The Eastern European nation has become one of the harshest critics of a European Union plan to resettle refugees in all member states — and the governmental website might fuel anti-refugee sentiments ahead of an upcoming country-wide referendum on the E.U. plans.
Last September, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Muslims threatened Europe’s Christian identity. In an editorial for the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, he wrote: “Everything that is now taking place before our eyes threatens to have explosive consequences for the whole of Europe.”
The website, which went online earlier this week, builds on such rhetoric. But observers were surprised by how the message was delivered, rather than its meaning. For instance, the site features a ticking clock that updates every 12 seconds — supposedly representing the number of refugees entering Europe in real-time.
“Illegal migrants cross the borders unchecked, so we do not know who they are and what their intentions are. We do not know how many of them are disguised as terrorists,” the website’s authors write, according to a translation by Agence France-Presse.
Critics have pointed out that the methodology behind the list has not been made public, which has raised concerns over its validity. Although the Hungarian government emphasized to the Guardian newspaper that “everything is based on publicly available data and sources,” at least some of the data appeared to come from conspiracy websites, according to the British newspaper.
Locals living in some of the “no-go areas” may have a hard time understanding why their districts were chosen. According to the Guardian, the list includes Neukölln in Berlin — Time Out magazine recently described it as “the latest Berlin borough to be hailed as the centre of all things hip.”
Many of the other alleged “no-go areas” are districts “with a high number of immigrants” in major cities such as Stockholm, Paris or London — with the vast majority of them located in France. The Hungarian government went on to specify that these districts have common problems — authorities, for instance, allegedly find it hard to work there, and country-specific traditions are supposedly rarely respected.
Domestic politics may be the main driver behind the list's creation. In fact, the website is not addressed to an international audience, but rather a domestic one.
Charles Gati, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, said Orban has built his political power on opposing E.U. policies and embracing “nationalist rhetoric.”
“Even though Hungary depends on the E.U. for infrastructure investments, he has campaigned vigorously against the E.U.’s ‘colonial’ mentality,” Gati wrote.
There is little acceptance for opposition in Orban’s Hungary, particularly when it comes to religion: A report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union from 2013 concluded that atheists faced “severe discrimination” in the country. Church-owned schools have proliferated in recent years, thanks to new laws, and Orban has repeatedly emphasized where he stands.
“We shouldn’t forget that the people who are coming here grew up in a different religion and represent a completely different culture,” he wrote in an editorial last September.
The list is supposed to show where Europe is losing the fight for its Christian values. However, in some cases, the government may have mistaken touristic go-to districts for alleged no-go zones.