Hungary in the run-up to the refugee referendum

In a referendum on October 2 the citizens of Hungary will vote on whether to accept mandatory quotas for the distribution of refugees among EU member states. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán rejects the quota system already approved by Brussels. For some commentators the result is already clear. Others believe that a lack of voter participation may put Orbán in a tight spot.

Open/close all quotes
Die Presse (AT) /

Low voter turnout could be a problem for Fidesz

If the referendum fails it could strengthen Hungary's opposition and undermine the government, Die Presse surmises:

“Given that most of the opposition - apart from Jobbik and a few small parties - have called for a boycott, a failed referendum could put the wind back in its sails. If the voter turnout really is less than 50 percent, the referendum would be a bitter defeat for Orbán. Even if the no vote won overwhelmingly, an invalid election result could be viewed as a victory for the opposition. In any event, since Fidesz took power in 2010 things have never looked as good for the opposition as they do with the quota referendum. A failed referendum would lead to heated debates within Fidesz and expose rifts in the governing camp. Even personal consequences could not be excluded. Such damage to its image could destabilise the government.”

Trud (BG) /

Result of the referendum already clear

The outcome of the referendum is already clear as far as Trud is concerned:

“'Do you want the European Union to be able to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary even without the consent of Parliament?' With the question formulated like this there won't be any big surprises in the result because there can only be one answer. The Hungarian voters can either side with Orbán or admit that the EU is free to do as it pleases in Hungary. Orbán wants to show that the majority of Hungarians are against the 'Brussels bureaucracy' and for retaining sovereignty. … If the referendum is successful it could trigger a wave of referendums in other member states that also want to be rid of the burden of refugee quotas.”

Népszabadság (HU) /

Hungarians also found refuge in Europe

Hungary should welcome immigrants also for historical reasons, author Lásló Bitó writes in Népszabadság:

“In view of our history, we of all people should set a good example regarding the reception of migrants. Because we are one of the last peoples to be taken in by Europe. What's more, as a result of our habits and our heathen beliefs we were seen as foreigners on the continent. Luckily at the time there was a king [Stephen I], who brought the host's culture and beliefs nearer to his people rather than trying to force an unorthodox paganism on Europe. Unfortunately we now have politicians who want to restore Hungary to its former glory by focusing eastward. ... The minds of these elites are clouded by a crude combination of Christian doctrine and heathen nostalgia.”

Mérce (HU) /

Vote should be cancelled

The referendum initiated by Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán has lost all meaning, philosopher Gáspáar Miklós Tamás writes on the website Kettős Mérce:

“Juncker announced in his address to the EU Parliament that the Commission would refrain from putting forward a proposal for the 'binding distribution' of refugees. ... At the EU summit in Bratislava, Angela Merkel also made it clear that there would be no refugee quotas. ... Which means that it no longer makes any sense to hold the referendum. ... The distribution of refugees among the individual EU states has never been anything more than an idea. And this idea is now dead. ... So it's pointless to spend any more public money on the referendum. It should be cancelled as soon as possible.”

Mladá fronta dnes (CZ) /

Orbán could also lose

While the migration opponents seem to be clearly in the majority, the referendum could also turn into a slap in the face for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Mladá fronta dnes postulates:

“The vote looks impossible to lose. Even the question about binding quotas for the distribution of migrants is formulated in such a way that any normal person living in a sovereign country would reject the idea. ... Nevertheless the prime minister could lose the vote. For it to be valid, over 50 percent of those eligible to vote must do so. And that is by no means certain. Despite a huge campaign on the streets and in the state media, the number of Hungarians who are willing to vote has not increased. A recent poll put that figure at just 48 percent. So Orbán decided to give the matter top priority and has called on every last eligible voter to cast his or her ballot. But events on Sunday may well reveal that the Hungarians are less hot under the collar.”

Mozgástér (HU) /

No alternative to rejecting EU quotas

Every Hungarian with a sense of responsibility must vote against the EU refugee quotas in the referendum, writes Tamás Lánczi, a political scientist and Hungarian government supporter, in the Mozgástér blog:

“Eighteen months ago the left was denying the mass migration. We [in the government camp] realized this at the time - and unfortunately we were proven right. Later the left claimed that all the refugees needed our help. In the meantime it has become clear that most of them are economic migrants, in other words participants in a new mass migration. Then the left stubbornly denied that there were terrorists among the refugees. On this point too, unfortunately, we were right. … Therefore I will vote 'no', because this mass migration threatens to destroy Europe entirely. But of course this real danger is also being denied by the left.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) /

Orbán's rhetoric un-European

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has called for refugees to be deported from Europe and kept in camps outside the EU. "Everyone who has come illegally should be rounded up and sent away," he said on the Hungarian website Origo. Orbán has decidedly gone too far, Il Sole 24 Ore comments:

“These are scary words. Because they come from a head of government of the EU. The very same Union in which countries like Germany and Italy are attempting in splendid isolation to persuade their partners of the need to find a joint solution to the refugee crisis. … The national sovereignty Orbán and also the new Polish government keep carelessly citing doesn't give them the right to use extreme words and gestures - and certainly not in the name of Europe's Christian roots. Hungary has already built a wall on its borders. But adding words like 'deportation' and 'rounding up' to the nationalist rhetoric will only serve to distance the country from Europe.”

Magyar Narancs (HU) /

Orbán posing as the saviour of Christianity

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has not only managed to turn many Hungarians against refugees within a short time but has also cast himself as a saviour of Christianity, the anti-government weekly Magyar Narancs fumes:

“Orbán and his propaganda machinery have ensured that the country that wanted to help the war refugees 18 months ago is now mired in fear and horror. His most recent strategy speeches in the Kötcse community [where the country's conservative elite convenes every year] reveal how Orbán sees himself. In the last year, for example, he talked about his horizon having expanded; after saving the Hungarian nation he had realized that his true mission was to save Europe and the Christian civilisation. This year he talked only of saving Christianity. All that was missing was for him to say: 'I am the chosen one!' No doubt that will come next year.”

Népszabadság (HU) /

PM only stands to gain from referendum

Orbán is deliberately inciting hostility towards refugees and immigrants because he knows that this is the best way to expand his power in Hungary, analyst Lajos Rakusz writes in the opposition daily Népszabadság:

“Around ten years ago a survey was carried out on how the Hungarians view immigrants. They were asked about their attitude towards a fictitious ethnic group, the Pirese. More than two-thirds rejected the immigration of the Pirese. This survey was a godsend for Orbán. Why? Because in view of the widespread hostility towards immigrants a referendum on refugees is bound to go his way. … Orbán has created an atmosphere of fear in Hungary. The price of this fear is submission to a government that promises total protection. … So on 2 October we will decide whether we want to live in freedom or in an authoritarian state.”

Magyar Nemzet (HU) /

Orbán wants to shake EU to its very foundations

For Prime Minister Viktor Orbán the referendum is about more than maintaining his grip on power, Magyar Nemzet observes:

“Why is the government trying to achieve a total mobilisation, as if its very survival depended on it? ... Why does it seem to be putting all its eggs in one basket in the referendum? ... The anticipated large number of 'no' votes is not enough. For the government it is crucial that the referendum should also be valid, and for that to be the case four million voters must cast their ballots. ... Orbán is clearly pulling out all the stops. His main focus is the composition and orientation of the Europe of the future, and Hungary's role within it. On top of that he wants to strengthen his own political clout in Europe. The prime minister wants to set a milestone with his referendum on October 2, while at the same time shaking the EU to its very foundations.”

Mozgástér (HU) /

Immigration advocates won't have an easy time

The Hungarian voters' anticipated refusal of refugee quotas could prompt the EU to rethink its immigration policy, political scientist Tamás Lánczi writes in Mozgástér:

“Unlike many other analysts, I believe that the referendum should above all be viewed from the perspective of foreign policy. ... Observers abroad will pay less attention to whether the referendum passes [with 50 percent plus one vote] than to the number of voters who share Orbán's point of view. The more support he secures, the more difficult the negotiations will be for European politicians who support immigration. Political power is not founded on rules but on popular support. Orbán was quick to recognise this, whereas Western European politicians are only starting to realise this now.”

Blog euinside (BG) /

A dangerous precedent

With the referendum on refugee quotas Budapest is trying to bypass a legally binding EU resolution, Adelina Marini criticises in the blog euinside, fearing that the end of the Union is near:

“The outcome of the referendum won't automatically exempt Hungary from taking in refugees. But even more than the Brexit it will undermine the European project which is based on common values and rules. These rules are being broken with increasing frequency. And the EU Commission even promotes this process by granting no end of exceptions and concessions to EU deficit sinners. Despite all the criticism, if the Hungarian referendum is successful it could prompt other member states to hold referendums against EU legislation on the grounds that national politicians view it as detrimental to their national interests. So this referendum has basically sounded the death knell of the EU.”

Mandiner (HU) /

Left can't provide alternative to Orbán

Hungary's left is in complete disarray over next month's referendum on EU refugee quotas, journalist Zsigmond Péterfy scoffs on the opinion portal Mandiner:

“The leftist opposition has once again failed to come up with a united response to the referendum question. Is there anyone in this country who can say off the top of their head what the left's position is? Let's try: if we understand correctly, the Socialists [MSZP] reject the EU quota system but also reject the referendum. The Democratic Coalition [DK], in the meantime, is calling for a boycott of the vote. The Liberals say that people should turn out and vote for the refugee quotas, and the Greens are simply leaving the decision to their voters. And this left wants to unite to defeat Orbán and Fidesz in the 2018 parliamentary elections?”

Mérce (HU) /

Government using panic-mongering tactics

The government has already begun manipulating public opinion via the state-run news agency MTI in the run-up to the referendum on 2 October, warns commentator András Jámbor on the blog portal Kettős Mérce:

“The Hungarian ambassador in Nigeria, a politician from the ruling party Fidesz, was recently quoted on MTI as saying that the refugees were introducing terrible viruses into Europe. Even worse, the wave of refugees was not just brining infectious diseases but also 'genetic diseases' to Europe that didn't yet exist in Hungary. … Against the backdrop of the refugee crisis such panic-mongering is ridiculous. In fact it is appalling. The ambassador, who is also a doctor, should be better informed about the spread of these diseases. And he should know that hardly any refugees come to Hungary from Nigeria. For his part the editor of MTI was clearly out to spread terrible news stories and thus fear.”

Népszabadság (HU) /

The people are united against refugees

Anyone who believes that those who oppose the Orbán government will vote for the distribution of refugees has another thing coming, political scientist Zoltán Lakner writes in Népszabadság:

“Thanks to the way fears have been fuelled in the context of the wave of refugees, the government is highly popular once more. According to a recent poll xenophobia in Hungary was never as rife as it is now. What's more, an international survey has revealed that the majority of Hungarians trust Putin more than they trust Merkel. And one study even shows that a majority of those who support the centre-left opposition are against the distribution of refugees. Many supporters of the opposition completely agree with Orbán on the refugee issue. In other words, they don't want any immigrants in Hungary.”

Dnevnik (SI) /

EU needs migration laws

The Hungarians were against the distribution of refugees to EU states from the start, Dnevnik recalls, and urges the EU to use legislation to bring Budapest into line:

“Now that people are cautiously speaking of a new wave of refugees, it would be good to know what lies at the heart of European migration policy. The EU isn't based on values and principles, but on laws. The key question isn't whether what individual EU states do is in harmony with European values, but if it's in harmony with the laws on which the Union is based. And if such laws don't exist, they must quickly be written.”

Népszava (HU) /

How to sabotage the referendum

The numerous critics of the referendum should take part in the vote but spoil their ballots, Népszava demands:

“How should the confused Hungarian citizen answer a question that the EU never asked in this form? In such cases the best answer is no answer. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't vote, because those who stay at home are supporting the government's dumb question with their passivity - after all, those who do take part and vote against refugees will be in the majority. Which Orbán will try to sell as a victory even if the referendum turns out to be invalid because of lacking participation. … So everyone should go to vote and put a big question mark on the ballot paper. In this way they will be performing their civic duty but not letting themselves be taken for fools.”

Magyar Nemzet (HU) /

Hungarians aren't used to immigrants

The Hungarians' fear of immigrants that seems so exaggerated to the West can be explained by the fact that they have never been faced with a mass influx of migrants, political scientist Ervin Csizmadia comments in Magyar Nemzet:

“In Central and Eastern Europe the problem of immigration never arose as it has done in Western Europe. For instance this region never had colonies, so it never saw any major immigration movements worth mentioning, and consequently Hungarian society has little idea how to deal with a sudden influx of refugees. Admittedly it would be good if Hungarian society were to behave like Western society, in other words displaying 'tolerance' and 'humaneness'. … But the societies of the West have had to learn over many centuries how to deal with immigrants.”

Mozgástér (HU) /

Orbán just wants the backing of his people

The Hungarian referendum is not a vote on whether the country remains in the EU but an instrument for giving legitimacy to the government's policy, political scientist Tamás Lánczi writes in answer to Prime Minister Orbán's critics on the Mozgástér blog:

“Malicious tongues claim the referendum is dangerous because it could mean that Hungary drifts out of the EU. That would be correct if the government had equated the vote on the quota system with a vote on staying in the EU. … I assume the government knows about the surveys according to which an overwhelming majority of Hungarians wants to stay in the EU. Even if it were the government's intention to exit the EU, this would be a lost cause. … Referendums are above all preventive instruments, to avoid the people getting the feeling that decisions are being made without consulting them. … It is not for nothing that referendums are held. After all, they have the greatest powers of legitimation.”

Público (PT) /

No EU membership without taking in refugees

If a majority of Hungarians vote against taking in refugees in the referendum Budapest must act accordingly and pull out of the EU, Público demands:

“Under the EU mechanism for distributing 160,000 refugees Hungary would have to take in just 1,294 people currently living in Greece and Italy. A almost laughable figure for a country of ten million inhabitants. But thanks to Orbán's aggressive campaign it's likely that the No camp will win. If that happens Hungary should at least be as consistent as the UK: you can't expect to be a member of a union but just pick out those aspects of membership that suit you and reject the rest. And in this particular case that 'rest' is called solidarity!”

Mandiner (HU) /

A pointless referendum

The Hungarian referendum on EU refugee quotas is driven purely by populism, journalist András Stumpf comments angrily on the web portal Mandiner:

“What consequences does a referendum have if it is valid and successful? Parliament creates a law that corresponds to the people's will. So who is bound by the result of a referendum? The Hungarian parliament. No one else. Certainly not Brussels. Yet we have a situation in which the representatives of the government are naturally in the majority in parliament. They can adopt any laws they like, for instance: Brussels can't tell us who comes into the country and who doesn't. The ruling parties' stance is that they don't want the 'compulsory naturalization' of refugees. According to the polls a large majority of the population is also against this. Ergo: the referendum is totally unnecessary.”

El Mundo (ES) /

Anti-Europeans in the slipstream of Brexit vote

As far as the Spanish daily El Mundo is concerned the referendum in Hungary is a brazen insult:

“It must be made clear to Budapest that such an infringement of the rules will have consequences. The result of the referendum doesn't really matter because it deals with a subject that falls under Brussels' remit so the European Court of Justice will be able to overturn any decision that contravenes the obligations entered vis-à-vis the EU. … In the slipstream of the Brexit all the populist ultra-nationalists, anti-Europeans and xenophobes are trying to replace decades of community brotherliness, political agreements and diplomacy with referendums full of demagogy. … As it takes place on October 2, the referendum will coincide with the repetition of the presidential election in Austria in which the far right could emerge as the party with the most votes. Let us hope that the European dream, which is what is at stake here, doesn't turn into a nightmare.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Refugees a big issue again thanks to Orbán

Despite all the criticism Prime Minister Orbán has put a pressing issue back on the agenda, Der Standard comments:

“He must be thanked even outside Hungary for once again raising the matter of refugees, which has been almost forgotten amidst the Brexit, the attacks in Turkey and here in Austria the repetition of the election. According to the UNHCR the numbers of people on the Balkan Route has once again risen slightly. And at 70,930 the number of refugees registered in Italy in the first six months of 2016 dropped only slightly compared to the record year 2015. It can still just about manage to take care of them all, the government in Rome has stated. For now.”

Dimokratia (GR) /

Regaining control of our own country at last

The referendum in Hungary is a further step towards more sovereignty for Europe's nation states, the conservative daily Dimokratia writes:

“All those who are observing the disintegration of the rigid supranational structure called the European Union realise that this is happening because of a caste made up of Germans like Mr Schäuble. … The Hungarian referendum is an important chapter in Europe's history of freeing itself from the German hegemony. … The Greek adventure, the EU institutions' lack of democratic legitimation, the Brexit and Berlin's unbending stance have prompted millions of Europeans to reflect. They want to be in charge of their own country once more and to be the ones to decide its fate together with their elected representatives. After this referendum more may follow. The emancipation of the countries and their peoples is nigh.”

Demokrata (HU) /

Unlike Merkel Orbán asks his people what they want

In contrast to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán none of the Western leaders have asked the people to legitimise their stance in the refugee crisis, political scientist Péter Farkas Zárug contends in the conservative weekly Demokrata:

“Everyone criticises Orbán, saying he's not a European, not a Christian and of course not a liberal. He's been lambasted for putting up a fence to protect his people - who had expressly stated that they did not want to accept or look after Muslim migrants for a long period of time. But did Merkel ask the Germans, Faymann the Austrians or Hollande the French? No! None of the Western European decision-makers has ever been given a mandate by their people on this issue. The upshot: their refugee policies are not legitimate.”

wSieci (PL) /

Only a referendum can prevent Islamisation

The Hungarians are showing how things should be done, the national conservative daily news magazine wSieci writes, and calls for a referendum in Poland too:

“We should follow Orbán's example and also organise a referendum on accepting refugees in Poland. Because in fact nothing is more important nowadays than protecting Europe and our country from de facto Islamisation, which is what will happen in one or two generations if things don't change. In addition, all over Europe we are unfortunately unable to defend ourselves against the harebrained policies of left-wing ideologists. Consequently we must exhaust all the instruments at our disposal to protect Poland and the Poles. If Brussels starts exerting pressure on this issue, a clear 'no' to the mass immigration of refugees would also strengthen the PiS government.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Orbán attacking Europe's basic values

The planned reform is a selfish abuse of democratic principles, the liberal daily Jutarnji list writes angrily:

“The outcome of the referendum is predetermined by the question it asks. How can you answer the question 'Do you want someone else to force you to do something against your will?' with anything but a 'no'? This is precisely the kind of question the Hungarian people will be asked. … A referendum is a democratic declaration of will on the part of the people, it's true, but in this case it is also an instrument of abuse. When they joined the EU the Hungarians, Slovakians, Poles and other nations declared that they were joining a family whose basic values they shared. Now they want their individuality to be recognised and to preserve their own identities. With this referendum Orbán is attacking the very foundation of the EU - solidarity.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Soon nothing will be left of the EU

The EU could soon be left unrecognisable if Budapest pushes through its plans, the liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza fears:

“The result of the referendum is already clear. The government might just as well ask the people if they want eternal youth and beauty. ... The purpose of the referendum is to reinforce Orbán's image as a statesman who cares for the security of his fellow citizens. He may well be able to maintain this image until the next parliamentary elections in 2018, which he will no doubt win. Nevertheless just what the EU will look like at that stage is uncertain. The refugee crisis could change it irrevocably. The collapse of the Schengen Area seems increasingly likely. And the states of Central and Eastern Europe which don't want to shoulder any responsibility regarding the refugees could well play a key role in this collapse.”