Hungary Needs Policy Change, Not a PR Campaign

Hungary’s coldhearted response to the refugee crisis in Europe has tarnished its image among world audiences. The United Nation’s top human Rights official, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, referred to Hungary’s response to refugees as “callous, and in some cases, illegal” and also noted that their actions are motivated by xenophobic and anti-Muslim views.

“We do not like the consequence of having a large number of Muslim communities that we see in other countries,” said Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, “and I do not see any reason for anyone else to force us to create ways of living together in Hungary that we do not want to see.”

Hungarian riot police fired tear gas, pepper spray, and water cannons at refugees over its border with Serbia, as part of the government’s crackdown on Tuesday. The border has been sealed, forcing refugees who have already made the exhausting and dangerous trip across the Mediterranean to travel even further to seek entry into neighboring countries.

In light of strident international criticism, Hungary hired former Florida Congressman Connie Mack as the country’s official spokesperson in the United States.

Bad PR or lack of a direct line of communication between policymakers and Orbán is not the cause of Orbán’s falling image in Washington, it’s his policies and actions, and the impact those are having on the Hungarian people and their future.

Hungary’s total disregard for refugees’ safety and dignity is part of a wider trend towards the erosion of the rule of law in Hungary.

Orbán declared a state of emergency in its border region, giving its police and military enhanced powers, thanks to new laws criminalizing any refugees who cross the border illegally. Under the state of emergency, accelerated procedures raise due process concerns. The authorities have already launched more than 45 criminal prosecutions against refugees. Hungary has been using prison labor and soldiers to construct a twelve-foot high fence along its border with Serbia, which is already lined with rolls of barbed wire.

The Hungarian government has tried a variety of things to bolster its image, including retaining Connie Mack’s firm as a paid lobbyist and using government money to fund NGOs in the United States. They of course have a right to do this in a democracy like the United States, but U.S. policymakers have plenty of information at their disposal about the direction that Orbán is taking Hungary and should not refrain from criticizing those discriminatory policies.

The only thing that should improve Hungary’s image on the world stage is an about-face on its anti-democratic, nationalistic, and xenophobic actions.

Human Rights First continues to monitor the situation in Hungary, and has produced a series of reports, fact sheets, and congressional testimony showing the dangers and consequences of Hungary’s slide toward authoritarianism and extremism.

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Published on September 18, 2015


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