While the final results of Hungary’s national election last Sunday are not expected to return until April 27th, preliminary vote counts indicate that Hungary’s incumbent Prime Minister, Victor Orbán, will retain the prime ministership. This will be Orbán’s third term and the party to which he belongs, Fidesz, will regain the super-majority, last held in 2015. Fidesz will likely now hold 133 seats out of a possible 199; second and third place will go to Gábor Vona’s party, Jobbik, and Gergely Karácsony’s party, MSZP–Dialogue, respectively.
Although the result represents a major victory for Fidesz, to the many critics of Orbán and his party it signifies yet another failed attempt to combat the creeping erosion of liberalism across Europe. “We failed,” Mr. Vona said with dismay post-election, “it was not easy to campaign with so many lies and attacks.” Mr. Vona’s stance, perhaps tainted by his position as the leader of a major opposition party, is not held by him alone. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has previously categorized Orbán as belonging to a group of “xenophobes and racists” that is catalyzing the retreat of fundamental freedoms across Europe. George Soros, a billionaire Hungarian philanthropist, has described Hungary under Orbán’s rule as a “mafia state.”
So, why all the hate? In essence, Orbán’s past super-majority has allowed him to partake in disturbing constitutional reform designed to concentrate power. He has drastically curbed the independence of the media and the judiciary, corruptly enriched himself and attempted to control Hungary’s history, culture and universities. Today, party-appointed men and women constitute a significant portion of the leadership in the country’s educational and artistic institutions. An illuminating example is the state-funded Veritas, a think-tank devoted to expounding revisionist historical ideas. Themes include downplaying Hungary’s anti-Semitic past and celebrating the achievements of past Hungarian autocrats.
If the ends towards which Orbán is fighting aren’t alarming enough, the means that he is employing to get there are. Almost exclusively, Orbán uses the old crowd-favourite: immigrants. During the lead up to the latest election, Orbán fed his followers the usual serving of fear. Immigrants, in the universe constructed by Orbán’s rhetoric, offer a significant threat to Hungary’s way of life and most importantly, Orbán is the only one capable of offering protection. Whipping up anti-immigrant fervour is particularly easy in Hungary; in 2015, the country received the highest number of asylum applications per 100,000 residents in Europe. With that statistic as a weapon and a high degree of media control, fear is easy to manufacture.
As the UN’s Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein noted, Orbán is not alone. He is part of a Europe-wide movement containing politicians such as Geert Wilders of the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen of France, and Heinz-Christian Strache of Austria. United by common themes of xenophobia, nationalism and immigrant fear-mongering, these politicians represent the rising tide of the Far Right in Europe. They have been met with varying degrees of success in their home countries, but their movement poses a real existential threat to the European Union, which, while flawed, remains arguably the greatest multilateral peace project in human history. The EU has survived for decades, but increased isolation, distrust and ignorance could prove fatal.
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