Taking control of the debate

Liberal policies and communication strategies of migration in Central and Eastern Europe


Taking control of the debate

Republikon Intézet

Migration will be a more and more challenging social issue in Europe for the foreseeable future. Due to this, right-wing populist parties and politicians  will continue to exploit the topic for their own benefit, which imposes a per- manent threat to liberal democracies. Alongside of the topic of migration,  populist right-wing parties try to redefine European values and aim to have an impact on citizens’ attitudes by raising social intolerance. In Central and  Eastern Europe due to lower living standards and the intra-European mi- gration towards Western member states, citizens are less tolerant with im- migrants regardless of their much lower proportion. Moreover, in the CEE  countries, there are fewer experiences on dealing with immigrants. Despite of these structural factors the answer to the migration challenge cannot be the full isolation. Liberal political forces should not accept these attitudes as given and constant. In order to advocate liberal values and promote liberal policies, liberal political parties should take control of the migration debate. It is important to emphasize the historical achievement of liberal values in keeping peace and stability in Europe. Liberal policies of migration should also take into account economic aspects. The CEE countries’ interests are to  let educated, skilled people with a high potential to social and cultural inte- gration into their job markets.  Migrants in Western Europe had a huge contribution to the economic devel- opment. While it is important to discuss the difficulties of integration in the  case of the second and third generations of migrants in Europe, the merits of  their parents should be also acknowledged. Thus, migration should not be re- garded as a threat, but as an opportunity. Nevertheless, it is important to have  control over migration. Hungary and other CEE countries have the advan- tage to utilize the experiences of Western countries in migration policies and social integration. However, it is also the matter of political will and not just expertise. The Hungarian government for instance not just responded to the  migration pressure with law and order rhetoric and measures, but also delib- erately let to escalate the refugee crisis in order to gain back their lost elector- al support. As the refugee crisis was unexpected and due to the government’s  communication, the whole phenomena appeared as an issue of national se- curity and cultural threat.

Such instrumentalization is of course does not take  into account the long term consequences and the missed short term oppor- tunities. However, liberal political forces should not only rely on statistical  data and the inherent good faith of liberalism. Real actions should be taken in order to take control of the debate and not to let radical populists to exploit uncertainties and anxieties in the society. For this sake, liberal policies have to achieve two, sometimes contradictory goals. First, the liberal values, the protection of human rights and dignity should be consequently represented in migration and refugee policies. Secondly, liberal parties should preserve their agency, their capability to act in the given political context. Sticking to liberal values does not mean to move apart from citizen’s legitimate demands to abstract moralizing. 

In this volume we wish to contribute to ease the tension between those above- mentioned two imperatives of liberal policymaking on the field of migration  and asylum. In order to achieve it, the volume reviews liberal policy making, consequences of the refugee crisis in electoral politics and various integration models. In the first chapter Marek Bertram compares the reactions of liberal parliamentary parties in Europe to the refugee crisis. The European liberal parties gave different responses to this challenge. It was a deciding factor if the given party was in the government, if the home country was a primary target of migration and if the home country lied on a main migration route. In his contribution Géza Tokár analyses the effects of the refugee crisis on the  2016 Slovak parliamentary elections. The bad results of the governing Smer  party proved, that the migration issue alone is not sufficient for electoral suc- cess. Immigration implies the need of social integration of the newcomers. As  Sándor Szabó points out economic and cultural aspects should be taken into account in this matter. Finally, Andrea Virág and Dániel Mikecz, researchers of Republikon Institute presents a detailed analysis of the 2016 Hungarian referendum on the EU refugee relocation quota.

  The whole publication is available HERE.