BY ROBERT DELLINGER
More than a decade after Hungary joined the European Union, the country’s deviation from the shared principles of democracy and freedom is both a source for concern and a warning sign for others. On April 8, 2018, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán won his third consecutive term, cementing his place as a leading figure among European right-wing nationalists. The election featured spying allegations, false media coverage, counter-leaks, and corruption scandals, escalating Orbán’s xenophobic message of “ethnic homogeneity.” This victory could encourage Orbán to increase his emphasis on central European alliances against EU migration policies, and increase cooperation with other conservative leaders.
Orbán, who coined the expression “illiberal democracy,” has spent the previous eight years in office pushing his increasingly authoritarian populist agenda. His policies have involved anti-migrant policies, restrictions on the freedom of press, and controversial changes to Hungary’s constitution. It had been widely anticipated that if voters turned out in substantial numbers, it would be to benefit the opposing parties, but that prediction was misplaced. With a record voter turnout of nearly 70 percent, Orbán will have strong grounds to argue that his nationalist policies have been given a clear mandate. Orbán’s right-wing Fidesz party managed to collect 67 percent of the seats in Hungary’s 199-seat parliament. By obtaining the two-thirds “supermajority,” the seemingly unstoppable leader has secured his ability to change the constitution and further bend the nation to his will.
Orbán ran his campaign on the single issue of migration, accusing NGOs and the media of being part of a plot by the Hungarian-American George Soros to send millions of migrants to Hungary. George Soros, a Hungarian and Jewish humanitarian who established the Open Society Foundation and backs open borders in Europe, was denounced all through Orbán’s crusade as the direct opposite of Christian and Hungarian values. Furthermore, in an effort to target Soros’ business interests, Orbán’s administration sanctioned a law commanding NGOs to disclose any foreign-based funding. On April 9, the day following the decision, the legislature reported a bill that would require the constitutional framework to ban pro-migrant NGOs. Orbán’s plan to expel migrants is already commencing, as evidenced by his xenophobic campaign platform.
In recent months, campaign propaganda posters were plastered across the country depicting the word “stop” against a backdrop of migrants wrestling to pass through a border. For many years now, Orbán has waged a hate campaign against both the “mostly Muslim” refugees advancing and weaponizing xenophobia that was instilled in Hungary. Orbán projected himself as a saviour of Hungary’s Christian culture against Muslim migration into Europe, a picture which resonated with more than 2.5 million voters. Orbán’s demonization of Muslim refugees, as well as his anti-Semitic attacks on Soros, is an attempt to transform Hungary into an illiberal democracy.
Orbán’s rhetoric isn’t an anomaly. In recent years, tides of populism around the world have triumphed, from Brexit to Donald Trump’s victory, marking a significant shift in worldwide geopolitical progression. Hungary’s election is important because it represents a worrying trend, a continued backlash against liberal values and the consequent overall benefits of immigration. It demonstrates that conservative populism, anti-immigration messages, and painting foreigners as the enemy will bring landslide victories at the polls. This is particularly true in nations where there has been mass immigration and refugee crises on a regular basis. Hungary’s populists exploit the migration “issue” as much as they please but they will be unable to deliver on the promise of erecting barriers at every border. A renewed sense of shared global responsibility is the only answer, not walls, real or rhetorical.