Of Folk Devils And Moral Panic: Hungary’s Referendum On Mandatory EU Migrant Quotas

by Stephen Pogány

For several weeks, streets in Budapest, as elsewhere in Hungary, have been awash with government-funded placards representing an overt incitement to racial and religious hatred. Far from portraying those fleeing to Europe from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries as genuine asylum seekers, escaping brutal and apparently intractable civil conflicts, the posters characterise them as ‘illegal immigrants’ who are undeserving, unassimilable and a mortal threat to Europe. The posters aim to transform mostly helpless and vulnerable civilians – who have been terrorised by Da’esh, by Syrian or Russian cluster bombs or by Taliban death threats – into blood-curdling ‘folk devils’ that Hungarians, along with other ‘right thinking’ Europeans, should resolutely shun.

‘Did you know?’ declares one of the ubiquitous posters, ‘[l]ast year more than one and a half million illegal migrants arrived in Europe.’ ‘Did you know?’ declares another, ‘[s]ince the start of the migrant crisis more than three hundred people have died in terror attacks in Europe.’ ‘Did you know?’ reads a third, ‘[s]ince the start of the migrant crisis there has been a sharp escalation in the harassment of women in Europe.’ The conflation of asylum seekers with ruthless terrorists or with rampaging sexual predators is cynical and alarmist. At the same time, the casual labelling of asylum seekers en masse as ‘illegal immigrants’ lacks any foundation in fact or in international law.

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