STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And now, let's explore the politics behind the resistance to refugees in Hungary. The country's crackdown on migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere has helped the government's popularity. It has also helped the Prime Minister outdo a rival party with its own anti-immigrant message. There's a competition here. Lauren Frayer reports from Hungary.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: One afternoon last summer, Gyorgy Malovics, an economics professor, opened his mailbox in southern Hungary and found...
GYORGY MALOVICS: A two-page letter from our prime minister and questionnaire of 10 to 15 questions - how we should handle the refugee crisis.
FRAYER: They were mailed to every Hungarian household. The Prime Minister's letter warned of Charlie Hebdo-style killings in Hungary. The first question mentioned ISIS.
MALOVICS: Basically, it framed the whole question as we have to protect ourselves against the people who come here for economic reasons and to carry out terrorist acts.
FRAYER: Malovics says he's heard that rhetoric somewhere before...
(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Foreign language spoken).
FRAYER: ...At rallies for Jobbik, the far-right, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic party, which is now the second-largest in Hungary's Parliament. A million people filled out Prime Minister Viktor Orban's questionnaire and sent it back. The government says their answers are the basis for its hard-line policy against migrants, building fences and using force to keep them out. This fall, new billboards on the side of Hungarian highways read, the people have decided, the country has to be protected. The prime minister's right-wing party, Fidesz, has surged in the polls.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).
FRAYER: And when Jobbik organized an anti-immigrant rally last week in a rural factory town near the Austrian border, only about 20 people showed up.
ADAM MIRKOCZKI: (Speaking Hungarian).
FRAYER: A Jobbik lawmaker, Adam Mirkoczki, tells the crowd that most of the more than 300,000 migrants who've entered Hungary this year are Muslim fighters here to wage Jihad. People say yes, the government warned us about them. Mirkoczki fumes.
MIRKOCZKI: (Speaking Hungarian).
FRAYER: "Fidesz asked us to stand with them on the issues most important to the nation, and we did," he says. "And then they stabbed us in the back." Suddenly, Hungarian politics is a race to the far-right, says one of the Jobbik supporters here, Lajos Deak.
LAJOS DEAK: (Speaking Hungarian).
FRAYER: "We're all upset Fidesz is taking our issues," he says. "We identified ourselves as right-wing radicals first. And now, the big mainstream party is radicalizing."
(SOUNDBITE OF VIOLIN)
FRAYER: This tactic of co-opting Jobbik rhetoric seems to be working, even in the leafy university town of Szeged. Some young Fidesz supporters here say they'd never consider voting Jobbik.
What do you think of Jobbik?
ISTVAN KISS: It has quite a bad reputation because it's a populist party.
FRAYER: Grad student Istvan Kiss says he thinks Jobbik are far-right radicals. But when the same message comes from the prime minister...
KISS: I support our prime minister because I think Mr. Orban is one of the persons who can really protect the borders.
FRAYER: He says other mainstream political parties across Europe should take a page from Orban's playbook and move to the right. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Szeged, Hungary.
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