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Editorial: Hilarious billboards are no laughing matter

History

The billboards are hilarious: They warn immigrants to avoid taking work away from Hungarian citizens. They are also written in Hungarian, as if people fleeing desperate situations in the Middle East and North Africa will bother to learn the obscure language of a country that they are passing through on their journey to Western Europe.

The billboards are obviously aimed at Hungarians, meant to assure the average citizen that the ruling Fidesz party is really tough on immigration. It is hilarious that the government thinks people will not understand the true message, and the complete absurdity, of these signs, which are paid for by taxpayers. But the idea that immigrant bashing is good PR is not so funny.

Fidesz is not the first party in the world to assume a knee− jerk stance of “no” when it comes to immigration. Plenty of political factions in the United States and Europe like to push the idea that immigrants steal the jobs of locals and suck up entitlement programs. Perhaps that is why Fidesz is reportedly getting help in fomenting fear of immigrants from Arthur Finklestein, a New York−based consultant who has worked for the American Republican Party, promoting a host of neo−conservative platforms – including anti− immigrant campaigns.

Contrary to typical xenophobic propaganda, immigrants are generally shut out of the majority of the entitlement programs in their host country, and they often take the most menial, low−paying jobs – work that locals need done cheaply but don’t want to do themselves.

More importantly, immigrants can provide a young, eager workforce in countries where this is desperately needed. Due to improved health care and reduced birthrates, developed economies, including those of America and much of Europe, have a top−heavy demographic, with many old people who are retired or ready to retire, and fewer young people who can continue to work and pay into the state pension funds.

This is definitely the case in Hungary, where the population is steadily shrinking and getting older. Meanwhile, the majority of immigrants are young people, who willingly undergo hardships to reach their host country, simply because they want to work and make something of their lives. This is exactly the kind of person an aging country like Hungary needs, someone who will be paying into the pension fund and helping support retirees by working for the next 30−40 years. Despite the reality, populists and demagogues find immigrants an easy scapegoat when they need to detract from more pressing issues that they would rather ignore. In truth, the bigger worry is not the people coming into the country, but rather the people leaving. While most foreigners entering Hungary are just passing through, and their numbers are relatively small, emigration from this country has reached significant levels, and is growing steadily. The majority of those leaving Hungary are working−aged people seeking better opportunities elsewhere – and they include a lot of professionals. According to one estimate, roughly 1,000 medical doctors have been leaving Hungary every year for the last six years.

Turning around Hungary’s desperately ailing medical system to make doctors and nurses stay is a challenge that requires the kind of potentially unpopular sacrifices this government is notorious for avoiding. Reversing the brain drain among university students would mean undoing government efforts to seize more control over curriculums and to establish record−sized tuition fees for higher education. The government should be addressing the real problems that make capable, productive people flee Hungary. Rather than demonizing foreigners, it would also be a wise idea to start encouraging immigration among those who could work and contribute to society.

Instead we get these billboards, which are hilarious – but not very funny.

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