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May 04, 2015

Hungary’s Racist Questionnaire

The Hungarian government is preparing to send a questionnaire to eight million citizens asking whether they agree that immigrants endanger livelihoods and spread terrorism, according to the Financial Times. The questionnaire will list 12 statements linking immigration to threats to security and incomes. Some of those questions include:

  • “Do you agree that economic immigrants endanger the jobs and livelihoods of the Hungarian people?”
  • “Would you support the government placing illegal immigrants in internment camps?”
  • “Do you agree with the government that instead of allocating funds to immigration we should support Hungarian families and those children yet to be born?”
  • “Do you agree that mistaken immigration policies contribute to the spread of terrorism?”

A letter will accompany the questionnaire suggesting that the government could hold illegal immigrants in detention centers and make new arrivals pay for the cost of their detention. The letter states, “Economic migrants cross our borders illegally, and while they present themselves as asylum-seekers, in fact they are coming to enjoy our welfare systems and the employment opportunities our countries have to offer.”

Yes, immigration poses challenges—but asking the entire citizenry of a country leading questions linking immigration to security threats and lost income encourages hatred.

As First Vice President Frans Timmermans of the European Commission stated, “Framing immigration in the context of terrorism, depicting migrants as a threat to jobs and the livelihood of people, is malicious and simply wrong—it will only feed misconceptions and prejudice.”

Prime Minister Orban’s actions may be an effort to pander to far-right voters and Jobbik supporters. Jobbik party leaders regularly make anti-Semitic, anti-Roma, and anti-immigrant statements.

But stirring up xenophobia for political gain is a dumb move. Orban need only to look at Greece’s Golden Dawn to see what can happen when governments stoke fear and resentment to compete with an extreme party: xenophobia, prejudice, and violence.

Not only are Orban’s statements xenophobic, but they’re also unfounded. The Economist reports that most immigrants who enter Hungary do not stay—they are usually bound for other destinations in Europe.

The U.S. ambassador in Hungary and the U.S. State Department should publicly condemn Orban’s questionnaire for fuelling xenophobia and discrimination.

As Vice President Timmermans said, “We should not close our eyes to the sometimes serious challenges posed by migration in our societies. But in doing so, we should never lose sight of our fundamental values and of the need to preserve a pluralist and diverse society, based on mutual respect and equal treatment of every individual.”

Orban’s questionnaire and letter come amidst troubling actions by the Hungarian government to remove checks and balances, restrict NGOs and independent media, and limit religious organizations. To learn more about the erosion of democratic society in Hungary, read our report: “We're not Nazis, but...The Rise of Hate Parties in Hungary and Greece and Why America Should Care.”