This central European country, famous for goulash, the world’s best footballer of the 1950s – Ferenc Puskas, the biro pen and the rubik cube, among other things, is making headlines these days for more unpleasant reasons.
Ever since the country turned sharply to the political right in 2010 following scandals in which the previous socialist government was secretly recorded saying that they had been lying to the public for years, Prime Minister Victor Orban and his Fidesz party have become increasingly nationalistic and authoritarian.
With the super-majority in parliament, several constitutional changes were made and administrative boundaries reconfigured to ensure future election wins. Restrictions have been placed on the media and foreign NGOs have had their operations severely disrupted when refusing to cooperate with what the government wants them to do.
The most recent scandal surrounds a new anti-immigrant campaign and the announcement to put up a wall along the border between Hungary and neighbouring Serbia to the south.
The anti-immigrant campaign consists of a poster campaign in which immigrants are advised, in Hungarian language, that when they come to Hungary they should not take Hungarian people’s jobs and abide by the law. It is such a bizarre campaign because almost no one in the world, apart from Hungarians can even begin to comprehend their language. With only some distant relationship to Finnish and Estonian that even the Finns and Estonians find hard to believe, any posters in Hungarian without any accompanying images to provide context cannot be understood by their target audience: the immigrants.
So why the expense and controversy of a poster campaign?
Well, competing theories say that the Government is either just plain stupid or they are trying to solicit a response from an already weak opposition in order to marginalise them even further as a recent government-funded survey suggests that the population is happy for the government to be seen to be tough on immigrants. The latter possibility is more likely and indeed opposition has appeared in quite substantial and unexpected ways.
Outraged by the poster campaign, the “Two-tailed-dog” Party and “Thick Skin” news website launched a campaign to raise three million forints (about 10,000 Euros) to pay for advertising space to put up posters of their own with messages such as “Sorry about our Prime Minister” and “Welcome to Hungary”. To their great surprise, within three days the campaign had raised 28 million (90,000 Euros) – a substantial sum of money.
Other more welcoming Hungarians have been taking matters into their own hands too by either ripping down the posters (for which some people have been arrested), defacing them completely with a coat of paint, or modifying them with humour, such as this one borrowing from Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’: Romans Go Home!
More alarming though is the announcement on Wednesday that a 175 km wall, 4 meters high will be built to close the border with Serbia. This is a result of official data which shows that the number of migrants has grown from 2000 arriving in 2012 to 43,000 last year, with expectations of up to 130,000 next year. Most of these people cross from Serbia. The net change in population is much less though as young Hungarians are seeking better jobs in countries further west. The city with the largest Hungarian population after the capital, Budapest, is… London!
Measures such as building walls will be clearly ineffective however as the relatively short border with Serbia (175km) pales into insignificance compared to the 448 km border between Romania and Hungary and the 366 km border between Croatia and Hungary; and as Serbia also borders both of these countries, human beings determined enough to reach the Schengen area via Hungary will just take a short detour and bypass the wall altogether.
There is no doubt a Hungarian building contractor somewhere that will be very happy for all the extra work, though.