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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.