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Discussing immigration in an illiberal media environment: Hungarian political scientists about the migration crisis in online public discourses


Despite the fact that Hungary was less affected by the 2015 migration crisis in objective terms—i.e. the negligible number of immigrants entering and settling in the country in the last years-, the Hungarian government has been pushing an extreme anti-immigration political communication since 2015, which resulted in an intensive and highly politicised public discourse about immigration. This analysis aims at exploring the involvement of political scientists in the online public discourse about the migration and refugee crisis in Hungary between 2015 and 2019. In contrast with other countries, where high salient political crises have stimulated political scientists’ public engagement, this analysis finds that such participation does not apply to the Hungarian case. The low visibility of political scientists is accompanied by the adoption among participants in news portals of either a partisan, pro-government stance or a neutral approach to the issue, while critical positions with the government are almost inexistent. These patterns suggest the influence of both the illiberal institutional turn of the Hungarian media environment and the decrease in academic freedom in the country, as factors deterring public engagement among political scientists in the immigration issue, particularly of those who could adopt a critical position.

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Fig. 1

Source: Hungarian Central Statistical Office. Available at, accessed 13 March, 2020

Fig. 2

Source: author’s compilation


  1. 1.

    Professionalization and Social Impact of European Political Science (PROSEPS) (, accessed 20/02/2021). The PROSEPS online survey was carried out between May and December 2018 among a population of 11,012 academic political scientists in 37 European countries plus Israel and Turkey. The total number of respondents was 2354. The total number of Hungarian respondents was 66, which is 2.8% of the sample. [for further information see Vicentini et al. (2019)].

  2. 2.

    In the other countries analysed in this special issue, these percentages are: Finland, 62.9; Greece, 61.5; Israel, 58.5; Italy, 58.8; Poland, 48.8; Spain, 53.6; United Kingdom, 60.1.

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    In this respect, the PROSEPS data show that Hungary is not the only country where illiberal politics could negatively influence public engagement among political scientists: respondents in Turkey or Poland also experience lower levels of public engagement.

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    The crisis situation is officially in force since 2016 and has been consequently renewed every six months. See the related 41/2016. government decree:, accessed 13 March 2020.

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    As a typical example, the mayor of the Northern Hungarian village Salgótarján was accused of installing new public wells especially for immigrants, where the chance of their appearance is almost zero. Source: Index (2019). Fidesz candidate: are wells built for migrants? Available at, accessed 13 March 2020.

  6. 6.

    During the investigated period, there was a change in ownership of Magyar Idők and Magyar Nemzet. Although Magyar Idők was a pro-government media outlet, because of a change in ownership, the journal ceased to exist on 5 February 2019, and continued to operate under the name of Magyar Nemzet. Magyar Nemzet represented a sort-of opposition voice until this change. Magyar Nemzet is a special case among Hungarian media sources because of the change in the newspaper’s ownership and the turn of its political position that followed afterwards. The newspaper was a loyal media towards Fidesz and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán until the so-called “G-day” on February 6 2015. The “G-day” represented the escalation of fights between Viktor Orbán and his formerly tight friend, Lajos Simicska, owner of the media outlet. After this turn, Magyar Nemzet became critical of the Fidesz government. Following the third electoral victory of Fidesz on April 11 2018, the newspaper officially ceased to exist. Since February 2019, Magyar Nemzet has functioned as the successor of government-friendly Magyar Idők and took the name of the former newspaper.

  7. 7.

    Another popular government-friendly news portal is, however, since it publishes anonymous articles only, the detection of political scientists’ contributions was not possible in that case. Although the reference to political scientists’ in the articles could have been a specific type of contribution as well, the almost 8000 articles about immigration do not contain any of such references.

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    Two authors published in more than one outlet.

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I am grateful to Anna Székely for helping me with the data collection.

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Correspondence to Eszter Farkas.

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Appendix: Hungarian and English search strings for article selection

Appendix: Hungarian and English search strings for article selection

Strings referring to the migration crisis: ‘határsértő' (‘invader’), 'határsértés' (‘invade’), 'bevándorló' (‘immigrant’), ‘bevándorlás' , ‘bevándorol' , ‘bevándorol' (‘immigrate’), 'illegális+határátlépő' (‘illegal+border crosser’), 'illegális+határátlépés' (‘illegal+border crossing’), 'menedék' (‘refuge’), 'menekül' (‘escape’), 'menekült' (‘refugee’), 'népvándorlás' (‘migration’), 'népvándorló' (‘migrating person’), 'oltalmazott' (‘protected’), 'migráció' (‘migration’), 'migrációs' (‘related to migration’), 'migráns' (‘migrant’).

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Farkas, E. Discussing immigration in an illiberal media environment: Hungarian political scientists about the migration crisis in online public discourses. Eur Polit Sci (2021).

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  • Discourse analysis
  • Hungary
  • Migration crisis
  • Political scientists
  • PROSEPS survey