EU elections in Hungary: The Catch ‘19

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A Hungarian police officer patrols the enlarged barbed wire transit zone set up for migrants at the Hungary's southern border with Serbia near Tompa, 169 kms southeast of Budapest, Hungary, 6 April 2017. [Sandor Ujvari/EPA/EFE]

Hungary is now caught in an anti-migration and xenophobic discourse as the society did not have the chance to learn or prepare enough, and now it seems almost impossible to change this situation, writes Marcell Lörincz.

Marcell Lörincz is the director of Subjective Values Foundation Hungary and vice-chair of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR)

In a few days, Europeans elect a new European Parliament. 21 MEPs will be sent from Hungary.  What’s at stake for anti-racism in Hungary? A few recent developments give some hints: László Kövér, Speaker of the Parliament, made homophobic comments at a public event.

On 21 May the one-year-old ultra-right movement “Mi Hazánk” (Our Homeland) organised a demonstration against “Gypsy crime”. And the whole country is covered with one message – “We shall stop migration”. It is campaign time for sure, even though most voters are not really interested or do not understand what is at stake on 26 May.

In 2004, after several years of hard work of law harmonisation and institutional preparation, Hungary joined the EU. People believed that something amazing had happened. The average citizen had some fears about the changes which were coming, but the air was full of optimism. We were on the way to become a true European state.

Only a bit more than ten years passed when the first national campaign appeared, sponsored by the Hungarian government, openly criticising and attacking EU decision makers, blaming Eurocrats for acting against Hungary’s interests.

The topic of migration, in particular, was brought up as something forced by a vague conspiracy led by George Soros, but involving “Brussels” too.

The simplified statement from the ruling Fidesz party was (and still is) that Europe is becoming browner and that the “invasion” of Muslims must be stopped – and the only person in the country who can do the job is Viktor Orbán.

This narrative is helped by the fact that there is no classical political dialogue in Hungary between opposition parties and the government.  The vast majority of voters live in a well-isolated media bubble.

According to the government’s side, which also controls most of the media, we Hungarians will lose our identity in Europe because of incoming migrants. On the other side, the opposition criticises the high level of corruption and fake propaganda of Fidesz but cannot measure up to Orbán’s communication machine.

As a critical thinker and an anti-racist activist, I’m trying to understand those who are afraid of migration. These people are frightened by criminality which they believe comes along with migration (terrorism included).

They also fear that our culture, beliefs, traditions will be forgotten or even forbidden in the near future. And most of these people are frightened just by the masses of newcomers. They see images of millions of people from Africa and Asia who all want to come to Europe and indirectly to Hungary.

To take our jobs, places where we live, our land, our children, our values and our country of course. This is what these people believe, or at least this is what is communicated to them.

And it’s all black and white right now in Hungary. One side (the smaller one) thinks that these things won’t happen, while the bigger side shares the views of Fidesz and gives full support to the government and Viktor Orbán just to save Hungary, Christianity and cultural (and ethnic) homogeneity.

They don’t want to live in a multicultural world, they want stability and no change.

The society in Hungary is not prepared to adapt to such changes or to deal with these challenges.

The lessons about the necessity of the rule of law, human rights, respect towards other cultures and religions taste like a bitter pill. Only a leadership planning for the long term could explain these complex ideas, risking to lose some popularity – but then, decades later our society would not be in such a trap.

However, Hungary is caught now as we didn’t have the chance to learn or prepare enough.  Now it seems almost impossible to change this situation.

If you talk about migration false information and biased messages are spread without any counter-narratives. In case you do raise your voice to say something different – then you need to take a position and you become an enemy of the state.

What came to my mind is from Joseph Heller’s classic book: “That’s some catch, that Catch ‘19,” we observe. “It’s the best there is,” you agree.

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