Using the immigration crisis as a pretext, Hungary’s ruling party has passed a series of “emergency” laws that trample on several basic liberal values—and, probably not coincidentally, may not affect only immigrants. Reuters reports:
Hungary’s parliament passed a series of laws on Friday to control the flow of migrants into the country, giving police more authority and setting out strict punishments including prison terms for illegal border crossing.
Hungary is constructing a fence along its border with Serbia, hoping to stem an inflow of migrants after tens of thousands, mostly from places like Syria and Afghanistan, entered the country in recent months.
New laws will make it a criminal offence to cross or damage the fence, and illegal border crossing will be punishable by up to three years in jail.
We wrote about the possible authoritarian turn in Hungary in Wednesday’s edition of our morning news digest “Seven in the Morning” (if you don’t subscribe yet, do—you’ll be days ahead of the news):
The Hungarian ruling right-wing Fidesz party introduced two contentious bills yesterday, using the migrant crisis as a pretext to fast-track them through parliament as early as Friday. The bills (one, two) declare a state of emergency and give the government all manners of extraordinary powers, including the authority to imprison migrants for a variety of activities currently permitted under EU laws, and to prosecute Hungarian citizens for aiding migrants. The bills would allow the police to conduct searches without warrants, and the army to use force if necessary. In addition, expansive surveillance measures appear to be a part of the bill, including the creation of a national database of all Hungarian citizens, as well as provisions mandating that telecoms grant the government broad access to their networks, allowing it to intercept data in bulk.
The immigrant crisis is of course real, and it’s legitimate for nations to reassert control over their borders. But history shows us that unscrupulous actors will gladly use legitimate crises to seize extraordinary powers.
As several Hungary-watchers have told us, this move by Orban’s Fidesz serves two purposes. First, it takes the issue away from the far-right Jobbik party, which has been surging in opinion polls. Second, it provides a handy cudgel with which to bludgeon its opponents on the left. Many opposition parties in Hungary have committed to helping migrants through grassroots efforts—as part of one such effort, the country’s former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany has been taking in migrant families for one or two nights in his home. Early reads of the bills indicate that this kind of program may now be in trouble.
One of the reasons we have so consistently decried the failure of the elites in regard to immigration is that it opens the door to illiberal politicians. Recently in the West, this has manifested itself as bluster—think Donald Trump’s calls for undoing the 14th Amendment’s birthright citizenship provisions, or any number of rants from the leaders of euroskeptic parties—like France’s Front National—that are out of power but popular in the polls.
We’ll have to see how far, and to what ends, Fidesz wants to push its newly-acquired powers. But a new, uglier phase in European politics could be upon us.