Film confronts Hungarians as they vote on refugee question

  • World
  • Monday, 03 Oct 2016

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - When Hungarian film-maker Kornel Mundruczo reviewed a screenplay in 2014 about the adventures of a Syrian refugee boy in Budapest, the first page carried the notation "some time in the future".

Less than a year later, refugees flooding into Hungary prompted right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban to build a razor wire fence to keep migrants out and to plaster billboards with warnings the new arrivals would bring crime and terror.

While Mundruczo makes his film, Orban has been campaigning to convince the European Union that its migration policies are flawed and pose a threat to the bloc's security.

On Sunday, an overwhelming majority of Hungarian voters are expected to reject the European Union's migrant quotas in a referendum.

Across Hungary, navy blue billboards ask: "Did you know? 1 million migrants want to come to Europe from Libya alone."

"Did you know? Since the start of the crisis the number of attacks against women in Europe has soared."

"Did you know? Brussels wants to resettle into Hungary a city full of migrants."

Publicising the unsourced statements cost the government 11 billion forints ($40 million), a multiple of what all political parties combined spent in Hungary's 2014 general election, according to Republikon Institute analyst Csaba Toth.

"History has caught up with us," Mundruczo told Reuters on the set of his film, 'The Superfluous Man', using props to shoot scenes outside Budapest Keleti (Eastern) railway station depicting an underpass tent city or crowds at the railway terminus - faithful to reality last year when thousands camped there.

"This problem has gnawed at Europe for a long time. Our film... (is) about the ideologically disintegrating Europe and the ultimate challenge facing it."

The director, whose last film 'White God' received a Cannes prize, 'Un certain regard', said the migrant crisis offered an opportunity to Europe and that Hungary's role was important, whatever the government rhetoric.

"Europe has not had a worthy challenge in a very long time," he said. "We can articulate again the values that are important to us: what we live by, what Christianity or our morals mean.

"We will drift apart if we cannot relate to this situation like an European," he said. "It is a grown-up challenge one cannot give infantile, self-deprecating answers to. But the answers are unworthy, and infantile."

That is partly the government's doing, he added.

"The campaign treats Hungarians like children, forcing us to take a pro-or-con stand in a question formulated in baby talk and continually averting our gaze from the real problems that are inside the tents like these."

The referendum question asks: "Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?"

Walking past the film set, 35-year-old voter Gabor Laufer said exclusion and rejection were the wrong attitudes. "This campaign is disgusting," he said. "So evil, inciteful, hateful."

But to 70-year-old Maria Szebeni, the refugees she saw marching last year towards the Austrian border from the train station looked "unpeaceful".

"I had a bad feeling about what might happen. I was afraid," she said.

(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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