What’s Viktor Orbán’s end game in the refugee crisis?

If we listen to Klára Ungár, a liberal politician and economist, and over two decades ago, a much younger Viktor Orbán’s former colleague, the Hungarian prime minister has gone too far and can no longer save himself from his own downfall.

“There is no longer anything that Orbán can do, in order to save himself. Whether he cooperates or digs in his heels, in the medium-term, he is finished. And I think that this is what he would like as well: to rest and enjoy the wealth that he has amassed through theft, to read and to watch soccer games. But he is fearful of prison. And with good reason,” writes Ms. Ungár on her Facebook page.

Reacting to a comment from one of her followers, Ms. Ungár added that it is likely going to be one of his own who will stab the prime minister in the back, as a handful of Fidesz supporters eventually, conveniently and rather suddenly discover that constitutional democracy is in perilous state, thus compelling them to defend it against the authoritarian prime minister.

An analysis on the liberal 444.hu news site sees things quite differently. According to one of their regular columnists, “magyarip,” the prime minister is in his element as the world converges on Hungary, as major news networks report live all the way from the Keleti railway station in Budapest to the refugee reception camp in Röszke, a small town in southeastern Hungary, along the border with Serbia. Mr. Orbán not only loves a good fight, but he needs perpetual conflict with a shadowy enemy, a nefarious outside world that gangs up on Hungary, in order to survive politically at home.

Mr. Orbán wants desperately to be seen as the “strongman of Europe,” as well as a type of modern-day János Hunyadi, who is the defender of “Christian” Europe, keeping the Muslim “invaders” at the gates. (Hunyadi was a 15h century Hungarian military leader, who battled the Ottomans.) Hungary serving as the protector of western Christianity and European civilization, the gatekeepers on the edges of this spiritual empire, forms a critical part of the country’s historical narrative and self-image, especially as espoused on the right. It should be noted, and Éva Balogh does exactly this in the Hungarian Spectrum, that talk of defending Christianity has little to do with religion (Hungarian society is quite secular, and certainly much more so than countries like Poland), but everything to do with race and racism.

Mr. Orbán reads the cover page of the pro-government Magyar Idők daily, which features a headline warning readers about the risks of Hungary turning into an Islamic caliphate.

Mr. Orbán reads the cover page of the pro-government Magyar Idők daily, which features a headline warning readers about the risks of Europe turning into an Islamic caliphate.

According to 444.hu, Mr. Orbán’s solution to the refugee crisis is to essentially make it impossible for any Syrian to get further than a few metres from the border between Hungary and Serbia, and to send them back as soon as possible after their arrival. Hungarian authorities will only accept those people as refugees, whose lives are in danger if they were to return to the neighbouring country from which they entered Hungary. Serbia, however, is categorically considered to be a “safe country,” so none of the Syrians entering Hungary from the southern border will be eligible for refugee status.

Mr. Orbán has convinced himself that with the exception of some ruling European elites, most of the EU’s population, as well as burgeoning far-right movements (like the Front National in France) will see him as the continent’s “saviour.” Mr. Orbán also predicts that the mobilization of Hungarian soldiers (which has already begun), will serve as a show of force, strength and stability within Hungary itself, and will be appreciated by most Hungarian voters. As of September 15th, both the military and the police will be mobilized to protect Hungary’s southern border, where the new barrier between Hungary and Serbia is expanding by more than 10 km per day, to eventually run the full 177 km length of the frontier. According to the pro-government polling firm (I recommend always taking their data with a grain of salt), Fidesz support has grown in the past few weeks and now stands at 31%. Jobbik is still in second place with 15% support, while the Socialists are at a dismal 8% and the liberal Democratic Coalition (DK) at 6%. Nearly 31% of the population is undecided. Fidesz is now apparently taking support away from Jobbik, as Mr. Orbán’s strongman image sets in. However, it is worth keeping in mind that any gains for Fidesz are within the margin of error.

But there are major problems with Mr. Orbán’s plan, and most troublesome is the fact that with the current rate of over 3,000 refugees crossing into Hungary from Serbia each day and the so far non-existent refugee camps and infrastructure along the border means that Hungarian authorities will have to keep tens of thousands of stranded Syrian men, women and children in abysmal conditions for long periods of time, even as the cooler, rainy weather begins to set in. The world’s eyes are on Hungary, and the inhumane conditions within these makeshift camps or open fields will shock the world, and probably force the reticent EU to take clear action against Hungary (such as suspending EU funding or Hungary’s voting rights on EU bodies). Public opinion, once enraged and united, can be a very powerful force.

There are some voices in Fidesz circles who claim  that Mr. Orbán and the three Eastern European countries he managed to turn into allies on this issue will give in to German demands when it comes to the quota system of accepting refugees. The EC currently expects Hungary to accept 54,000 refugees by December. What Mr. Orbán wants is to significantly augment EU funding coming to Hungary, if it is to integrate so many Syrians. But the question remains: Can Mr. Orbán blackmail Germany or push it into a corner on this issue?

We know that this tactic did not work out very well for another European prime minister, namely Alexis Tsipras…

9 Comments

  1. Charlie London says:

    I’ve been watching Hungary backsliding for 5-6 years now and we have had many false dawns.

    Orban is safe in his squalid ‘Communist-Transitional State’ – and knows he is bomb proof – which he is when you consider how unbothered the EU is about this corner of Europe.

    His population is right behind him and he is completely impregnable for the foreseeable future including 2018 which will be a breeze for him. With the media and judiciary, inter alia, in the palm of his hand he has Hungary stitched up like a kipper.

    That’s how his population likes it – and that’s fine with the EU.

    Which they find amusing – “Here comes the Dictator! Slap! Slap!” with comradely banter.

    Forget that his corruption and thieving is some of the UK’s net-contribution funds – my taxes – being trousered.

    Orban is a safe joke in a corner of Europe and there’ll be many more false dawns.

    Merkel and Juncker don’t do ‘confrontation’ – and they have too much on their plate.

    Just watch that Orban safe-for-the-forseeable-future-bomb-proof smirk next time he’s on the EU stage.

  2. Charlie London you see it clearly. Well written!

  3. György Lázár says:

    It seems to me that just like the”polgári körös” Mr. Hende… Mr. Orbán can disappear unexpectedly. The Orbán regime is based on confidence and bravado, they are unable to solve real problems e.g. immigration, banks or refugee crisis. The only reason his regime has survived so far because there is no alternative… nobody has a viable political base or program. I expect a Bokros style politician rise from the after-Orbán rubble…

  4. I don’t know. I’m not so sure about he will go down the drainhole. Looks like he is busy doing so. Well. Depends on to whom he is working for. In my sight he is just another exe file like Merkel, Juncker and the other big faces in the EU mafia. Paul Hellyer ex CN defense minister, Ben Fulford (also Canadian) ex Forbes editor now WDS spokesman, and David Wilcock (in his unique commentary for Russian TV) revealed a lot about the programmers behind the walls.

    God knows what will happen. Orban totally mishandles the migrant issue. Mishandles for us. May be handles properly for the programmers. Yet, he is disposable.

  5. Orban’s end game?

    Who knows…….

    But this is the shocking middle:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34216883

    This harks back to the concentration camps.

    Hungary. Oh shameful Hungary.

    Bishops? Roman Catholicism?

    Shouldn’t you now be listening to your God’s representative rather than Lucifer Orban?

    • ..if you have problems viewing this due to territory limitations, Google: ‘BBC World Service News’ and you’ll see it featured prominently……

      ……that is if it hasn’t gone viral.

  6. You know there are many parallels with Hungary’s actions in the Holocaust:

    1) Hungarians enthusiastically ‘ghettoed’ the Jews in advance of their ‘Rendorseg’ putting them on the cattle trains before handing them over.

    (They ‘ghettoed’ them so they could take over the best properties and loot the most valuable possessions.)

    The pictures from the BBC are showing ‘ghettoised’ migrants (as the BBC prefers to call them)

    2) I’ve no doubt the Jews were kept in miserable cold conditions and intimidated by dogs.

    There are reports that dogs are off the leash at Roske. Food is thrown at the refugees in a callous lottery. It is very cold in the camps.

    3) Hungarians looted the Jews and confiscated their businesses before handing them over.

    Hungarian police have been charging refugees €50 a time not to ‘see’ them coming over the fence.

    4) The 71 migrants who perished were previously seen at Kileti station. Many refugees had paid good money – and some suspiciously large sums – for valid train tickets which MAV then refused to honour. Refugees were then forced into the arms of traffickers – of whom there are many, hanging vulture-like around Kileti.

    The parallel? Well just as Hungarians deny anything to do with the Holocaust, the Media have been desperate to avoid Hungarians being involved with the ‘Czech’ meat lorry that became the deathbed of 71 refugees.

    Many died in the cattle trucks too.

    Propaganda by Orban’s media has kept any new of Hungarian traffickers out of the news.

    They have also been warned by thug Balog not to show children in news coverage.

    And many more parallels. Do you have any?

    All we need now are some ovens and Siemens cyanide.

  7. Gyula Bognar, Jr. says:

    There is an element in the article which perhaps is not emphasized enough.
    The refugees have their plans for the “end game”.
    It does NOT coincide with the viktor’s. 3,000 migrants a day, 21,000 per week can make their move and the outcome of the “end game” can be entirely different from the visions of the incompetent, poorly equipped and tiring Hungarian executioners of the victor’s will.
    (And I did not even mention of the plans the Serbian Government can make if the situation gets worse on their side)

  8. I think no one is “in their element” in this situation, including Orban. And no idea that is currently on the table will solve this crisis, including the quota scheme–because there is no end to the number of refugees who will come if Europe keeps the doors open. Germany is reaping a huge public relations dividend right now, but already the government is making clear that it is almost overwhelmed already–of course. Half a million people in half a year is a lot to handle, and the rate at which they are arriving is obviously not sustainable for the receiving countries. Orban’s proposal to try to stem the tide by investing in facilities in Turkey is actually reasonable and was also suggested by the French foreign minister a few days ago. Orban is pretty repugnant and therefore draws a lot of fire in this circumstance, but that doesn’t mean everything he says is completely crazy. Some combination of policies that includes investing in refugee facilities in the Middle East; setting up well supplied camps in Greece and Hungary; and distributing refugees around the globe probably stands the best chance of getting this crisis under control in a reasonable time. It is also worth noting that the Syrians are not fleeing Syria directly but rather are leaving Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. A good many are indeed looking to make a better life for themselves, and qualify more as economic refugees than political ones. Let’s also not forget that the EU has erected the world’s most sophisticated system to keep migrants and refugees out–this wave is a major exception, and Hungary’s fence is not the only one, as Spain has walls and fences in its North African enclave. For Schengen to work, the external borders need to be secure, this is obvious and it’s the law. Sure, Schengen might fall apart, in which case more countries will behave exactly as Hungary has. Germany has created a lot of problems by suspending migration rules without consulting anyone–and thereby exacerbating this terrible situation. Hungary has been getting a lot of bad press, but for the most part this is just a distraction from the issues. Orban’s position on the refugees will, I predict, turn out to be more mainstream in Europe than it now appears to be. From Estonia to Bulgaria, central and eastern European governments have already protested the quota plan. The Dutch are pushing back and the right wing in Sweden of all places is starting to come to life. Orban might pull off a win here.

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