Two faces of a country: Hungary and the refugees

The following article was written by a Hungarian economic analyst who would like to remain anonymous.

* * *

It is symptomatic how Hungary’s various actors have reacted to the topic of refugees in recent months.

Macro level–The government

In spring 2015, the government of Viktor Orbán saw itself confronted with major challenges. A series of corruption scandals came to light and the governing party’s popularity began to slide visibly. Fidesz had lost all three of the latest interim elections for parliamentary seats, sparking nervousness in their ranks.

From Fidesz's popularity declining from 2014. Jobbik (black) profited most

From Fidesz’s popularity declining from 2014 on, Jobbik (black) profited most

Viktor Orbán realized the potential in the topic of immigration/refugees earlier than many others in Europe. Even though Hungary is not a target for immigrants and is a transit country at best for refugees, Mr. Orbán spoke as early as January 2015, after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks, on the topic, blaming failed immigration policies for the bloodbath. That time, his words were received with indignation and contempt Europe-wide given that, as some pointed out, the Kouachi brothers were both born in France.

However, Orbán decided to make refugees the central topic of his political activity in the months to come. This was not an easy task given that the question was not very high on the populace’s agenda in the autumn of 2014 when only 3% of the population considered immigration a serious issue. See p. T18 of the Standard Eurobarometer.

Intent on changing this, Orbán started a ‘national consultation’, meaning a questionnaire was sent out to all four million households in Hungary, urging them to give their thoughts on the topic of immigration and refugees. The action bore the name ‘National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism’. It was seen by many as distinctly manipulative and camouflaging malicious propaganda as a statistical poll, prompting several statisticians to protest the abuse of the discipline.

The top of the questionnaire of the National Consultation

The top of the questionnaire of the National Consultation

Parallel, state-owned media and government-friendly private media started intensively pushing the issue of ‘economic refugees’ and how they would take Hungarians’ jobs away.

As the intensive media campaign started to work and the flow of refugees into the country indeed started to intensify, the topic came more and more into the focus of voters’ attention. Fidesz used this to start a controversial PR campaign, putting scores of Hungarian language messages onto the streets, saying for instance ‘if you come to Hungary, you cannot take away Hungarians’ jobs’ or ‘if you come to Hungary, you need to respect our culture’.

Government politicians and state media alike were quick to highlight the risk of sleeper terrorist cells among the refugees as well as that of violent and petty crimes.  State media was actively searching for any conflicts within the hopelessly overcrowded refugee camps or any Hungarians willing to testify to any misdoing by refugees. Such reports were then aired 24 hours a day.

In June, it was announced that Hungary would build a 4m high, 175km long fence along the Hungarian–Serbian border in order to stop refugees from pouring in. Building activities are just about to begin, including tests of various fence types in order to find out with the help of test-climbers which version is least surmountable. It became known that the fence will be barbed and include blades pointing to the Serbian side.

In their search for explanations for the fence, government politicians more and more portrayed refugees as dangerous criminals. For instance, a statement by the Fidesz parliamentary faction said: ‘We should not wait until the illegal immigrants arrive with guns’. Lajos Kósa, a prominent senior Fidesz representative and ex-mayor of Hungary’s second largest city, explained that basically anyone who’d come by foot into the country should be regarded as an economic refugee, because non-economic refugees would surely come by airplane.

Government communication continuously stressed the point that they are in fact not against providing shelter for ‘real’ refugees but rather oppose illegal border crossings. However, in 2014 only 9% of the refugee applications were decided positively, compared with an EU average of 45%. Even from Afghanistan, about 80% of them were denied. Human rights activists branded that as cynical argumentation, given that in order to enter the Schengen area (of which Hungary is a part), one needs a visa. In the case of political refugees, however, the visa would need to be obtained in war-torn countries where in many cases the embassies where such a visa can be obtained lie in cities controlled by the very powers the refugees are fleeing from (if they still exist at all).

The government also ensured that the refugees would not feel very welcome. They are being greeted with a Hungarian-only text advising them to travel to one of the refugee centers. Also they receive a map of Hungary showing just the refugee centers, but omitting any cities. The conditions within these centres have been criticised repeatedly by international bodies as being overcrowded and lacking in hygienic standards.

At the time of writing, a second public campaign is being launched by the government, inter alia showing a young lady claiming ‘We don’t want illegal immigrants’.


On July 16th it was announced that the refugee centres (comprised of solid brick houses) would all be closed shortly and replaced by tent cities farther away from cities and dwellings. Furthermore, Hungarian law is being changed by Parliament so as to treat illegal immigration as a serious crime. This is in order to allow the detention of refugees.

The unrelenting campaign against refugees has clearly been a political success – fear and aversion towards refugees has become rampant (prompting some attacks as well); the issue pushed the government’s scandals out of the public’s focus and allowed the government to portray itself as effectively protecting the people against a manifest threat. Fidesz’s popularity has started rising again.

Micro level–The far right

Hungary’s far right greeted the growing influx of refugees with bitter contempt, or plain hate. They welcomed the government’s actions, including the fence, but branded them as insufficient. There have been appeals on the internet to provide refugees with poisoned food. There are T-shirts on sale with the slogan: the immigrants’ pay can only be death.” In towns near the borders, they organize para-military troops patrolling the border and searching for ‘illegal immigrants’. More and more far-right groups have also travelled to border towns in order to intimidate refugees and voluntary helpers. In some cases, police had to protect the latter. The first attacks on refugees (or Hungarians who look foreign) have occurred.

Members of a radical far-right group in T-shirt promising death to the immigrants

Members of a radical far-right group in T-shirt promising death to the immigrants

A young woman was beaten up when she tried to protect her foreign-looking Hungarian boyfriend from far-right henchmen.

beaten up

Micro level–The civil society

When the suffering of a large number of refugees became apparent, Hungarian civil society organised itself quickly to provide help and relief. A number of NGOs and thousands of volunteers got into action, using Facebook and other social media platforms to organise help ranging from the provision of food and clothing and translation and assistance with administrative matters to trying to reunite families that have been separated in the course of their travels across Europe. A number of volunteers have travelled to the most affected towns and villages; others are helping by sorting through the donations that have been pouring in from all parts of the country and figuring out how best to distribute them. Several restaurant owners have offered their premises for feeding refugees or as a local HQ for the helpers. Notwithstanding the authorities’ and the far right’s opposition and sometimes even physical threats, the volunteers put up an effective, self-organised and self-financed grassroots support network within weeks.

They constitute the last remnant of hope in an ever-growing cloud of darkness.


Children of refugees in Budapest with meals received from volunteers

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
July 22, 2015 4:39 pm

A cogently presented article, which makes it all the more depressing, especially since I live here.

The refugee situation may be working to Fidesz’s benefit now, however things may rebound against the government before the next election. An effective antiFidesz backlash could build by then.

As for the young lady in the billboard, she may eventually be outed. I would like to see a public-shaming campaign re her association with hate.


July 22, 2015 4:53 pm

The last billboards were atrocious already – this is even worse! Especially coming from a country which has itself “produced” so many refugees over the years!

Re that picture.
They probably used a “stock photo” – the model surely didn’t know what that picture would be used for.

July 22, 2015 5:05 pm

Most likely you’re correct about the stock photo, wolfi. It would then be more of an effective backlash were she to come out and speak against this Fidesz campaign of hate, assuming that she did not knowingly participate.


July 22, 2015 5:57 pm

They should of put the Hungarian woman’s face on the poster who was beaten by Hungarians for allegedly having an immigrant boyfriend? Are tourists safe in Hungary? How are these idiots who try to augment their “masculinity” by beating up women know who is a tourist and who is an immigrant when they certainly have no clue between a Hungarian and an immigrant? So put the beaten up woman on the poster with the other gem slogan “Hungary Performs Better! “

July 22, 2015 6:39 pm

I’ve been thinking about ways to subvert the current Fidesz billboard campaign.

First, use the picture of the rightwing scum in place of the young lady. The messages [“Nem akarunk illegális bevándorlókat!” and “A Magyar Reformok Működnek!”] would remain the same. Using the mugs of those ugly thugs would discordantly drive home the message to the waverers.

Create a billboard using a similar-looking girl whose message would be “Én szégyellem a Magyarországomat!”. At the bottom would be “A Magyar Gyűlöletkampány Működik!”, however the final (‘Működik’) word would have a crossout stroke through it.

Amongst the HS readership, perhaps some who speak better Hungarian than I could pass the word along to a few channels. This could be financed as other antiFidesz campaigns have been done.


July 22, 2015 10:59 pm

Would like to call your attention to the shameful article by Rabbi Zoltan Radnoti (Zolirabbi). His piece was reposted on the official page of Heisler (head of Mazsihisz)
This rabbi and Mazsihisz instead of declaring solidarity with the immigrants weeks ago, just some days ago decided to say something about the situation. Rabbi Radnoti is taking the line of the government and Jobbik, emphasizing that these foreigners are maybe the same Muslims who are responsible for attacks in Paris and Copenhagen. Then he is asking the question that if he as a “Jew and Hungarian” should help or not. He says that the Jewish community should help these immigrants, though maybe they were fighting against Israel in the Yom Kipur war.
Rabbi Radnoti’s post shows sick and racist way of thinking even among the people who consider themselves liberals in Budapest. If you understand Hungarian you can read it here

July 23, 2015 3:36 am

July 22, 2015 at 10:59 pm

I beg your pardon, madam! (“koeszet” = héber: “haragszik”, nőnem; Miért haragszunk olyan nagyon, asszonyom?)

Cherry-picking a point or points, totally out of context, then using the cherry-picked item or items as the basis for hysterical ad hominem attacks?

That will not do, madam, not at all.

Which does not mean in the least that I am not thoroughly nauseated by the mealy-mouthed, unctious religiousity of the likes of Radnóti Zoltán.

July 23, 2015 4:54 am

You could have made your point with paras 2 & 4, Mike Balint. There was no reason whatsoever to bring the poster’s presumed sex into the picture. Then again, you may be assuming certain ‘facts’. I can not vouch for the strength of your ‘logic’.

The poster may be male. The sex of posters is irrelevant.

Regardless, there is a sexist undercurrent to some of your responses and that is uncalled for. I suppose that I could table a snide remark about you and your penchant for sexism and the fact (as I see it) that you live in Australia, where females are regularly still called ‘sheilas’.

Let’s keep exchanges above-board: respectful.


July 23, 2015 5:35 am

In the above link to an earlier post by you, Mike Balint, you made your now notorious “Nyugi, nyugi, kisasszony.” sexist dismissal of Latefor. For that, you were called out on it by, amongst others, olga [below]. And rightly so.

Why ruin good points with stupid sexisms, Mike Balint? You seem to be a little slow on the uptake. Sexist comments are adhominem comments.

Do you see an irony there, Mike Balint?


July 23, 2015 6:14 am


Please don’t use olga as an example – she used to be a supporter of the racist and homophobic creature leto – never saying/writing a word, even when the creature called for “chemical castration” of gays etc …
But when she saw something “anti Hungarian” (usually anti Fidesz) she would react like a vulture!

I just hope she won’t appear again – in that case I’d be forced to post one of leto’s atrocious comments and ask her for her opinion, though I’m almost sure she’d stay silent or start rambling and diverting like she used to do on

Now of course with leto dominating all “discussions” is useless …

July 23, 2015 12:25 pm

July 23, 2015 at 5:35 am

“Do you see an irony there, Mike Balint?”

Yes, I do see the irony: the pot calling the kettle black.

July 23, 2015 at 4:54 am

“Let’s keep exchanges above-board: respectful.”

You are right: I was totally out of order in both instances. Apologies.

July 23, 2015 6:46 am

My link to olga was purely based on what she posted, which was totally acceptable, wolfi. With respect to the Hungarian Spectrum website, olga has been without demerit. If you have any information about olga that contradicts my perception of her, then let’s take it private.

voxidia [at] gmail [dot] com to connect


D7 Democrat (@D7Democrat)
July 23, 2015 1:41 am

Orbán and the rest of his nazi thugs know that the rank stupidity of his target market hence his idiotic message for an idiotic people- “Look, those darkies are going to take away your jobs but I don’t worry I hate them as much as you do”.

Never mind the fact that not only do these poor souls not speak Hungarian and have no intention to stay here anyway but there are no jobs to take away full stop if Viktor tells the morons that he is the only protection against the black tide the morons believe him.

And that is Hungary’s essential problem, the typical voter has no critical thinkiing facility whatsoever. They are the equivalent of spoon-fed toodlers, who require their parents to feed them and change their nappy.

July 23, 2015 2:51 am

Anonymous: “Viktor Orbán realized the potential in the topic of immigration/refugees earlier than many others in Europe.”

I would say that Viktor Orbán was among the last in Europe to realize the potential, but when he did, he exploited it with unprecedented viciousness.

July 23, 2015 4:10 am

The response of official Hungary to the refugee crisis is a curious mixture of disgusting, hysterical, mendacious and inadequate.

The response of Jobbik and of Hungarian neo-Nazis (who are slyly, but most definitely egged on by the government), is predictably beyond the pale.

The response of the volunteers, on the other hand, is heartening, heart warming, totally admirable, and gives rise to hope, that some day a different kind of Hungary might emerge.

July 23, 2015 8:46 am

The Other Refugee Problem

Thanks to Reverend Ivanyi for presenting this (Hungarian-language) video on the Hungarian Roma refugee immigration to Canada. The fence-seating of the Canadian-born lawyer, Mr. Jano was quite disappointing. The fault for what happened in Gyongyospata (and is still happening elsewhere in Hungary) is (at least) two-fold: the deeply-rooted and long-standing cultural tendency toward racism (comparable to the worst of deep-south white bigotry in the US) along with a uniquely Hungarian tendency toward scape-goating, on the one hand, and, on the other, the increasingly dictatorial Orban regime’s shameless and shameful stoking and exploitation of these ugly cultural tendencies in order to foster and conceal its own misgovernance and corruption. No, Canada is not the solution, nor is it Canada’s problem. But draconian double standards for assessing refugee status are not the solution either. Rather they are symptoms of excess influence of the Orban regime on Harper’s immigration policy in the specific case of Hungary. Rightist governments and autocratic regimes seem to have an affinity for one another.


July 23, 2015 10:57 am

It is sickening to see the overall lack of compassion and common sense displayed by the regime and its followers. At the same time I am happy to read about (and see) the voluntary private initiatives organised and carried out by ‘ordinary’ Hungarians. The kind I got to know myself whilst living in Budapest. Now, risking to over-simplify the situation and presenting a too romantic a picture out of different time, please see video of the Dutch queen addressing the nation on how to deal with the Hungarian refugees in 56; Again, different times, but still c’est le ton qui fait la musique

July 23, 2015 12:11 pm
Re: “…..the increasingly dictatorial Orban regime’s shameless and shameful stoking and exploitation of these ugly cultural tendencies in order to foster and conceal its own misgovernance and corruption” Yes, something’s very bad in that Magyar viz flowing and coursing through the minds that ‘run things’. Real bad. Your point on culture itself driving all this intrigues. Can that be the case really? Is culture that bad in Magyarorszag that it is the cause to have skinheads call ‘death’ upon those utterly reprehensible foreigners? Impossible for me to believe that. There’s an answer to that and that is Magyar history where she can boast of many proud achievements. I’d suggest Orban is using Magyarorszag as a gigantic behavorial “Skinner box’ and generating responses to toxic stimuli. He’s powerful because he controls those stimuli. As we can see he appears to be getting the ‘right’ ones that he wants to the detriment of Magyar culture. Magyars I’d say are being made to learn new terrible behaviors for these perilous times. It’s too bad they have bad psychologists and ‘target market’ researchers stoking the hate among the population. Where is George? Orwell that is. Without a doubt he knows what’s happening there, a… Read more »
July 25, 2015 6:10 am

If you want to see what(some) Fideszniks really believe or afraid of, here is their scenario:

In a nutshell, the big-picture process works like this:
1/ The USA, with the active support of some of their European lackeys, destabilized the Northern African buffer zone which used to protect Europe from Black Africa.
2/ Africa is seriously underdeveloped compared to Europe and there’s a huge, ever-growing population surplus there. Now the 20-some year old males of this overpopulated disaster area launched an invasion against Europe which is comparable only to the Great Migration in the early Middle Ages. This migration is actively helped by the Muslim fanatics of destabilized North Africa and Middle East for ideological and financial reasons.
3/ Europe is paralysed by the “left liberal” (politically correct) ideological dogmas and they refuse to fight this invasion. This is going to result in the destruction of the whole European civilization in a few decades, of course.
But beware – the racist comments from the usual right wing loonies are horrible!

This is directly from – don’t know the original source though …

July 25, 2015 8:22 am

Can you provide the link that contains this video, wolfi?


July 25, 2015 9:25 am
July 25, 2015 6:10 pm

I wonder if Hungary’s gypsies will get a better treatment now that xenophobia can have a new outlet.