Hungarian leader says Europe is now 'under invasion' by migrants

Viktor Orbán steps up far-right rhetoric as he campaigns for third term as prime minister

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has warned “countries that don’t stop immigration will be lost” in a speech three weeks before he seeks re-election for a third term.

Addressing a huge crowd of supporters in Budapest on Thursday, Orbán used the speech to paint the upcoming vote as part of an existential battle for the survival of Hungary and Europe.

“Africa wants to kick down our door, and Brussels is not defending us,” Orbán told the crowds gathered outside the Hungarian parliament building in drizzling rain. “Europe is under invasion already, and they are watching with their hands in the air.”

Orbán devoted all of his 25-minute speech to the issue of migration and offered no political programme or vision for the country except for shutting out migrants.

“We don’t want to win an election, we want to win our futures,” he said. “The countries that don’t stop immigration will be lost.”

Tens of thousands of supporters listened to the speech after marching through Budapest in what was called a “peace march”, held on a national holiday that commemorates the 1848 uprising against Habsburg rule.

Huge crowds gathered for the speech.
Huge crowds gathered for the speech. Photograph: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

Marchers waved Hungarian flags and placards supporting Fidesz, Orbán’s party. Many were bussed in from towns across Hungary, and several thousand conservative Poles travelled to Budapest to back the Hungarian leader.

“We’re here because we support Orbán, and we want to protect Hungary and defend everything we’ve achieved in the past years,” said Zsolt Kepecz, 40, who travelled with about 50 people from the small town of Putnok in northern Hungary.

Fidesz began as a liberal anti-Soviet youth movement in the late 1980s but soon moved to the right. In recent years, it has been increasingly characterised by anti-migrant rhetoric. Orbán has been an outspoken opponent of opening Europe’s borders to refugees or migrants for the past three years and has built a fence along the country’s southern border to keep migrants out. He has clashed with Brussels over refugee quotas for EU countries.

“We are against the idea that migration is good or that it is a human right,” Orbán’s spokesman Zoltán Kovács said last week.

As the election nears, Orbán has stepped up the apocalyptic warnings. With his government mired in a number of scandals, and surveys showing the majority of Hungarians believe the government to be corrupt, the migration card is the key rallying point to keep his voting base engaged.

A shock byelection defeat a few weeks ago has changed the mood in the country. Most analysts still believe Fidesz will win a third successive victory, but the two-thirds parliamentary majority which has allowed Orbán’s government to pass a raft of constitutional changes may not be maintained.

Thursday’s speech melded Orbán’s current mission with the long and often tragic history of Hungary. Before the prime minister spoke, breathless orators shouted from the stage about the sacrifices of the past and the battles against foreign interference, with thinly veiled references to the present day.

When Orbán spoke, he said Hungary had kicked out the Ottomans, Habsburgs and Soviets over the centuries and would kick out “Uncle George” too, referring to the American financier and philanthropist George Soros, who is of Hungarian Jewish origin and has supported civil society in the country through his Open Society foundations.

Orbán attacked Soros using language that critics have said contains antisemitic undertones: “We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.”

Orbán’s government has painted Soros as a nefarious puppetmaster keen to destroy Europe by facilitating migration, and for the past year, billboards decrying Soros have been dotted around Budapest and other cities. The current poster shows a grinning Soros embracing the various opposition party leaders, who have been photoshopped so they appear to be holding large sets of pliers, supposedly to tear down the Hungarian fence and let in the migrants.

The fractured Hungarian opposition has been mired in its own scandals and conflicts, and the failure to put on a united front for the upcoming elections could well hand Fidesz a decisive victory.

“The only party that can defeat Fidesz is Fidesz itself,” said Balázs Jarábik of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, referring to a number of corruption scandals around senior party figures and Orbán’s son-in-law.

Across town at an alternative rally held by the Two-tailed Dog party, an opposition group that mainly communicates through jokes, leader Gergely Kovács recited the party’s “promises” to the electorate, including a ban on Hungarian families travelling abroad, a removal of all civil rights and a variable tax regime based on people’s loyalty to the government. The satirical promises, parodies of the governmental rhetoric, drew ironic cheers from the crowd, mainly made up of young, liberal Hungarians.


Shaun Walker in Budapest

The GuardianTramp

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