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Viktor Orban claims victory after a campaign marked by nationalism and xenophobia

The Hungarian prime minister won a third consecutive term by tapping into populist sentiment and attacking George Soros

    Viktor Orban addresses supporters after partial results were announced on Sunday
    Viktor Orban addresses supporters after partial results were announced on Sunday (Photo: Getty Images)

    “We will either have a national government, in which case we will not become an immigrant country,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told voters at a rally in Miskolc in March, “or the people of George Soros form a government and Hungary will become an immigrant country.” 

    Thus was the tone of Hungary’s election, in which Mr Orbán’s Fidesz party won 48.5 per cent of the vote and two-thirds of the seats in parliament, smashing a disunited opposition. 

    It put the Budapest-born philanthropist Mr Soros as the phantom Jew at the centre of a nationalistic campaign that was thinly veiled in its antisemitism. 

    Mr Orbán won focusing on the dangers posed by migration, attacking opposition parties, Mr Soros and the European Union — all while casting himself as the last defender of European Christendom. 

    “We think that the last hope for Europe is Christianity,” he said in his State of the Union address in February. “We have prevented the Muslim world from inundating us from the south.” 

    At a rally in Budapest the following month, he proclaimed: “We sent home the Sultan with his army, the Habsburg kaiser with his raiders, and the Soviets with their comrades. 

    “Now we will send home Uncle George.” 

    It was in July 2017 that the Orbán government launched a poster campaign with a slogan emblazoned next to George Soros’ smiling face. 

    “Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh,” it read. 

    Then came a bill in February to give the interior ministry the power to ban NGOs that support migration and pose a “national security risk”. 

    And in the days and weeks before the vote, posters portraying opposition leaders as Soros allies and puppets could be found littered across Budapest. 

    Hungarian Jewish communal leaders warned the government against the anti-Soros campaign. András Heisler, of Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary, called it a “bad dream”. 

    For political opponents and ethnic and religious minorities in Hungary —including Jews — Mr Orbán’s re-election poses two clear dangers. 

    Voters in Hungary’s election on Thursday
    Voters in Hungary’s election on Thursday (Photo: Getty Images)

    In his self-styled “illiberal democracy”, his family and those close to him have increased influence over the economy and press while the space shrinks for civil society and NGOs. This threatens the very conditions that make it possible for minorities to live in Hungary. 

    It was democratic institutions that made possible the Jewish revival in central and Eastern Europe after the fall of communism. They protect the rights of minorities and the ability of Israeli and American NGOs to operate freely. 

    Soros’ Open Society Foundations are deeply involved, for example, in aiding marginalised Roma communities in Hungary, who lack political representation and are victims of substandard housing and education policies. 

    But propelled by ultra-nationalistic and xenophobic rhetoric, Mr Orbán has tapped into populist sentiment in Hungary that cannot easily be rebottled.  

    His words are girded by populist economic policies: pension increases, utility bill cuts, minimum wage rises. Before the vote, pensioners received €32 (£28) in gift vouchers in the post.

    It’s a combination that allows Orban to keep winning elections.

    Orbánism is here to stay. 

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