Hungary's Migrant Referendum Is Invalid, But That Doesn't Make It Any Less Dangerous

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends a press conference on the last weekand's referendum in Hungary in Budapest on O
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends a press conference on the last weekand's referendum in Hungary in Budapest on October 4, 2016. Hungary's prime minister on Monday vowed that Budapest would still reject the EU's controversial migrant quota plan, despite low turnout in a referendum on the issue invalidating the vote. / AFP / ATTILA KISBENEDEK (Photo credit should read ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images)

Following the referendum on Brexit, which was marked by a violent campaign (resulting in the assassination of the politician Jo Cox), and by violent developments, including aggression against Polish citizens -- more than 800,000 Poles live in the U.K. -- and one murder, we see a new referendum stamped with the mark of shame. Hungary's referendum on the admission of refugees is an utter disgrace -- even if it ultimately wasn't valid, since only 40 percent of voters participated, which was below the 50 percent required.

In any case, the results -- nearly 100 percent of participants voted against refugees -- mean that Viktor Orbán has won his political gamble. He is calling for a rebellion against refugees, Muslims, and the European Union.

This referendum obviously comes in the context of the refugee and migrant crisis that has completely destabilized the European Union over the past two years. This crisis also created a considerable split between the European states and jeopardized the cohesion of political leaders.

Angela Merkel was the first political leader to open the country's borders to migrants. Initially accepted, this policy was subsequently and very rapidly criticized by other European leaders, as well as by German citizens.

In the month of March, the extreme-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD party made a clamoring entrance into parliament in three regions. The most significant victory came in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state, where the AfD beat the Chancellor's party and gained almost 22 percent of the vote last month. The same party also made it into Berlin's parliament -- a city that today stands as a symbol of tolerance for all citizens of Europe and for all communities.

The so-called Visegrád group has harshly criticized Merkel's refugee policy. Among this group of Central European states, Hungary's Viktor Orbán has been the most vocal.

While Hungary was indeed at the frontlines of the migrant crisis and at the center of the Balkans route, and even though Europe was slow to react to this humanitarian crisis, Viktor Orbán did not react as a head of state but as an irresponsible firebrand, deepening the woes of a Europe already weakened by this tragedy.

  Playing on people's fear is not the way to go. Orbán has committed a major political error.

Although the Hungarian justice ministry recently tried to justify this referendum, in an attempt to calm the fears of the European Union, the campaign has been marked, in a similar way to Brexit's campaign, by an avalanche of foul and racist discourse.

For example, Orbán continued to conflate refugees and migrants with terrorists. He expressed his refusal to welcome Muslims into Hungary, a Christian country.

Hungary's Muslim community in its entirety understandably feels stigmatized, including those who have been here for a long time or those who have been born in Hungary.

Such a campaign is certainly irresponsible -- even more so because it has been orchestrated by an acting Prime Minister. It represents a serious break with such principles of the European Union as tolerance, democracy, and lack of discrimination.

In organizing this horrendous referendum, the Hungarian Prime Minister was trying to send the following message to Europe: Hungary will no longer accept the diktats of the European Commission, nor the decisions taken collectively by the heads of state and the government leaders in the European Council.

The referendum sought to send a clear message to the "Brussels elites" and to call upon European citizens to mobilize around hate.

This referendum represents a new form of unscrupulous leadership: The manipulation of people to anti-European ends. Indisputably, this referendum is a popular vote against the European Union.

What will Hungary do next? Through knowingly violating the values of the European Union, through carrying out this referendum, Viktor Orbán places himself in a new category of political leaders practicing what we can call neo-nationalism.

Hungary isn't the only country to engage in this practice. Poland decided to silence the Constitutional Court, leading the European Commission and the European Council to raise their concerns to the Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo.

If that's where Europe is today, it is also because racist voices have been liberated. Just think of the advertisements that Nigel Farage distributed in Great Britain to call for votes in favor of Brexit. These methods were characterized as "nazi propaganda" by the former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, during the June 28 meeting of the European Parliament, several days before the British referendum.

The Hungarian referendum is reminiscent of these inexcusable methods. On the eve of the referendum on Saturday, October 1, extreme-right activists were authorized to demonstrate in front of the Hungarian Parliament, and were not dissuaded from making the Nazi salute. This represents the last straw for a country that experienced Nazi collaboration during World War II, then the torments of Soviet occupation.

It cannot be denied that there is a crisis. Europe was late to react, but it eventually came up with an agreement with Turkey. We must go further and enforce all the obligations in the Schengen Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty.

We cannot deny that this is a difficult situation. But playing on people's fear is not the way to go. Orbán has committed a major political error.

The referendum will have no legal implications, but unfortunately, it will have political significance -- in the sense that it may encourage other irresponsible governments to take similar action.

It is high time to rebuild Europe, excluding these countries who, under unethical leaders, are deliberately deciding to forsake and destroy the founding values of the European Union.

This post first appeared on HuffPost France. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.