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At home in another Europe

CONTROL / In increasingly authoritarian Hungary, two women face several hardships in their adoption of a young Roma child.

«Some kids have one mom, others have more.» The line is from a storybook that two mothers-to-be are handcrafting for their adoptive daughter, as they await her imminent arrival into their home. They paste photographs into the pages as they deliberate over how to phrase the family history they are lovingly creating. As intimate, fly-on-the-wall documentary Her Mothers develops, however, it is clear that the new little addition to this couple’s life is not the only person in need of understanding and accepting the legitimacy of a dual-mother family structure. As two lesbians seeking to adopt a Roma toddler under Viktor Orbán’s right-wing government in Hungary, Nóra and Virág are all too aware that their very identities are right in the firing line of the anti-immigrant, «Christian family values» rhetoric and policy being aggressively pushed by the ruling alliance. A loophole the state is endeavouring to close means that, while lesbians cannot legally adopt as a couple, they can go through the process separately as single parents, then cohabiting with only one of them technically designated as the mother. But societal discrimination is rife, and politicians can frequently be heard stoking anti-gay sentiment in the media. Marriage is declared an act only between a man and a woman, and same-sex adoption is compared to paedophilia as the state moves to shut down all non-governmental organisations — indeed, any force able to advocate for the basic human rights of minorities.

Lengthy and uncertain

The film, directed by Asia Dér and Sári Haragonics and screening in the Documentary competition of the Sarajevo Film Festival, spans several years, as Nóra and Virág navigate what is a lengthy and uncertain adoption application process. The pair are no strangers to outspoken resistance against the ruling regime — they met at a protest against the erosion of democracy in 2011 as Nóra was documenting it and Virág, then a member of the incumbent Green parliamentary opposition, was demonstrating. A psychologist who speaks with them as part of the adoption process tells them that the fact they are already accustomed to fighting for acceptance every day means they will be a good fit as role models for a Roma child. Given the society’s entrenched xenophobia, such a child will inevitably have to grapple with a sense of being «other». But the daily pressures of discrimination add, of course, to the trepidation and anxiety natural to any expecting parent over whether they will be able to provide the care and protection required of such a mammoth task as childraising, and even whether their application will be successful. A negligent oversight on the part of the adoption services sees an employee leave without passing on their case, resulting in it languishing in inactivity. Are they being blocked due to prejudice, or are the hold-ups simply a byproduct of bureaucratic chaos? They can never be sure. As Orbán’s rule leans ever-more toward authoritarianism, the psychic toll increases. Nóra suffers a sleepless night over fears Neo-nazis might find out where they live and hang their pet dogs: a vivid imagining that shows how oppression seeps into all corners of a citizen’s life.

Nóra and Virág are all too aware that their very identities are right in the firing line of the anti-immigrant, «Christian family values» rhetoric and policy…

Other options for parenthood, such as artificial insemination using the sperm of a male family member, are considered but carry their own logistical and emotional minefields. Despite the hurdles, the couple finally gets the phone call they’ve been waiting for. When the little girl comes into their lives, we see happy family scenes of Christmas and sledding, but admirably, the film does not gloss over the challenges of parenthood, or play up the couple’s «normality». She suffered several years of serious neglect before the adoption, and imbuing her with a sense of love and comfort without spoiling her or indulging any behavioural problems is a tough balance to strike. What’s more, establishing roles within the family proves tricky, with one «Mama» and a more nebulously defined figure. Nóra and Virág must work hard to each find their sense of belonging in parental identities.

Her Mothers-documentary-post
Her Mothers, a film by Asia Dér, Sári Haragonics

What now?

Since they both submitted adoption applications, they must also discuss the possibility of a second child, as their desire to emigrate, with all the career and lifestyle disruption that entails, also solidifies under Hungary’s rising clampdown on liberties and human rights. In other words, even after parenthood is achieved, basic security, let alone expanding family size, are issues both fraught and ongoing. Moving to Vienna may pose a solution, but being a kind of exile, it’s one that is bittersweet. As nations such as Hungary and Poland ramp up anti-LGBTQ and anti-migrant measures amid a backsliding on democracy and normalisation of hate speech, and fear of persecution causes flight within the EU to its more tolerant corners, the lines of division that threaten a total unraveling of the European Union project are painfully apparent.

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Carmen Gray
Carmen Gray
Freelance film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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