Interview with Anett Bősz, Hungarian Liberal Party. Interviewer: Anna Fedas.
ANNA FEDAS: Your party was the only one that organised a "pro refugees campaign" before the referendum in order to oppose a hate campaign prepared by the Hungarian government. You had decidedly less money for this campaign compared to the government. The rest of the NGOs, opposition parties, grassroots movements did not decide to oppose the governmental campaign. What motivates you not to give up?
ANETT BŐSZ: The campaign was more than just a “European project” for us. This was a clear value campaign that is missing today from Hungarian politics. The other parties were probably afraid to lose their voters so they could not run a values campaign. The times are hard for liberals in Hungary and our party is only able to reach between 1-2 per cent of people, so we did not have anything to lose with following our values.
It was hard not to give up as other democratic opposition parties were also campaigning against our party. They decided to boycott the referendum as they wanted to have an invalid outcome and they claimed that we helped to make the referendum valid. These parties reached their aim but our party did too.
My personal motivation was – and it helped me a lot in the darkest days of the campaign – that there were thousands of Hungarians, volunteers that were helping the refugees (with collecting clothes, cooking food, making sandwiches, collecting camping material for them to create the unofficial refugee camp at the Serbian-Hungarian boarder). They believed in humanity and solidarity. They believed that we have to help those that have lost everything at home. These people were not just helping refugees but they were also protesting against the Hungarian government’s refugee policy. I was pretty sure that these masses want to send a clear message to Viktor Orbán: that he is on the wrong track. I was fighting for these people. I wanted them to vote proudly against the prime minister, against the government and against this terrible hate campaign. If there was no organisation that was campaigning for YES, these 66,000 people should have felt unsupported in their decision. This would have been unacceptable for me.
And to be honest, 1.7 per cent meets the current percentage of liberal voters. We have found each other and we understood each other very well in a really strong headwind.
Could you quote a few slogans from your campaign as well as governmental ones?
Our strongest and main message was that we say yes for Europe and yes for our European membership, as the Hungarian government wants to turn away from the European community, which they have shown with their actions. The government was operating with typical slogans like: “if you come to our country, you have to respect our laws” or “migrants will take our jobs”. They were operating with simple messages just like every extremist. They were even able to be more extreme than our “officially extremist” party, Jobbik.
You have said that the Hungarian government is constantly discrediting NGOs and hampering grassroots movements. What kind of tools do they use?
First of all the Hungarian leadership is blaming every organisation that does not agree with the government. If they are financed by domestic money (like applications or tenders) they often lose the tenders and they have to close. If they are financed by international money (like the Norge Fund) they are attacked by the media. Most of the Fidesz-voters think that civil organisations are serving outsider interests and they are trying to work against the government. The biggest “enemy” is George Soros, the billionaire who has financed many foundations, NGOs, and democratic processes – including Hungarian ones – and he has also financed some scholarships that the current Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, once received. Orban forgot this really fast.
The global problem is that Orbán likes the Russian model, according to NGOs. The “values” that he follows in his everyday politics are created mostly in Moscow and in Ankara. While Hungary wanted to be part of the Western world, it turned to Eastern allies: the Prime Minister has found his friends in the autarchies between Europe and Asia. Putin and Erdogan became role models for him and this has completely changed the Hungarian society.
What is the situation of refugees in your country?
There are still refugees in Hungary but they are in a terrible situation. Most of them are on the border in transitory buildings. They do not know what will happen to them, and they will be probably sent back to their home country as – according to our legal system – it is nearly impossible to get asylum in Hungary.
Our refugee camps are also terrible: many refugees were sleeping in tents in winter – although our winter is much colder than the Syrian one for example – and these tents were just heated with paraffin stoves that can be dangerous too.
The Hungarian government has simply dehumanised these people. Some of them had visible marks on their bodies, possibly because they were hit by policemen and soldiers.
Does this governmental approach to refugees influence the situation of immigrants and minorities in the country?
Yes, it does. There were foreigners hit on the streets in Hungary during the campaign. There was an Italian lady who was hit at a party, there was a young couple who were beaten up by skinheads in a smal city in south Hungary.
The most terrible thing is that the Roma minority is also suffering from the hate campaign. Due to similar skin colour of refugees and Roma, the government is playing the tricky game, trying to represent refugees as “those poor people that do not want to work and want to get everything from the state”. This is a typical anti-Roma communication – they just simply changed the minority. They pushed people to the edge of the society and say that they are bad for the whole community in Hungary.
Are there any grassroots movements or NGOs that appeal to the government to change the policy towards refugees?
Not really. While the movements and NGOs are operating with facts, like numbers, statistics, legal regulations, humanitarian aspects and infographics, there is still no effect on the government’s policy. As Hungary is suffering from an economic and social crisis, and the tenseness is tangible on the streets, it is a simple political tool to use the refugee issue during the next election. I am pretty sure that the government will not abandon this topic.
Do you see any chance for Central and Eastern Europe to change the governmental policy towards refugees and join the resettlement programme to participate in finding a solution to the refugee crisis?
While this would be probably the only chance to find a common solution, at this time it is really hard to see any chance of changing the governmental policy toward refugees. I think it is a really easy game for all governments in the region to find invisible enemies for their voters. This topic can hinder domestic political issues or economic problems. As we say in Hungary: “our government needed the refugee crisis as a piece of bread”. The refugee crisis and the unsolved challenges cover a ground for the message that “our nation is more talented than these gammy Western-Europeans so until we are in power, we save our nation from Brussels”.
This is terrible. I think until we are able to replace these governments, there is no chance for any changes in the refugee policy.
Anett Bősz is a member of the leadership of the Hungarian Liberal Party and PhD student at the Corvinus University of Budapest.
Anna Fedas is a senior specialist on civic education at the European Solidarity Centre based in Gdańsk. She is currently pursuing a PhD at Wrocław University.