Tag Archives: national consultation

The truth about the so-called Soros Plan

While journalists in Hungary are busily trying to find out what led to Botka’s resignation and analysts are coming up with all sorts of theories about the collapse of the Hungarian Socialist Party, I am returning to the Soros Plan. Yesterday and today a vigorous discussion took place on Hungarian Spectrum about the way in which the Orbán government is using and misusing George Soros’s writings and interviews for its own political purposes.

Professor Joseph Forgas, while finding the national consultation “a dishonest, misleading and outrageous party political propaganda campaign,” considers “George Soros’s opinion pieces … unfortunate and ill-judged.” In his opinion, Soros as a private citizen is entitled to air his views, but “his specific advice to the EU about what it should do about the migration crisis was rather ill considered.” In liberal circles “there is a tendency to adopt a stance of moral posturing and high-handed prescriptions that ignore the pragmatic and political realities of the situation.” Soros, he believes, is no exception.

There may be a great deal of truth in that criticism, and perhaps it was ill-advised of Soros to offer his thoughts on the subject. But as we all know, George Soros likes to comment on world affairs, and he certainly has every right to do so. All of us who live in democratic societies can do the same. The difference is that when George Soros offers his thoughts, newspapers all over the world will discuss the pros and cons of his message. For instance, Soros’s opinions on the state of the economy during the financial crisis made headlines for weeks. This is who he is. A kind of missionary, especially when it comes to his cherished concept of the “Open Society.”

The Soros Plan–Don’t let it happen without a word

Although people can criticize his ideas and argue for or against them, what the Orbán government did was to misconstrue and distort his ideas and falsify his texts. I assume readers noted that all the Soros quotations came from his first essay, “Rebuilding the Asylum System,” which appeared in 2015. There was not a word about or from the second essay, in which he espoused some ideas that were very close to those Orbán suggested at the time.

Here are some thoughts, point by point, on the texts.

According to Statement 1, “George Soros wants to persuade Brussels to resettle at least one million immigrants from Africa and the Middle East onto the territory of the European Union, including Hungary.” This number does appear in the 2015 essay, but Soros didn’t want to persuade or force the EU to take that many immigrants. He simply expected that many to arrive, and he turned out to be correct. A year later, however, when he was discussing regulated immigration, he talked about 300,000 immigrants per year as a number that could still be handled.

According to Statement 2, “George Soros, together with the officials in Brussels, also wants to achieve the dismantlement of the fences and the opening of borders to the migrants.” In the Infobox the Orbán government claims that “as the billionaire put it, ‘the goal of our plan is the protection of the refugees and national borders are barriers’.” Unfortunately, since I am not a “professional service subscriber” to Bloomberg News, I was unable to check in what context this sentence appeared in the article. Yes, Soros does believe that Europe needs the infusion of immigrants to offset the poor demographics of the continent, but it is not true that he wants to weaken border defenses. In fact, the opposite is true. As for taking down Orbán’s fence, this is most likely the figment of the imagination of the compiler of the questionnaire.

According to Statement 3, “One part of the Soros Plan is the compulsory distribution by Brussels of immigrants who conglomerated in Western Europe, especially in respect to the East European countries. Hungary would have to take part in this.” In the Infobox, the questionnaire quotes a sentence from an article written by Soros in July 2015, warning that if the distribution of immigrants does not “become permanent and mandatory features of a common EU asylum system, it will fall apart.” But a month later, in an article titled “Rebuilding the Asylum System,” he says the following: “It is equally important to allow both states and asylum-seekers to express their preferences, using the least possible coercion. Placing refugees where they want to go – and where they are wanted – is a sine qua non of success.” It is easy to cherry pick quotations from Soros over time that can show him in an unfavorable light from the perspective of the xenophobic Hungarian population.

Statement 4 claims that “according to the Soros Plan, Brussels should force all EU Member States, including Hungary, to pay each immigrant HUF 9 million in welfare payments.” This is an outright lie. In fact, Soros in the same article I just quoted in connection with Question 3 says exactly the opposite. “Adequate financing is critical. The EU should provide €15,000 ($16,800) per asylum-seeker for each of the first two years to help cover housing, health care, and education costs—and to make accepting refugees more appealing to member states.” This cannot be clearer. It would be Hungary that would receive this subsidy for every refugee it takes. The information provided in the Infobox about raising taxes on gasoline and tourism is correct, but Soros never said a thing about VAT.

According to Statement 5, “Another goal of George Soros is to make sure that migrants receive milder sentences for crimes they commit.” There is a reference in the Infobox to Amnesty International, which “repeatedly demanded the release of Ahmed H.” You may recall that Ahmed H. received a ten-year jail sentence for throwing a couple of rocks toward the Hungarian police, which likely didn’t do any harm to anyone. As is clear from the statement of the organization, Amnesty International never demanded the release of Ahmed H. but simply argued for a review of the sentence. The organization also never demanded damages from the Hungarian government. TASZ, Hungary’s Civil Liberties Union, another Soros-funded organization, handled his defense. An able Hungarian lawyer argued his appeal, which resulted in the annulment of the lower court’s decision. Ahmed H. is still in jail awaiting trial.

According to Statement 6, “The aim of the Soros Plan is to de-emphasize the languages and cultures of the European countries in order to achieve faster integration of the illegal immigrants.” This sentence simply doesn’t make sense. Why would the weakening of native languages and culture make the integration of newcomers easier? Integration simply means admitting people of different cultural or ethnic backgrounds to equal membership in a society. If we weakened the existing culture, we would also weaken our ability to integrate the newly arrived individuals, which includes learning and using the majority language. Although the questionnaire doesn’t contain the accusation that George Soros actually wants to turn European countries into Islamic enclaves, Fidesz politicians often talk about Soros’s strange penchant for the Islamization of Europe. When asked why it would be in the interest of Soros to purposely change the religious and cultural makeup of the European Union, the answer always is that “this is good business” for him. It makes not the slightest sense, but such things never bother Fidesz spokesmen.

According to Statement 7, “It is also part of the Soros Plan to initiate political attacks against those countries that oppose immigration and to severely punish them.” This statement is closely connected to Statement 6 and makes about the same amount of sense. What follows in the Infobox is unadulterated government propaganda. For example, “Today, George Soros is unable to bring millions of immigrants to Europe because there are governments that raise their voices against it,” or “when the Hungarian government complies with the Schengen Agreement, when it protects the borders and builds a fence, it hampers the implementation of the Soros Plan.” These political contrivances are so primitive as to be beneath contempt.

October 3, 2017

National consultation on the Soros Plan: Questions and infoboxes

On September 27 Magyar Idők, the flagship paper of the vast government media, released the text of the seven questions that will appear on the questionnaire to be distributed, to the tune of 6.5 billion forints, to approximately 8 million Hungarian citizens. The issue to which the Orbán government is seeking reactions is the so-called Soros Plan. The paper explained that this “national consultation” will be different from earlier ones because after each question there will be an “infobox” containing background information.

Source: abouthungary.hu

The background information comes largely from two essays George Soros published in 2015 and 2016 on the subject. The first one, titled “Rebuilding the Asylum System,” appeared in Project Syndicate, and the second, “This is Europe’s last chance to fix its refugee policy,” was published in Foreign Policy. These two sources are readily available. For a full appreciation of the depth of the mendacity committed by the Orbán government when compiling this “national consultation” I highly recommend taking a look at these articles.

Here you can read the complete text of the questionnaire, including the content of the infoboxes. To each point of the alleged Soros Plan the respondent will be asked whether he supports that idea.

Here is the text. The translation is my own. I tried to track down the quotations in the infoboxes, but there were a couple of instances where I couldn’t locate them in their original English version. In these cases I had to resort to translating the text from Hungarian.

  1. George Soros wants to persuade Brussels to resettle at least one million immigrants from Africa and the Middle East onto the territory of the European Union, including Hungary.
  • Infobox: Soros for years has been working to change Europe and European society. He wants to achieve his goal through the resettlement of masses of people from other civilizations. At the time of the introduction of his plan he stated that “the EU has to accept at least a million asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future” (Project Syndicate 2015.09.26). The European Parliament shares the same view. The organization supported resettlement programs and the creation of migration routes (2015/2342 [INI]).
  1. George Soros, together with the officials in Brussels, also wants to achieve the dismantlement of the fences and the opening of borders to the migrants.
  • Infobox: Well-guarded borders provide an effective defense against illegal immigration. It is no coincidence that one of the important goals of the Soros Plan is the dismantlement of the fences. As the billionaire put it, “the goal of our plan is the protection of the refugees and national borders are barriers” (Bloomberg Business 2015.10.30). Certain Brussels officials also attacked the closing of the borders. In June of this year, the Commissioner for Migration stated that “it is not a good solution if EU Member States erect fences at the external borders.”
  1. One part of the Soros Plan is the compulsory distribution by Brussels of immigrants who conglomerated in Western Europe, especially in respect to the East European countries. Hungary would have to take part in this.
  • Infobox: George Soros wrote the following about the distribution of immigrants: “If they do not become permanent and mandatory features of a common EU asylum system, it will fall apart” (Financial Times 2015.07.26). In 2015, a decision was taken in Brussels that, as a first step, Hungary should accept 1,294 immigrants. In 2016, the European Commission proposed the dispersion of an unlimited number of immigrants (IP/16/1620). The EU Asylum and Migration Agency, in line with the proposal of George Soros, has been weakening the national competence on immigration. Once the entry quotas are in place, Hungarians will no longer have a say about whom they will live with in the future.
  1. According to the Soros Plan, Brussels should force all EU Member States, including Hungary, to pay each immigrant HUF 9 million in welfare payments.
  • Infobox: According to Soros, significant amounts should be spent on the immigrants. “The EU should provide €15,000 ($16,800) per asylum seeker for each of the first two years to help cover housing, health care, and education costs—and to make accepting refugees more appealing to member states” (Project Syndicate 2015.09.26). According to the billionaire, this sum should be covered by taking out loans. Soros believes that in order to repay the loans taxes should be raised. The billionaire would raise VAT and taxes on gasoline and tourism. Soros also proposed, while visiting Brussels last year, that the EU should reduce the agricultural and cohesion support for the countries of Central Europe in order to solve the problem of the migration crisis.
  1. Another goal of George Soros is to make sure that migrants receive milder sentences for crimes they commit.
  • Infobox: George Soros is supporting organizations that assist immigration and defend immigrants who commit crimes. One such organization is the Helsinki Commission, which argued that “the use of serious sanctions in the case of illegal border crossing is troubling.” Another Soros organization, Amnesty International, repeatedly demanded the release of Ahmed H., who attacked Hungarian policemen guarding the border and therefore was convicted. Amnesty would want the Hungarian state to pay damages.
  1. The aim of the Soros Plan is to de-emphasize the languages and cultures of the European countries in order to achieve faster integration of the illegal immigrants.
  • Infobox: George Soros, in his book Open Society, wrote that “the decline of the authority of nation states is a welcome development.” Soros has also talked about “not abandoning our conviction that migration is good for Europe.” He called on NGOs and companies to become immigration sponsors. He also said that the continent must finally take active steps toward developing open societies. In some European countries and in multinational companies European and Christian symbols are voluntarily removed nowadays so that they do not harm the sensitivity of immigrants.
  1. It is also part of the Soros Plan to initiate political attacks against those countries that oppose immigration and to severely punish them.
  • Infobox: The main obstacles to the implementation of the Soros Plan are the governments that stand up for national independence and take measures against illegal migrants. Today, George Soros is unable to bring millions of immigrants to Europe because there are some governments that raise their voices against it. When the Hungarian government complies with the Schengen Agreement, when it protects the borders and builds a fence, it hampers the implementation of the Soros Plan. Soros and several Brussels decision-makers are therefore attacking our country. The European Commission proposes that Member States that do not participate in the resettlement program pay a fine of 78 million forints for each immigrant [they refuse] (2016/0133 COD). A Hungarian employee works decades for that amount of money.
October 1, 2017

The “Let’s stop Brussels” questionnaire: Orbán’s silver bullet?

I haven’t analyzed Viktor Orbán’s speeches for some time, but yesterday he delivered a fairly important speech to parliament. So I think it’s time to take a closer look at the Hungarian prime minister’s state of mind.

As usual, he is on a war footing with Brussels. But if I’m correct, his posture, despite his belligerent tone, is more defensive. His position within the European Union has weakened considerably since the Brexit referendum and the French election. More and more voices can be heard within the European Union calling for financial retribution as a form of punishment for countries that refuse to cooperate when it comes to the refugee crisis. For the time being Jean-Claude Juncker would like to avoid such a drastic step, but the announcement of a looming infringement procedure can be expected any day.

Obviously, Orbán has been expecting such a move on the part of the European Commission. Right now the only bullet in his defensive arsenal is “the national consultation,” with which he wants to “stop Brussels.” But not all bullets are equally effective. The “Let’s stop Brussels” campaign and its imbecilic, deceptive questions have annoyed the Commission from the beginning. I very much doubt that the Commission will be impressed by the responses the Hungarian government received arguing against any interference by the European Union in what Viktor Orbán considers purely national affairs.

Before I turn to the actual speech, I would like to say something about the “success” of this particular consultation. The claim is that the “Let’s stop Brussels” questionnaire was returned by a record number of citizens. Indeed, if we take a look at the Wikipedia entry on “Nemzeti konzultáció,” we can see that this year’s questionnaire was returned by a greater number of people than any of the other five campaigns previously staged. However, we must keep in mind that no independent body counts the returned forms. We have only the number the Orbán government provides.

Given the lack of accountability of the government, I have long had my doubts about the government’s figures in connection with these consultations. This time I’m even more suspicious than before. The consultation drive began on April 1, and on April 19 Antal Rogán’s propaganda ministry reported that 140,000 questionnaires had been returned. But then, on April 25, six days later, Csaba Dömötör, undersecretary in the prime minister’s office, announced that 380,000 questionnaires had been received. Quite a jump, I would say. Two weeks after that, the same Dömötör triumphantly announced that “more than 1,130,000” citizens had already returned their questionnaires. In two weeks the numbers had almost tripled. But if the drive was such a success, why was it necessary for Lajos Kósa, as leader of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, to ask for an extension of the deadline from May 20 to May 31? In any case, Viktor Orbán at the beginning of his speech in parliament yesterday claimed that 1.4 million people are practically unanimously standing behind the government in its fight against Brussels. This number, by the way, by the end of speech became 1.7 million. So, who knows?

Altogether 8.1 million questionnaires were sent out to all citizens over the age of 18, and therefore it doesn’t matter how you slice it: 1.4 or 1.7 million returned questionnaires, take your pick, shouldn’t be hailed as a great victory. But what is really annoying is that Viktor Orbán blithely turned the official government figure(s) of a 17%-21% return rate into a pro-government response rate of greater than 50% when he said that “the majority of Hungarians think that Brussels is going in the wrong direction.”

What do the government and the “majority of Hungarians” want, according to Orbán? They want “a Hungarian Hungary and a European Europe.” A couple of years ago Jobbik’s Gábor Vona announced with great fanfare that “Hungary belongs to the Hungarians,” and it seems that Viktor Orbán now agrees with him. I wonder what he would say if the prime minister of Slovakia or Romania announced that he wants to have an ethnically pure Slovakia or Romania and the Hungarian minority has only two choices: emigrate or assimilate. I assume there would be an incredible outcry, and with good reason. As for the “European Europe,” we all know what Orbán has in mind. A white Europe.

In connection with the ten-year jail sentence for “terrorism” meted out to Ahmed H. for using a megaphone to call for calm during clashes at the Serbian-Hungarian borders, Orbán accused “Brussels” of supporting terrorists at the expense of the security of the Hungarian people. Bernadett Szél (LMP) said in response that Orbán had “misplaced his medication.” George Soros couldn’t be left out of Orbán’s speech to parliament, and indeed the “American speculator” was pictured as someone who is directing the fate of Europe. The European Commission is under his influence. He asked the members of parliament “not to stand by Brussels in Hungary’s disputes with the European Union.” In addition, the parliamentarians “should stand by the Hungarian people in the battle between the Soros mafia and Hungary.”

Orbán announced that Hungary “can’t accept that [its] future is decided in Moscow, Brussels, and Washington.” As for the future, Orbán made some strange comments. Let me quote one of them. “The French election during the past weekend shows that the revolt of the European people has also reached France.” We know that when Orbán in the last couple of years was talking about “the revolt of Europeans” he was not thinking of Macron’s centrist movement. Macron’s victory is not a welcome piece of news for Orbán, which he tries to hide here. He also seems worried about a possible French-German “experiment to transform Europe,” which may take place after the German election. At the moment, “it is not clear whether these developments will help or hinder the realization of Hungary’s national interests.” Odds are, however, that hard times are coming, and therefore the national consultation took place at the best possible moment.

Let me express my very serious doubts that Orbán’s national consultation is the kind of silver bullet that will save the Hungarian government from the consequences of Viktor Orbán’s antagonistic, confrontational behavior and his flaunting of the core values of the European Union. Surely, in his sane moments he must know that those stacks of returned questionnaires are not worth a plug nickel when it comes to negotiations with the important political players of the European Union.

June 13, 2017

National consultation, 2017: “Let’s stop Brussels!”

Here we go again. A new “national consultation” is under way. Eight some million eligible voters will receive a form with six questions, all of which are related to the alleged attempt of “Brussels” to take steps that are injurious to Hungary and its people.

Viktor Orbán came up with the idea of a “national consultation” in 2011 when the government was in the midst of writing a new constitution–without, as it turned out, any input from the opposition parties. No referendum on the final text was allowed. Instead, 12 questions were mailed to every eligible voter. The questions were formulated in such a way that it was inevitable that the majority of answers would seem to endorse the government text. Here is one example: “Should the new constitution bring under its protection common values such as family, labor, home, order, and health?” The citizen’s choice was a simple yes or no. The others were not one whit better.

Four years later, in April 2015, the government sent out a questionnaire about “immigration and terrorism,” which again was a tool of political mobilization concealed as public opinion research. At the time social scientists protested, pointing out that the questionnaire was constructed in total disregard of the methodological canons of public opinion research. They felt “obliged to bring the attention of the public to the unprofessional, manipulative character of the questions.”

Now we have a new manipulative questionnaire which, according to Magyar Nemzet, will cost the taxpayers 1.2 billion forints. And the majority of people who get the questionnaire will probably toss it straight to the garbage. The new propaganda drive is called “Let’s stop Brussels!” Do you remember when Viktor Orbán sent Hungarian-language messages to Brussels and to the refugees on hundreds and hundreds of billboards? Something like that is under way at the moment. Viktor Orbán thinks that if a large enough number of voters return these meaningless questionnaires with supportive answers, he can use them as an argument against certain measures that might be contemplated by the European Commission. Since there will be no independent body checking either the number of returned questionnaires or the results, the Orbán government can come up with any number it likes. The higher the better.

“Let’s stop Brussels!” / National Consultation 2017

Propaganda for the new “Let’s stop Brussels!” drive started about a week ago. The government placed ads in both pro-government and independent publications, despite the fact that it very rarely pays for ads in opposition papers, making sure that they remain at a sizable disadvantage to the richly endowed pro-government papers.

Spokesmen for Fidesz began to call everybody’s attention to this “national consultation.” János Halász, spokesman for Fidesz’s parliamentary delegation, warned Hungarians that “Brussels” wants to make more and more decisions without any consultation with the “people,” and “when Brussels makes a decision, the Hungarians always lose.” If it depends on Brussels, there will be higher utility prices and higher taxes. And the country will be defenseless against the migrants. “A great battle is ahead of us because [Brussels] even attacks the efforts of the Hungarian government that would serve the transparency of the pro-migrant foreign agencies (ügynökszervezetek).” What an ingenious way to interpret the Orbán government’s efforts to make the work of these NGOs impossible.

Bence Tuzson, one of the many spokesmen of the prime minister’s office, also gave a press conference. He emphasized the point about the incarceration of migrants, which the government hopes the population will support because, after all, “can the country allow people about whom we know nothing to loiter freely?” Tuzson also talked about “the paid foreign activist groups that meddle in [Hungary’s] domestic affairs.” These groups’ finances must be made transparent. The description of these NGOs as foreign agents foreshadows the fate that is awaiting them.

Here are the questions to which Hungarians are supposed to respond, along with correct and incorrect answers, where “a” is always the correct choice.

  1. Brussels is planning to take a dangerous step. It wants to force the abolition of utility rate reduction on us. What do you think Hungary should do? (a) Defend the utility rate reduction. We should insist that the price of utilities must be determined in Hungary. (b) We should accept the plan of Brussels and trust the large companies with fixing utility prices.
  2. In recent times, terror attack after terror attack has taken place in Europe. Despite this fact, Brussels wants to force Hungary to allow illegal immigrants into the country. What do you think Hungary should do? (a) For the sake of the safety of Hungarians these people should be placed under supervision (felügyelet) while the authorities decide their fate. (b) Allow the illegal immigrants to move freely in Hungary.
  3. By now it has become clear that, in addition to the smugglers, certain international organizations encourage the illegal immigrants to commit illegal acts. What do you think Hungary should do? (a) Activities assisting illegal immigration such as human trafficking and the popularization of illegal immigration must be punished. (b) Let us accept that there are international organizations which, without any consequences, urge the circumvention of Hungarian laws.
  4. More and more foreign-supported organizations operate in Hungary with the aim of interfering in the internal affairs of our country in an opaque manner. These organizations could jeopardize our independence. What do you think Hungary should do? (a) Require them to register, revealing the objectives of their activities and the sources of their finances. (b) Allow them to continue their risky activities without any supervision.
  5. In the last few years we have been successful at job creation because we followed our own strategies. But Brussels is attacking our job-creating measures. What do you think Hungary should do? (a) We, Hungarians, must continue to make decisions on the future of the Hungarian economy. (b) Brussels should decide what to do in the economic sphere.
  6. Hungary is committed to tax cuts. Brussels is attacking Hungary because of it. What do you think Hungary should do? (a) We should insist that we, Hungarians, decide on tax cuts. (b) We should accept that Brussels dictates the level of taxes.

I consider the two questions that deal with “foreign agents” especially dangerous as far as the political future of Hungary is concerned. In the present situation, these so-called foreign agents–the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Transparency International, the Hungarian Helsinki Commission, and Amnesty International–are practically the only organizations that can successfully combat the growing autocratic rule of the present political system because the checks and balances that were present earlier have by now been removed.

As for the others, I’m not quite sure what to do with the question about the Orbán government’s handling of the economy. I am unaware of any EU attempt to instruct Budapest to change its economic strategy. The question on lowering taxes is highly misleading. The ignorant public may think that the EU wants to prohibit lowering the personal income tax rate. Actually, what the EU is unhappy about is the Hungarian government’s plans to lower corporate taxes to such an extent that Hungary would become a tax haven within the European Union and thus create unfair competition. The question on utility prices is also misleading. In Hungary, it is the government that sets the utility prices, which currently are higher than they should be due to lower energy prices in general. Brussels’ real concern is not the price of utilities, but the fact that there are different rates for businesses and for individuals. Finally, I have no idea why Viktor Orbán thinks he still has to frighten people with illegal migrants when there are no more than about 300 such individuals in the whole country. Perhaps to keep the hatred alive in case people get too soft when they no longer see pictures of refugees clamoring to get into, or out of, Hungary.

In any case, all this matters not. The questions are moronic, and the answers are totally skewed in favor of the Hungarian government. I know that in Hungary the consensus is that the intellectual level of ordinary citizens is so low that they accept practically anything this government puts in front of them. I personally can’t believe that the overwhelming majority of Hungarians wouldn’t figure out within minutes that this is a scam. They may not grasp the real meaning of the questions, but that there is something very wrong with the answers they can chose from has to penetrate even the thickest of skulls.

April 2, 2017

Viktor Orbán on his western critics

What a coincidence. Smack in the middle of perhaps the biggest crisis of the Orbán era, Hungarian ambassadors met in Budapest this morning. It was their regularly scheduled get together at which it is almost obligatory for the prime minister to speak.

It has been the custom for many years that during the month of August, when most people are enjoying their summer holidays, Hungarian ambassadors travel home to get some direction and personal guidance from their ministry. This year, however, it was decided that one such gathering is not enough. From here on the heads of Hungarian missions will travel back to Hungary twice a year. Once in early spring and once sometime in late August.

These occasions give Viktor Orbán an opportunity to deliver a lengthy speech in which he outlines his thoughts on Hungarian foreign policy. These speeches are regularly criticized by foreign policy experts as a string of inarticulate, ad hoc ideas that often cannot be reconciled with one another. In addition, he usually manages to make some provocative statements. At least one commentator labelled today’s speech “the most incoherent one” Orbán has managed to put together.

Péter Szijjártó finds the jokes of Viktor Orbán very amusing

Péter Szijjártó finds the jokes of Viktor Orbán very amusing

Some themes in these speeches are constant, such as the stress on an “independent Hungarian foreign policy” which takes only one thing into consideration: “Hungarian interests.” Fidesz is the party that represents the true interests of the country. A rival foreign policy tradition caters “to the interests of others.” Of course, we know whom he has in mind: the socialists and the liberals who refrained from waging a war against the European Union but chose cooperation and compromise instead. He indicated today that there might be an inclination to exhibit this kind of opportunistic behavior given the immense “international attacks against us.” But it would be a mistake to take the easy road and avoid conflict with fellow diplomats on account of personal relations. The reaction should be exactly the opposite. Hungarian diplomats should be even more combative when international pressure is on the rise.

It is hard to know whether Viktor Orbán really believes it or not, but in this speech he had the temerity to accuse the western media of being in league with their governments. The Hungarian media is much freer and more independent, he said, than the media in western countries. Opinions in Hungarian newspapers and on internet news sites are much more varied because in Hungary the government in no way tries to influence journalists and reporters. The uniformly bad press his government has been receiving is therefore an orchestrated affair. Governments joined by journalists purposefully spread lies about the Hungarian government. A journalist friend of mine couldn’t help but be reminded of the Kádár regime when high party officials held very similar views about the role of journalists as lackeys of antagonistic, imperialist powers. I guess such attitudes derive from the very nature of dictatorship.

In addition, Orbán accused western governments of being ignorant of the true feelings of their citizens. They are not democratic enough, unlike the Hungarian government which made certain it would have a dialogue with the Hungarian people. He expressed his satisfaction with his earlier decision to launch a national consultation on the question of terrorism and immigration. “The reason we can steadfastly follow our refugee policies is because the voters clearly told us what we should do.” I hope you all remember those twelve leading questions the Hungarian government came up with back in April. Anyone who would like to refresh his or her memory should reread my post on the subject. They were leading, manipulative questionnaires sent out to more than 8 million voters, out of which only 1 million were returned. To bring up this “national consultation” as a mandate is one of the most cynical statements Orbán has ever uttered.

What else is wrong with the west? They are a hypocritical lot. Hungary “has been centuries behind in two-facedness.” Here is, for example, the French foreign minister who criticizes the Hungarian fence while the French government is building one. “And they are not ashamed.” Hungary is not alone in refusing to take in any refugees. The United States, he said, has categorically refused to take any refugees in order to lighten the European Union’s burden, which is not the case. His other example, Israel, cannot be taken seriously as an excuse for Hungary’s refusal to offer a new home for a few thousand refugees.

Otherwise there doesn’t seem to be any change in the stated aims of Hungarian immigration policy. Nobody should be let in, all the refugees should remain in Turkey, and Greece should not allow the refugees in. Hungary doesn’t want to have any immigrants because no nation should be forced by others to let in people it doesn’t want. These are the great man’s ideas.

And then came a seemingly unconnected reference to Hungary’s Roma population. Hungary’s historical lot is to live together with hundreds of thousands of Gypsies. “Someone sometime decided that it would be that way … but Hungary doesn’t ask other countries in Europe to take Hungarian Gypsies.” On the contrary, when they want to emigrate to Canada “we ask them to stay.” The truth of the matter is that Hungary wouldn’t mind at all if every Gypsy picked up and left, if only Canada would let them in. When the Canadian government put up posters in Miskolc, the city from which most of the Roma went to Canada, to tell them that they will be deported back, the Fidesz mayor of Miskolc created an international incident by telling Canada that it cannot “send its refugees to Miskolc,” i.e. cannot send the Hungarian Roma migrants back to where they came from. Some opposition parties found Orbán’s remarks concerning the Roma disrespectful.

The last topic I consider noteworthy in Orbán’s performance today was his answer to a question about “what differentiates the government’s policies from those of Jobbik.” He began by saying that “the government is not interested in the extreme right.” Hungary is a country where Jewish holidays can be celebrated on the streets without anyone having to go through electronic gates and being asked “whether you are a fascist animal.” What distinguishes Fidesz from Jobbik is “the general security,” whatever that means. So, he didn’t answer the question, for which he should be applauded. It would have been really painful to listen to his lies about the substantial ideological differences between Fidesz and Jobbik.

Two faces of a country: Hungary and the refugees

The following article was written by a Hungarian economic analyst who would like to remain anonymous.

* * *

It is symptomatic how Hungary’s various actors have reacted to the topic of refugees in recent months.

Macro level–The government

In spring 2015, the government of Viktor Orbán saw itself confronted with major challenges. A series of corruption scandals came to light and the governing party’s popularity began to slide visibly. Fidesz had lost all three of the latest interim elections for parliamentary seats, sparking nervousness in their ranks.

From Fidesz's popularity declining from 2014. Jobbik (black) profited most

From Fidesz’s popularity declining from 2014 on, Jobbik (black) profited most

Viktor Orbán realized the potential in the topic of immigration/refugees earlier than many others in Europe. Even though Hungary is not a target for immigrants and is a transit country at best for refugees, Mr. Orbán spoke as early as January 2015, after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks, on the topic, blaming failed immigration policies for the bloodbath. That time, his words were received with indignation and contempt Europe-wide given that, as some pointed out, the Kouachi brothers were both born in France.

However, Orbán decided to make refugees the central topic of his political activity in the months to come. This was not an easy task given that the question was not very high on the populace’s agenda in the autumn of 2014 when only 3% of the population considered immigration a serious issue. See p. T18 of the Standard Eurobarometer.

Intent on changing this, Orbán started a ‘national consultation’, meaning a questionnaire was sent out to all four million households in Hungary, urging them to give their thoughts on the topic of immigration and refugees. The action bore the name ‘National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism’. It was seen by many as distinctly manipulative and camouflaging malicious propaganda as a statistical poll, prompting several statisticians to protest the abuse of the discipline.

The top of the questionnaire of the National Consultation

The top of the questionnaire of the National Consultation

Parallel, state-owned media and government-friendly private media started intensively pushing the issue of ‘economic refugees’ and how they would take Hungarians’ jobs away.

As the intensive media campaign started to work and the flow of refugees into the country indeed started to intensify, the topic came more and more into the focus of voters’ attention. Fidesz used this to start a controversial PR campaign, putting scores of Hungarian language messages onto the streets, saying for instance ‘if you come to Hungary, you cannot take away Hungarians’ jobs’ or ‘if you come to Hungary, you need to respect our culture’.

Government politicians and state media alike were quick to highlight the risk of sleeper terrorist cells among the refugees as well as that of violent and petty crimes.  State media was actively searching for any conflicts within the hopelessly overcrowded refugee camps or any Hungarians willing to testify to any misdoing by refugees. Such reports were then aired 24 hours a day.

In June, it was announced that Hungary would build a 4m high, 175km long fence along the Hungarian–Serbian border in order to stop refugees from pouring in. Building activities are just about to begin, including tests of various fence types in order to find out with the help of test-climbers which version is least surmountable. It became known that the fence will be barbed and include blades pointing to the Serbian side.

In their search for explanations for the fence, government politicians more and more portrayed refugees as dangerous criminals. For instance, a statement by the Fidesz parliamentary faction said: ‘We should not wait until the illegal immigrants arrive with guns’. Lajos Kósa, a prominent senior Fidesz representative and ex-mayor of Hungary’s second largest city, explained that basically anyone who’d come by foot into the country should be regarded as an economic refugee, because non-economic refugees would surely come by airplane.

Government communication continuously stressed the point that they are in fact not against providing shelter for ‘real’ refugees but rather oppose illegal border crossings. However, in 2014 only 9% of the refugee applications were decided positively, compared with an EU average of 45%. Even from Afghanistan, about 80% of them were denied. Human rights activists branded that as cynical argumentation, given that in order to enter the Schengen area (of which Hungary is a part), one needs a visa. In the case of political refugees, however, the visa would need to be obtained in war-torn countries where in many cases the embassies where such a visa can be obtained lie in cities controlled by the very powers the refugees are fleeing from (if they still exist at all).

The government also ensured that the refugees would not feel very welcome. They are being greeted with a Hungarian-only text advising them to travel to one of the refugee centers. Also they receive a map of Hungary showing just the refugee centers, but omitting any cities. The conditions within these centres have been criticised repeatedly by international bodies as being overcrowded and lacking in hygienic standards.

At the time of writing, a second public campaign is being launched by the government, inter alia showing a young lady claiming ‘We don’t want illegal immigrants’.

mosolygo

On July 16th it was announced that the refugee centres (comprised of solid brick houses) would all be closed shortly and replaced by tent cities farther away from cities and dwellings. Furthermore, Hungarian law is being changed by Parliament so as to treat illegal immigration as a serious crime. This is in order to allow the detention of refugees.

The unrelenting campaign against refugees has clearly been a political success – fear and aversion towards refugees has become rampant (prompting some attacks as well); the issue pushed the government’s scandals out of the public’s focus and allowed the government to portray itself as effectively protecting the people against a manifest threat. Fidesz’s popularity has started rising again.

Micro level–The far right

Hungary’s far right greeted the growing influx of refugees with bitter contempt, or plain hate. They welcomed the government’s actions, including the fence, but branded them as insufficient. There have been appeals on the internet to provide refugees with poisoned food. There are T-shirts on sale with the slogan: the immigrants’ pay can only be death.” In towns near the borders, they organize para-military troops patrolling the border and searching for ‘illegal immigrants’. More and more far-right groups have also travelled to border towns in order to intimidate refugees and voluntary helpers. In some cases, police had to protect the latter. The first attacks on refugees (or Hungarians who look foreign) have occurred.

Members of a radical far-right group in T-shirt promising death to the immigrants

Members of a radical far-right group in T-shirt promising death to the immigrants

A young woman was beaten up when she tried to protect her foreign-looking Hungarian boyfriend from far-right henchmen.

beaten up

Micro level–The civil society

When the suffering of a large number of refugees became apparent, Hungarian civil society organised itself quickly to provide help and relief. A number of NGOs and thousands of volunteers got into action, using Facebook and other social media platforms to organise help ranging from the provision of food and clothing and translation and assistance with administrative matters to trying to reunite families that have been separated in the course of their travels across Europe. A number of volunteers have travelled to the most affected towns and villages; others are helping by sorting through the donations that have been pouring in from all parts of the country and figuring out how best to distribute them. Several restaurant owners have offered their premises for feeding refugees or as a local HQ for the helpers. Notwithstanding the authorities’ and the far right’s opposition and sometimes even physical threats, the volunteers put up an effective, self-organised and self-financed grassroots support network within weeks.

They constitute the last remnant of hope in an ever-growing cloud of darkness.

children

Children of refugees in Budapest with meals received from volunteers

Hungarian social scientists protest Viktor Orbán’s “National Consultation”

Below you will find a statement signed by a number of Hungarian sociologists who strongly object to the questionnaire the Hungarian government designed for the alleged purpose of gauging Hungarian public attitude toward refugees and immigrants. The twelve questions can be found in an earlier post.

Frans Timmermans, first vice-president of the European Commission, wrote about this questionnaire on Facebook:

Public consultation can be an important tool for governments and other public authorities to develop policies that can count on support of the population. In this context, it is entirely up to the Hungarian authorities if they want to consult the people on migration. But a public consultation based on bias, on leading and even misleading questions, on prejudice about immigrants can hardly be considered a fair and objective basis for designing sound policies. Framing immigration in the context of terrorism, depicting migrants as a threat to jobs and the livelihood of people, is malicious and simply wrong – it will only feed misconceptions and prejudice. It will create and fuel negative attitudes towards minorities and it will stimulate confrontation between different groups in society. It is wilfully misleading to present migrants only as a burden to our economies and societies, without any mention of their contribution. When we address the many challenges posed by migration today, we must look at the issue in a frank, open and balanced way. We should not close our eyes to the sometimes serious challenges posed by migration in our societies. But in doing so, we should never lose sight of our fundamental values and of the need to preserve a pluralist and diverse society, based on mutual respect and equal treatment of every individual.

Professionals familiar with designing public opinion surveys agree and strongly object to this kind of manipulation.

Anyone who’s interested in joining the undersigned can add his or her signature to the list of names below at http://www.peticiok.com/tarsadalomkutatok_a_nemzeti_konzultaciorol

Johannes Sadeler, Hell, 1590

Johannes Sadeler, Hell, 1590

* * *

Social scientists on the National Consultation

The questionnaire for the National Consultation about “immigration and terrorism” – posted on the Hungarian government’s webpage with the intention of being mailed to all citizens in the coming weeks -, similarly to previous consultations of this sort, is a tool of political mobilization concealed as public opinion research. Even if we ignored the widely disputed substantive content of the questions, it remains apparent that the questionnaire was put together in total disregard of the methodological canons of public opinion research. We understand that the authors of the questionnaire did not intend to play by the rules of scholarly research, but we feel obliged to bring the attention of the public to the unprofessional, manipulative character of the questions.

  1. The questionnaire adopts a graded response scale, which is characteristic for public opinion surveys. Such response scales can use even- or odd-number response options, but must maintain neutrality and balance with respect to the statement that they record the responses to. The response scales used in the planned “National Consultation” do not comply with this requirement. They also offer three response options, but the middle one is not a neutral (e.g. “neither agree nor disagree”) option but a hesitant approval. Thus, if undecided respondents tick this middle option, or some respondents pick their responses at random, they both help to make the statement in the question – invariably the policy opinion adopted by the government – appear to be the choice of the majority, even if that was not the case.
  2. It is standard practice in public opinion research to introduce questions by saying that “Some people think … [something], while others think … [the opposite]”. This is useful because it assures respondents who may be hesitant to state their true opinion that both sides of the given argument are legitimate opinions. It is also important to phrase the alternatives in a balanced way that does not artificially make one opinion more attractive than the other irrespectively of agreement or disagreement with its substance. The questionnaire of the National Consultation does not meet this requirement because all three questions that start by saying “that some people say” identify only one alternative, which always coincides with the prime minister’s position about the subject matter. It is well-documented in studies of public opinion that asking for the expression of agreement/disagreement with only side of an argument facilitates ‘yeah-saying’ (acquiescence bias) among weakly committed respondents and thus distorts our picture about true public opinion.
  3. It is well-known among public opinion researchers that the order and phrasing of the preceding questions can systematically shape the responses that one obtains to any question. The questionnaire of the National Consultation is suggestive from this point of view as well. Both its title and the first three questions link “profiteering immigrants” – a pejorative neologism for immigrants attracted by better economic opportunities away from their homeland – to the obviously negative phenomenon of terrorism, thus increasing the probability that the rest of the questionnaire will find negative attitudes toward immigrants.
  4. The perhaps most important requirement for a credible survey of public opinion is an appropriate sampling of respondents from the given population. Lay people often think that more respondents always mean a more accurate picture of public opinion, and National Consultations are often claimed to represent true public opinion on this account. But this is in fact a false belief and a large number of respondents in no way guarantees that the sample well represents the public at large. If respondents were not selected with rigorous scientific methods but rather by “self-selection,” then there is a high probability that their voice will represent those who had a strong opinion or emotion motivating them to respond. In the case of the National Consultation, in particular, it can be taken for granted that the self-selection will produce politically one-sided results, since it is the Prime Minister himself who asks citizens to respond to his questions.
  5. It further undermines the validity of the results of the National Consultation that the questionnaire does not query the socio-demographic characteristics of the respondents, i.e. it does not provide data about their sex, age, education, income position, etc. Thus there is no way that appropriate weighting procedures could statistically correct the inevitable but systematic shortcomings of any sampling procedure, or that serious analyses of the results could be attempted.

All in all, the National Consultation is not a public opinion poll. Although the Prime Minister’s invitation letter to citizens calls it a “consultation” that prepares the way for some policy decisions, all other appearances aim to reinforce the mistaken impression that the invitation is to a conventional public opinion survey. Yet the manipulative use of the tools and appearances of a public opinion poll by the National Consultation merely highlights the fact that genuine studies of public opinion that could help both decision makers and the public to find out public opinion about policy alternatives are in fact disappearing from the Hungarian public sphere. Such studies could only be carried out by credible researchers who comply with the professional and ethical norms of public opinion research. Only audited institutions complying with high scientific standards should be entrusted with studies of public opinion, with all contracts and resulting databases available for public scrutiny. The government could spend public money on such inquiries: hundreds of them would be financed from the billions spent on the fake national consultations.

Zoltán Balázs, university professor, Corvinus University
Iván Balog, sociologist, University of Szeged
Ildikó Barna, sociologist, ELTE
László Beck, sociologist, Medián
András Bíró-Nagy, research director, Policy Solutions
Balázs Böcskei, political scientist, ELTE
Zsolt Boda, sociologist, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
József Böröcz, sociologist, Rutgers University
László Bruszt, university professor, European University Institute, Florence
György Csepeli, president of the Hungarian Association of Sociologists
Ágnes Darvas, sociologists, ELTE
Zsolt Enyedi, political scientist, Central European University
Zsuzsa Ferge, member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Anikó Gregor, sociologist, ELTE
Endre Hann, social psychologist, Medián
István Hegedűs, sociologist, Hungarian-European Association
Béla Janky, sociologist, Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Budapest Engineering University
Angéla Kóczé, sociologist, Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Wake Forest University
Éva Kovács, sociologist, Budapest/Vienna
Balázs Krémer, sociologist, University of Debrecen
Zoltán Lakner, political scientist, ELTE
Orsolya Lelkes, sociologist, University of Vienna
Balázs Majtényi, ELTE
Béla Marián, unemployed public opinion researcher
Bálint Misetics, researcher, social policy
Antal Örkény, sociologist, ELTE
Ágnes Rényi, sociologist, ELTE
Péter Róbert, sociologist
Dániel Róna, political scientist, Covinus University
Ágota Scharle, economist, Budapest Institute
Endre Sík, sociologist, TÁRKI
Andrea Szabó, sociologist
Ildikó Szabó, professor emeritus, University of Debrecen
Mária Székelyi, professor emeritus, ELTE
Iván Szelényi, member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Pál Tamás, researcher, Corvinus University
Róbert Tardos, sociologist, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, ELTE
Gábor Tóka, sociologist, Central European University
Csaba Tóth, director of strategy, Republikon Institute
Anna Unger, poliltical scientist, ELTE
Balázs Váradi, economist, ELTE
Mária Vásárhelyi, sociologist, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Anna Wessely, sociologist and historian of art, ELTE
Tibor Závecz, sociologist, Ipsos
János Zolnay, sociologist