There are some days, mind you not too many, when one starts to believe that Hungary’s future is not as bleak as we are inclined to think. It looks as if Hungarians, once they’ve had time to reflect, are not so easily manipulated.
The reason for optimism is a new Tárki poll on xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment. The company has been measuring the level of anti-foreign attitudes on a yearly basis, but this year they decided to conduct a second survey after the regular April one. The sociologists wanted to measure the effect, if any, of the intense anti-immigration campaign by the Orbán government. And here is the surprise and cause for some hope: the number of those who categorically reject the acceptance of any and all immigrants has dropped from 46% to 39% in two months. At the same time, the number of those who would make their decision on an individual basis has grown from 45% to 56%. This is a surprising and very welcome development, which shows that the enormous effort and considerable amount of money the Orbán government spent on inciting hatred and xenophobia hasn’t been as effective as they expected. Like all “political products,” to use Gábor G. Fodor’s term, this particular political ploy also has its limits.
This development is especially surprising because one would assume that the arrival of thousands of refugees day after day would make a decidedly negative impression on the population. Most Hungarians know by now that the vast majority of the arrivals move on within days, but the fear lingers that one day they will be sent back to the country where they entered the European Union. And yet the outright, en bloc rejection of all migrants/refugees hasn’t spiked.
Tárki published their figures on anti-immigration sentiment between 1992 and July 2, 2015, which shows interesting fluctuations. It starts in 1992 with a low 15% of respondents who would not allow a single immigrant into the country. I assume that also included members of the Hungarian diaspora. In the first four years that number grew considerably, reaching 40% in 1995. It’s difficult to know the reasons for that steep increase. It might have been the very hard economic times that befell the country during these years; people who are poor usually don’t welcome newcomers. Also, in that period there was an influx of about 50,000 refugees from warring Yugoslav territories, which might have made a difference in public sentiment. From 1996 on, the numbers settled around 28-30%, except for the years of the first Orbán government (1998-2002). Viktor Orbán during this period was at odds with all of Hungary’s neighbors and several other countries, including the United States. His harsh rhetoric might have influenced public opinion. After 2002, the negative attitude toward immigrants subsided until 2011, when it began to climb again with the arrival of the second Orbán administration. It reached its peak at 46% in April 2014. Clearly, Orbán’s harsh anti-foreign rhetoric does make a difference, but if we can believe today’s figures, it has its limits.Of course, these figures are still very high. Let me give you a few figures from the United States where a 2014 poll showed that 46% of Americans thought that all immigrants should be welcomed to the United States. That’s up from 33% in 2010, 24% in 2007, and around 20% in the mid-1990s. Those who say that there should be no immigration whatsoever dropped to 19%. In May the Pew Research Center published data on the attitude toward immigration in seven European countries (France, Germany, Spain, UK, Italy, Greece, Poland) which found very little enthusiasm for increased immigration and a great deal of support for less immigration. In Greece and Italy the opposition to immigration is very high: 86% and 80% respectively.
In Hungary, the rejection of Arabs is considerable: 76% would not allow them to settle in Hungary, although those people most likely don’t know that there are already a few thousand Muslims in the country, some of whom are citizens. Mind you, other Europeans also have an unfavorable opinion of Muslim minorities, varying from country to country, but even in tolerant Germany, France, and the UK the figures are high: 33%, 27%, and 26% respectively. Tárki didn’t release figures on Africans, but I assume that their negative numbers would be even higher than those for the Arabs.
The total rejection of immigrants is highest in the regions close to the Serb-Hungarian border where the migrants enter the country and lowest along the Austro-Hungarian border.
As far as the ideological makeup of the respondents is concerned, 54% of Jobbik sympathizers would close the door to all immigrants as opposed to 39% across the board. Unfortunately, we don’t have detailed information on Fidesz supporters or followers of the democratic parties. However, the Pew Research Center’s survey shows that in all seven countries studied, people who sympathize with the right are much more inclined to reject immigrants, while liberals and socialists are the most tolerant toward immigration in general.
As expected, education is a factor when it comes to the attitude toward immigrants. Only 13% of university graduates reject all immigrants’ acceptance in the country. Their rejection is also low among those who are planning to seek work abroad or who think of emigration: 12% and 17% respectively. These people can easily see themselves being disliked and/or discriminated against abroad, and therefore they sympathize with the plight of the arriving migrants. While people on the lower rungs of the economic scale are very much against immigration (43%), people of some means are a great deal less so (15%).
I left the most puzzling finding to last. Only 17% of those who attend church every week want to banish all immigrants. This is especially strange since the so-called historical churches have done practically nothing to alleviate the hardship of these migrants. Pope Francis can talk about compassion and charity, but his words don’t seem to resonate with the Hungarian high clergy or the so-called religious charitable organizations. On the other hand, it is possible that parish priests and local ministers, in response to the influx of migrants, called attention to Jesus’s teachings on the judgment of nations. The famous passage, Matthew 25, says that the Son of Man will divide the nations into righteous and accursed ones. On his right will be the righteous ones: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” On his left will be the accursed ones who left him hungry, thirsty and naked. They “will go away into eternal punishment” whereas the righteous will be rewarded with “eternal life.”