Tue Jun 23rd, 2015 at 03:16:36 PM EST
The latest insanity of Hungary's right-populist government is an anti-refugee campaign copying the worst of Western European far-right parties. The campaign itself is quite bizarre, and prompted some push-back from unusual quarters.
From the beginning of this year, there has been a very big increase in refugees from Kosovo, most of whom enter the EU via the Serbian–Hungarian border; while Syrian and Iraqi refugees also arrive on the route.
The right-populist government of Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party jumped on the occasion to start an anti-immigration campaign, with the worst slogans Western Europeans are familiar with: they should not take away the jobs of Hungarians, should learn "our culture" (what, corruption and swearing?), their numbers should be limited (even if Hungary's per capita share of refugees is still so low that the country could take in more in a proportional redistribution of arrivals at all EU borders). And now a fence shall be erected along the Serbian border, because walls are sooooo successful at stopping immigration. While this is far from the first of its kind (the Greek–Turkish border has had anti-immigration fences for years), it's quite symbolic considering that the Iron Curtain (the one-time Warshaw Pact border defences) was first opened in Hungary.
The real reasons for the anti-refugee campaign are quite transparent: on one hand, Fidesz needed a distraction from a high-profile scandal of the collapse of a fraudulent brokerage firm whose leader had the best high-level connections in the regime; on the other hand, they reacted to losing a by-election to the candidate of far-right Jobbik by going no-holds-barred far-right themselves.
However, this campaign is quite odd and out-of-place in multiple ways:
- The government plastered the country full with billboards with the ugly xenophobic slogans, as if we would have elections (yet the next one is due in three years).
- The whole rhetoric is imported: while anti-immigrant and anti-refugee xenophobia is dominant in Western Europe, they have no tradition here (local racists focus on Roma).
- The oddest import is that about foreigners taking away jobs: Hungary is no destination for the refugees and legal and "illegal" immigrants but just a transit country.
The xenophobic campaign prompted some unusual reactions. One of note came from the Catholic Church: while for years, the top clergy kept mum about all the misdeeds of the Fidesz government due to its pro-clerical measures, now Hungary's Catholic Archishop made it clear that attacking refugees is anti-Christian, quoting the directly relevant Bible passage.
And yesterday in the Budapest subway, I photographed a billboard paid for by the UNHCR, an unusual direct intervention in politics:
(It says "Cricket player - Hungarian national team - Refugee".)
I'm unsure what the medium-term result of the xenophobic campaign will be, but I am rather certain that it won't be major voter gains for Fidesz from Jobbik.