poorest, even the ones who are ‘at the top in the hierachy’, models who work for big clients, such as politicians.

The prostitution law in Hungary is confusing. It is a legal activity, despite restrictions that make its practice stricter. For example, brothels are forbidden, but there is a proliferation of apartments where prostitution is practiced. In 1999, there were only three establishments of that kind. Today, there are nearly 150 in Budapest alone. Meanwhile, the number of prostitutes is somewhere between 7, 000 and 9, 000 in Budapest alone, according to Ágnes, and there is an increasing number of men that work in that profession.

Human trafficking is the darker side of the sex business. 90% of cases are related to prostitution, according to József Pöltl, head of the human trafficking department in the Hungarian police force. In his opinion, porn does not generate human trafficking, though it does contribute to its development. ‘There aren’t more cases of ‘white trade’ because of porn, though there is a relationship,’ he says, using the R. Tamás case as an example. ‘R. Tamás placed a newspaper advert pretending to be a porn movie producer who was auditioning women. The catch was that they were somehow forced to get involved in prostitution,’ he recalls. The number of open human trafficking cases in Hungary today is around 450.

Hungary’s entrance in the Schengen zone on 21 December has its pros and cons, according to Pöltl. On the one hand, external borders will be reinforced and controls will increase. However, with the disappearance of internal borders, there no longer border controls, as criminals have free access to cross the EU’s external borders.

Written in collaboration with Lóránt Havas