On August 27 an article by Jean-Claude Juncker was published in Népszabadság titled “Together, courageously.” In it, Juncker declared that the European Union “will never turn those people away who need our assistance.” However, he continued, it is worrisome that the populist statements of certain politicians merely arouse passions without offering solutions. Hate speech and ill-considered announcements endanger the union’s greatest achievement, the abolition of internal borders. This is not the world he wants to live in, he said. The real Europe is personified in “those Hungarian volunteers who give food and toys to hungry, exhausted refugee children.” Europe is “those students in Siegen who opened the door of their dormitory to the refugees.” Europe is “the baker on the island of Kos who distributes bread to hungry and weary people. This is the Europe where I want to live.” Finally, he added that “by hiding behind fences we can’t barricade ourselves from all fears and sufferings.”
This article was written before 71 people suffocated in a human trafficker truck with a Hungarian license plate not far from the Hungarian border. It was written before it became known that the Orbán government was planning to introduce modifications to the criminal code that will create what has been described as a state of martial law. It was written before the contents of a parliamentary resolution were published, in which nine members of the Hungarian parliament blamed European politicians: their “irresponsible policies are responsible for the death of people.”
Viktor Orbán, the man who is, we can safely say, responsible for everything that happens in the country, says not a word. He has, as is his wont, disappeared, just as he vanishes from the chamber when he forces his minions to vote for controversial pieces of legislation he wouldn’t like to be held responsible for at a later date. I can’t imagine that any statesman would remain silent in a situation that government officials and politicians describe as a state of emergency. Orbán instead gets his henchmen to sign the odious document.
Foreign criticism of Viktor Orbán has been growing, especially since the tragedy that befell the Syrians on their way to Germany in that truck. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius gave an interview today in which he called the attitude of some countries in Eastern Europe “scandalous.” He criticized them for “not complying with the common values of Europe.” Fabius wants to dismantle the fence the Hungarian government erected as the first demand, after which the “European Union should have a serious and tough discussion with the Hungarian leaders.” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also condemned the Hungarian “solution” to the crisis when he told a gathering in La Rochelle that “those who flee wars, persecution, torture, must be welcomed with dignity.” Look around the Hungarian train stations where families have to lie on the cement floor in designated areas.
On the other side, the Orbán government tries to justify its actions by claiming that they are actually defending the interests of Western Europe. Gergely Gulyás, one of the cleverest and therefore most dangerous of the Fidesz lot, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, told the German readers of the paper that in fact Hungary’s tough stand serves German interests. They should be grateful because fewer people will reach Germany as a result of Hungary not allowing the refugees to step onto Hungarian soil. “One could say,” he continued, “that Hungary is closing its borders for Germany’s sake.” Perhaps it would be time for the German government to tell the Hungarians that it doesn’t want their help. I don’t think that Angela Merkel would like to be held responsible for more deaths of refugees who feel that they must pay smugglers because the Hungarian authorities, for Germany’s sake, don’t let them board trains for which they already have tickets. Let’s leave that responsibility to Viktor Orbán.
Reuters‘s Krisztina Than talked at length with Ahmed, a twenty-seven-year-old Syrian school teacher, and his wife at one of the Budapest railway stations. He told her about their harrowing ten-day trip from Ariha in northern Syria to Budapest. They are heading to Germany, he said. He described their journey as “a trip from death to death.” He said that if he finds a smuggler, he will go with him. “It’s better than sitting here.” Indeed, the next day “there was no sign of Ahmed and his wife at the railway station.” The family who camped out next to them indicated that “they had already moved on.” The chaos that has been the result of the incompetence and perhaps even ill will of the authorities and the fear that they will have to stay in Hungary compel these people to flee, if necessary with the help of smugglers.
Just yesterday the Austrian police checked a suspicious-looking truck near Sankt Peter am Hart in Upper Austria in which they found 26 refugees, among them two five-year-old girls and a six-year-old boy who, due to severe dehydration, were close to death. The driver of the vehicle was a Romanian citizen. It is only a question of time before another tragedy happens. This one was a close call.
Tibor Szanyi, an MSZP member of the European Parliament, on tumblr.com, blamed Viktor Orbán for the death of the 71 people who suffocated in the refrigerated truck because “if these people didn’t also have to escape from the Hungarians, they would still be alive.” Szanyi can say hair-raising things, but this time I’m not sure that István Dévényi of Válasz is correct when he claims that “Tibor Szanyi has simply lost his mind.” It was not only the right-wing Válasz that condemned Szanyi’s short note but also János Széki, a columnist of Élet és Irodalom. He is outraged that instead of mourning the victims, the first thing that comes to someone’s mind is that “Orbán will have to answer for the death of these people.” (Actually, Szanyi used the Hungarian expression “Orbán lelkén szárad” [it is on Orbán’s conscience].)
According to Zoltán Kovács, the government spokesman, the victims themselves are responsible for their own deaths. In the opinion of the leading politicians of Fidesz, it is the irresponsible European politicians who are guilty. And now Szanyi comes forward with a new culprit, Viktor Orbán himself. Of these three, I’m afraid, Orbán is the best candidate because after all he is the prime minister of the country that seems unable and/or unwilling to handle the crisis and whose government is determined not to allow these refugees to continue their journey in a legal and organized fashion. Under these circumstances, after such an arduous and dangerous journey, these people feel that they have no choice but to turn to smugglers. The more stringent border patrolling and more severe restrictions produce more smugglers and more possible tragedies. A rapid change in policy is in order. The tough talking-to Fabius proposed shouldn’t be postponed.