I just finished listening to the hearing on “The Future of U.S-Hungary Relations” organized by the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats. I’m not yet ready to comment on it, except to say that it was an excellent forum for the Republicans to criticize the Obama administration’s foreign policy and to applaud Viktor Orbán.
Hungary was also the topic of another debate today, this time in Strasbourg in the plenary session of the European Parliament. It was only yesterday that Viktor Orbán announced his intention to attend in order to defend Hungary.
Before his appearance in the chamber, he gave a press conference in which he marshaled his usual arguments for a discussion on capital punishment, which may last a whole decade. I guess he is ready to fight at least ten years to convince the members of the European Union to reinstate the death penalty. As for immigration, Orbán explained the reasons for Hungary’s refusal even to entertain the idea of allowing immigrants inside the country. Some countries, he said (presumably Great Britain, France, and perhaps the Netherlands), had been colonial powers and as such are accustomed to multiculturalism. Hungary, on the other hand, was never a colonial power, and therefore for Hungarians multiculturalism is a foreign idea. When I heard this, I broke out in laughter. Hungary for centuries and centuries was a multinational state in which half of the population was non-Hungarian. The country’s population was made up of Romanians, Slovaks, Serbs, Ruthenians, Germans, Slovenes, Yiddish-speaking Jews, Croats, shall I continue? Didn’t each of these groups have its own culture? Weren’t the people of Austria-Hungary accustomed to living side by side with people of different cultures? In fact, as far as its mixture of nationalities was concerned, Austria-Hungary was something of a mini-European Union. I assume, however, that for Orbán these cultural differences were minor. After all, most of the country’s citizens were steeped in the Judaeo-Christian tradition and virtually all of them were white. Not like the “barbarians at the gate” of Hungary now.
The debate started with a short speech by Frans Timmermans, who was very critical of Orbán’s use of scare tactics as far as immigrants and refugees are concerned. If Hungary does not abide by the constitution of the European Union, the European Commission will not hesitate to use sanctions that are at its disposal as spelled out in Article II of the EU Constitution. Fidesz MEP Mrs. Pelcz, née Ildikó Gáll, interpreted Timmermans’s words as a threat and bitterly complained about restrictions placed on the right to open discussion about certain subjects. Most of the representatives who spoke during the debate preceding Orbán’s speech argued against the idea of bringing up the subject, which they consider to be one of the fundamental values of the Union. As Sophia in ‘t Veld, a liberal MEP, said, such a debate would be a short one: “we condemn it, the European Union condemns it. That’s it.” Throwing the issue of capital punishment into the debate was intended to divert attention away from the main issue, the “national consultation” on immigration, which might be at odds with the fundamental values of the European Union. During the debate, the “national consultation” was described as a kind of “poisoning of the minds,” which some considered outright shocking. There was only one man who tried to defend Viktor Orbán–Manfred Weber of the European People’s Party, although his defense was feeble. After praising the great economic achievements of the Hungarian government, the only thing he could muster in Orbán’s defense was that talking about immigration is appropriate because two-thirds of the immigrants are turned away.
Then came Orbán, who as usual started on an ironic note. He found it flattering that the members of the European Parliament were devoting a lengthy discussion to the Hungarian situation. There could be reasons for such a discussion in the European Parliament–for example, the great Hungarian successes of late, but alas, he said, this is not the reason he has to be in Strasbourg. He was pleased to hear that the European Union is interested in order, public safety, and immigration, but these problems are not Hungarian problems. They are European problems. The only reason that Hungary is the target is because “Hungarians like straight talk, [they] don’t like babble and equivocation,” said the man who is the master of double talk. Hungarians will openly say what they want: “Europe should remain European, and we want to keep Magyarország magyar.” For those readers who don’t know Hungarian, “Magyarország” means “Hungary.” So, Hungary should remain ethnically pure. If we take Viktor Orbán at his word, no foreigner, regardless of where he comes from, is welcome in Hungary. Otherwise, he called the European Union’s proposal on a quota system to deal with those who receive political asylum “absurd, close to madness.” Hungarians themselves will decide what to do with their illegal immigrants.
Finally, he closed his five-minute speech by arguing for a discussion about the death penalty, the prohibition of which is “after all not carved in stone by the gods.” After Orbán finished his speech, Martin Schulz, the president of the parliament, replied with a single sentence: “but there is such a divine commandment as ‘You shall not murder.'” Although the debate continued, this was best possible answer to this great Christian who only a few minutes earlier explained that his “government is Christian and national, [in whose] heart there is mercy.”