By Martin Smith | 19 August 2016
Hungary’s far right racist Fidesz government has launched a referendum on refugees, aiming to bolster its popularity by tapping anti-migrant racism.
The move is one that will be watched – and potentially copied – by racist parties across Europe, many of whom are trying to build by stirring up hatred of refugees and other migrants.
Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister and leader of the Fidesz party, announced that Hungary would hold a referendum on migration on 2 October 2016. The question to be put to 8 million Hungarian voters – at least 50% of whom have to vote for the outcome to be valid – is:
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?
The Fidesz government is opposing the European Commission’s proposal on reform of the EU asylum system that includes permanent quotas for distributing refugees based on member states’ size and wealth. The Hungarian government is campaigning for – and expects – an overwhelming “No” vote.
In every village, town and city in Hungary government sponsored billboards have gone up saying: “We send a message to Brussels, so that they understand it too.” Other posters say, “Hungary for the Hungarians” and “Refugees are not welcome here”.
Fidesz is an increasingly authoritarian far right racist populist party that rules Hungary like a one-party state. Some commentators describe it as the “Hungarian Mafia”. Emboldened by the Brexit referendum in Britain, Orbán is hoping the referendum will make him more powerful on both the domestic and European front.
All the major polls show Orbán will not only get his “No” vote but will easily pass the 50% threshold.
Only a year ago, Orbán and his Fidesz government found themselves behind hardcore fascist party Jobbik in opinion polls. They reversed this trend by taking a tough and racist stance on migration and the refugee crisis. Orbán hopes that by keeping migration at the top of the political agenda he will increase his government’s popularity and take support from Jobbik, the main rival to his party.
Jobbik took more than 20% of the vote in the 2014 general election. The fascist party understands that Orbán is trying to undermine its voting base, but is calling on its supporters to also vote “No”.
The referendum is creating a toxic mix of racism and anti-migrant hysteria. This climate helps Fidesz and further legitimises Jobbik.
What makes the political situation even more depressing is the poor response and lack of clarity from the Hungarian left and liberal parties. For example, Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), the centre-left political party led by former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, is calling for a boycott of the referendum, with the slogan, “Stay home, stay in Europe!”
After months of debate, Magyar Szocialista Párt (MSZP), the main centre-left party, has declared that it opposes the term “boycott” and will be calling for an “abstention”. Only Magyar Liberális Párt (the Liberal Party) has been campaigning for a “yes” vote.
Many of my Hungarian friends argue that participation in the vote only legitimises an unconstitutional referendum. But there is a strong case to vote in the referendum. An abstention vote would give the impression that everyone backs Fidesz’s anti-migrant message. If 20% voted “Yes” to defend refugees it would send a clear signal that there is opposition to Orbán’s racist agenda.
More importantly it could provide the foundations of a much-needed antiracist and antifascist movement in Hungary.