The other day the Fidesz majority in parliament, along with Jobbik MPs, voted to approve a referendum on the “compulsory” quotas the European Union will allegedly impose on Hungary. Hungarians will have the opportunity to vote on this question: “Do you want the European Union, without the consent of Parliament, to order the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary?” Now that’s a loaded question, with obvious prompts to answer “no, no, never!” The parliamentary vote went strictly along party lines, with MPs representing MSZP, LMP, and DK opting to stay away. Only five independent members voted against the bill.
As has been discussed here many times, the overwhelming majority of eligible voters, if they bothered to vote at all, would vote “no” to the referendum question, even if it weren’t so loaded. I assume, therefore, that LMP and MSZP deemed it politically wise to have its members to stay away rather than vote against the measure. The absence of DK’s MPs is harder to explain since it normally is more resolute than MSZP in questions concerning Hungary’s adherence to EU decisions. According to some Facebook gossip DK MPs missed the vote, but Csaba Molnár, one of the deputy chairmen of the party and a member of the European Parliament, claims that their absence was a planned boycott.
After the bill was approved, the European Commission inquired into its exact meaning. The commission assumes, according to its communiqué, that the Hungarian referendum’s question pertains only to future decisions, not to decisions that were already accepted by the EU interior ministers last September. In fact, if we can believe Viktor Orbán and his minister of justice László Trócsányi, it looks as if Hungary will not contest the decision reached regarding the 1,294 refugees from Italy and Greece. However, we mustn’t forget that Hungary has challenged the decision at the European Court of Justice and that Viktor Orbán has declared time and again that he will not allow any refugees to settle in Hungary.
DK, Együtt, and PM interpret the referendum as a calculated move by Orbán to withdraw Hungary “at any time” from the European Union. Therefore, said Zsuzsanna Szelényi of Együtt, this referendum is fraught with risks and dangers. DK claims the same. By holding this referendum, Viktor Orbán is asking for a mandate “to lead Hungary out of the Union.” Although I understand that this argument is a reasonable political ploy to keep people away from the voting booths, I can’t believe that Orbán is seriously thinking of taking the country out of the European Union. He must know better than anyone else in what dire financial straits the country would find itself after such a move. Moreover, a large majority of Hungarians, even after years of anti-EU propaganda, feel strongly about Hungary’s continued membership.
Fidesz for its part is trying to convince the electorate that “in the past twenty years there has not been such a weighty decision before the Hungarian people” as this referendum question. I guess this includes such momentous decisions as the adherence to NATO or joining the European Union. The spokesmen for the government and Fidesz keep calling attention to the dangers for Hungary that lurk in Brussels, dangers that can be averted only if the Hungarian government can demonstrate the resolve of the country’s citizens concerning the refugee issue.
By today all the democratic opposition parties decided to urge their voters and sympathizers to boycott the referendum. MSZP, after a long period of indecision, at last opted to join the others. The party’s leadership, however, said that the rationale for their opposition is different from that of DK. MSZP will urge its sympathizers to stay away, but they don’t consider such an act a boycott because they don’t consider a referendum on the question illegitimate per se. “We don’t want compulsory quotas either, but we will have a better program than this joke of a referendum.” Or, as József Tóbiás, party chairman, told Index, “we say ‘no’ to Fidesz’s pseudo-question and we say ‘yes’ to the real ones.” In brief, as usual, MSZP is sitting on the fence.
Even before the parliamentary vote on the issue, Népszabadság summarized the common belief that there is no way that this referendum, due to the Orbán government’s own machinations with the law on referendums, will be valid because getting 50% of the electorate to turn out is well nigh impossible. The paper admits that such a successful referendum–about university tuition fees and co-pays–did take place in 2008, but at that time Fidesz, which was behind the referendum, campaigned for it as a vote against the by then very unpopular Gyurcsány government. They almost promised the people that as a consequence of a successful referendum, the Gyurcsány government would resign. Today there is no such compelling argument to rally the troops. Frightening people with tens of thousands of refugees who cannot be seen anywhere probably won’t have the same impact as promising them an immediate change of government and early elections.
A few days ago when a friend asked whether Hungarian citizens living in Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia will be able to vote on the quota question, I had to admit that I had no idea. Well, today I happened on an article on kitenkinto.hu, an internet site specializing in news from abroad. There I read that János Babity, the Hungarian consul-general in Sutobica/Szabadka in Serbia, told journalists that “ 185,000 Hungarian citizens have the right to decide with whom they want to live in the territory of Hungary.” Voting will be conducted in the same manner as at the 2014 national election. So, I’m afraid, the Hungarian government will have an immense pool of voters to mobilize outside the country. Moreover, election fraud here is practically guaranteed. Let’s not forget that over 98% of the Romanian-Hungarian vote went for Fidesz in 2014. Voting by absentee ballot is largely unsupervised.
Today Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said on the German WDR’s “Europa Forum” that “the European Union is not a smorgasbord from which everybody can pick and choose.” Member states “must eat what is on the table.” At the same time, the magnitude of the EU’s threat of what is in essence a fine of 250,000 euros for every refugee Hungary refuses to accept from its allotted quota started to sink in. Last Friday Orbán expressed his total disgust at the EU’s shameful treatment of the poorer countries. A couple of days ago Bence Uzson, one of the government spokesmen, talked about the price of resistance that Hungary would have to pay. He indicated that Hungary is trying to convince the other Visegrad 4 countries to join the battle against Brussels. Moreover, there is talk that Hungary, even without support from its neighbors, might be ready to veto the measure.
On a brighter note, Vesna Györkös Žnidar, the Slovenian minister of the interior, announced yesterday without much fanfare the arrival of the first 30 refugees from Greece. Slovenia will voluntarily take 587 refugees and establish “integration homes” for them. The refugees will take part in “integration programs for a whole year, during which they will have all the assistance necessary from the Slovenian government.” Slovenia has a population of 2.06 million. I guess the Slovenes are not worried about being overwhelmed by people of an alien culture. If Hungary were that generous, the country would give shelter to 3,000 refugees. But instead, it wants to take in not a single refugee. A real embarrassment.