The Coca-Cola Company has faced criticism in Hungary from a member of the country’s ruling ultra-conservative Fidesz party over a series of ads that promote LGBT acceptance, and were timed to run alongside the major international music and arts festival Sziget.

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that the series of posters – carrying the hashtag “#LOVEISLOVE” beneath same-sex couples smiling – promoting “zero sugar, zero prejudice”, had become the subject of a political row.

The nationalist Fidesz party, led by prime minister Viktor Orbán, has been vocal in its opposition to the idea of equal marriage in the country. In response to the publication of Coca-Cola’s ads, the party’s deputy speaker, Istvan Boldog called for a boycott of the company’s products while it continues to run the campaign. Unsurprisingly right-wing news outlets echoed the splutter, with one website, Pesti Sracok, declaring that the “homosexual lobby is laying siege to Budapest, leaving no space to avoid this”.

In response, Coca-Cola emphasised the message of the Sziget festival’s Love Revolution initiative to promote tolerance, adding that it echoed the company’s own principles. “We believe both hetero- and homosexuals have the right to love the person they want the way they want,” it said in a statement to Reuters.

In a further statement to CNN, the company went further. “[Coca-Cola] strives for diversity, inclusion and equality in our business, and we support these rights in society as well,” it said. “As a long-standing supporter of the LGBTQI community, we believe everyone has the right to love the person they choose. The campaign currently running in Hungary reflects these values.”

In the wake of the furore, an online petition calling for local officials to ban the ads has gathered around 25,000 signatures toward a 50,000 goal. Its language is conspiratorial: “This is a test,” the copy claims. “If Hungarian society accepts this, there will be more and more steps. Posters, commercials, films, rainbow products, etc.”

Though the call for boycott is not the party’s official position, opposition to the ads would be true to form. Fidesz’ second term at the helm of the government in 2011 saw the ratification of a new constitution a year later. In it, LGBT rights were significantly weakened: gay marriage was explicitly banned while protection from discrimination was diminished – Amnesty International in 2011 said that the new constitution would contradict international human rights laws.

This year, a report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) in Europe found that Hungary’s policies had resulted in a tangible rolling back of LGBT rights, due to the government’s “failure to uphold fundamental civil and political rights”.

Orbán himself has said that gay people “can do what they want but cannot get their marriages recognised by the state,” followed by, “An apple cannot ask to be called a pear.”

As some observers have posited, party opposition fits into a wider Fidesz strategy which is to demonise enemies, be they migrants, the EU, NGOs, or the liberal Hungarian financier George Soros.

Nevertheless, some studies show that Hungarian attitudes toward gay rights have improved drastically over the last 20 years. Either way, the timing of the ads at a time of large international influx to the city (some 500,000 people are expected) for the Sziget festival indicates that Coca Cola is planning for where attitudes are going rather than where they currently might be.

The company has a strong history of advocating LGBT rights across the world. In 2017, the company put together a campaign around prejudice toward gay people in Brazil, with This Coke is a Fanta, which received widespread praise.

Sourced from Reuters, CNN, PinkNews, Euronews, WARC