Hungary after the refugee referendum

A month after the referendum on refugee quotas the whole issue of refugees has disappeared from public discourse in Hungary. 98 percent of those who voted cast their ballot against the EU quota system, but only 44 percent of eligible voters took part. A 50 percent turnout was required for the referendum to be valid. Did Orbán fail with his refugee referendum?

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Blog Zsolt Gréczy (HU) /

Refugees suddenly no longer an issue

Refugees have suddenly disappeared from public discussion since the referendum on October 2, Zsolt Gréczy observes in his blog:

“Others have also noticed that since the failure of Orbán's referendum migrants have suddenly disappeared from view. They're no longer shown in faked reports on state television, standing on the border and impatiently and aggressively demanding to be let in. And all of a sudden they no longer want to rape our daughters and wives. What's more, for inexplicable reasons they no longer want to take away our jobs and our culture. Somehow the whole refugee issue is now cloaked in silence. Since Orbán failed with his referendum, which cost the public millions, the mood of panic has dissipated. How odd!”

Contributors (RO) /

Prime minister's time running out

The referendum is the beginning of the end for Viktor Orbán politically, political scientist Valentin Naumescu writes on web portal Contributors:

“Orbán's clock is ticking. There are already calls for him to step down after the failed referendum. … Naturally Orbán won't budge because of that, but this is all just the beginning. In 2002 (when Orbán lost the election) voter turnout was at 70.52 percent. … In 2014 it was 61.84 percent. Now just 40 percent cast their vote. That, too, is a sign of how seriously the citizens' take Orbán's initiatives. The fiasco of October 2 will trigger internal criticism of him (perhaps even within his own party) and that will be the start of his political decline. Craving too much popularity is damaging and can backfire on those who focus only on boosting their poll ratings.”

Adevărul (RO) /

A lack of credible political rivals

Journalist Eva Galambos takes a different view in Adevărul:

“Even if there are those who see this failure as the beginning of the end for the prime minister, I wouldn't be so sure. Orbán has repeatedly shown how creative he can be when it comes to inventing slogans and populist measures that go down well with a large section of the population. I don't believe he's ready to give up now. For the parliamentary election [in spring 2018] to produce another result than expected the left will have to be reinvigorated and show the will to present a united front and present a platform that looks at least as credible as that of Fidesz, if not even more credible. Unfortunately I don't see anyone who would be capable of achieving this.”

Novi list (HR) /

Hungarians see through propaganda

Orbán's paranoid propaganda over refugees seems to have reached its limits, Novi list comments:

“Clearly a majority of Hungary's 8.3 million voters did not succumb to the Göbbels-like propaganda. Because the 2,000 refugees that Hungary would have to take in according to the agreed EU quotas would have a hard time competing for any desirable job. Maybe some reasonable Hungarians also asked themselves why Orbán has wasted 40 million euros on futile messages and a referendum that will have no legal ramifications in any event. This money could have paid for the creation of a sufficient number of new jobs both for the refugees and for those who fear they'll lose their jobs to the refugees.”

Právo (CZ) /

PM still firm in the saddle

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán can be satisfied even though he fell short of the quorum for a valid vote, Právo explains:

“Orbán believes the time is ripe to change the constitution and give Brussels the finger. Meanwhile the Hungarian opposition won't be deprived of its victory, seconded by Brussels, where there is talk of the glorious victory of 'passive resistance' against Orbán. … Even if the prime minister didn't obtain a majority - if he retains the support of three-quarters of those who voted for him now he needn't worry about the next elections. Moreover his minority in the referendum was a lot larger than the 'majority' that elected the Hungarian MEPs. And the number of voters who cast their ballot against the quotas was higher than those who voted for Hungary to join the EU 13 years ago.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Orbán's seeds have borne fruit

Orbán may have failed with his refugee referendum but he has left his unmistakable mark on EU refugee policy over the last year, Der Standard concludes:

“Even back then the Hungarian prime minister was the first to vehemently insist on stringent 'defence measures' on the EU's outer border with Serbia; the first to announce without any beating around the bush that he would build a high fence to stop the refugees on the Balkan route. … The seeds Viktor Orbán has sown and which aim to fend off foreigners rather than integrate them have borne fruit. He has put his stamp on everything. Without doubt the referendum is a domestic defeat for him. But make no mistake about it, now and for the time being EU policy is aimed at keeping migrants away, not taking them in - to the detriment of refugees.”

Mandiner (HU) /

Hatred won't just go away

The hatred whipped up by the Hungarian government won't go away after the referendum, Mandiner fears:

“A mood of doom and gloom prevails among broad swathes of the population. Many people really did believe that the fate of the country - and of Europe, even - depended on the referendum. ... The government incited a huge amount of anger among the people, and that does not bode well for the country. ... Unfortunately we must conclude that this agitation against the 'migrants' has only reached a temporary high point. For years now foreigners living in Hungary have faced the hatred of mainstream society, to say nothing of the omnipresent hatred of the Roma. ... It is out of the question that the cumulated hatred of recent weeks will simply dissipate after the referendum.”