The Hungarian government’s anti-immigration billboard campaign has met with unexpected opposition after a joke party raised tens of millions of forints to dot the country with satirical messages making fun of the cabinet’s platform in what it calls an “anti-anti-immigration” campaign.
Two different approaches: “If you come to Hungary, you have to keep to our laws” vs. “If you’re Prime Minister of Hungary, you have to keep to our laws” – even in your home village
500 billboards have already been installed across the country with twenty different slogans, some of which call for solidarity with migrants and others targeted against English-speaking tourists, such as “Sorry about our Prime Minister!” and “Feel free to come to Hungary, we already work in England!” A further five hundred are expected to appear nationwide by mid-July out of the over HUF 32 million in donations that have poured into the campaign’s budget, set up by the non-registered Two-Tailed Dog Party and Vastagbőr (Thick Skin), a blog with anti-government sympathies. The posters will also feature in London and Vienna, cities with large Hungarian communities.
Ironically, two of the posters have already been placed in Mr. Orbán’s home village of Felcsút, known for its new 3500-seat football stadium, where he maintains a holiday home. The campaigners have hired both of the two billboard stands on the main road of the 1800-inhabitant village to display the messages “If you’re Prime Minister of Hungary, you have to keep to our laws!”, in reference to the government’s omnipresent billboard slogan, and “A space station will be built here soon!” In another twist to the story, the billboards hired in Felcsút belong to a company owned by Lajos Simicska, Mr. Orbán’s former friend and close associate with whom he and his ruling Fidesz party severed all ties following a dramatic fallout in February.
The campaign comes as a backlash to the government’s “national consultation” on immigration, posted to some 8 million voters across the country and also available online, and the accompanying awareness-raising billboard campaign, both of which have been harshly criticised by foreign observers, civil society groups and the left-wing opposition. The campaign’s rather simplistic messages were accused of stirring up xenophobia, and one extraparliamentary party even offered HUF 2000 ($7) for each vandalised poster to activists. The government’s consultation and billboard campaigns on the issue are believed to carry a combined cost of over HUF 1.3bn ($4.6m).
However amusing some of the counter-campaign’s slogans may be, they will do little to convince the Hungarian population that the ever-increasing migratory burden on the country is not a genuine problem. Recently, it was revealed that in proportion to the country’s population, Hungary carries the highest number of asylum applications (3.3 per 1000 inhabitants in the first quarter of the year, compared to 1,1 in Sweden and Austria and 0,9 in Germany),among the EU’s 28 member states, with three-quarters of the population saying that illegal immigration is a problem for Hungary. 57 per cent of the population reject any form of “economic migration”, according to a survey conducted in late June. The fact that the opportunity to make fun of the government’s campaign was seized by a pseudo-party and a minor blog also sheds light on how clueless the country’s fragmented left-wing opposition is to approach a question which, clearly, is of major concern to the majority of even their own voters.