This Sunday Hungarians will take part in a National Referendum regarding refugees seeking asylum in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe. They will vote on the European Union's plan to spread the burden of immigration to all member states including the Balkan states who have rejected increasing the number of refugees allowed into their respective countries. They have built fences and closed their borders.
Hungarian Prime minister Victor Orban is staking his reputation on the fact that Hungarians will reject the EU plan, and not allow the further immigration of refugees. He has appeared on television and radio stations telling everyone that a "yes" vote in favor of increasing refugee immigration will destroy Hungary as well as EU members such as Austria, Poland and Croatia. The only answer he says is a "no" vote.
This is the only way to continue the Christian and cultural tradition of a nation, he argues, whose values and history are opposed to the values and the aspirations of refugees who have entered Europe. Playing on the fears of a population in which over twenty percent of its citizens are retired seniors, living in many cases in poverty, he says the country is too small and economically weak to absorb refugees who would not be gainfully employed, having to rely on the generosity of the Hungarian government. He tells the people that the refugees are similar to an economic albatross, wrought with potential terrorists and criminals. It is an example of the politics of fear.
He fails to mention that the vast majority of the refugees who have entered Europe primarily from war torn Syria are women and children fleeing for their lives. As one of the most cruel wars in the modern era, its devastation and outright murder of women and children is beyond understanding. Russia's defense of the war criminal Assad, who only a couple of years ago used nerve gas against his own people brings in the Balkan and Putinesque need to reestablish their political influence in the world. This increasing need for Russia to assert itself politically and psychologically throughout the region has planted seeds of nationalism among other Balkan countries who are becoming increasingly fearful of losing their identities. The idea of foreigners coming into Europe fuels these ancient and pent up emotions.
The "no" advertising campaign of the Orban government has been relentless. The country is full of massive billboards in every small village and town advertising the "no" vote. Letters and pamphlets are mailed door to door and the campaign has escalated to a feverish pitch in the newspapers and media.
For the referendum to be valid they require a minimum fifty percent vote and the Orban administration is campaigning relentlessly to achieve that number. Should the numbers fall short it would be a big embarrassment for the government and Orban's European agenda. Many people are planning to boycott the vote in order to ensure its failure. After speaking to several taxi drivers lately they have all said it is the duty of all Hungarians to vote "no" to preserve their culture and keep refugees out of the country permanently. We will know the results on Monday.
Orban has modeled himself as the savior of Europe. He has become the symbol of rejection and defiance for refugees fleeing for their lives. He has laid the seeds of doubt implying that with the influx of refugees Europe and Hungary will be fundamentally changed forever. Indeed there is speculation that he has political aspirations to lead the EU and succeed Donald Tusk and further promote his agenda, not only building barbed wire fences around Hungary but around all of Europe.
The agenda is painfully similar to Trump's Mexican Wall. Trump has used the symbol of the wall as a mechanism for the disgruntled and the disenfranchised to find someone to blame for their problems. Indeed Hungary has always had a history of this. Anti-antisemitism has always been a problem here and in the Balkans. Hungarians were willing cohorts of the Nazis during WW II sending record numbers of Jewish people to their death. The building I now live in in Budapest was once part of the Jewish Ghetto and during the war certain residents were rounded up by thugs, taken to the banks of the Danube and shot, their bodies falling in the ancient river never to be seen again. This took place a few feet from my apartment on the third floor. Its difficult to imagine such things actually happening.When I step out of my front door and as I look to the left down the long interior balcony its hard to believe that people were dragged out at gunpoint in the middle of the night and made to walk half a mile to the Danube where they were executed. Another shameful and unspeakable part of our history. Hungarians somehow always need to blame someone else for their problems. During WW II it was the Jews and now it is the refugees. The current immigrants are mostly women and children. By sending them back we are essentially killing them in a subtle fashion. And so Hungarian fascism continues and thrives today seeking new avenues of hatred.
A few days days ago on one of the busiest streets in Budapest a bomb went off around ten in the evening. An awkward surveillance video shows a man in a white hat throw a knapsack at two patrolling police officers. The video does not show the injured police personnel. The buildings near the bombing were suspiciously empty and no mention was made in subsequent days about the condition of the police officers. Their families or loved ones were not interviewed. All information was sketchy and suspicious. Some have speculated that the bombing was a hoax designed to frighten Hungarians and scare them into voting "no" in Sunday's referendum. Is this sort of thing possible? Sadly in Hungary anything is possible in the political realm. Hungarians are fully aware that they are being manipulated by politicians and by the media and have become victims of exhaustion. They are used to accepting the inevitable and lament the idea that positive change is nearly impossible. In many ways, the cold war has never ended and continues here and now, disguised in many forms of deception.
There is speculation that if the referendum fails that the Orban government will have to resign. That is unlikely. A more inevitable scenario is that Orban's ambitions to save Europe will be quashed forever. In that sense the referendum's failure will have achieved a positive result.