Hungary’s government is set to launch its third tax-payer-funded campaign likely to fuel anti-foreigner sentiment. It’s aimed at highlighting what it calls a plan by Hungarian-born philanthropist and billionaire George Soros and the European Union to bring millions of immigrants to Europe.
Really, the government is just trying to deflect criticism for refusing to accept refugees and its attacks on local Soros-funded civil society groups. (Full disclosure: Human Rights Watch is also funded by Soros’s Open Society Foundations.)
Within a hatemongering questionnaire, citizens are asked whether they agree with purported plans to resettle one million immigrants per year in the EU, including Hungary – a very distorted half-truth, as Brussels is asking EU governments to resettle only 50,000 refugees over two years.
Other questions are downright incendiary and false – like the question claiming immigrants will receive more lenient criminal sentencing than Hungarians or the question stating there are “plans” to eliminate European languages and culture in favour of integration, punishing countries opposed to immigration.
One question missing is how Hungary’s voters feel about the fact the country is the highest net per capita beneficiary of EU funds in the European Union.
Although the ruling Fidesz party is ostensibly using this consultation to seek input on the so-called “Soros plan”, it will likely fuel a fire the government has stoked for years, which includes a hostile climate for civil society driven by campaigns to smear real and perceived government critics. It comes on the heels on a seemingly anti-Semitic campaign targeting Soros and attacks on groups he funds.
The real issue is that Hungary’s governments faces significant criticism from domestic groups and European institutions over its attacks on human rights and the rule of law. In advance of the April 2018 elections, the consultation also serves to divert the public’s attention from pressing domestic issues, including challenges facing the education and health care systems.
Six months ago, a national consultation on the theme “Let’s stop Brussels” triggered justified criticism from the European Commission and the European People’s Party (EPP), the pan-European political family to which Fidesz belongs.
What will it take for EPP and its leaders to stand up to Fidesz and decide if it espouses the kind of values they want to be associated with? And when will the European Commission realize that the Hungarian government’s repeated attacks against the rule of law and European values warrant a more systematic response?