The Publicus Institute has released the results of its poll, taken between July 1 and 6, on Hungarians’ attitude toward and assessment of the European Union. To put the results in perspective, the survey was taken a little over a week after the Brits voted to leave the European Union, the consequences of which seemed and still seem dramatic. The message Hungarians got from Brexit is that leaving the European Union can have grave consequences. If Great Britain, the fifth largest economy in the world prior to the vote, will have to endure severe financial and political dislocations, then regardless of what some Fidesz politicians say, Hungary’s place must be inside the European Union.
The last time the Publicus Institute conducted a survey on the population’s feelings toward the Union was a year ago, in June 2015, when 57% considered Hungary’s membership in the European Union advantageous to the country. Today that number is 70%. This is a dramatic change. While in 2009 only 48% and in 2015 57% of the population would have voted for EU membership if a referendum had been held on the issue, today this figure is 64%.
This recent Hungarian poll supports the conclusions of an opinion piece by George Soros that appeared in the July 8 issue of Project Syndicate. As opposed to his earlier pessimism on the fate of the European Union as a result of the refugee crisis, his spirit is now buoyed by “the grassroots involvement,” which he calls “regrexit,” that emerged in the U.K. in favor of the Union. “If this sentiment spreads to the rest of Europe, what seemed like the inevitable disintegration of the EU could be instead creating positive momentum for a stronger and better Europe,” Soros claims. The opportunity should be seized and the EU should be reformed. Soros urges a more closely integrated fiscal and monetary system for the Eurozone countries: the core EU “needs to have its own treasury and budget, to serve as a fiscal authority alongside the monetary authority, the European Central Bank.” He again urges the European Union to “put its excellent and largely untapped credit to use” not only to spend funds on the integration of freshly arrived immigrants but also, I assume, to revitalize the sagging European economy.
Almost simultaneously with the appearance of George Soros’s upbeat article on the future of the European Union, an article appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung by Viktor Orbán. In sharp contrast to Soros, Orbán advocated a further loosening of the already weak bonds between member states. Orbán urged nation states to take back their sovereignty, which some Hungarian papers interpreted as a call to dismantle the European Union.
Although, as the Publicus poll shows, Orbán’s anti-EU propaganda isn’t working, his incitement against migrants is a roaring success. The Pew Research Center conducted a survey in ten EU countries, Hungary among them, to measure attitudes toward Muslim refugees. Anti-Muslim feelings are the highest in Hungary, at 72%. The lowest is in the UK (28%). In Hungary 76% of the respondents linked refugees with terrorism, and Hungary leads the way on the question of whether there will be an increased likelihood of terrorism because of the arrival of the refugees (76%). Moreover, 82% of Hungarians surveyed are convinced that refugees will be a burden on the social system. Viktor Orbán can be proud of his propaganda.
Perhaps in response to these findings Népszabadság approached Endre Sik, a professor of sociology and CEO of Tárki, a polling company. In Sik’s opinion, what the Orbán government is doing is creating “moral panic,” a sociological term described by Stanley Cohen as a response to “a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerg[ing] to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests.” According to Sik, this moral panic normally arrives quickly but also disappears rapidly. What is different in Hungary is the sustained existence of moral panic due to “an innovative, extremely wide and very brutal campaign built on the migrant case” by the government. Sik is unaware of similar efforts by any other government.
Sik contends that at the beginning of 2015, after Fidesz’s popularity had hit a low point, the government devised a complex strategy, intended to have long-term effects on Hungarian society. The government didn’t simply push the “moral panic button” once or twice. It has done so practically constantly in the last year and a half. It is a “Hungaricum” like pálinka or Tokaj wine because of its centralized nature and the techniques used by the Orbán government. As Sik explains, Fidesz “institutionalized scare mongering.”
The other day I wrote about the shortage of employable workers and the case study of a company that had to import workers from Mexico. When the eight Mexicans arrived in Szügy in Nógrád County, close to the Slovak border, the village folks wouldn’t greet them. They thought they were “migrants.” But once they learned that the newcomers were Mexicans, the children enthusiastically waved at them and the adults smiled broadly. The government propaganda is that effective. Even in a small village everybody knows about the evil migrants who may be dangerous terrorists. And how can anyone forget the ridiculous scene of a group of public workers, who might actually have been Gypsies, who were scared to death by some surveyors–and vice versa. They suspected each other of being “migrants,” a word that, thanks to the government’s efforts, prompts alarm and apprehension.
We don’t know what kinds of effects this sustained fear mongering will have on the psyche of the Hungarian people. If this “moral panic” is different from the garden variety, no one can predict its potential damage to Hungarian society.