Hungary poster campaign pokes fun at migrant referendum

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Media captionAnti-migrant messages in Hungary have seen public sympathy for migrants plummet, as Nick Thorpe reports

A poster war has broken out in Hungary, within weeks of a referendum on European Commission proposals to redistribute asylum seekers more evenly across the EU.

Since the 2 October referendum was announced in February, public spaces and the media have been inundated with the government's messages, such as:

  • Did you know that the Paris terror attacks were carried out by immigrants?
  • Did you know that nearly one million immigrants want to come to Europe from Libya alone?
  • Did you know that since the start of the immigration crisis, harassment of women has increased in Europe?

The question facing voters on 2 October:

"Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?"

The referendum question itself was seen as so politically loaded that it was taken to the Constitutional Court by an opposition Liberal Party MP. The challenge failed.

A government source told the Nepszabadsag daily that the campaign had cost €10m (£8.5m; $11.2m) in public money.

Image caption The Two-Tailed Dog party has responded with a satirical poster campaign of its own
Image caption A government poster reads: "Did you know? Brussels plans to settle a whole town's worth of illegal immigrants in Hungary"

In response, the satirical Two-Tailed Dog Party has raised €100,000 from 4,000 people, through crowdfunding, for their own rival posters and billboards. These mock the government's messages, in both style and content.

There are 27 versions, which include:

  • Did you know there's a war in Syria?
  • Did you know a tree might fall on your head?
  • Did you know that in the 16th Century in Somogy county, 42 people were attacked by bears?
  • Did you know one million Hungarians want to emigrate to Europe?
Image caption A selection of two-tailed Dog Party posters in Blaha Lujza Square, Budapest
Image caption A Two-Tailed Dog poster reads: "Did you know? The perpetrators in most corruption cases are politicians"

"We can't really do anything about all the people who spend their days hating migrants, people who have probably seen more aliens from other planets in their lives than immigrants," party leader Gergely Kovacs told the BBC.

"What we can do is appeal to the millions in Hungary who are upset by the government campaign. We want them to know they are not alone."

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The government fiercely defends both its referendum and its campaign.

"I don't believe that common sense can be called xenophobia," said government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs. "People all over the EU sense that something wrong is happening with migration. What is happening is out of control. We need to regain our ability to reinforce law and order at the borders of the European Union."

So far, the government campaign appears to have been successful.

"There has been a sharp drop in public sympathy towards the migrants and refugees," said Andras Pulai, director of opinion researchers the Publicus Institute. "A year ago two-thirds of those asked supported them, now only one-third."

According to his latest survey, 53% of those asked say they will definitely vote on 2 October, and a further 23% say they probably will.

To be valid, the referendum needs a 50% turnout of Hungary's voters. The vast majority of those who say they will vote, will vote "No".

Image caption Another satirical poster reads: "Did you know? During the Olympics, the biggest danger to Hungarian participants came from foreign competitors"

The Two-Tailed Dog Party is asking people to spoil their ballots. The Socialist Party is calling for a boycott, although their leaders have been sending out confused messages.

Several small leftist parties have also called for a boycott. All will launch their own campaign posters next week.

The governing Fidesz party and radical nationalist Jobbik party are calling for a "No" vote to compulsory resettlement quotas, while the tiny Liberal Party is campaigning for people to vote "Yes".

"The referendum is going to have unavoidable legal and political consequences," said Mr Kovacs, the government spokesman.

"The turnout is important from the perspective of democracy. It's the people's decision we would like to know, and indeed we incite [sic] people to participate."

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