Or­ban rat­ings rise as Hun­gar­ian fence de­ters mi­grant ‘in­va­sion’

PM main­tains rhetoric de­spite xeno­pho­bia ac­cu­sa­tions

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BU­DAPEST: With an anti-im­mi­grant cam­paign and ra­zor-wire bor­der fence Hun­gar­ian Prime Min­is­ter Vik­tor Or­ban has re­versed a slide in his party’s pop­u­lar­ity, emerg­ing at home as a win­ner in the cri­sis that has di­vided Europe. Per­sonal ap­proval rat­ings have also jumped for the man who closed down a ma­jor tran­sit route through Hun­gary for hun­dreds of thou­sands of asy­lum seek­ers flee­ing war and poverty.

Vot­ers are less will­ing to give Or­ban the ben­e­fit of the doubt on cre­at­ing jobs. But while Hun­gar­i­ans of­ten helped mi­grants stranded in ap­palling con­di­tions last sum­mer, many vot­ers are ig­nor­ing crit­i­cism that rights groups and for­eign gov­ern­ments have di­rected at their leader over mi­gra­tion. De­spite ac­cu­sa­tions of xeno­pho­bia, Or­ban shows no sign of moder­at­ing his lan­guage as he at­tacks the Euro­pean Union’s fail­ure to solve the mi­grant cri­sis, and tries to un­der­mine sup­port for the far-right at home.

Speak­ing on state ra­dio, he said Hun­gary was now in a “dif­fer­ent time zone” from the rest of Europe as it has fended off the “in­va­sion” by seal­ing its south­ern bor­ders. This goes down well with many Hun­gar­i­ans, in­clud­ing the young who are of­ten more con­ser­va­tive than their peers in western Europe. Not far from Bu­dapest’s east­ern rail­way sta­tion, where thou­sands of mi­grants slept rough in Septem­ber, 21-year-old stu­dent Mate Se­bok gave his whole-hearted sup­port to Or­ban’s stand. Hun­gary needed a strong leader who spoke up for the coun­try’s in­ter­ests in the EU, Se­bok told Reuters.

“There was no com­mon Euro­pean so­lu­tion, and I be­lieve Hun­gary needs to pro­tect its own bor­ders,” he said. “A few months ago the east­ern rail­way sta­tion was still teem­ing with mi­grants and now the coun­try is nice and empty, luck­ily, so I think the bor­der fence was a good mea­sure.” Huge num­bers of peo­ple, many es­cap­ing the Syr­ian civil war, tried to get through Hun­gary in the late sum­mer on their way to seek­ing asy­lum in coun­tries to the north, no­tably Ger­many and Swe­den. Or­ban fi­nally halted that flow with the bor­der fence.

‘Xeno­pho­bic char­ac­ter­i­za­tion’

Wrapped in a striped scarf against the au­tumn chill, Se­bok said he voted for Or­ban’s right-wing Fidesz party when it won re-elec­tion last year, and would do the same now. An opin­ion poll by Ip­sos put sup­port for Fidesz on 37 per­cent right af­ter the 2014 vote but its pop­u­lar­ity started to slide due to per­ceived cor­rup­tion and some un­pop­u­lar mea­sures, drop­ping to 20 per­cent in June this year. The fence on the Ser­bian bor­der was com­pleted this Septem­ber, and back­ing for Fidesz rose to 24 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Ip­sos. The party so­lid­i­fied its core sup­port and at­tracted around 300,000 swing vot­ers, mostly aged 30-40. Fidesz was the most pop­u­lar party in all age groups ex­cept the un­der-30s where it fell be­hind Job­bik, Ip­sos said. The rat­ings rose fur­ther in Oc­to­ber af­ter the fence was ex­tended along the Croa­t­ian bor­der, seal­ing the south­ern fron­tier and forc­ing mi­grants to seek dif­fer­ent routes north.

Or­ban ac­com­pa­nied the fence build­ing with rhetoric, say­ing Hun­gary did not want Mus­lims in large num­bers, and peo­ple were not com­ing to Europe to live in safety but rather be­cause they wanted “a Ger­man or per­haps a Swedish life”. Aus­tria likened his poli­cies to those of the Nazis, an al­le­ga­tion Hun­gary re­jected, while the US am­bas­sador to Bu­dapest warned against “xeno­pho­bic char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion of refugees”. Many Hun­gar­i­ans ap­pear un­wor­ried by such crit­i­cism. “The mea­sures tack­ling the mi­gra­tion cri­sis were very pos­i­tive,” said Mar­git Tamas, 62, a re­tired in­ten­sive care nurse. With Ger­many and Swe­den strug­gling to cope with the asy­lum seek­ers, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion wants EU mem­ber states to take in a share of the new ar­rivals.

But this has split the bloc, with Or­ban re­ject­ing quo­tas and ac­cus­ing gov­ern­ments which had wel­comed asy­lum seek­ers of en­cour­ag­ing the in­flux. “Who com­mis­sioned Euro­pean lead­ers ... (to) not only let in but ship into Europe by the hun­dreds of thou­sands groups that are cul­tur­ally dif­fer­ent from Euro­pean cul­ture?” he asked in a speech last week. With the op­po­si­tion di­vided and weak, rights groups have been largely left to ques­tion his ar­gu­ments at home. Zsuzsanna Zso­har, a spokes­woman for Mi­gra­tion Aid, ac­cepted Hun­gary had the right to de­cide who could come in. “At the same time, as a U.N. mem­ber state it is obliged to help peo­ple who were stuck in con­flict zones,” she said. “With its cur­rent be­hav­iour, Hun­gary has lost its right to claim sol­i­dar­ity.” — Reuters

A cou­ple, refugees from Syria, take a selfie af­ter cross­ing the bor­der from Greece into Mace­do­nia, near the south­ern Mace­do­nian town of Gevgelija yes­ter­day. Thou­sands of refugees and mi­grants are head­ing to Mace­do­nia from Greece on their way to more pros­per­ous Euro­pean Union coun­tries, af­ter the Greek sea­men’s union called off rolling 48-hour ferry strikes that had stranded an es­ti­mated 25,000 peo­ple on the east­ern Aegean is­lands. —AP

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