Report on Xenophobia, Discrimination, Religious Hatred and Aggressive Nationalism in Hungary in 2015



The legislation concerning minorities did not change in 2015. Discriminatory practices concerned people of mostly Roma origin, and the main areas of discrimination were segregation in education, discriminatory measures concerning housing, discriminatory practices of the police. In the case of school segregation the government played a double-game. On the one hand, Zoltán Balog Minister responsible for Education said that the government “rejects and condemns illegal school segregation and is committed to quality education that develops the conditions for equal opportunity.” On the other hand, the government implemented such changes in legislation what makes segregation possible in some schools, operated by the Church or other religious organisations, and exempted them from the requirements of the Equal Opportunities Act. It seems that this new regulation already has had severe consequences since local governments have been using it as a camouflage for segregation and the establishment of “non-Roma” schools.

Some local governments apply discriminatory measures concerning housing. The most severe example was the forced displacement of families, mostly Roma in Miskolc, coupled with the offering of monetary compensation to only those purchasing a property outside of Miskolc and not selling it for at least five years. Although courts, even the Supreme Court of Hungary ruled the regulations of the Fidesz-led local government discriminatory, the government has done nothing to enforce the court’s decision and to stop this ongoing practice. There are also other discriminatory features of local welfare systems, such as introducing ‘soft’ requirements for subsidies which give much room for consideration to the mayors. These rulings are mostly based on the principle that there are worthy and unworthy poor, or as one of the most far-right mayors in Hungary state it: the “builders” and the “destroyers”.

The legislation concerning asylum-seekers changed profoundly in 2015. In July and in September, the National Assembly adopted new legislation amending and affecting various existing Acts, and the Government issued related decrees. The Government set a list of safe third countries, including Serbia, from where almost all the asylum-seekers approached Hungary. The change meant that almost all applications could be rejected almost automatically. At the same time, accelerated asylum application procedures became the norm after the new regulation came into force on 1 August, and the possibility of a judicial review of decisions was significantly limited. In September, a new border procedure came into force meaning that individuals arriving at the border of Hungary who wish to submit an asylum application must do so in special ‘transit zones’. There are only two such zones are operating on the Serbian-Hungarian border, and the entry to there was limited to only 100 asylum-seekers a day. Moreover, due to an amendment to the Criminal Code the prohibited crossing and damaging the border closure became a criminal act.

In 2015 the social welfare system underwent fundamental changes in Hungary. The most important change was that local governments’ responsibility has become bigger regarding setting the conditions for the distribution of social benefits and public work. The eligibility criteria and a number of subsidies became determined solely by local governments and many of the benefits, previously based on subjective rights, were abolished. The new system introduced by the government does not protect but exposes those who are in need – including Roma people – to the mayor’s decisions, even more than ever. The new system gives more power to local governments and mayors and, therefore, it allows for arbitrary decisions and discriminative practices. These local regulations are, however, in the grey zone, since they are not discriminatory per se. Nevertheless, in many cases, their intentions are more than dubious.

Law enforcement practices regarding asylum-seekers in 2015 fit in the general framework of the government’s harsh anti-immigration and anti-refugee stance. The public discourse was dominated by the government’s radical rhetoric, and asylum regulations were toughened. As a consequence of the huge influx of asylum-seekers, reception centres became clearly overcrowded by mid-2015: reports talked about inhuman conditions, degrading treatment, hygienic problems, coarse treatment and insufficient legal assistance. The government’s inaction and reluctance to treat asylum-seekers in a human way and provide them with basic infrastructure, aid and information resulted in the chaotic scenes at the end of August in Budapest, when thousands of asylum-seekers became stranded at train stations. Another major incident, a conflict between the police and asylum-seekers occurred one day after the closure of the Serbian border in September when asylum-seekers and journalists were injured by police action.

Discriminatory practices of police against the Roma (e.g., targeted fining) are widespread, although latency is very high. A clear example happened in January 2015, when the mayor of a small town in North-Western Hungary, a member of Fidesz, was stopped by the police for a roadside check only because he was a Roma. It also happens often that police, prosecutors and courts downgrade hate crimes to basic criminal offences and do not recognise the racist, xenophobic or homophobic motive behind them.

The government’s rhetoric concerning migrants aimed at fear mongering and fuelling aversion to asylum-seekers. The government’s campaign against asylum-seekers, which consisted of a “national consultation on immigration and terrorism”, billboard campaigns and a campaign opposing the EU quota system, used a populist and xenophobic rhetoric that resembles far-right messages elsewhere in Europe. Government and Fidesz officials linked migration to terrorism, crime and unemployment, and accused migrants of spreading diseases, committing crimes, and stealing jobs from Hungarians. The government’s approach was based on political motives: stabilising its electoral support and regaining momentum in domestic politics by setting the tone, stealing the topic from Jobbik, and presenting the Hungarian population with a ‘common enemy’ against which the government was taking a determined stance to ‘defend the nation’. Part of the rhetoric is aimed at fuelling fears of cultural and religious differences. A powerful element of the government’s reasoning is the mobilisation of people against the conquest of Europe by Muslims. Another part of the rhetoric is related to conspiracy theories, such as the allegation that György Soros finances and organises the arrival of refugees or that Israel is the phenomenon.

The government’s rhetoric concerning the Roma was also affected by the issue of migration. Many government officials, including PM Orbán, used Roma integration as an excuse for why Hungary is unable to accept asylum seekers. Rhetoric concerning the Jews was conciliatory after the severe dispute between the government and the Jewish community over the German occupation Memorial in 2014. A major issue, however, was the erection of a statue of Bálint Hóman, a historian, MP and minister from the interwar period with anti-Semitic views. Even though the government originally supported the idea, PM Orbán later abandoned and condemned the plan. The government’s rhetoric concerning the LGBTQ community was marked by homophobic statements by some leading Fidesz officials, who condemned the annual Pride march calling it disgusting. PM Orbán expressed his view that equal rights for LGBTQ people will not be provided and thanked the LGBTQ community for not being provocative.

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 the latest extensive poll conducted in 2011, 82 percent of the Hungarian population thought that “the problems of the Roma would be solved if they started to work at last”, 60 percent agreed with the statement that “the inclination to criminality is in the blood of Gypsies”, and 42 percent considered that “it is only right that there are still pubs, clubs and discos where Gypsies are not let in”.

According to a survey carried out at the end of 2015, 65 percent of the society was not anti-Semitic, 12 percent hold moderate and 23 percent extreme anti-Semitic views. When analysing the content of anti-Semitism, it can be clearly seen that the agreement with statements about the excessive influence of Jews or even about secret Jewish conspiracy is higher than with those about traditional Christian anti-Jewish sentiments.

Despite the low levels of immigration (especially from culturally distant countries), xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiments are extremely strong in the Hungarian society. However, openly admitted xenophobia reached a record high in 2015. At that time 41 percent of the adult population said that asylum seekers should not be allowed to enter Hungary. The rate of those who think that asylum seekers should be admitted or rejected depending on the merits of the case was 53 percent. Only 6 percent of the respondents said that all asylum seekers should be admitted unconditionally. According to research conducted by Ipsos and Republicon Institute in June and July 2015, 56 percent of the Hungarian population think that immigrants pose a real threat to Hungary and only 16 percent oppose such a statement. Over 20 percent of the respondents claim that the increasing number of refugees causes problems for their or their families’ personal life. Data shows that the government’s anti-immigrant rhetoric seems to work, at least as far as Fidesz voters are concerned: they have the most negative attitudes towards refugees among the supporters of all parties, and they even beat the sympathisers of Jobbik in this regard.

Unfortunately, there is no detailed survey about homophobia in Hungary. In the 2014/2015 wave of the European Social Survey (ESS), 24 percent of the Hungarian population expressed disagreement with the statement saying that “Gay men and lesbians should be free to live their life as they wish.”, While 44 percent agreement with it. These proportions have stayed more or less stable throughout the different ESS waves since 2002.

Traditionally, the Roma, members of the LGBTQ community and Jews are in the crosshairs of radical parties and groups in Hungary. In 2015, refugees became the main target of such groups. Even though the key organisation of the Hungarian far-right, the party Jobbik, which was known earlier for its harsh anti-Roma and anti-Semitic statements, has undergone an image change since 2013, which aims at moderating the party’s messages and turning Jobbik into a people’s party in order to attract moderate voters and become Fidesz’s main challenger in the 2018 general election, many cases came to light in 2015 proving that Jobbik is still a radical party. Anti-Gypsy and anti-Semitic statements were made and posted on Facebook by local politicians of Jobbik.

Regarding refugees, Jobbik and other far-right organisations took a radical stance similar to that of Fidesz. They have also condemned migration, been opposed to the refugees, and about asylum-seekers they have used the same wording and argumentation as the government (e.g., illegal immigrants, parasites, criminals and terrorists, etc.). Radical organisations [e.g., Jobbik, Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement (Hatvannégy Vármegye Mozgalom, HVIM), Army of Outlaws (Betyársereg), Hungarian Self-Defence Movement (Magyar Önvédelmi Mozgalom, MÖM)] organised a series of demonstrations against asylum-seekers, the existence of refugee camps and the Islamisation of Europe in 2015, starting from June. Extreme organisations, such as Betyársereg, HVIM, MÖM and organisations of football ultras even took actions against refugees themselves: they visited border areas to hunt and beat up refugees to “persuade” them not to come to Hungary.

Despite Jobbik’s efforts to change its image, the party’s politicians made harsh anti-Roma statements as well, starting with a Facebook post of then-deputy chair of the party, Előd Novák on 1 January 2015. Extreme organisations, mainly Betyársereg, which de facto functions as a private security gang, visited small settlements and threatened the local Roma community.

Despite the efforts of Jobbik’s leader Gábor Vona to restrain the party’s supporters from actions against the LGBTQ community and the Pride March, there were minor incidents organised by the far-right against the Pride in 2015, too. Pig manure was spread along the route to annoy the participants, and a minor anti-LGBTQ demonstration took place. The most significant incident happened after the event during the night: a famous gay rights activist was attacked and his nose heavily broken.

In the case of anti-Romani hate crimes and incidents, the lack of comprehensive monitoring is striking. Although it is well known that Roma people are severely discriminated, latency is very high. Four cases of anti-Roma violent attacks became public during 2015. In April a Roma man was shot dead by a police officer in Örkény, a village near to Budapest. In April 2015 two men attacked a Roma family, a grandmother and her granddaughter, in Eger, a city in East-Central Hungary. First, the perpetrators shouted anti-Gypsy slogans to them over the fence, then broke into their house, and brutally beat them up. In May it was made public that a Roma family in Szúcs had been harassed by members of the Betyársereg (Outlaws’ Army) for three months. The home of a Roma family in Gyöngyöspata was set ablaze on Christmas Eve. The family had purchased the house weeks earlier which is situated in the predominantly non-Roma part of the town. Anti-Roma hate speech was largely present in the political arena in 2015. Besides several clearly anti-Roma statements by Jobbik politicians, government officials and politicians close to Fidesz were using the parallel between the Roma and migrants extensively in 2015.

According to different sources, 83 anti-Semitic hate crimes and incidents were registered in 2015. Among them, three attacks, one threat and seven cases of vandalism. Besides that, forty-three of all anti-Semitic hate crimes and incidents fell into the category of hate speech, eight of them committed by political party representatives (six by politicians of Jobbik, two by that of Fidesz). In 2015, various NGOs registered twenty-nine anti-Semitic graffiti and stickers which are surely the minimum estimations for such anti-Semitic hate crimes and incidents. These mostly included swastikas, Star of David signs hanged or drawn into a rubbish bin. There were also scribbled benches, public transport vehicles, and other public places.

There is another phenomenon that needs to be mentioned: from July, Fidesz politicians, government officials and all kind of pro-Fidesz organisations have started to present György Soros as a financial figure who infiltrates civil society to overthrow governments. Although these kind of statements are not overtly anti-Semitic, it is based on the language, the expressions they use and also on the long-lasting history of this usage they have anti-Semitic connotations. This code language is also consonant with the inner-structure of anti-Semitism in Hungary, namely that the acceptance of statements about the excessive Jewish influence and the supposed Jewish conspiracy has increased. Moreover, when people were asked in a nationally representative survey in 2015 about the causes of mass migration, many blamed György Soros, Jews or Israel.

In May and June, as the time of the Budapest Pride was approaching, many politicians from the right and the far-right expressed their disapproval and disgust concerning the event. One day after the Budapest Pride had stated, on 5 July a rainbow coloured paper doll was hanged in the largest public park in Budapest. Also, a pink triangle, the well-known Nazi concentration camp badge, was painted on it. During the Pride, many hate speech statements occurred.

In 2015, the Muslim community in Hungary experienced a sharp increase in Islamophobia. This tendency was influenced greatly by the refugee crisis and the overt anti-migrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric of the government. According to the Muslim communities in Hungary, threats in e-mails to them are frequently received. Although there is no systematic monitoring of Islamophobic hate crimes and incidents, according to the Hungarian Islamic Community 10 to 15 women wearing headscarves were attacked during 2015. Attacks included a threat with a knife, a face slap, and the tearing off of a headscarf.

No interethnic or religious clashes occurred in Hungary in 2015. Although many asylum-seekers passed through the country, no major conflict occurred between them and the native population. Hatred against refugees fuelled by the government propaganda and far-right sites and organisations did not turn into physical violence. A significant incident occurred in the refugee camp in Debrecen, where following a quarrel between two Turkish asylum-seekers, around 100 enraged refugees broke out of the refugee camp, and attacked cars and buses with sticks and set waste bins on fire. The event, however, cannot be considered as interethnic clash because the aim of the refugees was not to attack the native population. The quarrel broke out because one of the asylum-seekers took the Qur’an from the other and stepped on it. According to some news, 200 Euros were hidden in the Qur’an, and the conditions in the camp, in which twice as many asylum-seekers were accommodated as the camp was supposed to suit, have surely contributed to high tensions among asylum-seekers. Despite extremist organisations’ actions aiming at threatening the local Roma population in some settlements, no conflict between the Roma and non-Roma population occurred in 2015.

In recent years, great attention has been paid to cease racism and violence in the stadiums. The FARE (Football against Racism in Europe) group, set up in 1989 became especially active in the Eastern European Region in recent year. The “Eastern European Development Project” of FARE, launched in 2009, has been focused exclusively on the growing racism, anti-Semitism in football stadiums. These programmes had visible effects and the number of such incidents decreased. For example, while between the period of May 2013–April 2014 Action and Protection Foundation registered several anti-Semitic manifestations during football games, in 2015 only one such case was recorded. Unfortunately, there is good reason to think that the attitudes of the supporters most probably did not change, only the envisaged fines had an effect. This thought is reinforced by the fact that ultras played a role in hate crimes and incidents against migrants.

The popularity of the far-right party Jobbik underwent significant changes in 2015. While the party benefited from the losses of the governing party Fidesz between October 2014 and March 2015, the increase of Jobbik’s popularity stopped in March, when the party’s electorate started to decrease slowly but steadily. In the last quarter of the year, Jobbik’s voter base remained stable. The changes of Jobbik’s popularity have their roots in Fidesz’ performance. When Fidesz was forced to go on the defensive for the first time since 2010 at the end of 2014, and lost one-third of its voter base due to corruption cases, governance failures, and conflicts within the governing party, Jobbik could flourish and channel anti-establishment sentiments as the only potent party that has not been in power before. The government, however, managed to stop the decline of their voter base through the radical anti-refugee campaign in the first quarter of 2015, which weakened Jobbik’s electorate. While the far-right party tried to divert public attention away from the topic of migration to other issues (e.g., corruption, health care, education etc.), the party has not succeeded yet in competing with the government’s communications machine.

While there is no available data on the support for radical groups, with the help of Political Capital’s Demand for Right-Wing Extremism (DEREX) index, we can have a basic idea on to what extent Hungarian society is open to far-right ideology. The level of attitude radicals, who are receptive to anti-democratic, anti-Western, xenophobic, chauvinistic, authoritarian and scapegoating messages, was 10 percent in 2015, which is a two percentage points decrease compared to 2012–2013. Among the individual factors determining openness to radical right-wing ideas, anti-immigration attitudes are the most significant in Hungary. While the ratio of those who have an extremely exclusionary stance is traditionally high in the country, in 2014-2015 Hungary had the highest scores in this category among all EU states (54%). Combining DEREX data with voting preferences and electorate groups shows that the voter base of Jobbik tends to be more “attitude radical” than that of other parties. Among all the parties Jobbik has the most xenophobic and homophobic electorate, while Fidesz supporters hardly differ from other electorate groups in this regard.

The glorification of German National Socialism and its collaborators in the mainstream media, and the glorification of German National Socialism and its collaborators in the decisions made by the authorities are practically absent in Hungary. However, extreme hate groups following neo-Nazi ideology exist in Hungary. Holocaust denial is also present, and it has increased in the recent years. In a survey carried out in 2014 on a nationally representative sample revealed that 10 to 20 percent of the Hungarian population deny the Holocaust, while 23 percent of the respondents relativize it. Action and Protection Foundation detected cases of Holocaust denial and relativization and also pressed charges in many cases.

Human rights NGOs are constant targets of smear campaigns and intimidation measures of the government. While the broad-scale attack, which the government started in 2014 against organisations related to the ‘Norwegian NGO Fund’, ended in December 2015 with an agreement between the Hungarian and Norwegian government, a new campaign against NGOs was launched by the government. While besides communication measures the campaign against ‘Norwegian NGOs included a series of serious investigations and legal steps by state authorities, the new efforts consist “only” of a smear campaign with rhetorical elements. The campaign focuses on organisations which are critical of the government and receive support from Open Society Foundations founded by György Soros. In the crosshairs are organisations that represent an alternative approach to the refugee question, different from that of the government. The government uses Mr Soros to discredit and intimidate NGOs and portray them as agents and mercenaries of foreign powers (Mr Soros) and traitors of national interests.

Even though senior government officials, including PM Orbán, have many times announced new legislation to have more control over NGOs, no measures were implemented in 2015.

Authors: Ildikó Barna and Bulcsú Hunyadi

The complete report is available here.

Our previous report on the first half of 2015 is available here.