Why European Countries Are Concerned About The Results Of Hungary's Election
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The result in Hungary's election this past weekend was not a surprise. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a right-wing populist, was widely expected to win re-election and he did. His party took more than two-thirds of the seats in Parliament. Orban achieved that in part by identifying a bogeyman during his campaign. The billionaire philanthropist and financier George Soros. All right, here to help us make sense of what is going on in Hungary right now is Shaun Walker. He is the central and Eastern European correspondent for The Guardian newspaper.
And he joins us from Budapest. Hey there, Shaun.
SHAUN WALKER: Hi.
KELLY: OK, so help us sort through this. Viktor Orban has been re-elected as prime minister. And George Soros had a big role to play in this. Walk us through what's going on here.
WALKER: Well, that's right. I arrived in Budapest about a month ago. And George Soros' picture is everywhere, it's on billboards. And basically, Viktor Orban has identified several enemies, and Soros is the chief among them say. So Orban campaigned almost exclusively on the issue of migration. He said migrants were flooding from Africa and the Middle East to Europe and were ready to destroy Europe and Hungary. And he painted George Soros as basically the nefarious plotter of this wave of migrants.
KELLY: And why? This is because of Soros' foundation and other activities in Europe?
WALKER: Well, ostensibly, yeah, you know, Soros has put billions into promoting open societies in the form of communist countries. It's the classic sort of populist tactic of identifying an evil villain and kind of warning people that the only person that can save them from this apparently terrifying millions of migrants who are waiting to come to Hungary on George Soros' orders is Viktor Orban.
KELLY: Has Soros responded to this, by the way? Has he waded into the fray at all?
WALKER: Well, he has made a couple of speeches over the past year where he strongly attacked Viktor Orban. And there also, you know, there are a number of organizations here in Hungary that do receive small amounts of their financing from Soros. And they would say that really they're the only organizations left that are helping to keep some elements of independent civil society here because, you know, over the last eight years, we've seen the space for independent media and the space for anything really that's independent of Viktor Orban shrinking and shrinking.
KELLY: Why does this message resonate, as it apparently does, with voters in Hungary? We said Orban's party has been returned to Parliament. They won more than two-thirds of the seats on the anti-migrant message.
WALKER: I think there are many reasons. But one of the key ones is that the majority of the media and certainly most of the TV and the newspapers are in government hands or are in the hands of people close to the government. And over the past year has just really been churning out this quite extraordinary campaign of vitriol about how Europe has been destroyed by migration. And, you know, we've seen in many countries, anti-migration rhetoric works.
KELLY: Right, I was going to note, this is not happening in a vacuum. We're seeing right-wing political parties on the rise in Poland, in Croatia, elsewhere.
WALKER: That's right. And I think, you know, it's been noted that often the strongest anti-migrant sentiment is in places where there aren't many migrants. And, you know, that seems to have been the case here as well. I mean, I went to a town called Miskolc. No one there even recalled seeing a refugee or a migrant. And yet, the entire campaign was being fought on migration and people were telling me they were really, really worried about this apparent threat.
KELLY: Shaun, thanks very much.
WALKER: Thank you.
KELLY: Shaun Walker of The Guardian reporting there on this past weekend's election results in Hungary. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.