For the qualitative analysis, it must be noted that the focus groups were organised in the political climate described above, during the different waves of billboard campaigns against immigration and George Soros’ pro-immigration stance. For the qualitative analysis below, I have organised the results in the following way: based on the scripts of the 12 focus groups, I first briefly discuss the respondents’ level of knowledge regarding mass migration, and then focus on the different aspects of mass migration-related threats (illustrative quotations are summarised in Tables 8.1 and 8.2 by location type).
General Knowledge and Attitudes About Migration and Integration
Even though the overwhelming majority of the focus group participants had hardly any personal experiences with migrants and asylum seekers, they formed quite definite and categorical views on recent immigrant groups entering Europe as well as on those who arrived into Europe in the past decades. They differentiated quite easily between forced and labour migrants, and expressed a bit more empathy towards forced migrants who had to leave their homes because of political persecution, as well as towards Christians who had to flee their homes due their religion (in line with the quantitative results presented above).
Generally, most of the respondents had an overwhelmingly negative view of both the recent migration flow affecting Europe and the integration process. In line with the aforementioned quantitative results, focus group participants also thought that too many migrants had arrived in Europe and Hungary without a proper screening and documentation process. As far as immigrant populations in Western European countries are concerned, the participants were able to enumerate some of the countries that had experienced huge migration flows in the past decades and recently. They seemed to be well-informed about the so-called no-go zones in certain European cities as obvious signs of failure of integration policies.
It turned out that most respondents had been informed via public media channels—echoing primarily the official views of the Hungarian government’s anti-immigrant rhetoric—as well as via the taxpayer-funded billboard campaign all over Hungary.Footnote 17
Most of the respondents had some basic knowledge of the main migration trends into Europe, i.e. they were aware of the fact that certain Western European countries—most frequently Germany was mentioned—had experienced a huge migration flow since the 1960s. They were also quite certain that generally it is not the first generation of immigrants, but members of the second and third generation who might become terrorists. The dominant view was that Hungary is a small country compared to most Western European states, and thus unlikely to become a primary target of terrorist attacks. “They do not even know where we are [Hungary]; there are bigger fish in Europe” (Budapest Group, June 2017). Some of the respondents shared the view that “it is not the migrants who are responsible for the terrorist events, but bigger forces, like the European and American world powers” (Budapest Group, June 2017). In contrast, some of the respondents placed the primary emphasis on the individual dispositions (the case of Breivik was mentioned) as well as on the effects of socialisation (i.e. if someone is raised in a deprived neighbourhood), thus they did not agree with the total exclusion of Muslim migrants. We could identify a type of reasoning, making use of the social-psychological phenomenon of relative deprivation: “in Belgium, for example, second and third generation migrants don’t work; they see their neighbours doing better than them… so they go bombing” (Vecsés Group, June 2017).
Comparing the Hungarian towns and cities, most of the respondents agreed that Budapest has been the most affected by migratory movements in the past decades. They claimed that “there are certain districts of Budapest where there are a lot of migrants” (Keszthely Group, June 2017). Some of the participants emphasised that the growing number of immigrants poses a challenge to public safety, and they also find this tendency problematic from a cultural point of view, i.e. they argued that if too many migrants live in a locality, their culture will become dominant. Even though we did not ask the participants to estimate the actual ratio of migrant populations in Hungary, they seemed to be overestimating the real numbers. Again, it has to be noted here that in Hungary the proportion of migrants is very low; the foreign-born population makes up 1–2% of the total population, the overwhelming majority of which are ethnic Hungarians who migrated from the neighbouring countries that used to be part of Hungary before 1920 (Gödri 2015).
Discussing the different types of migrant groups, most of the interviewees differentiated between (i) the old migrants who had lived in Hungary for decades and worked mainly as medical doctors or in other professional positions (most of which having arrived in Hungary from Northern African or Arab countries in the 1970s as students), or run their own local businesses (i.e. Asian immigrants, primarily from China or Vietnam), and (ii) the “newcomers” who are mostly perceived to be as neither useful for the economy (i.e. they do not have the proper skills) nor truly vulnerable people eligible for social welfare. We learnt this primarily in the focus groups of lower status respondents according to whose reoccurring reasoning there were Hungarians who were more in need than the Syrian refugees “wearing Nike shoes and having smartphones” (Salgótarján Group, March 2017). The following idea also emerged in several groups: “if someone is a refugee, thus fleeing from a war zone, why doesn’t he stay in his home country and fight?” (Salgótarján Group, March 2017). They also argued that it is not Europe’s responsibility to let the refugees in, as on their way Turkey was the first peaceful country.
Perceived Migration-Related Threats
Discussing welfare services provided to recognised refugees, the overwhelming majority expressed views that can be best labelled as welfare chauvinistic. It again has to be noted that the Hungarian government completely withdrew from integration services provided to beneficiaries of international protection in summer 2016. At certain points of the group discussions, participants drew a parallel between the Roma and the migrants in terms of both groups being “lazy” and “a threat to public safety” as well as tending to conserve their own identities and being unwilling to assimilate into Hungarian society. These ideas were primarily articulated in Salgótarján, situated in one of the most economically depressed areas of Hungary with a significant Roma population. It has to be mentioned here that Prime Minister Victor Orbán also pointed to alleged similarities between the Roma and the immigrants a number of times during the migration crisis.
As far as labour market threats are concerned, we learnt of two basic ideas. Regarding the old migrants, the hardest criticism was articulated about Chinese and Vietnamese businessmen who do not pay taxes and sell bad quality goods. However, there was not a perfect agreement in this regard: some of the respondents liked cheap Asian products. The newcomers, in contrast, were criticised for their “laziness” and for their lack of language (Hungarian and English) and professional skills.
As far as symbolic threats are concerned, the Prime Minister warned the Hungarian Parliament as well as visiting Polish politicians about Europe’s possible dark future if they continued to allow more immigrants into the old continent:
We may lose our European values—our very identity—by degrees, like the live frog allowing itself to be slowly cooked to death in a pan of water. Quite simply there will be more and more Muslims, and Europe will be transformed beyond recognition. If we are unable to change things now, we can predict with sufficient mathematical accuracy—all one needs are some mathematical calculations—what Europe’s cities will look like in two or three decades (Viktor Orbán 2016).Footnote 18
Opinions in the focus groups were formed in line with these ideas, repeating that Hungary does not need people with other cultural and religious backgrounds (see selected quotations in Table 8.1).
Summing up, the qualitative results underscored the quantitative results, as both realistic and symbolic threats by Muslim immigrants are perceived to be high in contemporary Hungary, and letting in a great amount of people with unknown identities is seen as posing a serious risk to the receiving society. Most of the arguments given by the focus group participants echoed the concepts of the government, in terms of terrorism, contagious diseases, as well as immigrants imposing a huge burden on the welfare state. As far as cultural threats are concerned, lack of language skills is perceived to be a crucial problem. Focus group participants repeatedly emphasised that the basic problem is that migrants tend to arrive in groups and live in blocks in European cities, making integration nearly impossible. Some of them added that even though they make up only a minority of the population, they tend to dominate the majority population.
In contrast, we could hardly find any positive or neutral opinions related to migration into Hungary or Europe. In Szeged, the city with direct experience of the 2015 migration crisis, we did not record a single positive statement related to immigration (see Table 8.2).
To sum up, we could hardly find any positive views with regards to the effects of migration. Most interviewees were in favour of the strict immigration policy introduced by the Hungarian government, including the 170 km-long border fence. Furthermore, they proposed building a wall similar to the one at the US-Mexico border as a more effective tool against irregular migrants.