Xenophobia should not determine Hungary’s election verdict

As the recent Italian elections showed, xenophobic fear and fury can be a potent force.
Sunday 25/03/2018
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives on the stage to address the crowd celebrating the national holiday in Budapest, on March 15. (AP)
Puzzling appeal. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses a crowd celebrating the national holiday in Budapest, on March 15. (AP)

Hungary has a general election April 8 but there is a fatalistic sense the verdict will change nothing.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz political party appear to be solidly on course to win a third consecutive landslide victory by intensifying their road-tested xenophobic message of “ethnic homogeneity.”

Polls indicate Fidesz will win about 50% of the vote nationwide, which proves that migrants and Muslims have become a handy tool for populist European politicians to consolidate and extend their power.

Although migration flows into Europe have dropped off considerably since 2016, Orban continues to beat the drum against “external forces and international powers” like the European Union and the United Nations. Both of those entities, he alleges, want to force Hungary to accept migrants, weakening “our cultural identity (which will) slowly evaporate.”

The appeal of such exclusivist rhetoric is puzzling at a time when migrant flows have slowed everywhere in Europe. EU countries received half as many asylum applications in 2017 than the year before. It’s obvious that fears over migration often bear no relation to the scale of the problem in a particular European country. It has more to do with the way politicians present the issue to voters.

However, as the recent Italian elections showed, xenophobic fear and fury can be a potent force. The tide of xenophobia sweeping across Europe makes the plight of migrants more precarious by far.

In the final analysis, of course, Hungary’s populists exploit the migration issue as much as they please but they will not be able to deliver on the blithe promise of erecting barriers on every border.

A renewed sense of shared global and regional responsibility is the only answer. Not walls, real or rhetorical.

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