EARLIER this month in Szombathely, a quiet western Hungarian town, a minor traffic accident led to a racist slur against a Scottish man of ethnic background.

The man was verbally attacked by the Hungarian family whose car was damaged during the accident. They called him a “stinky migrant”, among other things, due to his skin colour.

While the Hungarian prime minister claims to defend the European borders from “invading herds of migrants”, it looks as if the population has become equally vigilant and ready to attack their fellow EU citizens if they do not represent the European appearance they imagine.

Later in September, the local government of Tápiógyörgye, a small village not far from capital city Budapest, posted a warning to the village folk on Facebook that some foreigners would be visiting the village from Saudi Arabia on visas granted by the Republic of Hungary. In a country much famed for its natural beauty, culture and cuisine, and which is also seeing increased tourism, why is there such fear of foreignness?

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has officially proclaimed the country to be the first illiberal democracy in Europe. Orbán considers liberal politics a failure, blaming it for bringing racial, gender and religious ambiguities to Europe.

The European Parliament, however, has voted to trigger Article 7 against Hungary, which could see its voting rights suspended on EU decisions. The Sargentini Report produced earlier this month presented in detail how Hungary is in breach of the Treaty of European Union on many fronts, such as rule of law, elections, freedom of expression, corruption and the treatment of asylum seekers in the country.

An eventual suspension of Hungary’s voting rights is highly unlikely, given that there needs to be unanimity across all EU members to decide on this matter at the European Council.

The Hungarian Government has already secured support from Poland, which is also fighting the European Commission on judicial independence. The Polish Government has been referred to the European Court of Justice by the Commission, which believes that rule of law in an EU country is in danger. The enactment of Article 7 has also seen much debate in the United Kingdom, with most of the discussion centred around how Conservative MEPs voted against the Sargentini Report and whether the position that the European Parliament has taken against Hungary implies an incursion into domestic political affairs of an EU member state.

Currently, Hungary is running two reception centres for asylum seekers at its borders with Serbia. They operate as “transit zones” for arrivals of asylum seekers through the Serbian territory.

The asylum seekers must first gain the favour of the smugglers on the Serbian side of the border in order to approach the gate on the Hungarian side and present themselves. It is not clear what happens when families arrive, as Hungary accepts only one person at a time into the transit zone.

The asylum seekers are put in containers, which serve as housing while their asylum applications are in process. There is limited outdoor space for children and adults while they are in the zone. There is also limited monitoring of human rights standards within this area, while entry by observers is impossible.

Only those presented with entry cards extended by the Hungarian Government can enter into the zone. This group includes social workers from religious organisations in collaboration with the government, government-approved lawyers engaged to work with the applicants to help them prepare their paperwork, one independent lawyer representing the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the UN’s human rights agency UNHCR.

The Hungarian Government is seeking further regulation of these facilities.

The illiberal turn in the country has implications for the European Union as it could infect the rest of Europe.

Orbán sees a natural ally in Matteo Salvini, the leader of Lega Nord who became the Italian Minister of Interior Affairs in June 2018. According to Orbán, Italy has a major role to protect the maritime border.

After the recent change in governments in Italy and Austria, Orbán hopes to consolidate a core European alliance that will become the harbingers of illiberalism in Europe. All sights are set towards dominating the European Parliament after the May 2019 election.

Dr Umut Korkut is GCU’s principal investigator in a £3m study entitled RESPOND: Multilevel Governance of Mass Migration in Europe and Beyond. He has recently returned from fieldwork in Hungary.