Dominant Islamophobic Narratives in Hungary


Dominant Islamophobic narratives in Hungary, Dr Zsuzsanna Vidra

 The Hungarian Muslim population is estimated to be between 0.1-0.3%. Moreover, Islam and Muslims as a topic of discussion and consequently Islamobhobic discourses had not been present, or when apparent such narratives were only visible to a small extent. However, the 2015 migration/refugee crisis marked a turning point. Research evidence reveals that in the 1990s Islam and Muslims received practically no media attention and had been a non-issue (Zádori, 2015; Sereghy, 2016; Győri, 2016; Brubaker, 2017). Therefore, it was intriguing to reveal how issues related to Islam became top topics in politics.


Political context of Islamophobia in Hungary

The emergence of Islamophobic narratives has to be understood in the context of the migration/refugee crisis and interpreted as a political instrument of the populist government declaring itself illiberal (Szalai and Gőbl, 2015; Brubaker, 2017).

In the summer of 2015 hundreds of thousands of people arrived at the border trying to cross through Hungary to go to Western Europe, causing a crisis that authorities and institutions were not prepared to properly respond to. However, it was not the unpreparedness of border guards and the immigration authorities that left these people in destitution, rather, the government used the crisis situation of the mass influx of refugees/migrants to create moral panic leading to the dominant narrative: the securitization of migration (Haraszti, 2015; Bernáth and Messing, 2015; Szalai and Gőbl, 2015; Brubaker, 2017).

The creation of the migrant enemy started well before masses of refugees/migrants appeared at the borders. In the beginning of 2015, after the Paris terrorist attack, with still low number of refugees, the Prime Minister and the government started to discuss the dangers and threats of economic migration by referring to illegal migration. The narratives changed as the wave of migration was rising and the economic migration narrative was topped with a strong security and identity axis (Szalai and Gőbl, 2015).

The government launched several campaigns to mobilize support for its policies and gain political support. In May 2015, they started the National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism campaign sending every Hungarian citizen a questionnaire including “heavily biased questions”. The same month, the government also initiated a large-scale billboard campaign against immigration as part of its communication strategy to get support for the national consultation. In July 2015, the government started to erect a razor wire fence along the Serbian border to stop migrants and asylum seekers from entering the country and to send a message to European policymakers regarding Hungarian opinions about the crisis. The fence has also become symbolic of the official Hungarian position against the resettlement quotas proposed by the EU. To gain legitimation from the people, the government, organized a referendum against the resettlement quotas in October 2016. The referendum was preceded by an ‘information campaign’ featuring anti-immigration billboards with posting questions like: “Did you know? More than 300 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Europe since the start of the migrant crisis”; “Did you know? The Paris terrorist attacks were carried out by immigrants”; “Did you know? 1.5 million illegal immigrants arrived to Europe in 2015”; or “Did you know? Since the start of the immigration crisis, sexual harassment of women has increased in Europe?” While the turnout was lower than 50% making the referendum invalid, the majority of those who voted refused the quotas (98%). Thus, the results were interpreted by the government as ‘politically valid’ (Sereghy, 2017).

The narratives created in the successive campaigns made no distinction between economic migrants and asylum seekers, and legal and illegal migrants. This provided the grounds for the criminalization of migrants and also their helpers. The ‘Migrant-Islam-terrorist nexus’ became the dominant discourse linking migration to (Muslim) terrorism. In the meanwhile, in the political communication of the government, the ‘anti-migrant’ narratives did not always make direct reference to Muslims: neither in the national consultation on immigration and terrorism, the billboard campaigns nor in the referendum questions there was an explicit mention of Muslims or Islam (Haraszti, 2015; Szalai and Gőbl, 2015; Sereghy, 2016; Brubaker, 2017).


Research findings

A frame analysis of political and media narratives between September 2015 and December 2016 was carried out to see what the major narratives of Islamophobia were and how they were constructed. .

In the government’s political narratives as well as in government controlled media we found different formulations of Islamophobia. Literature review,  analysis of government political speeches and media texts revealed that the migration crisis was framed primarily as a security issue. Two frames were identified within this dominant security narrative concerning how the migration crisis was discussed in politics and media. The two frames were ‘physical security’ (securitization) and ‘symbolic security’ (identity issues).

The main components of the physical security frame – concerned with security issues, terrorism, and migration – made fewer and less direct references to Islam. In certain political communications (such as the government anti-immigrant campaigns) there was no direct mention of Islam or Muslims. In the media, however, the link between Islamic terrorism and physical security was made explicit.


Among illegal migrants there are lots of refugees, but much more who are not.

Refugees who flee their country for security reasons, are safe if they reach the closest safe place.

 Some civil organizations are generating the migrant question and they have an important role in pulling migrants to Hungary so they are engaged not only in charitable activities. (…) Civil organisations close to Soros should be investigated, those which conduct activities contradicting the national security interests of Hungary.


The symbolic security frame had explicit anti-Muslim components both in the media and the political narratives. The main arguments concern questions related to how Islam and Muslims were understood. In brief, Muslims were seen as radically different, refusing our cultural norms, aggressive, and incapable of integration. Given these cultural interpretations of Islam, migration was seen as Islamisation of Europe which constituted a threat to European civilization and Christianity and eventually to Hungarian identity.


Hungarians are not used to “foreign religions” and a “strong Muslim community”.

 There are no European answers: different rules, situation of women, insular communities; they will vote for their own European Muslim parties. If we don’t wake up, we have to say farewell to our Europe. I am not Islamophobic in what I am saying. Muslim culture has very rich traditions but it is a radically different culture that is incomprehensible for Europe.

The suicide of a civilisation. Gender movement and willkommneskulture are intermingled. Liberal democracy as an ideology has proven wrong. (…) The same progressive, humanist attitude propagates that all migrants have to be accepted, and furthermore in the name of human rights fundamentalism their rights and culture should be treated as equal.

As a concluding thought, it should be emphasized that Hungarian Islamophobia is different from its Western counterparts as primarily being government generated (not from marginal (or less marginal) radical right wing parties). The government is not positioning itself as a protector of liberal values against the illiberal Islam, as it declares itself to be illiberal (Brubaker, 2017). In the meanwhile, as part of the illiberal turn, Hungary is seeking allies with countries where liberal democratic values are not strong. So there is apparently a contradiction between the state policy of ‘Eastern Opening’ (including establishing or strengthening ties with certain Muslim countries) and the dominant, official Islamophobic narrative (Pall and Sayfo, 2016). This is counterbalanced by always making reference in foreign political communication to the cultural richness of Islam and by claiming that it deserves to be respected as long as it stays outside of Europe and Hungary.

Hungary appreciates its law abiding Muslim community (we like kebab shops and buying lamb for Easter) (…) While appreciating the Muslim community, Hungary does not want the number of Muslims to grow.



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