Hungary’s Population Crisis: More Babies and Less Migrants

The Hungarian political sphere has been nothing if not interesting in recent months – especially in terms of the old Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.” Events have also been anxiety-inducing of late, with new ideas and proposed bills coming thick and fast from parliament’s supermajority. April and May 2018 saw Orbán’s encouragement of women to help fix the population crisis, alongside proposed bills on the ‘Stop Soros Act’. Additionally, May 2018 saw the invitation to Hungary of Steve Bannon, a controversial figure in the American radical right and one-time advisor to President Trump – just in case there were still any argument about whether Fidesz is sympathetic to right-wing extremism. Bannon spoke at the Fidesz-sponsored ‘Future of Europe’ conference, where no member of any independent reliable news media was allowed; only those news sources controlled by the government were given access. Perhaps more revealingly, rumour has it that Orbán may get his long-awaited meeting with Trump.

A Dubious Future for Women in Hungary

Hungary’s falling population is of great concern to the Fidesz government. In recent months, Orbán has made overtures to Hungarian women, with new incentives created to tempt them into having more children; coming several years after original mortgage incentives offering upwards of 10,000,000 Hungarian forint (about €31,000) to those families with three or more children. The government plans to build more nurseries, offer further mortgage cuts to families with three or more children, and cut student loans for women with two or more children – all in an attempt to raise the birth rate by 2030.

Yet the problem in Hungary goes much deeper than simply ‘having more children’. What Orbán seemingly fails to understand, or simply ignores, is that there are many factors influencing whether women would decide to bear children. It is not simply a matter of offering more money, or longer maternity leave; many may consider, for example, the likelihood that their children will leave the country in 18-20 years. Or again, they might be motivated by the fact that the country does not have adequate health care, and most do not want to bribe their doctors and nurses with upwards of €250 in so-called ‘gratitude money’ to give birth. Perhaps, moreover, many will not want to send their children to state-run schools, only to be brainwashed by the government’s propaganda. The latter is especially seen in the state’s nationalisation of school textbooks, often citing revisionist history and fawningly painting the Prime Minister in a positive image. The issue is considerably more complex than simply giving a few financial incentives to have three or four children; indeed, it is hard to believe the government even takes this very seriously. Many women in Hungary do take it seriously, however, with one artist starting a movement of women photographing their torsos with “I will not give birth until there is a new government” written in red.

The government’s respect for women in Hungary surely remains questionable. In May, several Fidesz representatives to the European Parliament refused to vote on matters concerning women’s economic and social rights, among other matters. Still earlier, Fidesz European MPs have abstained from supporting a document advocating stricter action against violence against women, in addition to abstaining from voting to support rural women. This drive to increase Hungary’s birth rate seems to be another push back against migration by the Fidesz government. Whether it will work remains to be seen, but it is certain that the population deficit will not be dramatically increased without some level of migration into the country.

The Criminalisation of Humanity

Of course, Fidesz’s obsession with Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros continues, with  some affiliated NGOs, such as the Soros Foundation’s Open Society Institute, even moving from the country in response. This leads to perhaps the most concerning of all Fidesz’s recent actions: the proposed criminalisation of all migrant helpers.

A new Hungarian bill is currently being discussed in parliament that aims to criminalise anyone helping ‘irregular’ migrants in Hungary. If passed, the bill could send activists, lawyers, NGO workers, volunteers, and ‘Soros agents’ to jail. Especially after the recent publication of the first 200 individuals on a 2,000-person ‘Soros list’, this is clearly worrying. As if to increase this unease, Fidesz has proposed that they will yet again revise the constitution in their favour over the coming 12-18 months. As Fidesz holds 133 of Hungary’s 199-seat parliament, representing a fully two-thirds majority, the party will surely face little resistance to these proposed changes.

Indeed, some in Hungary believe that the ‘Stop Soros Act’ and constitutional changes are less about migration and more about squashing the freedom of Hungarians. Has Hungary transcended into the futuristic dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale, while simultaneously returning to the Soviet-era world of people disappearing after mere accusations? Hyperboles today, perhaps, but it still well describes the hopelessness felt by many Hungarians, and portends a potentially dangerous future for those who oppose the government.

Ms Katherine Kondor is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR, and a Doctoral Researcher in Criminology at the University of Huddersfield. See her profile here.

© Katherine Kondor. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).