Hungary to hold anti-migrant referendum

After Prime Minister Viktor Orbán questioned the masculinity of Jobbik leader Gábor Vona in Parliament on Monday, and suggested that Jobbik should stop trying to impress the European Union by striking a more moderate tone as of late, both Fidesz and Jobbik voted in favour of holding a referendum on whether the decision-making bodies of the EU had the right to “force” Hungary into accepting quotas of migrants and refugees. Fidesz and Jobbik together provided 136 votes in favour, while 5 independent opposition MPs voted against the motion. The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and the Politics Can Be Different green party (LMP) did not participate in the vote, out of protest. Hungary’s largely ceremonial president, János Áder, will now have 15 days to announce a date for the referendum, which will likely be sometime in September. Fidesz’s main challenge will be to ensure that over 50% of eligible voters actually cast ballots in the plebiscite, in order to render the vote valid and “binding.”

I decided to put the word “binding” in quotation marks, simply because this referendum and this question in specific is not binding in any way. The referendum is more about the political benefit of a lengthy, polemical campaign, and the ability to spend up to 4.9 billion forints on government-sponsored xenophobic advertising, in order to fire up the population again about “invading” and “dangerous” foreigners, than it is about enforcing a result that Fidesz knows is completely unenforceable. The referendum question to be posed to voters reads as follows: “Do you want the European Union to be able to prescribe the obligatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary, without the agreement of Parliament?”

Refugees arriving in Hungary, in 2015. Photo: MTI.

Refugees arriving in Hungary, in 2015. Photo: MTI.

A patriotic Hungarian may, indeed, vote with a resounding “no” when faced with such a question–after all, who would want to see an external force direct the “colonization” (the word “betelepítés” is equally sinister in Hungarian) of their country?

Of course, there is no talk whatsoever of colonization. There is, however, a decision by the Council of the EU, which allocated 120,000 refugees among the member states of the European Union. According to this allocation, Hungary must accept 1,294 refugees. The referendum approved by parliament on Tuesday will have absolutely no impact on whether or not Hungary actually takes in the 1,294 refugees that it has been allocated. Even the Orbán government’s Minister of Justice, László Trócsányi, conceded that the question refers to future (and imaginary) attempts by the EU to “colonize” Hungary with non-Hungarians.

Hungary is legally bound to accept 1,294 refugees regardless of the result of the referendum. If the Orbán government chooses not to, it may have to pay a fine of up to 250,000 euros after each refugee that it decides to reject, according to a decision by the European Commission. The Orbán government claims that this is tantamount to blackmail.

Jobbik was the party to initially propose this referendum. But when it realized that Fidesz would use a lengthy, hyperbolic referendum campaign to distract voters from growing corruption scandals and the dismal state of health care and education, the party suggested that instead of a plebiscite, the constitution be amended to include a clause prohibiting the “mandatory settlement” of non-Hungarians in Hungary. Jobbik leader Gábor Vona argued that this was the quickest and most certain way of resolving this issue, as the government runs the risk of a invalid and non-binding referendum, if turn-out is less than 50%.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán offered a snarky response to Mr. Vona in parliament.

“Your party has gone from being radical to moderate. You have gone from being men to cute mama’s boys,” declared Mr. Orbán, referring to Jobbik’s recent efforts at being perceived as more moderate.

Gábor Vona, naturally, responded in kind.

“It wasn’t me who once sat in the Liberal International, but rather you!”–retorted Mr. Vona, and then suggested that Mr. Orbán wanted to maintain the crisis caused by the refugees and EU quotas, rather than provide a solution, in order to distract the population from corruption scandals.

Mr. Orbán then suggested that Jobbik was simply trying to impress Brussels, which–in the Fidesz dictionary–is now synonymous with Beelzebub.

“Just stay Hungarian–that suits you better,” Prime Minister Orbán suggested to Mr. Vona in Parliament.

Fidesz has become Hungary’s most far-right party and it will now spend the spring and summer firing up the population with a xenophobic referendum campaign against foreigners. What a miserable “welcome” for the 1,294 refugees that will likely settle in Hungary in the coming months.

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