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Viktor Orban: EU hero or villain?

Daniel Heinrich
July 4, 2018

One of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's most vocal critics, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is coming to Berlin to talk refugees. His uncompromising asylum policy has made him a favorite of German conservatives.

Orban adjusts his tie with a EU flag in the foreground
Image: Reuters/Y. Herman

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is no fan of refugees and not one to mince words.

In September 2015, he declared: "European politicians, who spark migrants' hopes of finding a better life in Europe, encouraging them to leave everything behind and risk their lives to come here, are irresponsible. If Europe does not return to the path of reason, it will go under."

Orban made this statement at the height of the refugee crisis. He was the first European leader to close his country's border with barbed wire — to prevent new arrivals from getting in. That step solidified Orban's reputation as a hard-liner.

Read more: Viktor Orban: Era of 'liberal democracy' is over

Railing against refugees

Few of his compatriots were surprised by their leader's tough stance. Orban, who co-founded and presently leads Hungary's national-conservative Fidesz party, has been serving as the country's prime minister since 2010. He also led Hungary between 1998 and 2002. In the beginning, many considered Orban a liberal. In recent years, however, he has shifted markedly to the right, putting anti-refugee policies at the top of his agenda. He is also no stranger to fearmongering, comparing migration to a Trojan horse that breeds terrorism in Europe. He is eager to preserve Hungary's ethnic homogeneity and explicitly warns against "mixing races."

It's little wonder then that Orban officially opposes EU quotas to relocate refugees throughout the bloc. His position sparked massive protests and court cases, with Brussels even launching an infringement procedure against Budapest. Although earlier this year, Hungarian authorities admitted they had taken in 1,300 refugees in 2017 — which corresponds to Hungary's EU quota.

People crawling under razor-wire at the border of Serbia and Hungary
Razor wire did not deter everyone from trying to enter Hungary in 2015Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Ujvari

Popular at home and abroad

Orban's uncompromising approach has earned him a loyal following at home. In Hungary's parliamentary elections on April 8, the Fidesz party scored a major victory. Together with its coalition partner, the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP), the governing parties command a two-thirds majority in parliament.

While Orban faces opposition from left-leaning politicians, he can also count on numerous foreign supporters. He has been a regular guest at the Bavarian Christian Social Union's (CSU) annual closed-door summit, and since October 2016, Orban and Horst Seehofer — the CSU party leader and German interior minister — even seem to be on a first-name basis. Indeed, Orban even declared Fidesz and the CSU were "brothers in arms."

Blowing things out of proportion

There is a huge discrepancy between Orban's fierce anti-refugee rhetoric and the reality in EU. Only about 2.3 million refugees live across the bloc's 28 member states, which together have a total population of more than 500,000 million inhabitants. Refugees, therefore, make up just 0.45 percent of the population.

These figures are even lower in Hungary. Currently, only several hundred asylum-seekers are housed in purpose-built transit centers on the Hungarian-Serbian border. According to official reports, some 3,350 individuals applied for asylum in Hungary last year. Most of these individuals hail from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. While some 1,000 of them were granted temporary subsidiary protection, only about 100 were granted asylum. They are allowed to remain in the country and live in a refugee shelter and will have access to health care services. After one month, however, they will have to fend for themselves.

In Hungary, there are just six refugees per 10,000 inhabitants. In Germany, for comparison, there are 177 refugees per 10,000 inhabitants.

Despite these limited numbers of refugees, Orban's state visit to Germany will focus on the question of migration. Orban takes issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's policy-making, which he made abundantly clear at a press conference in Brussels in 2017: "We're facing a German problem, not a European problem."

Cracking down on dissent in Hungary

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