One of the first foreign newspapers to report that the Hungarian government had declared a “migration emergency” was the Daily Express. It ran the story shortly after Sándor Pintér, accompanied by government spokesman Zoltán Kovács, gave a press conference at 11:30 this morning on “decisions arrived at by the government of Hungary against illegal migration and in the interest of the safety of the borders.” Actually, Hungarian journalists and foreign correspondents were forewarned as early as 5 a.m. that something was underway.
Let me state right at the beginning that we are still not entirely clear what this “state of migration emergency” entails. We are in good company. Gergely Gulyás, deputy chairman of Fidesz and deputy leader of the party’s parliamentary delegation, also doesn’t know in what way this nationwide state of emergency differs from the one introduced last fall in three or four counties along the Serbian and Croatian borders. Thus, we have to rely on what Pintér decided to share with the public this morning.
The justification for the emergency situation is the decision of the Slovenian, Croatian, and Serbian governments to admit only migrants with valid passports and visas. There is a likelihood that tens of thousands of people already in the territories of these three countries will commit acts of violence. So, just in case, the Hungarian government is sending 1,500 soldiers to the borders. The decision was made to build new roads if necessary for easy access. And to make sure that nobody can sneak through the fence at night, they will electrify the whole area. These new measures will cost another 7.3 billion forints. For the time being, they will not build a fence along the Romanian-Hungarian border, but they are ready to install one at any time.
Those who followed the events that led to the introduction of emergency measures in the fall should immediately recognize that something is seriously amiss here. The declaration of an emergency situation as a result of migration doesn’t conform to the government’s own law that was enacted last fall, on the basis of which the emergency was declared. According to the law, such an emergency situation can be introduced only (1) If the number of asylum seekers is (a) during one month on average 500 a day or (b) during two subsequent months 750 or (c) for a whole week more than 800. (2) If the number of asylum seekers in the transit zone (a) during one month is on average 1,000 daily or (b) during two subsequent weeks on average is 1,500 people daily or (c) during one week on average is more than 2,000 daily. (3) If a given settlement is under threat as a result of the influx of refugees. At present none of these justifications exists.
Every time the Orbán government pulls a fast one, like this introduction of “migration emergency,” critics of the government are certain that the real goal is to divert attention away from the problems that plague the country, like education and healthcare. The teachers’ revolt is especially frightening because, although three weeks have gone by, the legitimate leaders of the teachers still refuse to sit down at that roundtable with the government representatives. Moreover, today Medián came out with a poll that revealed that more than three-quarters of the population are behind the teachers. Two-thirds of the people would even accept a teachers’ strike if it comes to that.
I don’t share the view that looks upon every move of the government as a diversion. I consider it too narrow a focus on domestic affairs. The announcement of the “emergency measures” right after Orbán’s arrival from Brussels indicates to me that he is responding to the outcome of the negotiations, which was not to his liking. From what I have read about the negotiations, I gather that a common solution is close at hand, a solution that doesn’t fit Viktor Orbán’s plans. Moreover, his close allies– Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic–were not listed among the countries that had violent objections to the solution that is being hammered out at the moment between Turkey and the European Union. His closest ally, Robert Fico, is in deep trouble after a less than successful national election. It is not at all clear whether he will be able to form a government. At any event, I believe that the introduction of the emergency decree is more a message to Brussels and to some of the member states than a cover-up of domestic problems. He wants the countries that are currently contemplating closing their borders to the migrants to follow Hungary’s example.
That doesn’t mean that Orbán doesn’t find the introduction of the emergency measures useful domestically. The most often cited reason for such actions is to whip up fear in the population, but I don’t see much need for that at the moment when over 80% of Hungarians wholeheartedly support his refugee policy. I can’t quite agree with Viktor Szigetvári, chairman of Együtt, who described the announcement as part of Fidesz’s hate campaign. Orbán already planted the seeds of hatred in Hungarian soil, and now his main concern is a power play in the international arena. On the other hand, Szigetvári is right in saying that with his consistent opposition to common European policies he is serving Russian interests. I also think that DK’s claim linking the emergency measures with Fidesz’s campaign for the referendum on refugee quotas is mistaken. As we know, if the Kúria and the Constitutional Court approve the referendum question, which is not at all sure, the whole procedure will take months, if not an entire year. Viktor Orbán normally doesn’t look that far into the future. He usually has some immediate goal in mind.
There is one domestic cause that might be served by the introduction of emergency measures. Let’s not forget that March 15 is a national holiday, for which several anti-government demonstrations are being planned, the largest being a huge demonstration by the teachers, healthcare workers, unions, civic groups, sympathizers, and members of the opposition parties. This demonstration, given the support measured by Medián, will most likely be very large. In pouring rain and with much less preparation the organizers managed to bring 20-30,000 people together a few weeks ago. The next one might be twice as large or even larger. Of course, we don’t know whether under these “emergency” measures such demonstrations will be deemed unlawful or not. After all, we still know nothing about the details. But if the suppression of the demonstration is what the government has in mind, I hope that it will think twice about going through with it. What would have been a peaceful demonstration might become something very ugly and dangerous for the Orbán government, especially if they have soldiers with weapons patrolling the streets of Budapest.