The Hungarian president retires. She previously came under fire for forgiving a man involved in child abuse.

Katalin Novak on a blue background

Katalin Novak at the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 17, 2024 Photo: Hannes P. Albert/dpa

BUDAPEST afp | In Hungary, President Katalin Novak, who was criticized for pardoning a man implicated in child abuse, has resigned. The close confidant of right-wing nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Saturday that she was resigning from her position because of her “mistake.” Novak, who took office in 2022, was the first woman to preside over Hungary.

Novak came under pressure following revelations that she had pardoned a man involved in child abuse in April 2023 on the occasion of Pope Francis' visit to Budapest. The former deputy director of a children's home was sentenced to more than three years in prison in 2022 for covering up the criminal actions of his superior.

After the pardon was announced last week, the opposition called for Novak's resignation and there were demonstrations in the country. On Friday night, protesters gathered outside the presidential palace in Budapest and three presidential aides resigned.

On Saturday, Novak took the consequences and announced her resignation: “I apologize to those I have hurt and to all victims who have had the impression that I do not support them,” said the 46-year-old woman. She advocates for the protection of children and families, she has done so and will continue to do so.

Novak had previously been a family minister.

Before being elected president, Novak had been a long-time family minister. There should be “no doubt” that there is “zero tolerance” for child abuse, she said.

In the Hungarian political system, the president's main functions are related to protocol. However, the appointment of Novak and therefore a woman to the position was very significant. Because Orbán's government is dominated by men: there is not a single woman in the 16-seat cabinet.

Following Novak's resignation, former Justice Minister Judit Varga also announced her retirement “from public life.” Varga accepted the pardon in April 2023. She recently resigned from her top ministry position to head the list of Orbán's Fidesz party in the upcoming European elections. She has now resigned from her mandate as a parliamentarian and will no longer stand in the European elections.