Seventy-five Years Later, Hungary Still Hasn’t Come to Terms with its Role in the Holocaust

Good long and disturbing read by Anna Porter:

On the 75th anniversary of the extermination of most of Hungary’s Jews—including the Auschwitz deportations, which began in May, 1944—we should also take note of the Hungarian government’s apparent determination to distort the country’s historical record. In some circles, this effort includes even the rehabilitation of Miklós Horthy, the longtime Hungarian Regent who governed Hungary during the Holocaust.

A former admiral and adjutant to the Habsburg Emperor-King, Horthy entered Budapest in dramatic style with his army on November 16, 1919, astride a white horse. His army defeated the ragtag Bolshevik forces that had imposed 133 days of “Red Terror” upon the country, but also inflicted its own “White Terror,” in some ways more brutal than its communist predecessor. Early during Horthy’s rule, Hungary enacted some of Europe’s first 20th-century anti-Jewish laws. Jews were capped at 6% of university admissions, and subsequent measures limited Jewish participation in elite professions to the same benchmark.

Jews also were prohibited from working in the public service and judiciary, or as high school teachers. During World War II, an additional law was passed prohibiting marriage or sex between Christians and Jews, on the grounds that such unions were harmful to the “national soul.”

Horthy arrives in Budapest, 1919

Even before Hungary actively rallied to the German war effort, most of Hungary’s young Jewish men had been dispatched to so-called labour battalions, serving unarmed near the front, where they were as likely to be killed by their commandants as by enemy fire. In 1941, the Hungarian army rounded up about 17,000 Jews who couldn’t prove they were citizens, and dumped them across the border into Ukraine, where they were systematically massacred by German death squads. By 1942, labour service had been extended to all Jewish men under the age of 45. All this happened while Horthy—an “exceptional statesman,” according to current Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán—ran the country.

Meanwhile, Hungary’s participation in the invasion of the USSR led to the extermination of the flower of Hungarian youth. At the 1942 battle of Voronezh and subsequent operations, the underequipped Hungarian 2nd Army was practically wiped out as it launched itself against Russian defences in support of the ultimately disastrous German thrust toward Stalingrad. By late 1944, Russian troops got to the outskirts of Budapest, which suffered through a 50-day siege before Axis forces surrendered on February 13, 1945. Almost 40,000 civilians died during this period, and much of the city was destroyed.

By this time, most of the country’s Jews already had been deported to concentration camps. In all, an estimated 565,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. Historical documents show that even some Germans were amazed by the speed and efficiency of the Hungarian government’s co-operation, and by the cruelty of its gendarmerie.

Horthy and Hitler, in 1938

Some of the few elderly Hungarian Jews who survived in the Budapest ghetto can still remember scenes of rats feasting on the unburied dead in Klauzal Square, and the trigger-happy young men guarding the gates. I have spoken to many survivors, including Max Eisen, a Canadian Holocaust educator, who was a young teenager when his family was rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. He still remembers the terror of being crammed into a boxcar, standing-room only, a hundred to a car, with no water, food or sunlight. To this day, Eisen has nightmares about his mother holding his nine-month-old sister during that three-day journey. Most of his family was murdered mere hours after arriving on the platform at Birkenau. His father’s last words to him were: “If you survive, you must tell the world what happened”—which is what Eisen did with his devastating 2016 book, By Chance Alone.

But Horthy, who survived the war and lived till 1957, had different memories to relate. In his Memoirs, he pompously declared of the mid-1930s that “though times had changed considerably since I had been aide-de-camp to His Majesty Emperor Francis Joseph, my concepts of honour, law and justice…had not altered.” Of meeting Hitler in 1936, he wrote: “It was not my task to stand in judgment upon the man who, since he had come to power, had shown nothing but goodwill towards Hungary, and who had sent me an extremely friendly telegram on the 15th anniversary of my entry into Budapest. I decided, therefore, to avail myself of an Austrian invitation to a chamois [goat-antelope] shoot in August, 1936, to seize the opportunity of paying a personal visit to Herr Hitler. The Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg had offered me the choice between three hunting preserves; I chose Hinterriss, which is famous for its chamois and to which Bavaria affords the only access.”

In concrete terms, the German “goodwill” consisted of allowing Hungary to reclaim parts of historical territories it had lost after throwing in with the losing side in World War I. Horthy’s primary concern was to restore Hungary’s former borders, even if that meant joining the Nazi war effort. As such, his strong nationalism has a certain appeal to modern populists such as Orbán.

In his Memoirs, Horthy uses terms such as “regrettable excesses” to describe massacres of Jews. He claims that he told Hitler, in early 1944, that “a violent solution [to Hungarian Jews] would be contrary to humanity and morals would not only undermine law and order but would have a deleterious effect on production.” He also claimed that in mid-1944—after he had been marginalized by the Germans, who by now were taking direct control of the country—that he did what he could to save the Jews who remained.

On October 15, 1944, Horthy announced over the radio that he had decided to sign a separate peace treaty with the Allies and withdraw Hungary from the conflict. He talked of the grave injustices inflicted by the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which had set the fate of Hungary following the First World War. He blamed everyone except himself for the tragedies that had unfolded. His one passing reference to the slaughter of his nation’s Jews was contained in this sentence: “In the shelter of German occupation, the Gestapo tackled the Jewish question in a manner incompatible with the demands of humanity, applying methods it had already employed elsewhere.” It was lost on no one that Horthy was changing sides in the war only after it had become obvious that the Nazis would lose.

Many Jewish survivors recall the forced marches to the Austrian border that began in November, 1944. There were women and children, grandmothers and toddlers. It took more than three days to cover the distance from Budapest. A woman named Aviva told me that those who could not move were shot, and the ditches were lined with bodies. There was no food or shelter. Young Hungarian men stood guard along the route. These were members of the Arrow Cross Party, the far-right Hungarian movement that would run the country from late 1944 to March, 1945.

Near the border, Aviva’s group was joined by a rag-tag group of labour-service men who had been force-marched from the Bor copper mines—more than 300 of them having already been killed. One of the survivors was the young Hungarian poet Mikos Radnoti. He was murdered near Gyor in Western Hungary. When his body was found in a mass grave, his pockets were filled with scraps of paper—his last poems.

Memorial at Liberty Square

Hungary does not deny the fate of its Jews. Indeed, 2014 was declared to be a year of official Holocaust remembrance. But a memorial commissioned by Viktor Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party and erected in Budapest’s Liberty Square has provoked controversy, and even outrage. It presents Hungary in the guise of a thin, languid Archangel Gabriel-like figure being seized upon by a nasty-looking German bronze eagle with outstretched wings and terrifying claws—a symbol plainly meant to suggest Hungary was an innocent party that had been preyed upon by an evil outside force. Historian Krisztian Ungvary has called it a “living horror,” and it has attracted regular protests. But the message is consistent with the larger agenda of Orbán, who wants to promote a new, whitewashed form of national history, according to which the suffering of the Jews was no more nor less brutal than that endured by the entire country under Nazi and then Soviet rule.

Not far from the monument, there is a bronze bust of Horthy at the entrance to a Hungarian Reformed church: At the 2013 unveiling ceremony, leading members of Orbán’s government were in attendance. But also nearby is a monument commemorating the orgy of killing by Hungarian cadres, even as German troops retreated from Budapest under Soviet bombardment in the last months of the war. This year, Hungary’s Jewish community was given permission to bury bones found in the river during the 2016 reconstruction of the Margaret Bridge across the Danube.

During this final spasm of senseless slaughter, thousands of Jews were marched to the Danube and shot, or just pushed into the icy waters to die. It’s important to remember that the killers weren’t German soldiers, but members of Hungary’s own Arrow Cross movement. During my research, I interviewed a survivor—a 4-year old-child at the time—who remembers being taken to the river with his mother. To this day, he thinks it was his childish voice that saved his family when he asked, “Mr. Arrow Cross, when can we go home?” he and his relatives were then ushered out of the line of fire, and he survived to tell the story.

“Shoes on the Danube” memorial

Orbán’s favorite historian, Maria Schmidt, is in charge of the museum known as House of Terror, at 60 Andrassy Boulevard in Budapest. It commemorates both the Nazi terror and the Communist terror, and includes material about Hungarian victims of the Holocaust. Five of the museum’s 17 rooms contain exhibits relating to this subject. But the same historian is also in charge of another, more controversial museum—the House of Fates, which originally had been set to open its doors five years ago. Its initial mandate had been to commemorate the Hungarian experience of the Holocaust. Israel’s Yad Vashem, Washington’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the distinguished Hungarian-American professor Randolph Braham (1922-2018) were invited to collaborate. But almost from the beginning, the government’s local appointees reportedly began to push for a new version of the narrative, one by which Hungarians were largely blameless victims of German and Soviet aggression. The whole project fell into limbo, seemingly hostage to opposing historical voices. A Yad Vashem official declared that, from what he’d seen, “visitors to the House of Fates are to be shown and taught that, except for a tiny, criminal and fanatic minority, the citizens of Hungary were essentially blameless for what was inflicted upon their Jewish neighbors.”

As someone who grew up under Hungary’s communist dictatorship, I have a complicated relationship with the past—as my memories of family and friends are intermingled with the fears of saying the wrong thing in a country where judges, schools, the judiciary and the education system were all controlled by the government. And I can see why the country itself also has a complicated relationship with the horrors that its citizens witnessed, endured—and inflicted. But the only way to start healing from these crimes is to acknowledge how they happened.

Source: Seventy-five Years Later, Hungary Still Hasn’t Come to Terms with its Role in the Holocaust

La droite européenne suspend le parti de Viktor Orbán

Overdue:

La droite européenne a décidé mercredi de suspendre le parti du dirigeant populiste hongrois Viktor Orbán de ses rangs, pour une durée indéterminée, à la suite de ses dérapages contre Bruxelles ou l’immigration, deux mois avant le renouvellement du Parlement de Strasbourg.

Le Parti populaire européen (PPE), qui réunit les formations de droite et du centre-droit de l’UE, comme la CDU de la chancelière allemande Angela Merkel ou les Républicains en France, a pris cette décision à une écrasante majorité (190 pour, 3 contre), lors d’une assemblée politique du parti à Bruxelles.

Concrètement, cette suspension signifie que le Fidesz n’aura — jusqu’à nouvel ordre — plus le droit de participer aux réunions du PPE, sera privé de ses droits de vote et ne pourra pas présenter de candidats à des postes, a précisé le président du PPE, le Français Joseph Daul, dans un tweet.

« La présidence du PPE et le Fidesz ont convenu d’un commun accord la suspension du Fidesz jusqu’à la publication d’un rapport par un comité d’évaluation [de ce parti] », selon le texte de compromis adopté.

Aucune durée de suspension n’est mentionnée dans le compromis. Selon l’eurodéputé français Franck Proust qui participait au vote, « une décision sera prise à la remise du rapport des experts, à l’automne ». Ce comité indépendant d’évaluation doit notamment être présidé par Herman Van Rompuy, ancien premier ministre belge et ancien président du Conseil européen.

Avant la réunion, la tension était montée d’un cran. Le gouvernement hongrois avait averti qu’en cas de suspension, le Fidesz « quitterait immédiatement le PPE ».

Mais un compromis a finalement été trouvé, avec la précision que cette suspension avait lieu « d’un commun accord », selon plusieurs sources.

Dans un entretien mercredi à la radio allemande Deutschlandfunk, le président de la Commission européenne Jean-Claude Juncker avait réclamé une fois de plus une exclusion du Fidesz.

« Sa place est hors du PPE », avait affirmé M. Juncker, membre de ce parti mais qui ne participait pas à cette réunion, affirmant que « depuis des années », le Fidesz « s’éloignait des valeurs démocrates-chrétiennes ».

Certains craignaient qu’exclure l’enfant terrible du PPE, une première dans l’histoire de cette formation, la plus importante du Parlement européen, n’ouvre la voie à une scission entre l’Est et l’Ouest du continent.

Risque d’une alliance avec Salvini

Ils s’inquiétaient également de le voir se jeter dans les bras du vice-premier ministre italien et ministre de l’Intérieur, Matteo Salvini, le chef de la Ligue, parti d’extrême droite.

Cela fait des mois que la droite conservatrice se divise sur le cas Orbán.

Mais, en lançant une campagne d’affichage le 19 février contre M. Juncker, le premier ministre national-conservateur hongrois avait dépassé les bornes pour ses détracteurs.

Sous le slogan : « Vous avez aussi le droit de savoir ce que Bruxelles prépare », ces affiches montraient Juncker, ricanant aux côtés du milliardaire américain juif d’origine hongroise, George Soros, et l’accusaient de soutenir l’immigration sur le Vieux continent.

Furieux, treize partis membres du PPE originaires de dix pays différents, réunis autour d’un noyau dur constitué par les pays du Benelux et de la Scandinavie, avaient réclamé début mars « l’exclusion ou la suspension » du Fidesz.

Le chef de file pour les élections européennes du PPE, Manfred Weber, avait également accentué la pression la semaine dernière à Budapest sur Viktor Orbán, devenu une source d’embarras croissant pour l’Allemand qui brigue la succession de M. Juncker.

Le Bavarois avait posé trois conditions pour le maintien du dialogue : l’arrêt de la campagne anti-Bruxelles, des excuses auprès des autres partis membres du PPE et le maintien à Budapest de l’Université d’Europe centrale (CEU) fondée en 1991 par Georges Soros.

Depuis, Viktor Orbán, 55 ans, avait fait retirer les affiches controversées. Il avait présenté ses excuses au PPE, même si elles avaient été jugées insuffisantes.

Mais concernant l’Université d’Europe centrale, sa bête noire, M. Orbán n’avait pas bougé. Cet établissement de droit américain, s’estimant chassé par le premier ministre nationaliste, va déménager l’essentiel de ses activités à Vienne

Source: La droite européenne suspend le parti de Viktor Orbán

Hungary gives tax breaks to boost population, stop immigration

Will be interesting to see if this tax incentive results in a significant shift or not, or is this just more “virtue signalling” to his populist base:

Hungary’s anti-immigration prime minister announced on Sunday that the government would offer financial aid and subsidies for families to boost the birth rate.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in his annual State of the Nation speech that the policy was “Hungary’s answer” to population decline, “not immigration.”

“There are fewer and fewer children born in Europe. For the West, the answer (to that challenge) is immigration. For every missing child there should be one coming in and then the numbers will be fine,” he said.

“But we do not need numbers. We need Hungarian children,” he added.

In 2016, Hungary’s birth rate was 1.45 births per women, below the 2.1 replacement rate.

Loans, subsidies, no income tax

The seven-point program includes a loan of 10 million Forint (€31,352/$35,540) to women under 40 who marry for the first time. A third of the loan would be waived after a second child and the entire sum waived after a third child.

Another plank of the program would absolve any woman who has four or more children from paying income tax for life.

The new measures would also provide housing subsidies to families depending on the number of children they have and state support for the purchase of any seven-seat vehicle.

Orban slams EU

Orban also took aim at the European Union ahead of European Parliament elections in May and his nemesis, Hungarian-born American billionaire George Soros.

Read more: EU Parliament votes to trigger Article 7 sanctions procedure against Hungary 

“Brussels is the stronghold of new internationalism, its tool is migration,” he said.

Source: Hungary gives tax breaks to boost population, stop immigration

Why Hungary’s state-sponsored schoolbooks have teachers worried

More discouraging news from Hungary:

Flick through a Hungarian history book for high school students, and you’re left in no doubt about the government’s view on migrants.

The section on “Multiculturalism” opens with a photo of refugees camped under a Budapest railway station. Flanking the image is a speech given by strongman Prime Minister Viktor Orban on the perils of migration: “We consider it a value that Hungary is a homogenous country,” he says.

The state-sanctioned textbooks are part of a government shakeup of Hungary’s education system that is causing deep unease among some teachers and publishers.

Critics say the textbooks are just one front in a government crusade to remake the education system — and the country — in its Christian, nationalist image. Orban has also scrapped academic programs that don’t fit with his conservative values, effectively forcing one of Hungary’s leading universities to move its courses abroad.

Education ‘straight from the state’

The shake-up comes amid weeks of street protests against Orban’s hardline policies, signaling cracks in his grip on the central eastern European nation.

Since Orban’s populist Fidesz Party swept into power in 2010, and most recently won a landslide victory again in April last year, it has been at the helm of a “major educational reform,” government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told CNN when it visited Hungary late last year.

Previously, local municipalities oversaw the country’s public schools. But in recent years the state has taken over responsibility — and that includes supplying textbooks, said Kovacs of the measure to tackle funding “insufficiencies.” He said that “finally, after almost 20 years of struggle of how to finance and run the education system, we have taken responsibility.” The government hoped to introduce a new curriculum by fall this year, Kovacs added.

School books are created in the state-run Education Research and Development Center (OFI) by various contributing experts, explained Ildiko Repárszky, a history teacher and author of some of the earlier versions.

These days, the books don’t bear the name of a single author on the cover. Instead, a board of editors reportedly handles the texts from contributors “completely freely, as raw material, reshaping them at will,” said Repárszky.

The reforms come as the country’s Central European University — founded by billionaire philanthropist and well-known Orban foe George Soros — announced last month it had been “forced out” of Hungary by a hostile government and was moving its US-accredited courses to the Austrian capital Vienna.

The internationally renowned university called it a “dark day” for Hungary and Europe — something the government dismissed as “nothing more than a Soros-style political bluff.”

But some educators in Hungary told CNN that Orban’s hardline policies were already having a deep impact on the nation’s children, long before they entered university.

‘This is just everyday politics’

In his small office in central Budapest, chairman of Hungary’s Association of History Teachers, Laszlo Miklosi, opens a history book for 14 and 15-year-olds covered in Post-it notes.

He turns to the page on multiculturalism and points to a speech Orban gave to the European Parliament in Strasbourg in May 2015 that laid out Hungary’s position on migrants.

In the speech, the Prime Minister said Hungarians considered it a value that their country was homogenous in terms of its “culture,” “traits” and “way of thinking.” “This is just everyday politics,” said Miklosi, adding “It doesn’t say anything about the actual reasons for existing problems of migration — instead it’s what the current prime minister thinks about it.”

Orban’s defiant relationship with the European Union also plays out in a cartoon showing Germany as a giant sow feeding piglets representing Greece, Spain, Belgium and Portugal. Standing apart from the rest and happily munching its own grass, is the Hungary piglet.

In the same geography book under the chapter on “Population Decline and Migration,” another cartoon shows a Hungarian boy and girl with the caption: “The number of those who think Hungary is the best place to live has significantly increased.”

The illustration includes statistics like “67% of young people can only imagine their future in this country.” And “every 4th young person lives in a marriage or a permanent relationship and 68% of those who don’t, would like to,” with no clear source for the findings.

The image “enlarges the patriotic feelings of young people in Hungary, their contentedness with their country, their willingness to get married and start a family — while also downplaying their willingness to move abroad,” said Repárszky, who is also part of the Association of History Teachers, which has around 400 members.

Government spokesman Kovacs dismissed the teachers’ concerns as a “political opinion,” adding that the government always welcomed “criticism, contribution, observations and comments” from “professional organizations.”

‘Migrant’ and ‘Soros’ are schoolyard taunts

Miklosi, who has reviewed school textbooks for more than 30 years, believes Orban’s anti-migrant rhetoric has filtered down to classrooms and playgrounds.

“‘Migrant’ has become a swear word for many people, including many children,” he said.

Should a teacher say the words “Jewish” or “gypsy” or “Slovak” they are often met with students “giggling and nudging each other” and the teacher has to “actively fight for space to discuss these categories in a neutral way,” Miklosi added.

It’s a view shared by English teacher Juli Karolyi, who said for some students the words “migrant” and “Soros” had become “swear words used in schoolyards and playground conflicts.”

But she added that children’s views were “mostly decided in the home” rather than in the pages of textbooks. “If the parents fall for the government propaganda, the kids will follow suit — especially the younger ones,” she said.

A few blocks from Miklosi’s inner-city office, 18-year-old student Akos Blaskovics has just finished a morning history class at his high school, Fazekas Mihály Gimnázium. The quietly-spoken teenager told CNN that he “hasn’t really seen a difference in the messages of textbooks in recent years.”

But he did think the government has tried to “make people focus on the question of migrants,” rather than “more important things like education, healthcare and social problems.”

Five textbook publishers, 123 trials

In a small village 30 minutes’ drive east of Budapest, publisher András Romankovics’ home office is packed with bookshelf after bookshelf of rainbow-colored spines arranged by decade.

The former teacher and his wife started publishing school textbooks in 1978, and he estimates around 10 million copies have been printed over the years.

Hungarian school textbook licenses must be renewed every five years. Romankovics is one of five independent textbook publishers who are suing the government after it rejected their requests to extend their licenses, which were due to expire at the end of 2018.

The court case relates to 123 books in total — meaning 123 separate trials for each book. Needless to say it’s a lengthy process, and since the trials began in September, around 20 books have been granted permission to extend their licenses, said Romankovics.

Meanwhile the licenses of state-sponsored textbooks were extended, he said.

Kovacs, the government spokesman, would not comment on why the government had rejected the independent textbook publishers’ license requests, saying only that it was an “ongoing case” and “going through a higher level of decision-making.”

But Romankovics, who is also chair of the National Textbook Association, which represents 20 publishers, warned that without a true diversity of books, children’s education would suffer.

‘There is a deeper problem here’

While independent publishers battle to keep their textbooks in schools, university professors are battling to keep their programs in Hungary.

Inside the grand, high-ceilinged offices of Budapest’s CEU, gender studies associate professor Eva Fodor is dismayed that the government has scrapped her program which has been running for over 20 years.

The university offers US- and Hungarian-accredited gender studies degrees — or at least it did, until the government struck gender studies from its list of accredited programs in October.

While the US-accredited program will continue in Vienna, the Hungarian-accredited degree no longer exists, affecting around 45 MA students enrolling each year, said Fodor. The only other Hungarian university to offer gender studies — Eötvös Loránd (ELTE) — was also forced to scrap its program.

“It’s a clear and unprecedented violation of academic freedom,” said Fodor, adding that it wasn’t just gender studies that didn’t fit with Orban’s world view.

“It indicates that there is a deeper problem here,” she said. Orban wants to create a strong ideology that people can hold on to, based on “national pride and his idea of very simple Christian values,” Fodor said. “And (he’s) eliminating everyone else who is not willing to subscribe to this ideology,” she added.

According to Kovacs, gender studies degrees were scrapped because of low enrollment, scarce job opportunities, and the government’s “philosophical approach.”

“We believe there are only two sexes — men and women,” he said. Kovacs added that students were still free to research gender issues from the perspective of other disciplines, such as philosophy or sociology. “But we don’t believe that gender is an independent discipline in itself.”

Students who see it otherwise had better look for classrooms outside Hungary.

Source: Why Hungary’s state-sponsored schoolbooks have teachers worried

Hungary backs $1.7 million to combat anti-Semitism in Europe

Hard to take seriously given their campaign against Soros and the overall xenophobic tenor of the government:

The Hungarian government says it will spend 1.5 million euros ($1.7 million) a year to support programs countering anti-Semitism in Europe.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said Thursday that funds have been earmarked for a Hungarian Jewish civic group — the Europe Action and Protection League. It will have an office in Brussels and operate a hotline to report anti-Semitic incidents.

Other activities of the group will include evaluating local justice systems within the EU, advising on unified legislation to effectively combat anti-Semitism and a comprehensive analysis of state curricula and educational materials used in EU states.

Hungary’s government has been criticized for campaigns against billionaire George Soros which were seen as having anti-Semitic overtones and for views which seemingly diminished Hungarians’ involvement in the Holocaust.

Hungarian PM Accused George Soros of Fueling Anti-Semitism, MTI Reports – Bloomberg

Might be time for former PM Harper to reconsider his congratulatory message in his capacity as head of the International Democrat Union (IDU):

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban accused George Soros, the Jewish billionaire philanthropist who survived Nazi persecution, of fomenting anti-Semitism by helping immigrants come to Europe, MTI state news service reported.

Soros and his Open Society Foundations, which funds dozens of NGOs in Hungary, “bear responsibility for the increase in anti-Semitism in Europe,” Orban said in a letter to Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, MTI reported Friday. Soros, 87, who eventually emigrated to the U.S. after World War II, said last year that Orban used Nazi-era propaganda methods to try to discredit him in a national billboard campaign.

Orban has built a border fence to keep immigrants out in a vow to protect Hungary from people he’s called “Muslim invaders.” In the letter, he said immigrants to Europe included those whose “political and religious views markedly increased the sense of insecurity in Jewish communities.”

Orban won a fourth term as prime minister last month and has become a ringleader for anti-immigrant populist forces in Europe. Open Society Foundations said this week that it was moving its staff from Budapest to Berlin, citing a government crackdown on NGOs.

via Hungarian PM Accused George Soros of Fueling Anti-Semitism, MTI Reports – Bloomberg

International stories that caught my attention

One of the advantages of having a break from blogging (not tweeting) is that one can gather the various news items and commentary together to have a more complete picture. Here is what caught my eye over the past few weeks.

UK

An interesting looking back at Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech, how elements remain today (An Anti-Immigration Speech Divided Britain 50 Years Ago. It Still Echoes Today) and how these perhaps help explain the inexplicable treatment of long-term immigrants and others as exemplified by Windrush immigrants (post World War II immigrants from former British Caribbean colonies).

There was considerable and justifiable on the callousness of UK immigration and citizenship policies, including both news articles and commentary, highlighting some of what I would consider ethical lapses in developing and implementing policy (British Citizen One Day, Illegal Immigrant the Next, UK removed legal protection for Windrush immigrants in 2014, Immigration scandal expected to spread beyond Windrush group,  Woman told she is not British by the Home Office despite living in UK all her life), ‘Not British enough’: ex-high commissioner’s baby denied UK passport in 2011Damian Green ‘dismissed Windrush citizenship pleas’.

Nesrine Malek’s It’s not just Windrush. Theresa May has created hostility to all immigrants makes perhaps the harshest critique:

If you are angry about the treatment of the Windrush generation it is important to understand that this anger cannot be selective, if there are to be no more violations. There is no cross-party, cross-media support for a different type of immigration policy victim than the Windrush scandal has managed to muster. Not for those who are illegally detained, those on hunger strike in protest against poor conditions. Not for those whose illnesses were treated as lies and to which they later succumbed. Not for the sexually exploitedand not for the children separated from their parents. Not even for those British subjects separated from their families by unreasonably high income visa requirements.

During my own long battle with the Home Office to secure residency, I spent many hours in Croydon. I went on one occasion to withdraw my passport, which had languished unprocessed for months, to travel to see my sick mother. Driven wild with fear that I would not be able to see her if the unthinkable happened, I was ready to risk not being allowed back in the country. The waiting room was a holding pen of quiet individual tragedies, full of people whose personal and professional lives had been thrown into turmoil by loss of documents, technical glitches and glacial incompetence. The cruelty we all experienced was not a bug, it was a feature.

The scandal of the Windrush generation is the kind of thing that happens when this rot sets in so deep that the infrastructure of a civilised society begins to fall apart. The rise in the number of the persecuted is analogous to the doubling in deaths of homeless people. There is only so much austerity an economy can take before the human toll rises. And there is only so much ideological fixation on “sending people home” before we are deporting grandmothers who arrived in this country when they were children.

And make no mistake, it is ideological. The Conservative party has been consistent in its aggressive immigration policy since 2010, when David Cameron decided that a tough stance on immigration was a flagship party offering to its base supporters. No ifs, no buts, he said. Detention, deportation and NHS treatment refusal is the culmination of the party’s most lucid positions. It is not incompetence, it is not even malice. It is an enthusiastic strategy that over the past decade has become a cornerstone, a defining element of Conservative governments. An immigration policy, very much like austerity, unafraid to be brutal if the deserving, whether they are the “indigenous population” of the country or hardworking taxpayers, are to be protected from those who are after a “free ride”.

There has been no bureaucratic snafu. The only miscalculation was that everyone got a little bit cocky, and who can blame them. The error was that the dragnet picked up some people who fall into a popular sympathy sweet spot. The elderly ones who came here from the Commonwealth to rebuild Britain and who even the Daily Mail can look kindly upon. They appeal to a patrician nostalgia and have a humanising narrative that others who come to this country in different circumstances do not enjoy. An apology and exceptions made for Windrush cases alone is not enough. If we are to be content with only this, then the government’s furtive shimmy away from the crime scene will be successful, and the Home Office’s daily violations of human rights will continue. If we are to prevent the assaults against those we can relate to, we must also be angry for those we cannot.

The UK government was forced to reverse its policy given the public backlash.

And a few articles on UK perceptions of multiculturalism: Multiculturalism has failed, believe substantial minority of Britons‘Multiculturalism is defunct’: British Government signals U-turn on 70 years of social policy – Dr. Jenny Taylor.

US

Yet another article on the effect of Trump administration policies on the tech sector (Silicon Valley is fighting a brain-drain war with Trump that it may lose) but with one study suggesting the Valley is not as dependent on immigration as may appear (Shocker: San Francisco Tech Companies Not So Reliant On Immigrants):

A surprising survey by Envoy Global suggests that while San Francisco is not giving up on the H-1B, companies there need it less than they have professed to need it.  Call it an adjustment to the immigration policies of the new President. But despite a historical reliance on highly skilled foreign-born talent, most San Francisco employers say they do not consider sourcing foreign national workers as a top talent acquisition priority.

The San Francisco Insights on Immigration Report, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Envoy, aggregated the responses of 171 San Francisco-based HR professionals and hiring managers regarding global hiring practices. Key takeaways from the survey showed that local companies view hiring foreign talent is still very much a business norm, but today only 8% of San Francisco tech companies say they proactively seek out foreign employees compared with 24% of tech companies in other tech hubs who say they are looking abroad for talent. Some 54% of San Francisco tech companies said sourcing foreign national employees is not very important to their company’s talent acquisition strategy at the moment.

The de-emphasis on immigrant workers this year is the fact that the H-1B application process has become more cumbersome under Trump.  Trump has promised to make it harder for tech firms to hire foreign workers, though the companies all still insist they need them.

In response to changes in immigration regulations, 33% of San Francisco employers say they are hiring fewer foreign nationals compared to 26% of employers nationwide.

A further tightening of citizenship rules for children born abroad and out of wedlock to US parents USCIS tightens rules on US citizenship for children born outside America is being implemented.

Australia

A series of articles based upon the Australian race commissioner’s report on the appalling lack of diversity among Australian leadership (In a Proudly Diverse Australia, White People Still Run Almost Everything‘Dismal’ diversity among Australian business and civic leadersWhy we should look at targets to get more non-Europeans into top jobs: Tim Soutphommasane):

Based on the 2016 Census data on ancestry, we estimate about 58 per cent of Australians have an Anglo-Celtic background, 18 per cent have a European background, 21 per cent have a non-European background, and 3 per cent have an Indigenous background.

However, our examination of almost 2500 senior leaders in business, politics, government and higher education shows only very limited cultural diversity. Almost 95 per cent of senior leaders at the chief executive or “c-suite” levels have an Anglo-Celtic or European background. Of the 372 chief executives and equivalents we identified, 97 per cent have an Anglo-Celtic or European background.

Here’s a breakdown. Within the ASX 200 companies, there appears only to be eight chief executives who have a non-European background – enough to squeeze into a Tarago. Of the 30 members of the federal ministry, there is no one who has a non-European background, and one who has an Indigenous background. It is similarly bleak within the public service, where 99 per cent of the heads of federal and state government departments have an Anglo-Celtic or European background (that’s one of 103). Universities don’t fare much better: just one of the 39 vice-chancellors of Australian universities has a non-European background.

All up there are 11 of the 372 chief executives and equivalents who have a non-European or Indigenous background. A mere cricket team’s worth of diversity.

These are dismal statistics for a society that prides itself on its multiculturalism. They challenge our egalitarian self-image. And they challenge our future prosperity as a nation. If we aren’t making the most of our multicultural talents, we may be squandering opportunities.

I often hear from people that it will only be a matter of time before cultural diversity is better represented. We should be encouraged, for example, that there doesn’t appear to be any lack of European backgrounds among senior leaders. Just as it took time before we saw Australian chief executives from Italian or Greek backgrounds, we may have to wait a little longer before we see more from Asian, Middle-Eastern, or African backgrounds.

Time alone may not resolve the problem. Economists at the University of Sydney, in a recent study involving resumes, found those with an Anglo name are three times more likely to be invited for interview, compared to candidates with a Chinese name. (The study also found that those with Chinese names who had an Anglicised first name doubled their chances of receiving a job interview.)

If we are serious about shifting numbers, it may be necessary to consider targets for cultural diversity – if not quotas. Such measures don’t stand in opposition to a principle of merit. After all, meritocracy presumes a level playing field. Yet do we seriously believe that a perfectly level playing field exists, when there is such dramatic under-representation of cultural diversity within leadership positions?

Multiculturalism can be as superficial as food and festivals. But if we’re serious about our diversity, we must be prepared to hold up a mirror to ourselves – and ask if what we see looks right for an egalitarian and multicultural Australia.

Hungary

Lastly, relevant and disturbing commentary on the recent Hungarian election and the country’s descent into autocracy (Hungary Is Winning Its War on Muslim Immigrants: Leonid BershidskyA Democracy Disappears: Andrew Sullivan), with Sullivan noting the parallels with the US under Trump:

The recipe is a familiar one by now. In a society where social mores, especially in the big cities, appear to be changing very fast, there is a classic reaction. More traditional voters in the heartland begin to feel left behind, and their long-held values spurned. At the same time, a wave of unlawful migrants, fleeing terror and deprivation, appear to threaten the demographic and cultural balance still further, and seem to be encouraged by international post-national entities such as the European Union. A leftist ruling party in disarray gives a right-wing demagogue an opening, and he seizes it. And so in 2010, Orbán was able to exploit a political crisis triggered by an imploding and scandal-ridden Socialist government, and, alongside coalition partners, win a supermajority for the right in parliament.

Once in power, that supermajority allowed Orbán to amend the constitution in 2011, reducing the number of seats in the parliament from 386 to 199, gerrymandering them brutally to shore up his party’s standing in future elections, barring gay marriage in perpetuity, and mandating that in election campaigns, state media would take precedence over independent sources. He also forced a wave of early retirements in the judiciary in order to pack the courts with loyalists.

As Mounk notes, Orbán also tapped into deep grievances rooted in Hungary’s loss of territory in the 20th century, by giving the vote to ethnic Hungarians in neighboring Romania and removing it from more culturally progressive expats. But it was in response to the migration crisis in 2015, that Orbán truly galvanized public opinion behind him. Hungary, as Paul Lendvai noted in The Atlantic, had been deluged with asylum claims: 174,000 in 2015 alone, the highest per capita in the EU. Orbán responded by spreading fears of an influx of terrorists and criminals, of a poisoning of Hungarian culture, and expressing visceral nationalist hostility to the diktats of the European Union. Added to all that, of course, was a generous salting of classic central European anti-Semitism. Voters especially in rural areas flocked to him.

He further shifted the public discourse by creating and advancing new media outlets that amplified his propaganda, while attacking, harassing, and undermining all the others. He erected a huge fence to keep Muslim immigrants out, and refused to accept any of the 50,000 refugees the EU wanted to settle in his country. His political allies began to get very rich, as crony capitalism spread. By last year, Orbán had turned George Soros into a version of 1984’s Emmanuel Goldstein — an “enemy of the state” — with billboards and endless speeches, demonizing the Jewish billionaire and philanthropist, and vowing to protect the nation from external, malignant forces.

It was a potent formula, especially when backed up by the rigging of the parliamentary seats. Last week, in a surge of voter turnout, Orban won almost 50 percent of the vote, but two-thirds of the seats, giving him another supermajority (this time without coalition partners) in parliament, with further chances to amend the constitution in his favor. His voters in the heartland swamped a majority for the opposition in Budapest. One of two remaining opposition newspapers, Magyar Nemzet, shut down on Wednesday after 80 years in print. Orbán had withdrawn all government advertising in it. Some wonder whether there will ever be a free election again.

If you find many of these themes familiar, you’ve been paying attention. In the middle of a reaction against massive social change and a wave of illegal immigration, a right-wing party decides to huff some populism. A charismatic figure emerges, defined by hostility to immigration, becomes an iconic figure, and even though he doesn’t win a majority of votes, comes to office. His party is further shored up by gerrymandering, giving it a structural advantage in gaining and keeping power, including a seven percentage-point head start in the House of Representatives. That party does what it can to further suppress the vote of its opponents, especially ethnic minorities, and focuses on packing the courts, even rupturing long-standing precedents to deny a president of the opposing party his right to fill a vacant Supreme Court seat.

Openly propagandist media companies emerge, fake news surges, while the president uses the powers of his office to attack, delegitimize, and discredit other media sources, even to the point of threatening a company like Amazon. A mighty wall is proposed against immigrants on the border, alongside fears of a mass “invasion” from the South. Social conservatives are embraced tightly. The census is altered to ensure one party’s advantage in future district-drawing. Courts are disparaged and the justice system derided as rigged by political opponents.

The difference, of course, is that Orbán is an experienced politician, and knows exactly what he’s doing. Trump is a fool, an incompetent, and incapable of forming any kind of strategy, or sticking to one. The forces arrayed against the populist right, moreover, are much stronger in the U.S. than in Hungary; our institutions more robust; our culture much more diverse. Our democracy is far, far older.

And yet almost every single trend in Hungary is apparent here as well. The party of the left has deep divisions, and no unifying leader, while the ruling party is a loyalist leader-cult. The president’s party is a machine that refuses to share power, and seeks total control of all branches of government. It is propelled by powerful currents of reaction, seems indifferent to constitutional norms, and dedicated to incendiary but extremely potent populist rhetoric. The president’s supporters now support a purge in the Department of Justice and the FBI, to protect the president from being investigated.

The president himself has repeatedly demonstrated contempt for liberal norms; and despite a chaotic first year and a half, is still supported by a solid and slightly growing 42 percent of the public. Meanwhile, the immigration issue continues to press down, the culture wars are intensifying again, and the broad reasons for Trump’s election in the first place remain in place: soaring social and economic inequality, cultural insecurity, intensifying globalization, and a racially fraught period when white Americans will, for the first time, not form a majority of citizens.

History is not over; and real, profound political choices are here again. My hope is that the descent into illiberalism across the West might shake up the rest of us in defending core liberal democratic principles, wherever they are threatened, bringing us to the ballot box in huge numbers this fall, and abandoning the complacency so many have lapsed into.

Geddes tries to explain former PM Harper’s congratulations to Orban (Why Stephen Harper congratulating Viktor Orbán matters: John Geddes):

Tone matters. If this were only a pro forma note, Harper is more than capable, as anyone who followed him in Canadian politics can attest, of draining any message of liveliness or affect. And, by his own stated standard, he would have had grounds for keeping any hint of enthusiasm out of this one. After all, Harper has said that his aim as IDU chair is partly “ensuring that we address the concerns of frustrated conservatives and that they do not drift to extreme options.”

If we’re talking extreme options, Orban looks like a prime example these days. Numerous credible critics charge that he has coopted Hungary’s courts and schools, skewed its electoral system to his advantage, all while voicing admiration for Turkey and China, and criticizing Western European tolerance for Muslim immigration. Still, political science professor Achim Hurrelmann, director of Carleton University’s Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, says Orban’s core message—beyond his destructive domestic tactics—is being heard by conservatives outside Hungary. “[Fidesz] has primarily been anti-migration, emphasizing the Christian roots of Europe, and being very much against diversity,” Hurrelmann told me in an interview. “In that position, they find common ground with some other mainstream conservative parties.”

I can’t guess if Harper’s calculation in issuing that tweet took into account an awareness that Orban, dangerous as he may be, isn’t irrelevant beyond Hungary. Whatever Harper’s reasoning, he has undoubtedly damaged his reputation among many who view Orban with justifiable distaste and alarm. I’m reminded again of the steep learning curve Harper had to climb after barely travelling outside Canada, and concentrating almost entirely on domestic issues, rather than foreign policy, before his 2006 election win. “Since coming to office,” he told Maclean’s in 2011, “the thing that’s probably struck me the most in terms of my previous expectations—I don’t even know what my expectations were—is not just how important foreign affairs/foreign relations is, but, in fact, that it’s become almost everything.”

It’s worth noting that Andrew Scheer seems to be on his own version of that learning curve now. In this recent interview with my colleague Paul Wells, the Conservative leader surprised me by going on at some length about his reasons for supporting Brexit. Scheer spoke about how staying in the EU impinged on British sovereignty and embroiled Britain in the Brussels bureaucracy. He scoffed at “this notion that somehow they would lose access to the European market.” He repeated the debunked canard that EU rules required a certain curvature on bananas.

To my ear, all this pro-Brexit blather was by far the least convincing part of Scheer’s performance in that interesting conversation. Conservatism’s most treacherous currents are global, especially in the age of Donald Trump. In Harper’s congratulatory message to Orban, and Scheer’s laudatory position on Brexit, the difficulty finding a solidly respectable place to stand in that international discourse becomes glaringly obvious. These issues might not seem central to Canadian voters in any federal election, but, as Harper reminded us, they soon are to whoever wins one.

 

The Far-Right Arms Dealer Playing on Germany’s Migrant Fears

Interesting account of the dynamics between the xenophobic Hungarian government and the limits to its support of the far right:

The mechanic who ordered a gun from a website called Migrantenschreck (‘migrant deterrent’) told the German reporter who came to his home in the outskirts of Berlin that he did not intend to “kill” anyone. But still, he insisted: “The problem is (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel. Something needs to change here or there will be civil war.“

The founder of Migrantenschreck, Mario Rönsch—a German banker with a bald spot who describes himself as a “full-time activist”— was arrested in his fancy apartment in Budapest last Wednesday for illegally selling guns on the site. He advertised the arms as defense weapons against “Merkel’s raping invaders“ and “unwashed and impudent antifascists.“

The 34-year-old is accused of using the Internet and lax Hungarian gun-control laws to illegally export permit-requiring guns, along with rubber bullets that can kill from a short distance, back home to Germany.

Rönsch, who used to hang out at esoteric peace rallies in Berlin before he was radicalized, fled from his hometown in eastern Germany to Budapest in 2016. Back then he was already suspected of operating Anonymous.Kollektiv and Anonymousnews.ru— propaganda blogs that published various conspiracies to fuel hate against refugees and left-wing politicians. These sites got more readers than certain popular German news sites.

Rönsch’s sudden arrest comes a week before what some are calling the “last somewhat free and fair elections” in Hungary, which its strongman leader Viktor Orban looks set to win—not least because he has used his past eight years in power to rig the electoral system, the constitution and the judiciary in his favor.

For the international far right, Orban, who talks about protecting “Christian Europe” from “Muslim invaders,” is a hero. And yes, Milo Yiannopoulos has already been invited to attend a conference about the future of Europe in Budapest, which is organized and funded by Hungary’s foreign ministry.

But Orban’s government does not roll out the red carpet for every white nationalist who is ready to come and express support for, as one alt-right publisher put it last year, “the strong nationalist feelings.”

In fact, Cas Mudde, a Dutch scholar on the European far right at the University of Georgia, says that “former mainstream” parties like Orban’s Fidesz Party (which is still a member of the European People’s Party, an association of Christian Democratic and center-right parties in the EU) that co-opt the radical right’s agenda, “are usually extra repressive towards the ‘real’ far right. This serves to prove they are not really radically right themselves.“

Last year, 81-year-old and wheelchair-bound Horst Mahler, a German right-wing extremist and former Marxist urban guerilla (he got inspired to switch sides after reading Hegel in prison) tried to ask Orban for political asylum. He wrote the Hungarian prime minister a note in which he promised to “put my destiny in the hands of (Orban’s) regime.”

But when the old man then skipped a court date in Berlin and arrived in a city at the western Hungarian border to try his luck, police officers greeted Mahler with handcuffs and sent him back to Germany, where he was given a 10-year prison sentence for denying the Holocaust.

For his part, Rönsch did not write a personalized letter to Orban asking for political asylum before he settled down in the capital to allegedly traffic 193 guns to customers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland (buyers included a doctor and a single mom who kept her gun by the bedside table because she had read online that “they assault women and grope them.“)

But Rönsch still appears to have had political contacts: the radical right-wing Jobbik Party—Orban’s main electoral competitor—invited him to view the Hungarian Parliament last year. A photograph taken on the balcony shows Rönsch standing and smiling with two Jobbik party members.

In recent years, the Jobbik Party has become more moderate by focusing its wrath on the “corrupt tyrant” Orban rather than on Hungary’s Jewish and Roma communities. If the party joins forces with the other opposition parties this week, then there is a chance that the prime minister will be unseated. But the radical party’s neo-fascist past remains the same (and right-wing extremists are still sitting in its ranks). Even though Fidesz tries to outflank Jobbik on the right, Mudde points out that the Fidesz Party can “weaken Jobbik” by “linking them to crime, extremism and violence.”

Since Rönsch’s arrest, Magyar Idok, a pro-government daily, has run the group picture with Rönsch on the balcony multiple times, while Index.hu, which is considered to be one of Hungary’s few trustworthy news sites but belongs to Orban’s Jobbik-supporting enemy Lagos Simicska, has remained silent on the case. One Fidesz politician called on Jobbik’s leader Gabor Vona to explain his contact with the German weapons dealer and accusing him of having relations with “Islamist and other extremist organizations.” (Vona denied that he had any contact to Rönsch.)

Ferenc Almassy (a pseudonym) is a national conservative French blogger who moved to Budapest when he was young. The 30-year-old used to be the Jobbik Party’s “advisor for French-speaking countries.” Now, Almassy says he no longer wants to work with a party that he sees as “corrupted“, because they “converted to liberalism“ and are doing things like promising to combat official corruption “only to get into power.”

A few years ago, Almassy appeared on Echo TV, a national television channel that belongs to Orban’s childhood friend, where the anchor cheekily asked him: “Where has the shine of France gone?” Almassy grinned and replied: “The France that I love doesn’t exist anymore. The ethnic proportions are changing so fast.”

Still, Almassy is skeptical of the other ultranationalist “expats” in Budapest. He says that most of the “other guys who came here, thinking it was a ‘white race safe space’ or whatever,” have already left again. He believes the reason is that “these men understood that being white and ‘right-wing’ was not enough to be warmly welcomed.”

The notorious Swede Daniel Friberg, who arrived in 2014 with a criminal record that includes weapons offenses and a dream to run his alt-right publishing company from the most expensive living quarter in the Budapest, has moved back to Stockholm, for example.

Meanwhile, Mario Rönsch is waiting to be extradited to Germany. The latest headline on Anonymousnews.ru reads “Civil Courage against Left-Wing Extremism: Brave Citizen Beats Jutta Ditfurth with Spirit.” The post celebrated the current real-life allegations that a young man ambushed a well-known leftist politician on the train with a metal pole last week. After four years of online terror, it looks to be his last post for now.

via The Far-Right Arms Dealer Playing on Germany’s Migrant Fears

Hungary′s Orban threatens pro-refugee NGOs, slams Muslim immigration | News | DW | 19.02.2018

Keeps getting worse:

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban amped up his anti-migrant rhetoric on Sunday as he geared up for national elections on April 8. To that end, Orban’s party has proposed new legislation that would penalize NGOs that assist refugees.

“If they do not stop their dangerous activities, we will simply expel them from the land, no matter how powerful or rich they may be,” he said during his annual State of the Nation address.

The new law would levy a 25 percent tax on all foreign funding for asylum seeker aid organizations, and bar their workers from entering settlement camps near the country’s borders.

Although the prime minister’s Fidesz party does not currently have the two-thirds majority in parliament needed to pass the bill, it will likely make significant gains in April’s vote.

Orban also used his yearly address to suggest that the increase of Muslims in Europe is a harbinger of the fall of Western civilization.

“Dark clouds are gathering over Europe because of immigration,” said Orban, who is hoping to be elected to a third term in April.

“Nations will cease to exist, the West will fall, while Europe won’t even realize that it has been invaded,” he ominously declared. “Christianity is Europe’s last hope.”

Since Europe’s refugee crisis began in 2015, Orban has emerged as one of the most high-profile nationalist voices in the European Union. During the height of the crisis, Hungary enacted some of the most draconian responses to the influx of people fleeing war and famine, such as constructing a razor-wire fence along the border with Serbia.

Orban’s time in office has also coincided with a clampdown on foreign influence in the country. Last spring, a bill was introduced to parliament that could potentially shut-down foreign-funded universities such as Budapest’s Central European University (CEU). Written under the auspices of putting Hungarian universities on a level playing field, many see the legislation as unfairly targeting CEU because it is largely financed by Orban critic George Soros.

via Hungary′s Orban threatens pro-refugee NGOs, slams Muslim immigration | News | DW | 19.02.2018

Hungary Citizenship Plan Reaches 1 Million Mark in Orban Boost – Bloomberg

Electoral strategy:

Hungary’s program to extend citizenship to ethnic kin who are nationals of other countries reached the 1 million mark, boosting Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s already strong chances for re-election next year.

The millionth citizenship under the program, one of the first laws approved by parliament after Orban returned to power in 2010, was awarded to a 36-year-old ethnic Hungarian farmer in Serbia, President Janos Ader said at a ceremony in Budapest over the weekend that Orban also attended.

Ethnic Hungarians living abroad, most of them in areas of neighboring countries that were cut off from Hungary after World War I, overwhelmingly backed Orban in the 2014 parliamentary elections, when more than 95 percent of almost 130,000 of those votes were for the premier’s Fidesz party. Fidesz has a wide lead in all opinion polls over a fragmented opposition ahead of elections next year, where Orban is looking to further consolidate the first “illiberal state” in the European Union, modeled on Russia and Turkey. Orban has said he expects elections to take place in April.

Unlike hundreds of thousands of Hungarians who’ve moved West, ethnic kin living abroad who’ve received citizenship can cast ballots by mail, a recurring criticism for opposition parties who say the rule is discriminatory. At the same time, ethnic kin living abroad get only one vote — for party list — versus two votes for others who also get to pick the candidate for their electoral district to represent them in parliament.

In 2014, 8.2 million Hungarians were eligible to vote, including almost 194,000 ethnic Hungarians living abroad, according to the website of the National Election Office.

via Hungary Citizenship Plan Reaches 1 Million Mark in Orban Boost – Bloomberg