"With this the Hungarians voted for democracy and Europe, which is a positive development"

October 20, 2016

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“Whoever asks the citizens of a country to turn their backs on the victims of war, terror and persecution goes against the basic values of Europe and humanity. Hungary cannot build a wall before desperate families, small children, mothers and fathers, grandparents, or even young men. It cannot close its gates to desperate people who are fleeing their homes in order to save their lives and the lives of their children and those they love.  Hungarian politics must stop inciting fear of vulnerable refugees whose lives are endangered. Instead, it should strive to help find a real solution to today’s refugee crisis. The solution is not to build fences and walls. By contrast, if countries receive those in need of protection with overarching solidarity, that is the humane way to treat them. At the same time, again with international solidarity, we should do everything in our power to restore peace where war and violence is driving everyone away.”

“It conditioned the population, both those who voted and those who did not, that Hungary has no place in the European Union. They’ve got this crazy idea in their heads that we will be the Great Britain of East Europe. . . . At such time we do not get this money they will take the money and run by taking the country out of the EU, at which time they will create a total dictatorship for good.”

“Hungarian society strongly adopted the campaign’s discourse of hate, the effect of which will be felt for a long time.”

“I have lived in Hungary for nine years.  During this time I experienced that Hungarian society was very open and welcoming, at least until the current refugee crisis exploded.  They wanted to help, they were interested, and this made society more colorful.  However, when the crisis started, society started to panic.  The campaign perfectly helped this and the situation got worse and worse. The government should have reassured the people.  But instead they further fueled the flame of hatred.”

Translation of article “I congratulate my people” (“Gratulálok népemnek”) appearing in the October 6th, 2016 edition of Magyar Narancs (pp. 16-19)

This campaign was so pointless that it lends itself to many different interpretations.  We asked people from civil society, artists, scientists and analysts to briefly state what the referendum meant to them, and what they think will follow from it in the future.

Andrea Fullajtár (actress) 

One and a half years ago, when I first saw the billboards, I was astonished, and later rather because wherever I went in the country, I saw them.  Even the smallest village was full of them.  The people were virtually inundated by the force of the three thoughts.  It is not possible not to believe that in such a primitive manner it is possible to achieve the longest lasting and most untruthful results.  And here I am not only thinking about adults, but about the children also, as the campaign had the same effect on them, or greater.

In any event, the result is that they succeeded in persuading many people that the whole settlement question constitutes a real threat.  An inconceivable volume of misinformation was poured on the country, which is also outrageous because the entire provocative campaign was paid for with our tax dollars.  I am mainly outraged over this because, if they have so much money for this, then how is it possible that they had to close the children’s hospice because they do not get any state supports?  At the same time, from the invalid result it is clear that they did not succeed in making the country crazy as much as they would have liked, although they still interfered very deeply.

The other thing is that it appears from the government’s reaction that they are still explaining this not expressly successful referendum as though the truth is on their side.  Nothing can be done to obstruct this very simplistic, biased way of thinking.  In vain was the referendum invalid, the failure wasn’t big enough to get the government’s attention that it needs to do something different.

Ernő Simon, Hungarian UNHCR spokesman

When the idea of holding a referendum on the EU asylum seeker quota first came up at the beginning of the year, UNHCR warned that is was worrying.  The member states of the European Union decided to help those countries affected by the wave of refugees and to take over from them refugees according to a mutually agreed quota, whose asylum applications they were to process.  The party initiating the referendum, however, wanted to build public support for its decision to reject the decision.  While Europe was developing a mutual approach based on cooperation, solidarity and burden-sharing, the goal of the Hungarian referendum was to make this step impossible on the level of the European Union.

Whoever asks the citizens of a country to turn their backs on the victims of war, terror and persecution goes against the basic values of Europe and humanity.  Hungary cannot build a wall before desperate families, small children, mothers and fathers, grandparents, or even young men.  It cannot close its gates to desperate people who are fleeing their homes in order to save their lives and the lives of their children and those they love.

Hungarian politics must stop inciting fear of vulnerable refugees whose lives are endangered.  Instead, it should strive to help find a real solution to today’s refugee crisis.  The solution is not to build fences and walls.  By contrast, if countries receive those in need of protection with overarching solidarity, that is the humane way to treat them.  At the same time, again with international solidarity, we should do everything in our power to restore peace where war and violence is driving everyone away.

Nóra Köves, human rights expert, Eötvös Károly Institute

From a legal point of view the referendum should not have taken place, as the question posed did not meet the conditions stipulated by the constitution and the law.   The referendum took place anyway along with the decisions of the National Election Committee, the Curia, and the Constitutional Court assisting it.  The fact that the question was equivocal means that changes to the law could not have followed from the referendum, let alone to the constitution, had it been valid.  Disregarding the fact that the referendum was invalid is completely absurd.  Furthemore, it was not at all clear from the question whether the referendum would result in a modification of the constitution.  The government was not interested in the opinion of the people with regard to previous constitutional amendments.  Moreover, today in Hungary changes to the constitution cannot be the subject of referendums.  It’s another question whether a referendum should be held about the constitution in a democracy.

I was very happy about the result Sunday evening because its invalidity showed that the hate campaign of the past year and a half failed to have the desired affect.  It is rather the boycott that should be regarded as the protest vote rather than those who did not vote for lack of interest.  And a remarkable number of votes cast were invalid.  With this the Hungarians voted for democracy and Europe, which is a positive development.

Csaba Tóth, political scientist, Director of the Republicon institute

The first and perhaps most important thing is that the result of the Sunday referendum was a huge failure for Fidesz.  In vain have they communicated it as a victory.  Participation was very low, and fell short of perhaps the most pessimistic of Fidesz expectations.

Another important lesson is that the boycott campaign worked despite being somewhat unorganized. It can clearly be seen from the data that the majority of left-wing voters stayed at home and did not participate in the referendum.

The third also very important lesson is the high ratio of invalid votes.  This is the first time so many have cast invalid votes in an election.  This shows that the campaign to invalidate ballots conducted by the Hungarian Two-tailed Dog Party and some civil organizations worked, much more than I would have expected, particularly as their task was especially difficult given that it is not easy to cast an invalid vote.  They had to get the voters to the voting booths and teach them how to cast an invalid vote, which is a completely new element:  for this reason the six percent was clearly a success.

Ágnes Heller, philosopher

I congratulate my people, from Italy, for managing to block the validity of the referendum after such a one-sided and entirely untruthful, threatening and misleading propaganda campaign in which opposing views could scarcely be found, and without much support from the weak opposition.  It is natural that Viktor Orbán should pronounce victory, as he will always claim victory no matter what.  Our fellow citizens defended the country’s honor in the eyes of Europe.

Péter Hack, deacon of the Faith Church

In reality, nobody won the referendum.  The way I would put it is that the result was a strong tie. However, there can be no doubt that in this undecided match there were self-goals.  It could clearly be seen that when the government adopts a new rule in response to a momentary situation, it can easily backfire.  On the basis of the old rules, the Sunday referendum would have been valid, so this is a warning for the government.

At the same time it also became clear to Fidesz that if they want to broaden its support, then there are areas where it has to change.  It would be worthwhile to consider resolving the matter of corruption in a reassuring manner, ensuring an independent justice system, just as there is much to be done in the fields of education and public health care.

Those opposition interpretations, however, are wrong which think that the 3.2 million “no” votes are not interesting.  The truth is that Fidesz took a huge step on Sunday towards winning the next election.  It turned out that it can get as many voters to polls as is necessary to obtain a two-thirds parliamentary majority in the next parliament. Furthermore, it could really test its own campaign apparatus.  At this moment Fidesz is far more prepared for an election then the entirety of the opposition.  The opposition parties need to consider that as well.  While true that they managed to obstruct something, they themselves did not profit from it.

Over the next two years we will see whether the refugee wave stops or starts again.  If it gets worse, then those who were unable to say what should be done about this will find themselves in an especially difficult situation.  The European politicians say that we need a joint answer to the problem, but in the meantime one and a half years have passed and there still isn’t a joint European answer.  If a larger wave of asylum seekers leave Africa, as many fear will happen, then this will be one of the basic questions in the next election.

Ádám Nádasz, linguist, writer

It is with relief that I experienced that, despite the government’s provocative campaign, the referendum was not valid.  The majority of the people did not go to the trouble to react to it.  Many, like myself, went but intentionally cast an invalid ballot.  With this we also expressed that the entire referendum and accompanying campaign is dishonorable and outrageous.  My first feeling was relief.  But as for what all of these invalid votes are good for, I do not know.  Probably nothing.

Kornélia Magyar, political scientist, director of the Hungarian Progressive Institution

Upon hearing the result my first thought was that the government had very badly positioned the referendum when two weeks before the election Viktor Orbán said that its validity would be decisive.  It is very rare when over 50 percent of the electorate votes.  It has only happened twice in previous referendums, which is why I do not understand why Fidesz raised the bar so high.  If the prime minister had previously only spoken about a “no” majority, then it would have been much easier for him to interpret Sunday’s referendum result as a success.  However, in doing so he gave the opposition the opportunity to present the invalidity of the referendum as the government’s failure and to use the low turnout to demand the prime minister’s resignation.

Perhaps the biggest lesson of the invalid referendum is that the government ran the campaign to the very peak, in which the public media also played an incredible role until the last moment, and it was only capable of moving its own voters and those of Jobbik, without Jobbik even campaigning, although the government’s objective appeared to be to move left-wing and liberal voters as well.  From this point of view it was clearly unsuccessful, but we cannot speak of a huge failure.  It once again turned out that Fidesz’ leading position is unquestionable, and that enough people stand behind the governing party with which to win the next election.  But that was not the main question of the referendum.

György Cspeli, sociologist

I expected it not to be valid as it is not possible to get so many people to vote in a referendum even with such an elementary passion as xenophobia.  The question is practically incomprehensible, and people are lazy.  These facts held people back, not political opposition.  Which is to say that it was rather the psychological facts that caused the invalidity.  With this the government ran into a trap from which it is trying to escape by proclaiming victory.  But that is not really what is at stake.  So what did it serve?  I cannot think of anything other than that it conditioned the population, both those who voted and those who did not, that Hungary has no place in the European Union.  It was an insinuating remark that we heard at the victorious press conference, according to which fewer people had voted to join the European Union than had voted “no” to the current question, because for them total isolation like that characteristic of Belarus is more acceptable than the EU where every point of view is bound.  In the minds of these people, they are ready to give up the not little money that the EU gives, although for sure at such time we do not get this money they will take the money and run by taking the country out of the EU, at which time they will create a total dictatorship for good.  The point is the conditioning, that we are also an Asia people, that we are not compatible with the EU, and that we should leave.  Just like the Brits.  They’ve got this crazy idea in their heads that we will be the Great Britain of East Europe.

Diana Szántó, Artemisszió Foundation

We gave our first opinion in August when we launched a series of blogs about all the things the referendum is about.  We felt that the question was not unequivocal, and that on this basis it was not possible to hold a referendum that actually reflected people’s opinions.  We continue to think this.
For 18 years our foundation has been working hard in order for various cultures and social groups to be peaceful, inclined to compromise, and to show solidarity.  The referendum showed the opposite of this to Hungarian society, and this had a terribly destructive effect, not only on the asylum seekers but on all of society, as what makes society society is its ability to integrate differences, and how well it can work organically given that it is not homogenous.  If you take this ability away, and the buzzword is hatred and exclusion, then these start to falter, and this clearly extends beyond the referendum.

We also said towards the end of the campaign that those who agreed with those very complicated claims based on the “no” answer should go and vote no, but if they have doubts they should cast an invalid ballot.  Anyway, we were not talking about an election question where the yes and no votes could be weighed by putting them on opposite scales.

For this reason the government can worthily claim that it triumphed.  We know, as do they, that those who turn out to vote do so because they want to express their agreement with the government.  In this way they are not pitted against “yes” voters, but against everything else, including those who stayed away and those who cast invalid votes.  In this sense both sides were victorious:  it was a close race, and we also hoped this referendum would be invalid.  It can be seen from the final result that Hungarian society strongly adopted the campaign’s discourse of hate, the effect of which will be felt for a long time.  On the other hand, it can also be seen that the majority of people did not want to be part of a badly outlined defined system,  which drives us to the margins of Euope and which is unequivocally about the rejection of solidarity.

Ferenc Hammer, ELTE Media and Comunication faculty director

In vain does the propaganda campaign claim otherwise, the referendum was unsuccessful.  That this was not successful for Fidesz is an important fact.  However, many do not consider it to be invalid because the question was incomprehensible, and even sly in that the “yes” and “no” votes did not mean the opposite of each other.

Obviously, the entire referendum was a springboard to the next election campaign.  It was a giant experimental mobilization from which it appeared how much spirit the government and the opposition have.  The Sunday referendum was important, but regardless of the fact that it was not valid, we are still living in the same country.  We would only be living in a different country if it had been valid.

Gergely Kovács, the Hungarian Two-tailed Dog Party chairman

We were very happy about the results as the 6.27 percent ratio of invalid votes was much higher than what we expected based on the preliminary data.  The almost 12 percent level reached in Budapest is also great news. This shows that there was a point to our campaign.  I am grateful to the many thousands of volunteers who helped our campaign.  Without them it would not have been a success.

It is very good that with this, practically without meaning to, we built a country-wide organization.  In this way we can begin to organize clubs on a country level which so far have only operated in Budapest.  Our goal is to gather the problems of the city and try to start something in the case of those that can be solved, and have a good laugh in the case of those that cannot.  We have already done funny, attention-getting things: guerilla gardening, we painted benches, we built roofs at bus stops and we have a lot of ideas still.  We weren’t able to realize many things because for the past month and a half all of our time was spent on the campaign.  On Monday I can finally get caught up on my sleep, so now we can start a kind of country tour and continue what we’ve been doing.  For me the important thing is not what percentage we reached in the election, but what worthwhile task can we give the many thousands of people who are gathered around us.  Putting up posters is not the most exciting thing in the world.  It is much better and more worthwhile to paint benches, and then the volunteers feel they did something useful.  We will return to this.  I do not really want to react to daily political matters, because I do not really see any point to it.

An Iranian refugee

The referendum was only about showing hatred.  If I turned on the television it was only about the migrants and about how to vote according to the government.  They did an awful lot to change people’s opinions.  I have lived in Hungary for nine years.  During this time I experienced that Hungarian society was very open and welcoming, at least until the current refugee crisis exploded.  They wanted to help, they were interested, and this made society more colorful.  However, when the crisis started, society started to panic.  The campaign perfectly helped this and the situation got worse and worse. The government should have reassured the people.  But instead they further fueled the flame of hatred.  The campaign could have focused on helping the refugees and encouraging civil activists and volunteers, on which they could have spent the money they spent on the campaign instead.

All of this could be the start of something: the separation of society into “yes” and “no.”  This is not a successful or desirable road for keeping a society alive.  In its path there will only be more conflicts in the future.  The campaign made this obvious.

If we look at the results of the referendum, I hope that it can be a sign, a message for the government, that next to those who voted “no” there are a lot of people who would retain the EU and accept EU rules.  It would be good if the government would hear this and abandon the division of society.  Because what kind of thing is that if you are rich, you can buy for yourself the right to come to Hungary and they give you a visa, but that we are afraid of some refugees and don’t want to accept them because they will change the country’s culture and destroy Christianity?  It is shameful what they are doing against these few people.