Hungary will soon become the first EU member state to give citizens a chance to voice their opinion on Russian sanctions, which should preferably align with the government’s own anti-sanction stance if the latest campaign in Hungary is anything to go by.
The campaign came after the Hungarian government started a national consultation survey last week asking citizens whether they agree or disagree with the government’s opposition to the EU sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Orbán has repeatedly argued the sanctions are hurting Europe more than Russia by endangering energy supplies and price stability.
“We believe that the sanctions are destroying us,” said a statement on the government’s Facebook page, where the taxpayer-funded survey comprising seven questions was published.
The “About the Brussels Sanctions” questionnaire will be sent out nationwide to Hungary’s estimated eight million households, with respondents asked to return it by 9 December.
One question asks if respondents agree with potential sanctions on Russian gas supplies imposed by “Brussels leaders”, which would “put at risk household heating and the European economy’s ability to operate”.
A question on the impact of sanctions on price levels, particularly food prices, blames the anti-Russia measures for the spiralling inflation, “increasing the risk of starvation in developing countries”, which “leads to increasing migration pressure” on Europe’s borders.
The survey has no legal implications, but since 2015, Orban’s government has often used such questionnaires, backed by extensive multimedia campaigns, to gain legitimacy for its stances and denounce EU policies.
But the questionnaire itself, although phrased suggestively, is not the real problem.
The accompanying anti-sanctions poster campaign is a drawing of a missile with the word ‘sanctions’ on it.
It’s a vicious cycle: You tell your own citizens sanctions are evil and then use the formatted public opinion as an argument to veto them in the next round of sanctions negotiations in Brussels, invoking their ‘will’.
Funnily enough, checking notes from the past seven months, it turns out the same Hungarian government still voted through all eight EU sanctions packages against Russia in Brussels without vetoing any of them.
In Brussels, however, EU officials are not in the least amused.
“We have seen the pictures used in the national consultation [campaign], and, frankly, it is inappropriate to show pictures of bombs or missiles in relation to the sanctions,” European Commission spokesperson Dana Spinant told reporters.
“The aim of the EU sanctions is precisely to stop the bombs from falling on Ukraine,” she added.
One can, of course, discuss the effectiveness and impact of EU sanctions, but the bloc’s executive and the majority of member states say they are working.
Sanctions experts though, stress that such measures are by design not meant to change behaviour but to at least constrain the capacity to cause harm.
Playing with popular mood is a dangerous game. This is how Brexit started, this is how reconciliation in the Western Balkans keeps being derailed. Orban seems determined to keep at it. The question is, what happens if his sanctions gamble succeeds?
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Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]