I am almost certain that, in the long run, the Orbán government will not come out well from its planned confrontation with the European Union. At the moment, the details of the government’s position are being worked out by clever Fidesz strategists. The government is planning to modify the present law governing the treatment of political refugees, a law that was introduced after the European Union found the previous provisions illegal. Prior to 2012 Hungary was able to arrest any and all who illegally crossed its borders. But, as Viktor Orbán admitted recently, the European Union threatened Hungary with infringement proceedings unless it abandoned this practice, and therefore the government caved.
From the various Fidesz politicians who in the last couple of days have expressed their opinions on the matter and have offered solutions to what they consider a serious problem, it looks as if the government would like to revert back to the days prior to 2012 when Hungarian border guards could arrest anyone who illegally crossed into Hungary, regardless of their possible refugee status. But surely, a restoration of the old law is out of the question, so new legal tricks must be employed. An alleged solution is already in the works. The Fidesz caucus would change the law on the refugee status of immigrants by authorizing the government to set up “a list of so-called safe third countries.” The idea is that no one would be accepted into Hungary who, in the course of his emigration, had been in a safe country.
We don’t know how long the list of “safe” countries will be, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Serbia heads it. Once Serbia is declared a safe country, there is no need for barbed wire fences along the Hungarian-Serbian border, which had been mentioned earlier by some of the politicians. Everybody who is caught crossing the border will be expelled immediately, no questions asked. Critics of the plan claim that the Serbian situation is not as rosy as Fidesz politicians portray it. The Serbian police “sometimes beat the refugees, sometimes rob them, and at times they do both.” And according to Boldizsár Nagy, a constitutional lawyer and an expert on refugee issues, declaring Greece one of those safe havens will not work either because Greece is so overwhelmed by the influx of refugees that the European Commission only recently asked other countries to take over about 20,000 refugees currently in Greece.
The government wants to change the definition of political refugee as soon as possible: anyone entering Hungary from a safe third country will lose his claim to refugee status. And Orbán is in a great hurry. He wants to have the amendment passed before the summer recess. It is likely that, with Fidesz and Jobbik votes, the amendment will sail through. But what still remains a question is the practical application of this newly amended law. Arresting everyone who crosses into Hungary from Serbia doesn’t strike me as a real option. What will the government do with all the people it arrests? Sending them back to Serbia might result in legal wrangling between the two countries. I should mention that by now the thousands who cross the Serb-Hungarian border are not Kosovars. On Sunday the police caught 325 individuals, most of whom came from Afghanistan and Syria. According to estimates, 80% of the people who arrive in Hungary come from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, most of whom are definitely eligible for refugee status.
The frantic propaganda campaign against immigrants conducted by the government might just backfire, especially if their clever legal loophole turns out to be a dud. It could easily happen that the hastily put together plan will simply not work in practice. Or that the European Commission will take action against it. If after such a propaganda campaign Orbán’s plan fails, the reputation of the government may be further damaged.
As it stands, even some Fidesz supporters find the huge billboards distasteful. Népszabadság reported a case of a billboard that was placed in a schoolyard in Budapest. Teachers and parents initiated a “billboard reduction” campaign. They filled eggs with paint, which they threw against the billboard. Együtt organized a defacing campaign, and the party’s activists did quite a job on many of the posters. A group of six youngsters was arrested and kept in jail overnight. Two others tore down a billboard and then went to the closest police station and turned themselves in.
What I like best is an “anti-poster” campaign initiated by the “Two-Tailed Dog’s Party,” which as you can imagine is a group of jokesters who got together with a popular political blog called Vastagbőr (Thick skin). They began collecting money on Facebook for their own set of posters with messages of a very different nature from those displayed by the government. The response was phenomenal. As one of the organizers said, they receive 1 million forints every hour. Their original goal was three million forints, but by now they have reached 11 million (over 35,156 euros), which is enough for 150 posters. They have a few ideas already, and they’re waiting for others, which I’m sure will be pouring in. These guys are very clever.
Orbán’s hate campaign hasn’t gone unnoticed. A couple of days ago the Council of Europe issued a strongly worded report criticizing the Orbán government for its xenophobia and violence against migrants and minorities. Some Austrian and German papers have already noticed the “poster-war” that is currently underway. Now we just have to wait and see how successful Orbán will be at handling the immigration issue on his own instead of cooperating with the other EU member states.