Tag Archives: quota referendum

The much-heralded seventh amendment to the Hungarian Constitution

Changing the constitution is a frequent affair in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. The amendment promulgated today is the seventh since April 2012. So by now the ministry of justice can draft these amendments with relative ease and great speed. Admittedly, we don’t know when work began on this latest touch-up because the Orbán government kept its preparation secret.

According to Hungarian law, no referendum can be held on issues related to the constitution. Yet even before the “refugee” referendum was held, it was obvious that the result of a successful referendum would be a constitutional amendment.

"Five years old Hungary's Basic Law. God bless the Hungarians! April 25, 2016" Great celebration by Magyar Posta

“Hungary’s Basic Law five years old. God bless the Hungarians! April 25, 2016” Great celebration by Magyar Posta

Well, the referendum turned out not to be valid, but such setbacks don’t deter Viktor Orbán. Today László Trócsányi, minister of justice, submitted the government’s proposed amendments to the constitution. The text of the amendments is accompanied by a fairly lengthy justification. Under the heading “General Justifications” we can read:

At the referendum held on October 2, 98% of the electorate voted ‘no’ for forced settlement. With this act the new unity for Hungary came into existence. This new unity is above parties; it considers the defense of Hungary’s sovereignty and the rejection of settlement quotas to be national issues.

The common will of the 98% obliges parliament to endow it with legal force. This amendment is based on the will of a 98% majority, 3 million 300 thousand people. This is more than the electoral support of any party in the past quarter century.

So, let’s see what Trócsányi and his men in the justice ministry came up with. The translation was done by Ben Novák of The Budapest Beacon. I assume that eventually the government will make its official English version available.

♦ ♦ ♦

A sentence will be added to the much criticized Preamble, the National Avowal.

After the sentence that reads “We honour the achievements of our historical constitution and we honour the Holy Crown, which embodies the constitutional continuity of Hungary’s statehood and the unity of the nation,” the following sentence will appear: “We hold that the defense of our constitutional self-identity, which is rooted in our historical constitution, is the fundamental responsibility of the state.”

Paragraph 2 of Article E of the Fundamental Law will be amended to read:

Hungary, as a Member State of the European Union and in accordance with the international treaty, will act to the extent necessary to be in accordance with the rights and responsibilities granted by the founding treaty, in conjunction with powers granted to it under the Fundamental Law together with other Member States and European Union institutions. The powers referred to in this paragraph must be in harmony with the fundamental rights and freedoms established in the Fundamental Law and, in addition, they must not limit Hungary’s inalienable rights concerning its territorial integrity, its population, its form of government, and its state structure.

Article R of Article 3 (paragraph 4) will be amended to include:

It is the responsibility of every state institution to defend Hungary’s constitutional identity.

Article 4 (1), paragraphs 1-3 will be replaced with the following text:

(1) No alien population can be settled in Hungary. Foreign citizens, not including the citizens of countries in the European Economic Area, in accordance with the procedures established by the National Assembly for Hungarian Territory, may have their documentation individually evaluated by Hungarian authorities.

(2) Hungarian citizens on Hungarian territory cannot be deported from Hungarian territory, and those outside the country may return whenever they so choose. Foreigners residing on Hungarian territory may be deported only by means of legal adjudication. It is forbidden to perform mass deportations.

(3) No person can be deported to a state, nor can any person be extradited to any state, where they are in danger, discriminated against, subject to persecution, or where they are at risk of any other form of inhumane treatment or penalty.

Paragraph 4 of Article XIV will be expanded with the following text:

(4) Hungary will provide asylum to non-Hungarian citizens if the person’s country of origin or other countries do not provide protection, and also to those who, in their homeland or place of residence, are persecuted for their race, ethnicity, social standing, religion, or political convictions, or if their fear of persecution is grounded.

♦ ♦ ♦

It’s been only a few hours since the text of the amendments was made available, so few commentaries have appeared. One came from Csaba Molnár, a deputy chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció, who put it bluntly: Orbán conned the country with these amendments. He used a somewhat indelicate comparison which I will translate here as “the amendments have no teeth.” In his opinion the amendments are simply a rewriting of currently effective Hungarian and European laws. They are no more than eyewash (szemfényvesztés).

Péter Magyari of 444.hu finds the wording vague and elastic. He pays special attention to paragraph 4 of article XIV which, in his opinion, doesn’t preclude the execution of quota decisions but only describes its road map. All in all, he thinks the text is cautious and elastic, so the European Commission will most likely accept it.

Now the question is what Gábor Vona of Jobbik will say to the amendments. After all, without his support Fidesz doesn’t have enough votes to pass them. The democratic parties already announced their refusal to engage in any discussion about them. DK, in fact, because of Fidesz’s attitude toward the results of the referendum, the “sanctimonious” amendment of the constitution and what happened to Népszabadság, will boycott parliament. From the little we know about Jobbik’s reaction, it looks as if Vona, who wants to have a private discussion with Orbán about the issue, also finds the text far too cautious and elastic. He and his party want certain changes. What these changes are we don’t know yet, but people suspect that Jobbik considers the amendments too wishy-washy.

I’m sure that legal scholars better versed in European law will find Trócsányi’s amendments a great deal more sophisticated than meets the eye. I’m looking forward to a lively debate on the subject.

October 10, 2016

Brussels after the Hungarian referendum

Although the Hungarian media is full of the story that Antal Rogán lied about his extravagant helicopter ride to a wedding, I would rather talk about the Hungarian referendum’s reception in Brussels.

The initial reaction came from Margaritis Schinas, the first spokesman of the European Commission, who, in his October 3 press conference, tried to give the impression that the Commission takes an absolutely neutral position as far as the result of the referendum is concerned. As he put it: “If the referendum had been legally valid, we would have taken note of it; now that it is declared legally void, we also take note of it. We respect those who voted and those who didn’t vote.” A day later, in response to a question from a Hungarian journalist, the European Commission spokesman said: “The pertinent authorities declared the results of the referendum invalid. I leave it to you to draw the conclusion how this will influence the decision-making process of the European Union.”

We know that there was a sigh of relief in Brussels after the referendum failed. Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, indicated that Viktor Orbán’s failure to produce a valid referendum had weakened his position in any future negotiations with the officials of the European Union. As he put it, “Budapest should take it … seriously that it was not a majority and we have therefore a good chance for a dialogue.” This indicates that Viktor Orbán will most likely have a harder time in his negotiations in Brussels after the referendum fiasco.

On October 5 Jean-Claude Juncker made it clear in a speech to the European Parliament that he has no intention of lifting the quota of 1,294 refugees that Viktor Orbán himself approved already in February 2016. His remarks were interpreted by the anti-EU British Daily Express as a “brazen statement [that] is likely to cause consternation in Budapest.” Again today in Paris Juncker called on the member states to honor the decision on the distribution of refugees that was agreed upon in February. The Hungarian internet site Index seems to agree with the British paper when it predicts that Juncker’s hard-line attitude regarding compulsory quotas will only provide further ammunition for Viktor Orbán. However, Juncker’s steadfast, hard-hitting words of late don’t bode well for a friendly future encounter with the Hungarian prime minister, especially since Juncker looks upon referendums as the death knell of the European Union. Apparently, Juncker was specifically thinking of the Hungarian referendum when he talked about the problems of the European Union.

On October 6 Bertalan Havasi, head of the public relations department of the prime minister’s office, released the news that Viktor Orbán had sent a letter to Jean-Claude Juncker in which he gave details of the result, emphasizing that “3.33 million people expressed their will that without the approval of the Hungarian parliament no foreign nationals can be settled on the territory of the country” and therefore “he is initiating an amendment of the constitution.” He reassured Juncker that the proposed amendments will be in accord with European Union law as well as with Hungary’s international obligations. Copies of the letter went to Donald Tusk, Martin Schulz, and Robert Fico as the current president of the Visegrád 4 Group.

Jean Claude Juncker's door is always open Source: The Telegraph, credit AP

Jean-Claude Juncker’s door is always open / Source: The Telegraph, credit AP

At the October 3 press conference Margaritis Schinas, again in an answer to a question by a journalist, said that if Viktor Orbán would like to meet with the president of the European Union, “Mr. Juncker’s door is always open to all the heads of the member states.” Although Havasi made no mention of any such request, apparently Orbán did ask for an urgent meeting with Juncker in the same letter, as Népszabadság learned. But since Juncker already had a fixed schedule yesterday and today, “he could give Orbán only an impossible time that Orbán couldn’t accept.” As someone half-jokingly said, perhaps Juncker suggested meeting him late afternoon today, which certainly wouldn’t have suited the football-crazy Orbán who wanted to be present at the Hungarian-Swiss game held in Budapest. I suspect that the meeting between the two men will take place soon.

There is another issue in connection with the referendum. Tibor Navracsics, once one of the highest office holders in Fidesz and the Orbán government, is currently an EU commissioner. On the very day of the referendum he gave an interview to pestisracok.hu, a far-right Fidesz internet news site. In the interview he disclosed that he had voted “no” on the referendum question because in his opinion the question has nothing to do with the European Union or the European Commission. It is a national issue and therefore, despite his position as one of the commissioners, he can freely express his opinion. Index’s “Eurologus” agreed with the commissioner and quoted the European Commission’s “Code of conduct for commissioners.” Csaba Molnár, DK European Parliamentary member, thinks otherwise and asked Juncker to investigate the case. The leader of the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats of the European parliament, Gianni Pittella, agrees with Molnár that European commissioners have a duty to promote the general interest of the EU, not the interests of their own national governments.

The comments by Commissioner Navracsics on the failed referendum in Hungary calls this into question. A legal decision was taken on the resettlement of refugees, and the question in the referendum went directly against this and against the proposal coming from the EU Commission, of which Navracsics is a member. If Commissioner Navracsics does not believe in what his own Commission put forward and on the contrary thinks that national governments should not follow decisions taken by the whole of the EU, then we have a problem. If this is how he feels, then why is he working for the European Commission? Commissioner Navracsics must clarify his comments immediately.

Alexander Winterstein, deputy chief spokesman for the Commission, when asked about Navracsics’s action by euroactive.com, was evasive, claiming ignorance of the case. By today, however, it looks as if Juncker’s office is looking into the matter, asking for translations of Navracsics’s interviews and statements. Népszabadság learned that the officials of the commission find Navracsics’s public statements ambiguous, from which it is not clear whether they side with the Hungarian government or the commission on the issue of “the compulsory settlements.” Winterstein announced today that Juncker will bring the topic up at the meeting of th commissioners.

It is possible that in purely legal terms Navracsics is correct when he claims that no conflict of interest exists in this case. But one thing is sure: as euronews.com reported a day after the vote, Brussels considers Orbán’s failure to be their victory.

October 7, 2016

Hungary’s “constitutional identity”: What does it mean?

After we learned the results of the refugee quota referendum I wrote a short post, leaving an analysis of the referendum’s consequences for a later date. I did, however, indicate that Viktor Orbán was planning to change the constitution for the seventh time since its framing in April 2012. It was also already obvious that Orbán would try to make a huge victory out of a failed referendum. And indeed, in a day or so, new ads appeared touting that 98% of Hungarians are behind the government’s efforts to save Hungary from migrants. No Hungarian government has had such overwhelming support and the government cannot ignore the wishes of 3.3 million people, they claimed. Therefore, although legally the referendum was not valid, it was a major political success. The government simply cannot ignore the wishes of so many people.

The results of the referendum gave Orbán another political weapon. He cleverly equated the number of “no” votes with support for his party and his government. He declared “a new unity for Hungary,” which stands squarely behind him not just on the migrant issue but also on all matters connected with overarching national questions. Of course, as we know from Publicus Intézet’s poll, if national elections had been held on October 2, only 28% of the electorate would have voted for Fidesz and not 40% as Orbán claims now on the basis of the referendum results. The only opposition party that supported the quota referendum was Jobbik but, again judging from public opinion polls, Jobbik voters’ enthusiasm was a great deal less than that of Fidesz voters. Tipping the results in favor of Orbán’s newly discovered “unity” were those naïve souls among the supporters of the democratic parties who didn’t realize that a “no” vote was a “yes” vote for Viktor Orbán.

Orbán’s plan is to convert some of those extra one million people who were misled by the incredible anti-refugee propaganda to faithful Fidesz supporters and thus achieve the desired two-thirds majority again in 2018 or earlier. The most likely candidates for the enlargement of the Fidesz camp are the Jobbik voters who, following the call of their party, voted “no” on October 2. That would mean the destruction of the already weakened Jobbik by absorbing its supporters. For the time being, however, Gábor Vona has the upper hand. He can demand a very high price for his party’s support of the constitutional amendments. All democratic parties have already announced their intention to boycott discussions related to constitutional changes, and since Fidesz no longer has the necessary two-thirds majority Orbán needs the votes of Jobbik. But as an op-ed article in valasz.hu predicted, Jobbik might be the next victim of Viktor Orbán. Interestingly, Boris Kálnoky, Budapest correspondent of the Austrian Die Presse, also considers Orbán’s announcement of “a new unity” a declaration of war against Jobbik.

The constitutional amendments are shrouded in mystery, but by yesterday we learned that the government will invoke a fashionable legal notion called “constitutional identity.” This legal construct has such a huge literature, whole books were devoted to the subject, that what I can say about it here is not more than what I learned in a short description of a book by Gary Jeffrey Jacobsohn. Jacobsohn argues that “a constitution acquires an identity through experience—from a mix of the political aspirations and commitments that express a nation’s past and the desire to transcend that past.” I assume that after reading this description you are as puzzled as I was when I first read it. I became a bit more enlightened after I took a quick look at an article that appeared in the Utrecht Law Review by Leonard F. M. Besselink titled “National and constitutional identity before and after Lisbon.” This article then led me to the text of the Lisbon Treaty in which there is no mention of “constitutional identity.” It does, however, talk about “national identities” in Article 4.2, which reads:

The Union shall respect the equality of Member States before the Treaties as well as their national identities, inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-government. It shall respect their essential State functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, maintaining law and order and safeguarding national security. In particular, national security remains the sole responsibility of each Member State.

Justice Minister László Trócsányi and Undersecretary Bence Tuzson in charge of communication

Justice Minister László Trócsányi and Undersecretary Bence Tuzson in charge of communication

I suspect this is what László Trócsányi, minister of justice and former member of the constitutional court, has in mind. It looks as if Trócsányi finds the idea of “constitutional identity” an important and handy legal construct. According to vs.hu, at the time of the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, at the request of a private person, the Hungarian constitutional court examined whether the treaty transgresses the sovereignty of Hungary. The court rejected the brief, but Trócsányi filed a concurring opinion in which he stated that “the member states have kept their right to determine the fundamental tenets of their constitution, which are indispensable for the maintenance of their constitutional identity.” In other words, over the centuries the Hungarians who settled in the Carpathian Basin created a specific cultural and ethnic identity. This identity would be violated by large settlements of people coming from a different cultural and religious background. I assume this will be the main argument of the Hungarian government against the contentions of those who claim the supremacy of EU law over the laws of a member state. Judging from the fact that Hungarian constitutional scholars already wildly disagree over the Hungarian government’s interpretation of “constitutional identity,” I suspect that Trócsányi’s brainchild might not be so easy to defend.

By now I more or less understand what Trócsányi is getting at, but I was nonetheless completely baffled by what he said at this morning’s press conference. He announced that the amendments will touch on Hungary’s territory, its population (népesség), populace/population (lakosság), the structure of the state (állami berendezkedés), and the form of government (államforma). This sounds outright frightening. Let’s start with the most intriguing one: the form of government. Surely, Trócsányi is not thinking of calling back the Habsburgs or returning to the “free electors” active between the two world wars, so I don’t know what he has in mind. Changing the structure of the state is equally worrisome. Will they introduce a presidential form of government with Viktor Orbán at its head? And what on earth can it mean that the amendments will touch on the territory of Hungary? Are they planning to move a few rivers to make the country bigger, because surely they cannot contemplate renegotiating the Treaty of Trianon. Finally, I have no idea what the difference is between “népesség” and “lakosság.”

We can expect turbulent times in Hungary, that’s for sure. I also wonder what Brussels will think of the latest brainstorm of Viktor Orbán and his team.

October 6, 2016

The deadly embrace of Hungarian television propaganda

Yesterday, while waiting for the results of the anti-refugee referendum, I decided to take a look at Channel M1, one of Magyar Televízió’s four or five channels. This particular channel is devoted to news and political discussions. I must admit that I hadn’t bothered to watch it before, though of course I knew that since 2010, when Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party won the election, MTV had become a servile mouthpiece of government propaganda. I heard all the jokes about its being the Hungarian version of North Korean Television and that anyone who has a cable connection avoids M1 like the plague. Insufferable, unwatchable, disgraceful; these were the verdicts coming from Hungary. And then, yes, there’s the astonishing €160,191,200 yearly budget on channels few people watch, although MTV can be received across the country and beyond. (Of the private stations, only RTL Klub and TV2 have nationwide coverage.) Well, yesterday I took the plunge.

Watching Channel M1 while the voting was in progress was a shocking experience. The intensity of the propaganda could easily be compared to the times of Mátyás Rákosi–if, that is, Hungary had had television broadcasting in those days. Friends of mine who worked as journalists during the last two decades of the Kádár regime tell me that, despite the limitations imposed on them by the regime, they had more freedom than those journalists who still work at MTV. The better ones were fired years ago; those who remained do what they are told.

I hate to think how much money MTV spent on this last-minute campaigning for a valid and successful referendum. One reporter was sent to Belgrade to interview “migrants” who are stuck there. Another went to France. Another was dispatched to the “capital of Székelyföld,” which is a fiction of the Hungarian right since there is no way Romania will grant autonomous status to the two counties where Hungarian-speaking Szeklers are in the majority. Another journalist stood in front of a former refugee camp in Debrecen.

The anchor at intervals asked for the latest developments in Belgrade. The correspondent there reported that the “migrants” are breathlessly waiting for word on the outcome of the referendum. If it is not valid, they are planning to storm the Hungarian border first thing Monday morning. Ten or fifteen minutes later the anchor got in touch with the reporter in Belgrade again for “the latest developments.”

Then came the turn of the reporter from France. She was in the village of Allex in southeastern France where, as several French- and English-language papers reported in mid-September that“furious villagers have plunged France’s asylum system into chaos after demanding a vote on whether to kick out migrants re-homed in their neighborhood.” Allex had to take 50 refugees and the locals, egged on by the Front National, created a situation that became explosive. They demanded a referendum, which couldn’t be held because localities cannot decide on immigration issues. This news was picked up by right-wing Hungarian internet sources like Origo, 888.hu, and Pestisracok.hu around September 15. So MTV sent a special correspondent to this village to record a conversation with the mayor about “the lack of democracy” in France.

The reporter in Csíkszereda told MTV’s audience in Hungary about the great enthusiasm among the Szeklers for this referendum. Népszabadság’s Bucharest correspondent, who was also in Csíkszereda, reported otherwise. According to the Hungarian consul-general, 17,525 people asked for ballots and instructions to vote on Sunday but 11,820 (67.45%) didn’t bother to pick them up. In Cluj/Kolozsvár the situation was a bit better. All in all, there was not much to see in Csíkszereda. Most people had already voted by mail and, as we know, more than 16% of the ballots were invalid. According to the National Election Office, 30,705 ballots came from Transylvania before October 1.

Then came the story of all the atrocities that “migrants” had committed in the last year or so in Hungary. The reporter stood in front of the by now empty barracks that used to house refugees in Debrecen. The whole neighborhood was ruined, there was litter everywhere, fighting broke out over some dispute about the Koran, every time they wanted something some migrants climbed up on a tower and threatened to jump if their demands were not met. In short, it was sheer hell and, if migrants were allowed to enter Hungary, the whole country would be like that. The story then continued with the “terrorists” in Röszke who threw rocks at the policemen, people at the Keleti Station, and the march toward Vienna. A long litany of atrocities committed by the “migrants.”

Finally came a series of interviews with politicians and ordinary citizens who all voted no and who explained their weighty reasons for doing so. These stories were packed into one hour of non-stop propaganda, which was outright stomach turning.


I decided to write about the hour I spent on the state propaganda channel of a so-called democratic country because the defeat of Orbán’s referendum is even more momentous when viewed in the context of this government attempt at brainwashing voters.

Although most foreign and domestic observers consider the result a colossal failure for the Hungarian government, the Fidesz leadership gathered stone-faced in front of a small and somewhat artificially enthusiastic crowd to announce the government’s great victory. Journalists were forbidden to be present. In a short speech Viktor Orbán shamelessly claimed that nine out of ten Hungarians voted for the sovereignty of Hungary. “Brussels or Budapest. That was the question and we decided that the right of decision lies solely with Budapest.” Although I often get confused with numbers, I’m pretty sure that 2,978,144 is not 90% of 8,272,624 eligible voters.

As for his future plans concerning a change of the constitution, it is about as illegal as the referendum itself was. I know that Jobbik will support it because Gábor Vona’s original suggestion was a simple change of the constitution, which Fidesz refused to consider and instead launched the referendum campaign. We don’t yet know whether the democratic opposition parties will present a common front. So far DK and MSZP have announced that they will boycott any parliamentary action concerning an amendment to the constitution. The small Magyar Liberális Párt also expressed its disapproval of changing the constitution on account of the refugee quota issue.

Tomorrow I will attempt to shed some light on the very complicated issue of the relationship between the referendum and the constitution. Meanwhile we will see how Orbán handles this new situation. I suspect with belligerence and even more hateful speeches against both the refugees and the opposition. 444.hu recalled today an interview with Anikó Lévai, Orbán’s wife, in Story magazine a couple of years ago. She told the reporter that her husband is unable to lose and gave a couple of examples. When they run together, he pretends that he is close to chocking and is far behind, but in the last minute he revives and sprints ahead, beating her. Only once did it happen that they took part in a ski competition where she came in first and he second. By the time the results were announced Orbán had arranged to separate the sexes, and thus he was first in the men’s category. He is always ready to change the rules of the game. I think this is what we can expect.

October 3, 2016

Viktor Orbán’s gamble failed: the referendum is invalid

The insidious hate campaign leading up to today’s referendum on compulsory refugee quotas has failed, badly. First of all, only 43.8% of the electorate went to the polls, far below the necessary 50% plus 1. Even more telling is that only 39.93% of the electorate cast a valid vote; 60.07% either spoiled their ballots or didn’t bother to vote. The Two-Tail Dog Party’s campaign to invalidate ballots made an impact: 6.3% of the voters spoiled their ballots. This is a very high number, especially if one compares it to earlier referendums and elections where spoiled ballots constituted no more than 0.5-2.0% of all ballots.

To get a picture of nationwide trends, one has to study the data published by the National Election Office. People in Budapest were the least enthusiastic about voting at this referendum: only 34.72% of them turned out, and the number of invalid ballots was very high, about 15%. In larger cities, like Szeged, Debrecen, and Pécs, the turnout was somewhat higher but the number of invalid ballots was still relatively high.

All in all, one can call this much touted referendum, which was, according to Viktor Orbán, as important as the regime change in 1989-1990, a flop.

Victory was not in the cards

Victory was not in the cards for Viktor

I was most curious to see how Viktor Orbán would try to turn this fiasco into a victory. Well, here is his take on it. In 2003, 3,056,027 people voted in favor of joining the European Union. This time 3,237,415 people voted against the European Union’s right to foist unwanted migrants on Hungary. Moreover, 15% more people voted in today’s referendum than in the European parliamentary elections of 2014. Therefore, this referendum is a stunning success. It boggles the mind.

And, by the way, he will ask parliament to change again, for the seventh time, the 2012 Fidesz constitution to include a provision that would ensure that foreigners can settle in Hungary only with the authorization of parliament. I might add that this was the original suggestion of Jobbik, which, as Jobbik politicians pointed out today, would have cost no money whatsoever. But, of course, we know that this referendum had little or nothing to do with compulsory quotas. It was an attempt to further bolster the present government’s hold on society. It backfired. It is now up to the opposition to make good use of this Fidesz defeat.

October 2, 2016

Let’s Invalidate the Hungarian Refugee Quota Referendum!

“This is our country: Let’s invalidate the referendum!” is the title of the common statement of 22 NGOs protesting against the inhuman politics of the Hungarian government against refugees.

The Hungarian government has unleashed a xenophobic hate campaign ahead of the refugee referendum on October 2. Twenty-two NGOs are urging citizens to reject the government’s fearmongering and invalidate the referendum.

Hungarians will go to the polls on October 2 to answer the following question: Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?

We, Hungarian NGOs and citizens with a sense of responsibility for our country, believe in a country where our common matters are managed with humaneness, solidarity and mutual respect. We are concerned about seeing the government threaten our common values, therefore we speak out against the referendum scheduled for October 2, as well as the hate campaign surrounding the vote.

We decided to start a campaign to invalidate the referendum, which fails to promote our common concerns and is both pointless and inhuman.

Pointless question

The question put to referendum fails to promote our common concerns. It does not offer a solution either to the situation of refugees or the future of the European Union. It rejects solidarity with our fellow human beings in plight, just like with the other European member states. It has no intention to create a framework for peaceful coexistence. We are convinced that nobody can feel safe in the long run where public discourse is defined by hatred.

The question put to referendum is pointless. No provision on compulsory “resettlement” quotas has ever been adopted, let alone discussed, in the EU. If such a question were put on the agenda in the future, Hungary would have a place at the negotiating table.

Moreover, the response given to the referendum question does not entail any specific legal consequences, nor does it make clear exactly what entitlement the government asks for from the citizens, as this has never been revealed.

Shattered solidarity

The question put to a vote is also inhuman. The goal of the referendum and the accompanying campaign is to incite hatred against refugees. Its only potential consequence is the further weakening of the already shattered social solidarity, thereby reinforcing the government in continuing with its hate campaign.

The real question that is going to be at stake on October 2 is whether this country will ever be able to become a humane community. This is the goal we work for 365 days a year — on October 2 and on every other day.

Some of us will cast an invalid vote, while others will boycott the coerced anti-refugee referendum. Our goal is nevertheless the same: to invalidate this referendum.

Join us, share our statement, talk to your friends, colleagues and neighbors. Convince them, too, thus we can prove together: our country is based on humaneness and solidarity.

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Magyar Helsinki Bizottság
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Segítsünk együtt!
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October 3 may not be a day of rejoicing for the Hungarian government

Viktor Orbán has put a tremendous amount of energy into having a valid and successful referendum, although it is not clear what he wants to do with it, at least at home. He is certainly keeping his plans secret–if, that is, he has plans. One cannot exclude the possibility that he doesn’t know what his next step will be.

As for his plans for the European Union, the official explanation is that a successful referendum will strengthen his hand in his tough fight with the EU. His latest brainstorm, however–having a giant refugee camp in Libya–was not exactly greeted with enthusiasm at his meeting in Vienna with Angela Merkel, Donald Tusk, Christian Kern, and the prime ministers of the Balkan countries. Moreover, this time the usually silent European Commission also raised objections. Natasha Bertaud, the spokesperson of Jean-Claude Juncker, explained yesterday that the registration of asylum seekers can take place only within the borders of the European Union. Orbán should study the admittedly complicated rules and regulations of the EU a bit more thoroughly before he comes out with his bizarre ideas.

I guess I don’t have to go into the details of Libya’s reaction to Orbán’s proposal. The Libyan Unity Government found Orbán’s idea of a refugee camp for one million people along Libya’s seashore under EU supervision unacceptable since such an arrangement would constitute an infringement of the country’s territorial integrity. So, it is highly unlikely that Orbán will pursue this idea any further.

Otherwise, since the question of compulsory quotas is pretty much off the table, I don’t think that a successful referendum makes any difference in his negotiations in Brussels. Perhaps he just wants to show that he has the whole country behind him. In his interview with Origo he claimed that he would be truly happy only if all eligible voters went to the polls because, after all, this is a national issue that has nothing to do with party politics, which is, of course, a joke.

The effort that is being put into achieving the desired result is phenomenal. The government is pressuring localities to deliver the votes because otherwise they will be the ones stranded with the dreaded migrants. These are mostly communities where the mayor and the town council refused to send out propaganda material to each household. According to 444.hu 11 Hungarian communities with a combined population of 3.68 million have been directly threatened by the government. That is about a third of the population of the country. At least one mayor of a small town near Győr made it clear to his constituents that, with a high turnout, his “managing the applications for EU subsidies currently under consideration” will be much easier. In plain English, if they don’t vote EU subsidies will go somewhere else. So, the generous support of the European Union is being used by the Orbán government to blackmail the population to vote in a referendum that is designed as a club against the EU itself.

Even so, there have been signs in the last few days that, despite all the propaganda and threats, enthusiasm for the referendum is waning. This is especially surprising because, as a result of all this effort, today Hungarians believe that the “migrant question” is one of the most important problems the country currently faces. Deficiencies in healthcare still leads the list, but second place is shared by the migrant issue and corruption (35%). It’s more important than the state of the economy (30%). In the last three months, while they were preoccupied with the “migrant question,” Hungarians marginalized the problems of education (11%).

One of the earliest hints of the government’s concern about achieving a valid referendum (a turnout of 50% of the electorate plus 1) was something Undersecretary János Halász in the prime minister’s office said a few days ago. Halász claimed that those who are urging a boycott and plan not to vote in fact would like to say “no” but “don’t dare admit it.” There is another interesting bit of news about ballots arriving from Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, and a few from western countries. There are 274,000 eligible voters in this group, and so far 73,000 ballots have arrived. But, of the 15,601 ballots that have already been counted, only 12,835 or 82% were valid. Almost every fifth ballot will be added to the invalid pile. Of course, we have no idea whether these ballots were spoiled on purpose or not, but in the final analysis it doesn’t matter. They will end up in the pile of protest votes.

Finally, in its latest poll Medián suggests that the referendum might not be valid because only 42% of the sampled population are sure they will vote. Almost a fourth disapprove of holding the referendum. Of this group 36% will remain at home, 18% will spoil the ballot, and 18% will vote yes. In addition to Medián, Publicus Research and Závecz Research will release polls between now and October 2.

An invalid ballot

An invalid ballot

Some of the opposition parties, most vocally Jobbik and the Demokratikus Koalíció, are demanding Viktor Orbán’s resignation in the event of an invalid referendum. Of course, he would not resign, but a failure would definitely be a political setback for Viktor Orbán. The more people stay home, the more people vote “yes” or spoil their ballots, the more embarrassing the whole affair will be. Orbán is in a high stakes game with, as far as we can see, a very small pot. Lots of risk, very little reward. If the referendum is invalid, Orbán’s reputation as a miracle worker will vanish. It will become clear that, after all, he is not unbeatable.

September 28, 2016