Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been the subject of extensive media coverage lately. What is occasionally labelled as anti-EU rhetoric on the subject of migration has earned him dubious fame in Europe. The best example is the recent Hungarian referendum on whether the country should accept migration quotas imposed on it by the EU. But how come that despite all the efforts of the government the referendum was rejected by the Hungarian people?
The reason why Orbán’s anti-EU rhetoric concerning migration might appeal to the public is twofold. Firstly, as Central European countries have never been exposed to such immigration as in the last few years, their societies are naturally more closed and more conservative, especially in rural areas. Secondly, the emergence and increasing attractiveness of the far-right Jobbik party requires Orbán, a centre-right politician to adopt harsher rhetoric in order to win his voters back. Although not securing as many parliamentary seats during Hungary’s latest elections as they had initially hoped for, Jobbik is the major contestant of the governing centre-right party. This new competition requires the Prime Minister to try to appeal to the voters of the far-right by adopting more nationalistic figures of speech.
However, it would seem that this strategy has backfired. Despite every effort, the aforementioned referendum was not valid due to low voter turnout and the subsequent governmental initiative for constitutional amendment has been voted down by the Parliament. The referendum was a showcase of Hungarian public opinion, proving that this rhetoric is in fact not appealing to the majority of Hungarian citizens. The result could also indicate that it is not the emergence of the far-right, but in fact the disillusionment of the people and aversion to this rhetoric that resulted in the loss of Orbán’s popular support and the rejection of the referendum.
In fact, there have been recent attempts from far-right Jobbik to transform into an all-encompassing popular party. It would seem that parallel to Orbán’s radicalizing rhetoric, Jobbik is constantly adopting milder and milder points of view. Maybe Orbán’s voters got tired of the anti-EU rhetoric and are moving closer to the less and less extreme Jobbik as the only right-wing alternative to the governing party? Seeing Orbán adopt increasingly radical statements in order to win people from the far-right, but in fact contributing with this exact rhetoric to the rise of an alternative right-wing power definitely would be an ironic, however not implausible scenario. Be as it may, it will be interesting to see if Orbán’s rhetoric will change in light of the referendum results during the upcoming parliamentary election campaign.
It is very important to add, however, that despite this rhetoric on migration issues, neither official nor informal government discourses have ever questioned Hungary’s European nature, its common values and interests with other European countries and its firm place in the EU. During the Brexit Campaign, Prime Minister Orbán has published a newspaper advertisement in the Daily Mail, trying to convince British voters to vote remain, a fact not very known in Hungary. On the same occasion government spokesman Zoltán Kovács has assured the world of the country’s pro-EU stance. This duality between the governmental position of Hungary being a firm supporter of the EU and the anti-EU rhetoric on migration issues has very much characterized Hungary throughout the past few years, but it seems that in light of the results of the referendum, this will have to change.