Nobody in the Hungarian city of Miskolc of 160,000 inhabitants can say with certainty that they have ever seen a migrant or a refugee in the city. A few residents think they might have seen one or two people back in 2015 but cannot be sure. Others say their friends have seen migrants in the streets but admit they have not seen any themselves.
“I haven’t seen any migrants myself, but people who come into the shop have,” said a 47-year-old shop assistant who did not give her name. “I have a young daughter, so I’m pretty worried about it.”
Even when there were hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees passing through Hungary in 2015, few if any of them made it to Miskolc. The city has struggled to integrate its large Roma population, and tensions were inflamed when Orbán compared potential future migrants to the local Roma community. But the only real migration crisis in the city is that locals are trying to leave, either for Budapest or for other EU countries. It is estimated that over 20,000 residents have left over the past decade.
And yet, a fierce election campaign is underway in which there is one overriding issue being discussed ahead of the vote on 8 April. It is not the recent series of corruption scandals involving government officials and vast sums of money. Nor is it the depressing state of local healthcare or low wages. It is migration. Orbán’s critics say the endless migration rhetoric is merely a device to distract attention from the numerous corruption scandals in the prime minister’s circle.
If Miskolc is not to be a place of “ghettos and no-go zones”, said Orbán on a campaign visit to the city earlier this month, it is necessary to vote for his party. “There are two paths ahead for Hungary to choose from,” said Orbán. “We will either have a national government, in which case we will not become an immigrant country, or the people of George Soros form a government and Hungary will become an immigrant country.” Posters plastered across Hungary portray Soros as a grinning, evil puppet master, desperate to flood Hungary with refugees and destroy the country in cahoots with the opposition.
János Lázár, Orbán’s chief of staff, posted a video on Facebook earlier this month shot in Vienna, in which he accused Muslim migrants of ruining the city and said if Hungary also allowed them in, the consequences would be “crime, impoverishment, dirt, filth”. Tamás Deutsch, a Fidesz MEP and long-time associate of Orbán, made a similar video in the Molenbeek district of Brussels.
“Migration and the attitude towards migration is basically determining all other aspects of our lives,” said Zoltán Kovács, Orbán’s spokesman.
On Miskolc’s Avas housing estate, known as one of the worst in the country, locals complained of government corruption, economic hardship and expressed frustration at the state of healthcare. And yet migration kept coming up in conversations with local people as the decisive factor.
“Hungarians are bombarded by fabricated news about migration and shameless xenophobic propaganda on a daily basis,” said Kornel Klopstein, who has helped set up the Nyomtassteis movement, which prints its own newsletters containing information to counter the government propaganda. “Bringing objective news about migration to people can help them to make better decisions in the upcoming elections,” said Klopstein.