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Anti-migrant referendum in Hungary

by DoDo Sun Oct 2nd, 2016 at 07:08:50 PM EST

Today, there was a referendum in Hungary against the EU refugee quotas, one instigated by the right-populist government of prime minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party. With an expected turnout of around 45% and an expected high rate of spoiled ballots, it looks like it will fail the validity condition (valid votes cast should be at least 50% of eligible voters) but the Against votes will be well over 90% of valid votes.

Given that, on one hand, the referendum was the government's initiative and thus the result won't change its policy, and on the other hand, it has no bearing on EU-level decisions for or against the quotas, it would appear markedly pointless. Except, the real goal seems to be the creation of a stepping stone for Fidesz to win the next general elections (in 2018). The propaganda campaign before the referendum was unprecedented in its shrillness and underhandedness even by Fidesz standards. Although it failed at getting the turnout necessary for validity, the result is still something that Orbán can use to keep power.

frontpaged - Bjinse


Some reminders for context. Orbán chose to adopt the rhetoric of Western European anti-immigrant xenophobes relatively recently, as a reaction to a by-election loss to far-right rival Jobbik in April 2015 and as a diversion from several corruption scandals. This was at the time a wave of refugees came from Kosovo, but when a much bigger wave of mostly Syrian refugees arrived in August 2015, Orbán doubled his efforts, and styled himself as a rebel against the EU when Germany and other rich nations began to push for resettlement quotas. This year, after total surrender on another issue in the face of a potentially successful opposition-advanced referendum, Fidesz warmed up its earlier idea of a referendum in support of its anti-quota policy.

The referendum question itself was quite manipulative and nonsensical:

Do you want for the European Union to prescribe the obligatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the approval of the Hungarian Parliament?

Then came the hate campaign to get people to vote, which, once 50% turnout was seen in danger, went into an overdrive I haven't seen before:

  • the sports channel of the public TV used every free time slot during the Olympics to run anti-migrant "breaking news" and government referendum commercials;
  • the government spent an estimated 60 million on advertising, including an inordinate amount of billboards with scary messages for two months, and in the last few weeks, placards on state-owned buses and in metros;
  • the number one public TV channel, which was turned into a 24-hour news channel under Fidesz rule, switched to airing anti-immigration scare stories only (in such a gross manner that even my pro-government colleagues referred to it as "Migrant News Channel");
  • Fidesz majors were warned of repercussions if they fail to produce a high turnout, and some majors in villages (where Fidesz's most reliable voters reside) reacted by sending threats of repercussions to voters (especially dependants like old people);
  • Hungarians living abroad were mass-snail-mailed, and the gathering of addresses for this action was only ruled illegal four days before the election (when it was already late);
  • apparently to boost fear of terror, during the last week, there have been several reports of police finding "suspicious packages" (I myself got stuck for half an hour in a tram when a main road was blocked);
  • on voting day, campaign silence violations abounded, including mass text messaging (my sister also got one), an ostensible public service announcement urging people to vote, and a TV report from Serbia claiming that half a million refugees are awaiting Hungary's referendum decision.

The excessive propaganda definitely backfired because opinion polls already showed a reduction of voting intention during the last month of the campaign. So far Fidesz also failed to win voters in opinion polls from Jobbik, which also supported the referendum. I also have doubts that Fidesz can count on using xenophobia to block out all other issues (like the spread of chronic poverty or the ever more frequent scandals of Fidesz oligarchs) for two more years.

However, Fidesz definitely succeeded in once again damaging the 'left of centre' opposition, which couldn't even agree on a single position: the small Liberal Party alone advocated a Yes vote, the party of disgraced former Socialist PM Ferenc Gyurcsány advocated abstention, the Socialists refused to advocate anything and even admitted that some of their voters will vote Against, while some smaller parties and civil rights groups advocated spoilt ballots as a means of protest that is visible but won't help the referendum towards validity. The choice for opposition supporters was complicated by the fact that opposition parties sent very few delegates into the local election commissions, thus over half of these commissions consisted of right-wingers only, offering the chance of ballot fraud.

I chose the spoilt ballot option, after carefully reading up on how to spoil the ballot so that it can't be turned into a valid Against ballot after the fact.

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Of course, all of this is happening to a backdrop of a wave of xenophobia sweeping all of Europe, with almost all governments going along to some extent. And my own opinion of the resettlement quota idea is also negative, even of for completely different reasons from Orbán: I think refugees have the best chance of integration in countries where (1) they have friends & relatives who can help, (2) they speak the language or can learn it relatively easily, (3) there is a halfway working refugee support and integration policy and (4) the economy is in a better shape – in other words, the very countries refugees are heading to and the governments of which would appease local xenophobes with the resettlements.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Oct 2nd, 2016 at 07:17:04 PM EST
What else of note happened in Hungarian politics in the last few months? More mafia methods.

In the diary, I mentioned the Orbán government's U-turn in the face of the certain success of a referendum initiative of the Socialists, with a link to my diary on the subject. You may remember that the whole episode was noteworthy for a group of ugly heavies with the look of football hooligans who hindered the Socialists from officially submitting their referendum question. Since then, Fidesz used these guys in another conflict. In the summer, protesters blocked construction workers at a controversial reconstruction project in a public part in Budapest. Then the army of "baldies" turned up clad as construction workers and attacked the protesters in collision with police. According to an investigative report, the "baldies" weren't organised via the previously-known football hooligan – far-right rioter nexus but have been gathered by recruiters going around in bodybuilder clubs.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Oct 2nd, 2016 at 07:30:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some bad typos above... the reconstruction project was in a public park, and there was collusion between the baldies and police.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Oct 2nd, 2016 at 09:16:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wouldn't have thought that EU-wide quotas would appease xenophobes, since they'll be focused on the number of refugees their own country has to accept -- which to them will always be too many, no matter the actual number,
by Gag Halfrunt on Sun Oct 2nd, 2016 at 08:24:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The way I read it, Merkel & co's subliminal message longside the quota proposals was "see, we are doing something to reduce the numbers of refugees in our country, by forcing other countries to "share the burden". That refugees are always too many for the xenophobes is then an error in the calculation. A bigger one is that the quota proposals implicitly (or even explicitly) accept the validity of the claim that "there are too many refugees", to the benefit of opponents to the right, without a political gain for the governments.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Oct 2nd, 2016 at 09:00:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To the extent that there is a refugee problem, it's an issue of adult education not being good enough, which is frankly a problem we should be working on regardless. Uhm. Who should one write letters to suggesting we get on that..?
by Thomas on Fri Oct 7th, 2016 at 08:03:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
  • Turnout: 43.35%
  • Valid votes as percentage of all eligible voters: 40.03%
  • Against votes as percentage of all valid votes: 98.32%

The Against votes are a little bit above the sum of the latest opinion poll numbers for Fidesz (26%) and Jobbik (12%). Needless to say, the fact that almost 40% of the population have bought into a no-holds-barred far-right campaign is bad enough.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Oct 2nd, 2016 at 09:02:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jobbik's leader is calling on Orbán to follow David Cameron's Brexit example and resign...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Oct 2nd, 2016 at 09:07:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I forgot to mention the most bizarre moment of the public TV olympics coverage in service of the referendum campaign. You may recall that Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, part of the Refugee Olympic Athletes Team as a swimmer, won her heat in 100 metres butterfly. In the live coverage of Hungary's public TV, the live commentator started by introducing all her competitors but not her (despite her story of rescuing fellow refugees from a capsized boat), then fell silent when she took the lead, and later began to speak about an also-ran Hungarian swimmer in another event. When the scandal broke, the commentator had the gall to claim that his TV screen broke down just when Mardini was shown and he got an incomplete list of names...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Oct 3rd, 2016 at 05:42:45 PM EST
Is the failure of this referendum a turning point for Fidesz?  Their high-water mark?  Will this open up more opportunities for Jobbik or the Left parties?  Or something else.

Solar IS Civil Defense
by gmoke on Fri Oct 7th, 2016 at 12:03:09 AM EST


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