Report on Xenophobia, Radicalism and Hate Crime in Hungary in 2016
Legislation affecting minorities
- As far as discriminatory policies are concerned, the main target group of such legislation were asylum-seekers at the national level and the Roma at the local level.
- Legislation concerning asylum-seekers was further tightened in 2016. Hungary terminated the monthly cash allowance available for asylum-seekers, as well as the school-enrolment benefit previously provided to child asylum-seekers. A modification to the asylum and border legislation was approved making it legal to detain refugees caught within up to eight kilometres from the border, and to take them back to the transit zone between Serbia and Hungary.
- The practice of far-reaching decrees of local governments continued in 2016, and some local governments used these to apply discriminatory measures against the Roma. The most blatant example was the law-and-order programme called “Order and Integrity Programme” introduced by the local government of Tiszavasvári, led by the Jobbik-affiliated Mayor Erik Fülöp. The programme targeted the local Roma population and aimed at policing and intimidating them. In 2016, also the harassment and the intimidation of Miskolc residents still living in the “Numbered Streets” area continued.
- Despite the government’s official stance on condemning school segregation, it continued at full pace. In the last days of 2015, the government changed Hungary’s public education law to permit segregation in specific instances, for example in the case of private schools operated by recognised In March 2016, the European Commission launched an infringement proceeding against Hungary due to the segregation of Roma children in schools.
Law enforcement practices against minorities
- The discriminatory practices of law enforcement bodies mainly targeted refugees and migrants as well as members of the Roma community in 2016. Discriminatory law enforcement practices against members of the Jewish community were not observed in 2016.
- The practices of law enforcement bodies regarding asylum-seekers in 2016 fit the government’s political strategy aiming at preventing immigration to and migration through Hungary. Law enforcement bodies’ approach to asylum-seekers was the practical realisation of the government’s harsh anti-immigration rhetoric.
- While practices against asylum-seekers received major attention from both national and international watchdog and aid organisations in 2015 and 2016, the main target of discriminatory law enforcement practices in Hungary are traditionally the members of the Roma community. The Roma constitute the most vulnerable group in Hungary, prone to discriminatory practices in housing, education, employment and law enforcement processes. However, the latency is very high with regard to practices against the Roma. The most typical form of discrimination against the Roma by law enforcement bodies is the ethnic profiling practice of police officers. Several such cases were reported in 2016. Another typical discriminatory practice of both the police and the courts is that verbal or physical offences against members of the Roma community (and also against other minority communities such as Jews and LGBT people) are not classified as hate crimes, and the racist or ideological motives of the offences are not examined.
The government’s rhetoric regarding minorities
- Just like in the previous year, the government’s rhetoric was mainly targeted against asylum-seekers in 2016 and apart from some individual cases paid little attention to other minority groups. The rhetorical toolkit of the government regarding asylum-seekers in 2016 followed the same pattern as in 2015, including every element of right-wing populist, xenophobic and anti-establishment narratives that are otherwise the characteristics of far-right parties elsewhere in Europe. The communication framework in 2016 was created by a national referendum on the EU’s relocation quota plan. The referendum, which took place in October, provided the government with the opportunity to prolong the presence of the topic of migration for almost an entire year, and to name the EU as the main scapegoat.
- The government’s harsh anti-refugee rhetoric diverted attention from the Roma, who have traditionally been the most rejected minority group in Hungary. However, the Roma received special public attention in the frames of three topics in 2016. First, government officials blamed the low performance of deprived children, e.g. the poor and the Roma, for the disastrous results of the OECD’s PISA tests. Second, government representatives criticised the infringement procedure launched by the European Commission against Hungary for the segregation of Roma pupils in schools. Third, President János Áder awarded the infamous columnist József Bayer, who is a key supporter of PM Orbán and has a long track record of hate-inciting articles against minority groups includeing the Roma, with the Order of Merit of the Knight’s Cross.
- The Hungarian government has proclaimed many times since 2010 that it applies zero tolerance towards anti-Semitism. However, the government is very vocal in certain symbolic and historical issues and engages in identity politics in a way that is suitable to evoke anti-Semitic echoes among those who are receptive and prone to such views. In 2016, there were two main topics concerning the Jewish community. One was the government’s harsh campaign against George Soros. The rhetoric used against Mr Soros resembles the narrative of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that have been a core element of anti-Semitic far-right narratives in Hungary for long. The other key issue relevant to the Jewish community in 2016 was that President János Áder awarded József Bayer with the Order of Merit of the Knight’s Cross.
- While the Hungarian state officially acknowledges the principle of non-discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, the government is clearly biased against LGBTQ people. Fidesz politicians and government officials often engage in homophobic comments under the pretext of praising the traditional family model. However, the government portrays itself as human rights advocate and defender of minorities when it comes in handy to argue against immigration and incite fears.
Public opinion toward minorities
- The Hungarian society can be described by an overall high level of the rejection of “otherness”. Prejudice was always the strongest against the Roma. However, anti-immigrant sentiment has increased to a similarly high level. The prevalence of anti-Roma prejudice has been remarkably stable in the past two decades.
- According to a survey carried out at the end of 2016, 67% of society was not anti-Semitic, 13% hold moderate and 20% extreme anti-Semitic views. The main component of anti-Semitism in Hungary is the widespread belief in conspiracy theories related to the excessive influence of Jews.
- Despite the low levels of immigration, xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiments are extremely strong in Hungarian society. The ratio of xenophobes increased from 41 to 53 percent between 2015 and 2016, while the group of xenophiles practically disappeared. This development is clearly the result of the government’s anti-migrant campaign.
Actions of radical organisations to incite hatred
- In Hungary, the traditional targets of radical parties, organisations and groups are the Roma and members of the Jewish and LGBTQ communities. However, since the issue of migration overshadowed all other topics in 2015, refugees and migrants have primarily come into the crosshairs of radical forces. However, significant changes happened within the far-right scene, affecting the strategies of these organisation to incite hatred.
- The biggest and politically most significant actor of the right-wing radical scene is the far-right party Jobbik, which continued its repositioning and rebranding strategy starting in late 2013. The aim of that is to move the party from the far-right edge of the political spectrum into the centre and to acquire a more moderate image in order to attract voters from the centre, including former left-wing voters too. Therefore, in its mainstream communication at the national level Jobbik has abandoned its earlier topics and hate-inciting comments and the party is now focusing more on pragmatic issues (e.g., wage increase) and especially on corruption. Despite such efforts at the national level, Jobbik has not changed at the local level: the party’s membership, core voter base, activists and local representatives largely remain just as radical as they used to be, and hold the same extremist beliefs and values as before. This has led to growing tensions between the pragmatic leadership and the radical-extremist base. Despite Jobbik’s “mainstreaming” approach, the party’s representatives did not refrain from anti-Roma messages and actions in 2016. Jobbik politicians still framed the Roma as individuals who disobey the law, although in their official mainstream communication they abandoned the term “Gipsy crime”, which had been introduced by the party earlier.
- In contrast to Jobbik’s ambivalent stance on migration, far-right paramilitary organisations were very vocal about their attitude and used the topic to widen their activities and outreach. While migration was practically non-existent for the Hungarian far-right before 2015, the topic has become one of the most important ones since then. The fight against immigration and the “defence” of Hungary and Europe have brought Hungarian organisations closer together and increased their co-operation with international and pan-European networks and far-right organisations of other countries.
- Just like in the years before, right-wing extremist paramilitary organisations organised marches through neighbourhoods in smaller towns and villages with a significant Roma population. Unlike offences against refugees, migrants and the Roma, which physically targeted individuals or communities, offences against the Jews consisted largely of cases of hate speech. Furthermore, 2016 brought a significant increase in anti-LGBTQ and pro-life activities too.
The government’s rhetoric regarding radical groups
- The governing party uses the topic of extremism and the risk posed by extremist organisations depending on its political interests. According to Fidesz’s political strategy called “central power field”, the governing party should be the only party in the centre of the political spectrum, surrounded by smaller and divided left-wing and right-wing parties (often called “extremists” or “extreme” by Fidesz politicians). Therefore, Fidesz needs the existence of extremist organisations to argue that the government is a bastion against the surge of extremists.
- Due to the government’s massive anti-immigration campaign, its relationship with the actors of the far-right scene has changed since 2015. The relation between Jobbik and Fidesz became very tense in the autumn after Fidesz had launched a massive campaign to discredit Jobbik and Mr Vona personally.
- In October, the government took a harsh stance against one particular right-wing extremist organisation, the Hungarian National Front (MNA), a neo-Nazi group, which had existed since 1989 and whose leader, István Győrkös had been well-known to authorities. By the end of the year, MNA was dismantled after Mr Győrkös had allegedly shot a police officer during a failed attempt by the police to search his house in October.
Popularity of radical groups
- Jobbik’s electoral support was stable throughout 2016. After an increase in the party’s popularity at the beginning of 2015, Jobbik’s support decreased to 12% at the end of 2015 and practically remained at this level throughout 2016 with a decrease of only one percentage point at the end of the year.
Persecution of human rights activists
- The government’s harsh campaign against civil society organisations continued in 2016. The targets of the campaign were mainly watchdogs, human rights and transparency NGOs which criticise the government’s policies, especially regarding corruption and migration. The war on NGOs fits into the pattern of anti-democratic developments in Hungary and, in many aspects, resembles the Kremlin’s measures in Russia. The main objective of the Hungarian government is to strengthen its grip on power and silence independent and critical voices by discrediting and intimidating NGOs and hamper their operation. While in 2014 and 2015 a series of legal and administrative measures including police raids, investigations by the police and various authorities, and court cases were aimed against NGOs, 2016 was the year of smear campaigns and verbal assaults mainly targeting organisations supported by the Open Society Foundations, founded by George Soros. NGOs were accused of posing a threat to Hungary’s security, serving foreign interests, and supporting and endorsing migration.
The complete report is available here.
Our previous report on the first half of 2015 is available here.