Hungary Cites Migrant Crisis for Draconian Measures

Hungary’s right-wing government proposes policies that would be more at home in a police state.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán attends a debate in the European Parliament in Brussels, May 19
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán attends a debate in the European Parliament in Brussels, May 19 (European Parliament)

Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party introduced legislation this week that, if enacted, would further weaken the Central European nation’s democracy.

From making it easier for soldiers to use force and enabling police to conduct searches without warrants to enlisting telecom companies in the collection of bulk phone data, the new laws seem more becoming of a police state than a European republic.

Given that Fidesz has an absolute majority in parliament, the bills are almost certain to pass, possibly as early as Friday.

The government claims the measures are needed to cope with a swelling migrant crisis that is seeing tens of thousands of asylum seekers pass through the country this year on their way to Germany and Scandinavia.

Some of the policies, such as making it easier to imprison migrants without papers and prosecuting those who help them, clearly are linked to the record high influx of people from the Balkans and the Middle East.

But it seems Fidesz is also using the crisis to move away from “leftist” European Union policies it disparages, toward what Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had called “illiberal democracy”.

More than 110,000 people have applied for asylum in Hungary this year, already five times more than did in 2014, figures from the International Organization for Migration show.

Yet Orbán says Hungary doesn’t have a migrant crisis. “The problem is a German problem,” he said during a news conference in Brussels on Thursday.

Nobody would like to stay in Hungary so we don’t have difficulties with those who would like to stay in Hungary.

This is also hardly the first time Hungary has broken ranks with its neighbors.

To the dismay of most other European nations, Hungary is building a fence along its border with Serbia in an attempt to keep migrants out. Orbán insists that by closing the Hungarian border, “we defend Europe.”

Under his leadership, Hungary has refused to sever ties with Russia in the wake of its former Soviet master’s occupation and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. While the European Union as a whole applied sanctions, Hungary borrowed $30 billion from Russia to pay it for building a nuclear power plant. It also refused to withdraw its support from the South Stream gas pipeline — which was designed to circumvent Ukraine — before Russia itself pulled the plug on the project in late 2014.

The European Commission has repeatedly censured Orbán’s nationalist economic policies, which defy the bloc’s competition rules, as well as his weakening of the judiciary. Constitutional reforms enacted in 2011 limited the supreme court’s powers and annulled all its previous rulings.

Rating agencies have cited Orbán’s weakening of the central bank’s autonomy as a reason for lowering Hungary’s credit rating while human rights agencies have criticized his government’s treatment of minorities and policies that privilege ethnic Hungarians.

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