A populist referendum parallel to the elections? It was already in Europe and not so long ago, last year. Viktor Orban chose this tactic. At that time, the questions concerned such clearly “existential” issues for the Hungarian state, such as showing minors sexual media content. LGBT+ activists openly said that it was an attempt to demonize them for political gain. A few years earlier, Orban had targeted migrants.
According to non-governmental organizations, it cost even PLN 220 million, and it was invalid anyway. However, for the Fidesz party, something else mattered.
– The Hungarian referendum is mainly about internal political support for Fidesz. This is not a referendum that will decide on the government’s policy, this referendum is intended to strengthen the position of the government and thus strengthen Fidesz in the country before the elections – said Csaba Toth, an analyst at the Hungarian Republikon Institute. This is a statement from 2016, when Viktor Orban ordered a referendum on migrants two years before the parliamentary elections. The question to the citizens was: “Do you want the European Union to be able to decide on the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian nationals in Hungary without the consent of the Hungarian Parliament?”
During the pre-referendum campaign, the government did not specify what steps it would take if the results were deemed binding, but the anti-immigrant and anti-EU campaign was in full swing – the harassment of Brussels and scaring began. – We are proud that we were the first and, unfortunately, so far the only one in the European Union to organize a referendum on migrants. I would be happy to see other countries following in our footsteps, said the Hungarian Prime Minister at the time.
As many as 98 percent of the government and the far-right Jobbik party wanted it, but only 40 percent of eligible voters took part in the vote. Despite the non-binding result, the Prime Minister argued that it was a success anyway.
“Brussels will have to make an important decision, now it’s their turn. The European Union is a democratic community. Today, in one of the member states, 92 percent of those who took part in the referendum said that they did not agree with the intentions of Brussels, Viktor Orban pointed out after the results were announced.
The plebiscite took place at a time when new migrants had not been arriving in the country for almost a year, because a fence had already been erected on the border with Serbia and Croatia. Moreover, thanks to the EU-Turkey agreement, the European Commission moved away from pushing for mandatory relocations, but the main effect of Fidesz has been achieved.
– In the elections after the referendum, Fidesz gained a huge advantage. The opposition parties had their points on this topic, but they were not as focused on anti-immigration policy, points out Tibor Zavecz, a sociologist.
Questions about LGBT+ people
Six years later, the topic of migrants was exhausted. A new idea emerged to unite the electorate with an already proven method. This time, on the occasion of the 2022 elections, as many as 4 questions were asked. They were all lined with fear and populism. They concerned LGBT+ people. In the context of transgender people, the term gender change, not correction, was also used with premeditation.
“They immediately had a certain suggestion in them. For example: are you in favor of allowing children to be educated without parental consent? It is known that every conservative parent would say “no” – points out Dr. Małgorzata Bonikowska, president of the THINKTANK center and the Center for International Relations, a member of Team Europe.
“This discriminatory, propaganda referendum by the government only deepens the rift in society and increases prejudice against LGBTQ people,” said Luca Dudits, spokeswoman for the LGBT+ Organization Háttér Társaság.
This additional vote cost the equivalent of PLN 90 million and, like the previous one, was invalid. None of the questions reached the required threshold of 50 percent of the registered valid yes or no votes. However, Viktor Orban’s Fidesz managed to stay in power. The ruling coalition received 54 percent of the votes. United opposition 34 percent.
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Main photo source: Szilard Kosticsak/PAP