One of the headlines I encountered this morning, which appeared in 444, declared that the Orbán government’s anti-migrant propaganda, on which Fidesz’s whole election campaign rests, is “in tatters.” The embarrassment that began with Assistant Undersecretary Kristóf Altusz’s admission that in the last year 1,292 people received either refugee or subsidiary protection status has proved to be a major source of discomfort for the Orbán government, which swore that not one refugee will ever be admitted inside the borders of Hungary. It insisted that Hungary will remain “migrant free” and its culture unadulterated by an alien religion and a foreign culture. And now the hot topic of conversation is the number of refugees who have been more less settled by the ferociously anti-migrant government. That is bad enough in itself, but that all this was done in secret while the Orbán government spent billions on anti-migrant posters and conducted one of the most virulent hate campaigns was more than even some Fidesz supporters could swallow.
The government wasn’t expecting the upheaval that followed the discovery of the Altusz interview with The Times of Malta because these numbers were available on the website of the Immigration and Asylum Office, which I can recommend visiting. After seeing the smiling faces of black girls and boys, an attractive Muslim girl in traditional garb, a lovely young Chinese couple with a cute baby, one gets the impression that Hungary is a welcoming paradise for immigrants. But although all that information was readily available amid the incredible anti-immigrant noise the government created, few people bothered to check the statistics. I was among the few who called attention to the steady stream of refugees arriving in my November 2017 post “Beware, the refugees are coming!”
So, the information was there, but the vast majority of Hungarians believed that the Orbán government actually meant it when it said that no “illegal migrant” will ever reach Hungarian soil and, if they do, they will be immediately returned to wherever they came from. By now, most Hungarians are convinced that all migrants are dangerous and that they should be avoided at all costs. It was within this artificially created atmosphere that they learned that what the government had told them was merely empty propaganda. “Migrants” are coming and most likely will be coming in the future as well.
The government has to devise some clever way to change the communication adopted in 2015, to explain somehow to the folks in Őcsény that those “migrants” whom they refused to accept in their village for a weekend are actually the “guests” of the Orbán government. One of the tricks the Orbán government used to mislead the population was to conflate refugees and economic migrants. In the last few days government spokesmen are talking more about the Geneva Convention and Hungary’s obligation to give refugees shelter, but concurrently with this softer tone the hate campaign against the European Union’s refugee policy and those NGOs that allegedly support illegal migrants continues.
Still, confusion reigns regarding the direction of the “migrant” propaganda. According to Sándor Pintér, George Soros doesn’t support illegal migration. A day later, however, Viktor Orbán said in his Friday morning interview on Kossuth Rádió that “George Soros can decide what to do: he will cease to organize and support illegal migration.”
While the government is struggling to come up with a coherent, believable explanation of its refugee policy, more details are emerging about the sizable financial assistance that joint EU-government sources have given to NGOs that belong to the “Soros network” and whose activities are closely tied to assisting arriving refugees. A few days ago Szilárd Németh, defending his decision to ban LMP’s co-chair Bernadett Szél from attending certain sessions of the parliamentary committee on national security, found her guilty of working at one point for Menedék (“Asylum” in Hungarian), an organization dealing with migrant issues. But it turned out that the same Menedék received substantial grants from the Hungarian government and the European Commission’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), so it is hard to argue that Szél’s short employment there in 2002 constitutes a seditious act. All told, since 2015 Menedék has received at least 150 million forints for projects like “Let’s Cooperate!” and “Welcoming kindergartens and schools.” AMIF provides 75% of the assistance, but the rest comes straight from the Hungarian government.
Soon enough Magyar Nemzet found another NGO, “ Wheel of Fortune” (Jövőkerék), which had received millions of forints over the last few years for its work with newly arrived refugees. Earlier, the same NGO had received $48,000 from George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. The Hungarian branch of the United Nation’s International Migration Organization won three grants amounting to more than 100 million forints. The largest amount of money went to the Immigration and Asylum Office for projects like “We are all different,” “The beginning of a new life,” and “Travels along a long road.”
The latest piece of news on the “migrant” front came from Brussels and was reported today. The European Parliament, including the majority of the Fidesz MEPs, voted for a document that contained a request to the European Commission to facilitate cooperation with NGOs to ensure the human rights of refugees, especially those of defenseless women and girls. The text of the document, which is available on the website of the European Parliament, contains two crucial points. First, it calls on the Commission to work together with civil society and human rights organizations to ensure that the human rights of refugees and displaced persons in reception centers are upheld, particularly with respect to vulnerable women and girls. And second, it recognizes the possibilities for the integration of climate change mitigation and adaptation and women’s economic empowerment goals, particularly in developing countries; calls on the Commission and the Member States to explore in relevant projects and mechanisms, such as the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation (UN-REDD) program, how women could be offered paid employment opportunities to carry out the environmental services that they currently provide on a voluntary basis, for example reforestation, afforestation of cleared land, and the conservation of natural resources.
Whether the Fidesz MEPs knew exactly what they signed is hard to say. George Schöpflin admitted that he didn’t know what he voted for; he simply followed the instructions of Lívia Járóka, the newly appointed vice-president of the European Union. Járóka, who is of partly Roma origin, seems to be more sensitive to refugee issues than her comrades in Fidesz. Earlier I called attention to an interview she gave to Magyar Idők in which she refused to engage in any anti-migrant talk. Instead, she emphasized the necessity of integration. As she put it, “we would like it if they [the refugees] would understand that we find it important that, after a rapid and effective integration, armed with European knowledge, they would be able to return to their own homelands.” This was a new voice, which I duly noted at the time. In any case, Járóka managed to get the majority of Fidesz MEPs to vote for a document which, at least on the level of government communication, is not part of the Orbán government’s agenda.
Where Orbán is planning to go from here is hard to tell. The opposition parties collected enough signatures to force László Kövér, president of the parliament, to convene a special session of parliament on the issue of the “secret” admission of refugees to the country. Kövér cleverly set January 30th as the date, thereby saving Viktor Orbán from the embarrassment of being forced to attend. That day he will be meeting with Sebastian Kurz, the new chancellor of Austria.