BUDAPEST—A few weeks before Sunday’s parliamentary election residents of the Hungarian capital discovered flyers in their postboxes with images of a dark-skinned man holding a machine gun with a black flag in the background. The message was simple: If you do not vote for the ruling party, Fidesz, your homes will be taken by Islamic terrorists.
Hungary today seems to thrive on threats, or at least its politicians do. The streets are rife with racist political advertising as the ruling party, Fidesz, has led the country radically to the right. Among the most prominent bogeymen, the Hungarian-born billionaire philanthropist George Soros, portrayed as intent on the “repopulation of Europe” by swarthy Muslims. Indeed, the vow to stop that happening has been a major selling point in the Fidesz program. And the strategy of fear has worked: Fidesz won the parliamentary elections on Sunday with 49.5 percent of the vote as its populist leader, Victor Orban, declared himself “the defender of Europe.”
The campaign to inspire and exacerbate Hungarian worries, if not indeed paranoia, is such that even members of Jobbik, which has long been a notoriously right-wing party, say they are stunned.
“Victor Orban is to blame for the atmosphere of hate, his party is much more radically far-right than our party,” says Marton Gyongyosi, one of Jobbik’s key leaders. “Orban is a failed politician who has created a radically authoritarian regime in Hungary,” said Marton, a member of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee and head of international affairs for Jobbik.
Hungary’s Jewish community will not soon forget Marton’s blatantly anti-Semitic statements, including calls to get rid of Jewish members of the government as threats to national security and his condemnation of what he called Israel’s “Nazi system.” But now even Jobbik is seen as less far-right than the ruling party.
One of Fidezs’ advertisements features a big red stop sign over a photograph of a crowd of Middle Eastern or South Asian men walking along a road, some with children on their shoulders. The stop sign symbolizes a border fence, the pride of Orban’s administration, which stopped Muslim refugees from Syria and other mainly Muslim countries. The poster uses exactly the same photograph employed by the Brexit campaign’s “Breaking Point” ads in the U.K. in 2016.
Another poster seen on bus stops all around the capital is an image of smiling George Soros in a company of opposition leaders holding wire cutters in their hands.
Again, the redundant Fidesz message is simple: If you do not support us, our rivals will destroy our border fence and let crowds of foreigners flood our country.
“One thing Orban is right about is his anti-immigrants policy,” a supporter of his far-right ideology, 36-year-old communications specialist Daniel Bee told The Daily Beast. Bee said he was upset about the government’s “overwhelming corruption” but the supposed invasion of foreigners was still the priority.
Never in its history has Hungary demonstrated such a strong interest in parliamentary election: More than 68 percent of people had voted by 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, and long after the polling stations were supposed to close, Hungarians waited in long lines to get their chance to vote.
In Russia the Kremlin celebrated Orban’s victory as its own. Senator of the Federation Council Konstantin Kosachev said on Monday that Orban’s victory showed that Hungary managed to defend its national interests in the European Union and NATO. “This [EU/NATO] line, if we slightly simplify it, means the following: We are in solidarity with our partners for as long as they do not contradict with our interests.” (Kosachev was one of 24 Russian officials and businessmen included in the U.S. Treasury Department’s latest sanctions list.)
Hungarian opposition supporters wondered why the European Union tolerates Orban and his party’s authoritarian regime, and many feel trapped by the overwhelming agendas of far-right parties.
Worried about the future of her country, and her own future, Ester, a manager for a music band, asked that her last name not be mentioned when she talked to The Daily Beast. “The only choice this election offers is between far-right and far-right, we are trapped and all our expectations look grim.”