On April 8, 2018, Hungarian citizens will choose whether to grant Prime Minister Viktor Orbán another four years in power — and continue their lurch toward authoritarianism. Orbán’s Fidesz party has grown increasingly nationalistic as of late, adopting racist positions of the far-right Jobbik party.
According to Politico, “preserving the ethnic status quo is now the centerpiece of Orbán’s platform,” a decision an anonymous Fidesz official chalked up to a fear of being “attacked from the right” at the onset of the migrant crisis. In 2015, Hungary began the construction of the first of several border fences to prevent migration from Serbia, Romania, and Croatia.
Xenophobic rhetoric is now commonplace in Orbán’s speeches, including a March 15, 2018 address commemorating the 170th anniversary of the Revolution of 1848.
Orbán told his audience, “The situation, dear friends, they want to take away our country. Not with a stroke of the pen, like they did 100 years ago at Trianon; now — in just a couple of decades — they want us to hand it over willingly to others.” And who are these “others”? According to Orbán, they’re “strangers from another continent.”
“The situation is such,” he warned, “that those who do not stop the migration at their borders will be lost. Slowly but surely they will be consumed. All of this by external forces, international powers that are trying to force it upon us, with the help of their local allies, and they see the upcoming election as a great opportunity for this.”
And he cast the blame for this migration on some very familiar scapegoats:
Never before have the national and globalist forces so openly strained against each other. On one side: us, the millions with national sentiments. On the other side: the elite world citizens. On one side: us, who believe in nation states, the defense of borders, in the values of family and work. And on the opposite side: those who want open societies, a world without nations and borders, who want new types of families, devalued work, and cheap labor. Above them rules an army of inexorable, impenetrable, and unaccountable bureaucrats. The national and democratic forces on one side, [and] supranational, undemocratic forces on the other side.
The use of the term “globalist” is particularly striking, since white nationalist groups use it as an anti-Semitic dog whistle. The far-right website Breitbart News — which was formerly led by ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon — has been criticized for bracketing the names of prominent Jews like Gary Cohn with globe emojis.
Which makes what Orbán said next all the more fitting — and dangerous. He denounced an “international network” of foreign-financed media, “professional activists” and “agitators,” and a “chain of NGOs paid [for] by international speculators, which can be summed up with George Soros’ name.”
The Hungarian-born Soros is a left-wing billionaire and philanthropist who funds a number of liberal and humanitarian causes. This, along with his Jewish heritage, has made him a target of far-right, racist conspiracies about the secret funding of Black Lives Matter activists, gun control rallies, and coup d’etats both foreign and domestic.
What makes the situation in Hungary especially dire is Orbán’s increasingly desperate efforts to stay in power. As Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt noted in How Democracies Die, Orbán “packed the nominally independent Prosecution Service, State Audit Office, Ombudsman’s office, Central Statistical Office, and Constitutional Court with partisan allies after returning to power in 2010.”
In addition, his Fidesz party “used its supermajority to rewrite the constitution and electoral laws to lock in its advantage,” “gerrymandered the country’s electoral districts to maximize the number of seats it would win,” and “banned campaign advertising in private media, limiting television campaigning to the public broadcast station, which was run by Fidesz loyalists.”
Thus, in 2014, the Fidesz party clung to its two-thirds majority in spite of the fact that its share of the vote “fell markedly, from 53 percent in 2010 to 44.5 percent in 2014.” Given how little has changed since 2014, it seems incredibly unlikely that Fidesz and its racist leader will be at risk of losing power this year.
Listen to the full speech here.