Three case studies: Poland, Hungary, and Romania

There are a number of reasons behind our choice of exactly these three countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Primarily, we wanted to illustrate the existence and significance of the context of projectivity in countries that appear to be less principal decision-makers with regard to EU directives and EU asylum policy. We aim to contribute in this way to the decentralization and pluri-dimensionalization of the angle on the 2015-2016 European refugee crisis, which continues to be framed in excessively close and exclusive association with Western Europe, or the strong regulators of EU asylum policy.

The epistemic ignorance of the global refugee crisis of the strong regulators and the epistemic ignorance of the weak regulators are two different things. The former reinforces the orientalist logic of action, while the latter is boosted by the wish to prove autonomy or to at least catch-up with the stronger players. In certain instances, the countries from Central and Eastern Europe even seem to have surpassed their status as weak regulators of EU asylum policy. Some of them have certainly started to act at least as trend-setters in asylum policy, if not as strong regulators. Hungary, for instance, built a highly controversial fence at its border with Serbia which provoked a series of other fence-building initiatives. By analyzing the media in Poland, Hungary, and Romania we wish to emphasize and explore this aspect of autonomization further.

Poland, Hungary, and Romania have each had their own responsive trajectory towards the European refugee crisis, and the relocation scheme in particular. During the crisis only Hungary was geographically situated along the route of the asylum seekers moving from Greece to Germany, while Poland and Romania (at least until the moment when encounters were made possible by the relocation scheme) cannot be said to have had direct contact with the refugees arriving from the Middle East and Africa, and the potential use of these countries’ resources by this group of refugees would be negligible (Triandafyllidou, 2018, p. 199). This difference notwithstanding, the crisis has been intensively mediatized in all three countries. The processes of crisis politicization and the diffusion of the related antiimmigration rhetoric have also surfaced, though in a varying degree - see Table 6.1.

It is noteworthy that in the case of Poland, Hungary, and Romania, the politicization and mediatization triggered by the crisis is discontinuous with the manner in which the immigration and refugee problems used to be approached in the past. With the exception of some marginal episodes of antiimmigration rhetoric in Hungary, the immigration and refugee problems were rather absent from the public debate in these three countries (Kubicki et al., 2017; Krzyzanowski, 2018b). The 2015-2016 European refugee crisis has brought a significant change in this respect - migration is no longer publicly ignored.

The crisis opened a window of opportunity for the mediatization and politicization of immigration and asylum seeking. Hungary, and even Poland and Romania, made use of this opportunity fully, though in different

Table 6.1 Politicization and mediatization in the Polish, Hungarian, and Romanian media


Contact with the waves of refugees

Pre-crisis politicization and mediatization of immigration

Politicization in the context of the crisis

Mediatization in the context of the crisis

Relocation involvement


Indirect -potentially through schemes of relocation


High, mediatized

High, top-down

No involvement, no open refusal


Direct -country located on the Western Balkan route


High, mediatized

High, top-down

Open refusal


Indirect -eventually through schemes of relocation




Initial refusal followed by acceptance and mobilization (preparation for)

ways. In Poland, the refugee crisis coincided with parliamentary elections and became one of the main subjects of the electoral campaign (Kubicki et al., 2017; Jaskulowski, 2019). It acted as a trigger for the politicization of immigration and allowed for the channelling of negative attitudes in the public sphere. The then main opposition party, the right-wing populist Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (PiS) [Law and Justice], jumped on this opportunity and made it serve the party’s political goals. Krzyzanowski (2018b) suggests that by converging anti-refugee framings with the rhetoric of islamophobia, euro-scepticism, and historically rooted anti-Semitism, this party successfully exploited the issue through top-down mediatization in both traditional and online news media.

In Hungary, the issue of migration was already politicized before the summer of 2015. Paradoxically, the politicization of migration was initially connected to emigration more than immigration. Immigration was not often discussed in Hungarian political discourse prior to the European refugee crisis (Szalai and Gobi, 2015), and if it was, the context was primarily economic. The rise of Fidesz-KDNP partszdvetseg [Fidesz-KDNP Party Alliance] to power in 2010 was facilitated by the global economic crisis, and Viktor Orban, who has been Prime Minister since 2010, launched a rhetoric campaign that was primarily built on anti-elitism (Palonen, 2018, p. 314). Melegh (2016) uses the term “demographic nationalism” to describe the Hungarian policymaking trends with respect to migration. He sees this phenomenon reflected, among other things, in the “segregated immigration system” that evolved from the mid-1990s onwards. The system privileged immigrants of Hungarian ethnic background over other immigrants and nationals of minority ethnic groups. It was only with the opening of the Balkan route that immigrants powerfully entered the political and media discourse. Demographic nationalism, which was not strongly linked with the immigration issue previously, was radicalized and directed against the asylum seekers. The shift most notably manifested itself in the government-designed National Consultation campaign on “Illegal immigration and terrorism” (April-July 2015), which proved to be particularly influential in the context of “limited political and media pluralism” (Bajomi-Lazar, 2019). As Bocskor (2018, p. 561) observes, with the unfolding of the crisis, “the economic narrative was largely dropped and the attention got redirected towards cultural and security questions.”

In Romania, the refugee crisis became mediatized but not as politicized as in Poland and Hungary. The positions towards relocation were certainly used as rhetorical ammunition in the political field and this can be clearly seen in the media in the form of criminalization and securitization narratives (Corbu et al., 2017; Marinescu and Balica, 2018).

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >