Violent language and bitterly contested claims mark Viktor Orbns referendum campaign to combat EU plan
The Hungarian governments map of Europe is dotted with stark warnings of no-go zones it claims are patrolled by violent immigrants, six in the UK clustered around London alone.
The poisonous graphic, in a leaflet handed out to voters ahead of a controversial referendum on refugees, pays no heed to facts or geography but its message is clear. It forms part of an expensive and expansive campaign by authorities in Budapest that is whipping up xenophobic sentiment at home, and sowing tension far beyond Hungarian borders.
The ballot, conceived and championed by prime minister Viktor Orbn, is ostensibly about whether parliament should allow the European Union to set a quota for refugee resettlement within the country. But critics contend that he is using groundless fear to bolster his position at home and shore up a challenge to Europe.
They point out that the ballot comes as Europe is backing away from the mandatory quota system that officially inspired the campaign: there are just a few thousand refugees in Hungary today, and that number is unlikely to rise. Syrians, Afghans and others crossing into Europe are not drawn by dreams of a Hungarian future.
One has the suspicion that this referendum is not about the refugees, that it is rather about the manipulation of the voters, and some kind of strengthening of positions within the EU, said pastor Gbor Ivnyi, a one-time ally in the anti-Communist movement who baptised two of Orbns children. Hungary is not a target country in this refugee crisis.
A campaign that is already spreading hate at home risks having serious fallout for Europe as well, further fracturing leaders already split over everything from the refugee crisis to the euros woes, and potentially consolidating Orbns efforts to challenge the status quo with a bloc of other eastern nations.
Even stalwart supporters of Orbns initiative often admit they have had no interaction, much less trouble, with outsiders. Ive only met foreigners who are tourists and not had any problems, said cheery retiree Lszl Czeto, 87, firmly committed to supporting the government. I just dont want a lot of people to come to Hungary. I think they are not real refugees.
Yet there are clear political advantages to focusing on refugees a target largely absent and unable to respond at a time when Hungary is grappling with concerns from rampant graft to failing public services, critics say.