On January 31 Századvég published a public opinion poll in which it claimed that only half of the country’s population consider Hungary’s membership in the European Union “useful [but reject further integration].” Specifically, 49% of the population find the membership “advantageous” from Hungary’s point of view while 39% consider it “disadvantageous.” The rest, 13%, are undecided. Eurobarometer came out with somewhat similar results: only 47% of those asked said that “they have trust in the European Union.”
I was somewhat surprised by these findings because a couple of days before Századvég’s results came out I read about another opinion poll, conducted by Medián, which emphatically stated that “those who are in favor of Hungary’s membership in the Union are still in a significant majority.” As of last December, according to Medián, 71% of the Hungarians expressed their satisfaction with Hungary’s membership.
So, whom we should believe? Actually, it is possible that all these polls are accurate because the answers very much depend on the way the questions are phrased. Surely, there is a difference between “useful,” “advantageous,” or “trust” in connection with Union membership.
Let’s focus on Medián’s results because this company has been conducting monthly surveys on this question ever since 2004. At the 2004 referendum 84% of the voters opted for membership, and pro-EU sentiment remained relatively stable through 2008 when it was 81%. Since then the numbers have dropped, steadily but not dramatically. In 2011 71% of Hungarian voters were still on board. Interestingly enough, Medián claims that 80% of Fidesz voters favor Hungary’s membership in the Union, while MSZP voters are somewhat less enthusiastic (74%). Even Jobbik voters are not as anti-European Union as one would think after hearing some of Gábor Vona’s speeches. Half of Jobbik sympathizers would still vote for EU membership if the referendum were held today.
In December 2011, the last time Medián checked the situation, only 25% of the population was ready to support Viktor Orbán’s “war of independence” against the IMF and the European Union. It is possible that in the last month the situation has changed as a result of the European Union’s firm stand against Viktor Orbán’s new constitutional arrangements. László Beck, director of research of Medián, said in an interview that he considers Viktor Orbán’s anti-European statements counterproductive because in his opinion they only strengthen the euroskeptic Jobbik camp. As Fidesz voters abandon the party there is a likelihood that, inspired by the anti-union rhetoric of Orbán, they will actually join Jobbik.
If Medián’s monthly survey is correct and support for Hungary’s membership in the European Union is strongest among Fidesz voters, then what on earth can we make of the huge mass demonstration dubbed “Békement” (Peace Walk) on January 21 when, according to the lowest estimates, at least 100,000 people demonstrated in support of the Orbán government? The demonstration was announced on January 11 and at that point the organizers claimed that the demonstration was supposed to express their displeasure at the “misleading and biased news in the international media that shows Hungary in an unfair light.” A week later, the organizers emphatically claimed that “they are going to demonstrate for Hungary and for Europe.” They say “yes” to Europe but “no” to what “certain political and media circles say about Hungary.” This is a far cry from the eventual message of the demonstration. The leading organizers carried this huge sign at the head of the demonstration:
To defend the country from unfair criticism is very different from not wanting to become a colony.
Surely, Fidesz and the government were behind this demonstration. It was most likely organized to coincide with Viktor Orbán’s impending meeting with José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. It was supposed to show that Viktor Orbán’s government is still popular and, perhaps more importantly, that Hungarians are angry. In fact, they are so angry that if the European Union is too high handed with the prime minister of the country they will revolt against the colonizers.
One can be almost certain that this was the message Viktor Orbán himself conveyed to Barroso. Whether during their two-hour talk Barroso said that European politicians in Brussels are fully aware that some of this anti-European Union sentiment is actually fueled by Viktor Orbán himself we will never know. Did the trick work? Again, we don’t know.
But we do know that Orbán’s attitude during his last visit to Brussels was very different from his earlier behavior, for example, on the fast track pact talks in December. If Orbán now plays the role of the devoted supporter of the European Union, what will those people in the Peace Walk say when they realize that they demonstrated in vain against Hungary’s colonial status, that their beloved prime minister is himself selling out the country to the colonizers in Brussels?
One could say, let that be Viktor Orbán’s headache, but there is the possibility that the Hungarian prime minister’s tricky political games will backfire and that the only beneficiary of his double talk will be Jobbik, which is only too ready to receive disappointed Fidesz fans. Two weeks ago at a Jobbik demonstration people tried to burn a European Union flag and today Jobbik politicians blamed the EU for the bankruptcy of Malév. Where will it end?
Abroad Hungarian government propaganda tries to convince foreign politicians and the public that the “moderate” Fidesz government is the only party that can stop the tide of the extreme right in Hungary. But this is a thoroughly misleading depiction of the real situation. Fidesz, and particularly Viktor Orbán himself, is responsible in large measure for the shift in Hungary toward the extreme right.