Hungary. Prior to the April parliamentary elections, the authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his party Fidesz reinforced the nationalist and anti-immigrant rhetoric. In the EU, he received harsh criticism when he called for a global fight against migration. The Foreign Minister of Luxembourg said that Orbán’s views fit a dictator, which made the Hungarian Foreign Minister to label the Luxembourg colleagues as idiots.
At a Budapest election in April in front of tens of thousands of sympathizers, Orbán attacked international NGOs and George Soros, the Hungarian-born American and Jewish billionaire. In Hungary, Soros was accused of having a secret plan for mass migration to Europe and Hungary. Soro’s foundations provided financial support to organizations that worked with human rights, migration and Roma education and more. In media, Fidesz ran an anti-Soros campaign that was criticized by critics as anti-Semitic.
Just before the election, the UN Commission on Human Rights expressed concern about the amount of hate crimes in the country and the hate speech that appeared in debate and social media, especially against Roma, Muslims and refugees.
Budapest is the capital city of Hungary, a country located in Eastern Europe. Hungary refused to participate in the EU redistribution of refugees and had not received any asylum seekers of the quota allocated to it. In the election campaign, Fidesz painted immigrants, the EU and Soros as enemies who were said to threaten the Hungarian nation. The opposition saw it as a way to divert attention from the dissatisfaction with corruption, health care deficiencies and low wages. But the opposition was weakened by fragmentation and could not gather to seriously challenge Orbán’s party.
Fidesz and the Alliance Party Christian Democrats therefore won what Orbán described as a historic victory with 49% of the vote. It increased the majority alliance in Parliament to 133 out of 199 seats. Two came the right-wing party Jobbik with 19% and 26 seats. For the left opposition, the election was a loss and disappointment.
According to OSCE election monitoring, the election campaign was characterized by threatening and xenophobic rhetoric, with the media largely partying for the ruling party and where its large campaign contribution put the opposition in total disadvantage.
After the election, Fidesz announced major interventions against NGOs working for refugee rights. The party worked on a bill that would allow such organizations to be banned.
The election was followed by protests in Budapest against Orbán and against the electoral system. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated that the media was under government control and had contributed to Fidesz’s election victory.
In May, Orbán was re-elected as Prime Minister. In his installation speech, he attacked the EU’s migration policy, explaining that the era of liberal democracy was over. It would be replaced by a Christian democracy that would give the people freedom and security, Orbán argued.
George Soro’s foundations Open Society Foundations decided in May to close their office in Budapest and leave Hungary during the year. The leader of the organization said that the Hungarian government degraded and slandered the Open Society and pushed civil society to gain political success. According to the Open Society, this has been done through methods that are unparalleled in EU history.
In late May, the government announced that the so-called Stop Soros Act would be introduced. With threats of imprisonment, individuals and groups would be banned from helping so-called illegal migrants to stay in Hungary. The Interior Minister described it as an action plan to defend Hungary. In addition, several existing laws were tightened, for example, organizations could be banned if they were considered a security threat due to immigration support. The Constitution introduced a supplement that a foreign population cannot settle in Hungary. Parliament voted in favor of the proposals by a large majority.
The UN Head of Human Rights described the Hungarian Parliament’s decision as clearly xenophobic and contrary to European and international human rights norms and values. He said that the government is fueling hatred for political gain. A 25 percent tax was also imposed on organizations working for immigration in Hungary. According to the Ministry of Finance, the intention was that the law would counteract organized immigration. The first to be affected by the law was the Soros-supported Central European University (CEU), which had a training program for asylum seekers and refugees. The program was closed when the tax requirement came into force in August.
During the summer it became clear that Hungary intended to follow the US example and withdraw from the UN Global Migration Pact and not ratify it. According to the government, the pact went against Hungary’s security interests and was also a threat to the world as it was said to inspire millions of people to migration.
In August, Orbán met his close friend, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, in Milan. Salvini emphasized that Hungary proved that migration could be stopped, and both leaders explained that a historic turning point was imminent in Europe.
The Hungarian government was in feud with the EU leadership on issues such as migration, the judiciary and freedom of the press. In September, Orbán took part in a heated debate in the European Parliament, in which the rapporteur for Hungary accused the government of restricting the freedom of the judiciary, the media and academics, as well as the treatment of migrants and widespread corruption. The reporter suggested an EU investigation, and Orbán replied that his government will not give in to extortion. He accused the European Parliament of condemning an entire nation and of believing they know better than the Hungarians themselves what they want. The European Parliament voted for the first time for the EU to examine a Member State which it considers violates the common values of the Union. The so-called Article 7 procedure could in theory end with sanctions such as lost voting rights.
In November, the Hungarian police decided to close a corruption investigation into EU contributions concerning a company that was partly owned by Orbán’s son-in-law. According to police, crime could not be substantiated. The evidence came from the EU’s anti-corruption authority OLAF, and the chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control said that the matter intensified the concern that the Hungarian judiciary could not defend itself from political pressure.
Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, convicted of corruption, was given asylum in Hungary in November. He was reported to have moved to Hungary in a Hungarian diplomatic car after being sentenced to two years in prison in his home country. Orbán defended the decision by Gruevski being his colleague, who in 2015 helped Hungary defend its border by helping to stop refugees on their way north. Orbán, who otherwise did not have much to spare for asylum seekers, argued that the trial against Gruevski was politically motivated.
The CEU funded by George Soros in December decided to move the business from Budapest to Vienna. The decision came after a year of fighting against the Hungarian government’s new education legislation, which is criticized by critics for the purpose of removing the CEU. The European Commission has previously brought Hungary before the European Court of Justice because of the law. For decades, CEU has been a gateway to the west for students from former communist states in Europe, and the university has been ranked as the best in both Hungary and Central Europe.