This article originally appeared on VICE UK
At a first glance, Pizzaphone in Kiskőrös, Hungary doesn't seem much out of the ordinary. Like many pizzerias, it has a number of dishes named after fittingly cheesy celebrities: a Seagal, a Pamela Anderson, a Schwarzenegger, and a Pizza Gibson. But Pizzaphone's made Kiskőrös—a quaint, one-horse town midway once best-known as birthplace of revolutionary poet Sándor Petöfi—the talk of Hungary for a different reason.
Diners can now choose from its new "immigrant" pizza range: the Terrorist, Syrian, Ahmed and Immigrant. Inside the pizzeria, 39-year-old restaurant owner Imre Rózsa is organizing his employees for another day at the business that he established 17 years ago. He came up with the new additions to the menu. But why opt for clearly inflammatory names, likely to piss people off?
The idea was "possibly a little bit mismanaged" he says. "I do not want to make excuses here, but I think that, for example, one internet comment that we should advertise the terrorist pizza menu with a Bomba energy drink—well that is a marvelous idea, too. The role of this campaign was that if somebody reads such names, then they would find them funny, or ridiculous. It's certainly funny for us, but obviously not everybody has found it that fantastic. But the menu's primary role has been to attract attention." Mission accomplished.
Sitting in a booth at Pizzaphone as two waitresses set up the bar behind him, he smiles nervously about the media attention around his small pizzeria. He asks for my position on the refugee crisis on three occasions, deflecting the conversation from the menu itself. His employees are guarded too. "Now he's collecting evidence from the crime scene," one of the waitresses mutters to her colleague in Hungarian, as I take pictures upstairs.
Later in the day I meet Ahmed, a pizza namesake who spent more than a year in refugee camps in the Hungary's east provinces. He says he can't tell me his last name, to keep his family safe, but sitting on the friend's couch that has been his temporary bed since December, he talks about the impact of ignorant statements on race. "They can be harmful, in my opinion: today anything can trigger racism or discrimination." Rózsa sees things differently. "To me, there is nothing wrong with this whole thing. This is an absolutely simple, apolitical, attention-hunting menu." He adds that "the migrants avoided Kiskőrös, luckily. Here you could absolutely not see any immigrants, so locals got their information about the refugee crisis only from the newspapers and from television."
But Hungary's government has been accused of overseeing biased TV coverage of the migrant crisis, and criticized for state-funded anti-migrant billboard campaigns that ran such slogans as "if you come to Hungary, you must respect the laws of Hungarians," and "if you come to Hungary, you should not take Hungarians' jobs."
That the billboards were written in Hungarian—a language many refugees wouldn't be able to read—led many to think prime minister Viktor Orbán deliberately stirred up anti-immigrant sentiment to divert attention from massive government corruption cases. It looked like a classic case of dog-whistle politics.
Daniel Fazekas is CEO of the qualitative social media intelligence startup Bakamo Social, which has analyzed the effects of hate speech on public sentiment towards the migrant crisis in Hungary. "The Hungarian population displays similar fears to citizens in other countries," he says. "The difference in Hungary is that the government ran a full-blown anti-migrant campaign inciting and legitimising the hateful sentiment."
Government spokesperson Zoltán Kovács argued, however, that "it is an elementary interest of the European Union and Hungary to relay the government's message to those already on their way to Hungary, [because] the vast majority of them prove to be mere economic migrants and could not expect to be granted asylum."
"I didn't understand those billboards or the propaganda," Ahmed says, "but I did experience the neo-Nazi demonstrations. Everyone in the refugee camp always knew, and news would spread: 'Beware, this weekend the neo-Nazis are going to be around the camp for a demo.'"
Ahmed said he also saw the different attitudes exhibited towards foreigners, in Hungary's provinces versus in the capital, Budapest. "It's a cultural issue and mostly educational. In the countryside, which might be of less interest to foreigners, people are not used to seeing many people from abroad or hearing every other word in another language." On the other hand, "Budapest is crowded and full of people from all over the world," he added.
Either way, a lack of exposure to refugees doesn't look likely to make Rózsa think twice about his terrorist menu. "To me there is nothing wrong with this whole thing," he says "There has been negative feedback in Hungary, but I think we have profited a great deal from the advertising. Many have said that we are stupid, but this is not a problem if they also said that our pizza is tasty."
"It is true that Ahmed probably would not touch the Ahmed pizza, but it is not made for him anyway. It is not named Ahmed to invite Ahmed to dinner. But if Ahmed pays us a visit, we will welcome him anyway."
For the record, Pizzaphone's Ahmed is indeed light and fluffy with a ham topping, with its tomato sauce served in a separate jug. The ham, though delicious, is probably not halal.