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20th Aug 2018

Magazine

'Dictator' vindicated

"Immigration is a bad thing. We shouldn't view it as if it had any use because it only brings problems and peril to Europeans and so it must be stopped."

When Viktor Orban, Hungary's maverick prime minister, took the opportunity to demonise migrants in the wake of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket in Paris, few thought he had set the stage for the discourse on a refugee crisis just emerging in Europe.

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  • At the end of 2015, Orban seems more indomitable than ever. (Photo: EPP)

In January, those comments raised eyebrows. By the end of the year, politicians from all over Europe echoed Orban's sentiments.

His early call for tougher external border control, his strategy to build fences to channel the arrival of migrants, and thus passing on the crisis to neighboring countries, were either criticised or ignored at first.

But as the numbers grew and voters in Europe increasingly became anxious, border control became a priority and fences were mulled and subsequently built on the migration route.

Stopping Jobbik

Despite Orban's combatant rhetoric to protect the EU's external Schengen borders and the bloc's asylum rules by registering migrants, Hungary did transport tens of thousands of people to Austria before all of its fences were erected.

And Orban's tough rhetoric and measures on refugees also served to prevent the far-right Jobbik, Hungary's second largest party, from luring his voters away.

Yet 2015 marked an unlikely vindication for Orban, whose autocratic governing style drew criticism for years, but is now hailed for his foresight.

Challenging political correctness and the liberal political consensus in Europe, Orban's controversial right-wing politics are pulling Europe's mainstream conservatives along with him.

Years of EU criticism of Orban abusing his majority to bend rules his way, has boiled down to a quip by EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who welcomed Orban at a summit with a salute: "Hello, dictator!"

At the end of 2015, Orban seems more indomitable than ever.

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2015 Europe in Review Magazine.

Click here to read previous editions of Europe in Review magazines.

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