Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán vowed to take “revenge” against his political enemies after his victory in elections in April, and is now carrying it out. A new package of laws known as the “Stop Soros” bill (the Hungarian-born financier is the government’s favorite liberal boogeyman), was passed by Hungary’s parliament, with vicious irony, on World Refugee Day, and it effectively criminalizes organizations that work to help undocumented immigrants. As the New York Times summarizes, under the new law, “helping migrants legalize their status in Hungary by distributing information about the asylum process or providing them with financial assistance could result in a 12-month jail term.” The government also changed the constitution to make it illegal to “settle foreign populations” in Hungary, a response to EU efforts to resettle refugees throughout the bloc’s member states.
Hungary’s slide into authoritarianism under Orbán—or “illiberal democracy” as he calls it— has earned him criticism from abroad, but he’s had a fairly simpatico relationship with the current U.S. administration. Orbán was the first foreign leader to endorse Trump’s candidacy in 2016, and the two leaders spoke four days ago, discussing “the need for strong national borders,” just as the domestic backlash to Trump family-separation policy was growing. Steve Bannon has gone as far as to describe Orbán, who portrays himself as a defender of Western Christian civilization against Islam, as “Trump before Trump.”
And indeed, Orbán’s immigration and refugee policies have at times seemed to foreshadow Trump’s. Hungary completed a fence along its border with Croatia to block the entry of asylum seekers. A second fence along the border with Serbia was built last year. Orbán instituted his own version of a “zero tolerance” immigration policy last year, making irregular entry a criminal offense punishable by up to eight years in prison, instituting obstacles to legal asylum, and detaining asylum seekers in border camps while their claims are processed. Observers have noted jarring similarities between conditions in these camps and the facilities that have lately been publicized in the U.S. And all the while, Orbán has used the issue of immigration to attack his political opponents, accusing them of working with Soros to destroy the country’s cultural identity.
Given the parallels, the latest move from Orbán’s government is alarming, and not just for Hungarians.