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Hungary’s refugee referendum: a shameful charade

Source: HOPE not hate | Friday, 30 September 2016

From Bernard Rorke in Budapest

This Sunday, Hungarians go to the polls to vote on the referendum question: “Do you want the European Union to be able to order the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without parliament’s consent?” This referendum marks a new low for a regime steeped in ignominy.

The far right Fidesz government has outflanked the neo-Nazi Jobbik party on the issue of migrants and refugees, and exceeded Jobbik’s ambitions by effectively institutionalizing Islamophobia.

According to Fidesz MEP György Schöpflin, the referendum is “about strengthening the legitimacy of the Hungarian government in its disagreement with the European Commission.” Schöpflin recently suggested on social media that pigs’ heads should adorn Hungary’s border fences to deter refugees.

And for desperate refugees on the border, things have become ever more brutal. Lydia Gall from Human Rights Watch has documented evidence of people being severely beaten with batons, bitten by dogs, punched and kicked by men in uniforms “consistent with those of Hungarian police, army, or local paramilitary – so-called field guards.”

While far right paramilitary groups have been patrolling parts of the border to catch ‘illegals’, the government has gone one better – it recently announced that 3,000 people will be recruited as members of ‘border hunter action units’. After a few months’ basic training, these recruits will be let loose with guns and ammunition to go hunting refugees.

Billboards, buses, trams and wall and bridges across Hungary have been plastered with a “did you know?” government-sponsored poster campaign full of deceptive messages such as that sexual harassment of women has risen sharply across Europe since the beginning of the migrant crisis, or that the Paris terrorist attack were committed by immigrants. The official referendum propaganda booklets, sent to every home, contained the blatant lie that several hundred immigrant ‘no-go zones’ exist in cities across Europe sparking diplomatic protests.

Orbán speaking to a Reformed Church media outlet on the impossibility of integration of refugees and migrants stated: “You need to have a wild imagination to think that masses of young Afghan men would marry into traditional German Christian families, or that Christians would marry into Muslim families. The best that we can hope for is peaceful co-existence, but not integration. This is what we call parallel societies.”

Where lies and propaganda don’t have the desired effect, Orbán and his henchmen have deployed more heavy-handed tactics. According to Hungarian Spectrum, Orbán emphasized that this nationwide referendum is also thousands of local referendums, meaning that the government will judge each city, town, and village according to the outcome of the referendum.

Towns where mayors refused to send out propaganda material have been warned that they will be the ones hosting the migrants in the event of a ‘yes’ vote. Roma communities have been told that if Hungary has to admit refugees they will be deprived of government assistance.

Opposition parties and NGOs have called for a boycott or spoiling of votes in the hope that turnout will be less than the required 50% for the referendum to be considered valid.

Whatever the outcome of this shameful charade of a referendum, the relentless, government-sponsored, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim propaganda, with its attendant scapegoating and scaremongering, has had an detrimental impact. It has hardened hearts and deepened prejudice against people desperately fleeing war and conflict. Worse still, this inhumane populist approach may embolden neighbouring countries to follow suit.

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