Hungary’s Hatemongering Anti-Migrant Campaign Intensifies

Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party has intensified its vilification of migrants as it continues to demonize native-born humanitarian George Soros, who has advocated for the EU to commit to resettling 300,000 refugees each year. Led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the Fidesz party is hoping to consolidate its authority with a third term in power in the upcoming April 2018 elections. Accordingly, the government has disseminated a questionnaire to voting age adults to ‘consult’ them about settlement of ‘illegal immigrants.’ Accompanying the questionnaire was the mass broadcasting of posters featuring Soros that read “National consultation on the Soros plan! Let’s not allow it without having a say”. Both the administration of the questionnaire and anti-Soros posters were the third tax-payer funded campaign carried out by the Fidesz party in their ongoing antagonism toward migrant resettlement.

Orbán’s party has been criticized by domestic and European institutions alike. The Federation of Hungarian Jews, Mazsihisz, requested that the Fidesz party take down the posters of Soros, a prominent philanthropist and Holocaust survivor, as they have stirred anti-Semitic sentiment in the past. Likewise, Soros’ spokesman, Michael Vachon, said that the posters recall “Europe’s darkest hour.” Orbán has been reluctant to take down such posters in the past, citing Hungary’s “zero-tolerance policy of anti-Semitism.” However, the latest wave of xenophobic rhetoric seems more consistent with Orbán’s praise of Miklos Horthy as an “exceptional statesman” despite deporting thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.

Disapproval was even voiced from the Fidesz’s party broader pan-European political movement, the European People’s Party (EPP) for going against the party line of promoting a dynamic civic society. Thus far, the EPP has not eliminated the Fidesz party from its membership on the condition that they remain receptive to the EPP’s political feedback. There have also been calls for Hungary’s membership in the European Union to be renounced on the basis of their “anti-European values.” However, this expulsion would unduly penalize the broader Hungarian public who approve of European integration. A Eurobarometer survey found that 80% of Hungarians are positive or neutral in their attitude towards EU values, making them one of the most pro-EU member nations. Accounting for a large amount of its economic growth, Hungary receives an amount equivalent to 3.5% of its annual output in funding from the EU. Given this political-social dissonance, closer attention should be paid to the EU’s structural funding contribution to Hungary if its anti-European campaign continues.

The supposedly consultative survey consisted of seven yes-no statements that were worded in a way that produced only negative answers or otherwise incited resentment towards Europe’s inflow of migrants. For example, one question asked whether the respondent agreed with the plan to resettle one million immigrants per year in the European Union. This grossly overstates the refugee settlement quota of 50,000 that the Brussels government proposed. Another question inferred that immigrants would receive more lenient criminal sentencing than Hungarian nationals. Yet another question states: “the goal of the Soros plan is to push the languages and cultures of Europe into the background so that integration of illegal immigrants happens much more quickly.” Orbán’s centre-right party is likely using the questionnaire as a proxy to substitute concern for under-funded domestic areas – such as education and healthcare – with an inward-looking culture of aggressive nationalism and bigotry.

While Viktor Orbán derives much of his early political experience from campaigning against Communist rule, he is rapidly transforming Hungary into an illiberal democracy. Now up to speed economically, Hungary needs another revolution to transition away from its attacks on civic society and towards an integrated nation that embraces its obligations to accommodate resettling refugees.