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Number of Anti-Vaxxers and Vaccine Skeptics So High They Cannot Be Ignored ahead of Elections

Hungary Today 2022.02.15.

In Hungary, the proportion of anti-vaccination voters is so high that most political parties have been trying to reach out to them in some way in recent months. So far, radical Mi Hazánk (Our Homeland) was able to profit from this kind of communication the most: the party even has a chance of getting into the parliament this year. But the united opposition, with center-right Jobbik in the front, is also trying to appeal to the anti-vaccination camp. Meanwhile, the government is also keen to take controversial measures, including compulsory vaccination, off the agenda, rather than increasing Hungary’s vaccination rate.

Although Hungary has the highest rate of vaccination of any post-communist country in Europe, it still has a large number of people who refuse to get inoculated.

According to the recent findings of research company Policy Solutions, the percentage of Hungarian voters who are against vaccination could be as high as 30%.

Moreover, in Hungary, anti-vaccination voters are not clearly linked to a single party: they can be found in all political camps.  Since many believe that the election will be decided by mobilizing undecided voters, and there are a good number of anti-vaxxers among them, almost all political blocs of Hungary have started to target this societal group.

Mi Hazánk against Hungary’s “Covid dictatorship”

The first notable political formation that raised its voice against coronavirus vaccination in Hungary, is the non-parliamentary far-right party Mi Hazánk (Our Homeland).

The party was created following the 2018 parliamentary elections by then Jobbik member László Toroczkai and several of his supporters, after Jobbik abandoned its radical right-wing ideology to shift toward the center.

Subsequently, Mi Hazánk started to employ the same classic messages that had originally led to the rise of its predecessor: Hungarian nationalism, opposition of LGBT rights, political Christianity, and anti-Romani sentiment. However, these issues did not bring the party the same attention and popularity as they did for Jobbik back in 2009-2010.

Far-right Mi Hazánk Party Holds Demonstration against Hungary's 'COVID Dictatorship'
Far-right Mi Hazánk Party Holds Demonstration against Hungary's 'COVID Dictatorship'

Although the radical party does not officially consider itself an anti-vaccine party, its politicians constantly relativize the seriousness of the epidemic and the benefits of vaccination.Continue reading

Then, just like many Western European radicals, Mi Hazánk recognized the opportunity of the new situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Therefore, the party changed its communication: instead of their “classic” far-right themes and messages, they first slammed the Covid restrictions and lockdown measures introduced in Hungary in the past couple of years. After this, in an attempt to win over anti-vaccination groups, Mi Hazánk started heavily criticizing coronavirus vaccination.

The far-right party quickly achieved impressive success with their campaign. In January, they took thousands of people to the streets against “Hungary’s Covid dictatorship,” and according to surveys, Mi Hazánk has also significantly increased its support base.

Analysts say that the party even has the chance to get enough votes from anti-vaxxer groups to pass the five percent threshold necessary to make it to Parliament.

Moreover, according to Attila Tibor Nagy, a political expert asked by Azonnali, the far-right party’s role could even be greatly enhanced if they get into the National Assembly, especially if Fidesz and the united opposition balance of power will be roughly equal. Mi Hazánk could be the group to tip the balance on several debated issues.

Jobbik accuses Orbán government of planning to introduce mandatory vaccination

Seeing the success of the far-right party, the now center-right Jobbik also decided to target voters who are against compulsory vaccination.

The party, which is a member of Hungary’s opposition alliance, first put forward their new message in January, with their leader Péter Jakab addressing the issue numerous times, particularly on social media.

“No mandatory Covid vaccination will be introduced if the opposition wins [the election],”Jakab said on Facebook a few weeks ago. Later, the party even announced that it would launch a petition against compulsory vaccination.

Survey: More and More Hungarians Oppose General Vaccination Obligation
Survey: More and More Hungarians Oppose General Vaccination Obligation

52% of university graduates would implement mandatory vaccination.Continue reading

According to Jakab, “Viktor Orbán had promised there would be no compulsory vaccination, but then he made it mandatory for police officers, firefighters, teachers, and health care workers,” then he left it to employers to decide on vaccination policies. However, in a video published on his Facebook page, Jakab says Hungarian citizens should be able to decide for themselves what they want.

The party leader later told Blikk that he did not want to convince anyone to get vaccinated, he simply “respects the choices of people,” and that those who do not want to get vaccinated instead should have access to tests  free of charge.

However, Jakab’s stance is quite puzzling given that not too long ago his party didn’t seem too concerned about the issue. On the day the government gave employers the right to make it compulsory for employees to be vaccinated, for example, Jobbik only issued a statement on high petrol prices.

Later, the united opposition also rallied behind Péter Jakab’s promise.

Opposition PM candidate pledges not to force vaccination on anyone

Péter Márki-Zay, the united opposition’s joint prime ministerial candidate, had earlier only subtly hinted that he did not think compulsory vaccination was a good idea, but added that he could “live with it” if it were introduced.  But recently, he took a firm stance against the idea.

“We don’t want to force vaccination on anyone,” said Márki-Zay, stressing that he regards the right to self-determination in healthcare as paramount, and while he urges everybody to get vaccinated, he does not want to force it on anyone.

Gov’t abandons vaccine promotion, postpones tying vaccination certificates to booster

Despite the claims of the opposition parties, ruling Fidesz also seems to have acquired a vested interest in favoring anti-vaccination groups.

For this reason, the former “vaccination is the only solution” message of Viktor Orbán has also been toned down as the general election approaches. The Prime Minister and his administration seem to have given up on increasing the vaccination rate by imposing unpopular measures.

Gov't Suddenly Changes New Rules on Vaccine Certificates
Gov't Suddenly Changes New Rules on Vaccine Certificates

A few weeks ago, the government had decided that the immunity cards would be valid only with a third vaccination from February 15th; this decision has now been changed.Continue reading

Although the government gave employers the right to mandate their workers to get vaccinated, press reports suggest that not many of them have used the option. Although vaccination has been made compulsory in some parts of the public sector, there is no sign that a general introduction is being considered by the government.

“It would be obvious to introduce compulsory vaccination. There are countries that are trying to do this. I would like to avoid that. (…) I don’t think compulsory vaccination works,” Viktor Orbán said in December.

The Hungarian government has since also postponed their plan to make the validity of the official COVID vaccination certificate open-ended only to those who have already received three vaccine doses. They have even decided to extend the validity of the certificates for people who have only received two jabs until May 1st.

Vaccination: Elections 0-1

It seems that all political forces are using different means and messages to appeal to vaccine-skeptical or even anti-vaxx voters. And their plan of action is not to say anything that would alienate these potential supporters.

Featured photo illustration via mihazank.hu

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