Viktor Orbán, at his regular biweekly radio interview two weeks ago, on January 19, without any prodding from the reporter, began talking about the United Nations’ migrant policy. He warned his audience that the UN is contemplating the introduction of programs that would “assist worldwide migration.” This is a danger that the Hungarian government must tackle, and therefore the national security cabinet will get together to discuss the matter, which is “contrary to the interests of Hungary.” He added that the United States had already sensed the dangers inherent in the plans underway at the United Nations and had announced its intention to boycott the discussions on the refugee and migrant crisis.
Ten days later the Hungarian media reported that the national security cabinet is in the process of discussing the matter. The public attacks by members of the Orbán government against the UN’s migration policies left little doubt that the cabinet would decide to follow the United States and boycott the negotiations of the UN’s Global Compact for Migration. Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, for example, found Secretary-General António Guterres’s writings ahead of the actual negotiations “unacceptable.”
Szijjártó revealed in an interview on Magyar Rádió on January 28 that, unless there are significant changes to the document, he will suggest withdrawing from the negotiations. A few days later, on February 2, Reuters reported that the Hungarian foreign minister had announced that “Hungary could quit talks on a United Nations pact on migration because its pro-migration tone threatened Hungary’s security interests.” In fact, Szijjártó specifically stated that if the draft that is scheduled to be released on February 5 is “as pro-migrant as the declaration upon which it is based,” the Hungarian government will not take part in the negotiations.
The declaration that Péter Szijjártó referenced is the “New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants” adopted by the General Assembly on September 19, 2016, which Hungary signed. Here are a few items in the declaration that the Orbán government put its name to: profound solidarity with, and support for, people who are forced to leave the place of their birth; shared responsibility and compassion; condemnation of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerance toward refugees and migrants; invitation to the private sector and civil society to join the effort of solving the refugee problem; asking for effective strategies to ensure adequate protection and assistance for displaced persons. Should I continue? The Orbán government signed this declaration without a murmur. But now, most likely encouraged by the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the talks, Viktor Orbán realized that a similar action on the part of his government would reap domestic benefits from the solidly anti-migrant population. In the case of the United States, Donald Trump can at least say that it was the Obama administration that signed the 2016 declaration; the Orbán government doesn’t have that excuse.
The very first topic in Viktor Orbán’s Friday morning chat on Magyar Rádió yesterday was the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and the forthcoming Global Compact on Refugees, indicating that the prime minister considers this question to be of the utmost importance. First, he said he wanted “to detach ourselves from the Americans.” He remembers the days when Hungary’s actions in the United Nations slavishly followed Moscow’s. Hungary’s decision is totally independent of the U.S. action, he claims. He has only Hungary’s interests in mind.
The reporter identified UN Secretary-General António Guterres as the former president of the Socialist International and therefore ab ovo suspect. In the conversation between Orbán and the reporter, a picture of Guterres emerged that bears little resemblance to reality. For instance, they agreed that if the Secretary-General’s views prevail, “even the right to border defense is at risk.”
Orbán found the idea of including NGOs in the work of handling migration especially odious. “God should save Hungary” from having civic organizations involved because “Hungary has had enough bad experiences with NGOs, pseudo-civic organizations bankrolled by Soros.” Viktor Orbán, it seems, suddenly discovered that the New York Declaration he signed is actually “a copy of the Soros Plan.”
The potential action directed against the UN Global Compact is a repeat of the charade Viktor Orbán specializes in. The stakes of signing the final document are minimal. Whatever is signed will not be a formal international agreement. As several Hungarian commentators noted, “it is not really more than an affirmation of the signatories’ adherence to universal human rights.”
What set Orbán off was a report of the secretary-general, published on January 11, titled “Making migration work for all.” Almost every point in this report is anathema to Orbán and like-minded anti-migration advocates. Guterres argues that worldwide migration has been a fact of life for some time and that it will be with us even more so in the future. Countries must therefore be ready to accept and integrate these people. He would like to see an “orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people … as part of a wider push to reduce inequality within and between States.” Over and above that, he contends that “migration powers economic growth, reduces inequalities, and connects diverse societies.” Therefore, “Member States should make a collective effort to expand and strengthen pathways for regular migration to match the realities of labor market needs, including anticipating future demographic trends and future demands for labor.”
Viktor Orbán, before he decided that whipping up Hungarian nationalism helps him stay in power, had advocated accepting two million immigrants in order to help ensure sustainable economic growth. As we know, the Hungarian birthrate has been very low ever since the 1970s. The result is a serious labor shortage. In the last eight years, the Orbán government has spent a considerable amount of money in an attempt to boost the birthrate. But even if, by some miracle, every woman under the age of 35 suddenly decided to have a baby, it would take at least 20 years before this baby boom would have an effect on the job market. And this miracle is not happening. All of the government’s efforts to facilitate the creation of larger families have been in vain. According to the latest statistics, under the Orbán government 50,000 fewer babies were born between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2017 than were born during the Medgyessy-Gyurcsány-Bajnai administration between 2002 and 2009. Maintaining healthy population growth without immigration is not a realistic undertaking.