Hungary’s ‘Zero Refugee’ Strategy

Lili Bayer, Politico, September 20, 2016

The poster in a Budapest street carries a startling message.

“Did you know that the average Hungarian sees more UFOs than refugees in a lifetime?”

It’s part of a satirical campaign with a serious purpose: To oppose the government’s anti-immigration rhetoric and policies ahead of a controversial referendum on migrants.

The Two-Tailed Dog Party, a grassroots activist group that often wields humor as a political weapon, issued a call to the public for donations in order to create the campaign. More than 4,000 Hungarians responded with their wallets, donating about 100,000 euros to finance the satirical posters. It’s an unusual display of dissidence. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party generally doesn’t meet much domestic resistance to its harsh rhetoric and policies on immigrants and refugees.

On October 2, Hungarians will be asked one question–“Do you want the European Union to be entitled to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of parliament?”–a wording that has deepened divisions between Budapest and the European Union.

According to a poll from Republikon, 73 percent say they will vote “no” on the question, the result the government is pushing for. However, it is unclear whether turnout will be high enough to validate the referendum, and, in any case, the vote won’t change the unwelcoming reception refugees already face when they arrive on Hungary’s borders.

This is classic Orbán politics: intended to win political support at home while annoying Brussels.

“We may lose our European values, our very identity, by degrees like the live frog allowing itself to be slowly cooked to death in a pan of water,” he said earlier this month in a speech to the Hungarian parliament, criticizing EU immigration policy and urging Hungarians to vote.

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A poll from the Pew Research Center in spring this year showed 82 percent of Hungarians believed refugees were a “burden on our country because they take our jobs and social benefits.” The poll also found that 76 percent believed refugees would increase the likelihood of terrorism in their country.

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If the streetscape is anything to go by, the government is speaking with the loudest voice. A bus ride around Budapest reveals government-sponsored anti-refugee billboards on every corner, including messages such as “Did you know that since the beginning of the immigration crisis the harassment of women has risen sharply in Europe?” Every household received a booklet in the mail informing them of the government’s position on refugees and deriding bureaucrats in Brussels. Even Facebook is filled with taxpayer-funded ads, urging social media users to defend Hungary’s future.

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