Yesterday I expressed my belief that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán would arrive in Brussels with a proposal seeking the European Union’s blessing of his hermetically sealed Hungarian borders, in contravention of European values and the Geneva Convention, in return for accepting a few hundred refugees. I was not very far off. It seems, however, that Orbán’s strategy is not working. He might receive some money to ease the strain caused by the large number of refugees in Hungary, but the EU leaders don’t want to be partners in his scheme.
It is hard to tell whether the chaos in Budapest and elsewhere in Hungary is the result of the government’s total incompetence or whether it has been artificially created. The utter confusion everywhere is a source of anxiety, even panic for the refugees. It is hard to fathom that a government chock-full of officials in charge of trivial matters hasn’t figured out that there ought to be a commissioner of refugee affairs. Is it the case, as many commentators suspect, that the Orbán government wants to have as much confusion as possible to show the population the horrible fate that awaits them if they are stranded with these screaming strangers? Moreover, if it becomes obvious that Hungary’s resources are inadequate to handle the situation, more money will come, money to replace the 23 million euros the government has spent thus far on the useless barbed-wire fence.
It seems that Orbán will get money but not much more than that. His proposals were rejected by the three important EU leaders he met with today in Brussels: Jean-Claude Junker, Donald Tusk, and Martin Schulz.
Orbán went to Brussels full of wrath. I suspect that on the way he rehearsed his main talking points, trying to phrase his message in the sharpest possible terms. He succeeded. Perhaps too well. What struck me most listening to sound bites was the primitive language in which he chose to convey his equally primitive ideas on the refugee issue. “The moral, human thing is to make clear ‘please don’t come! Why you have to go from Turkey to Europe? Turkey is a safe country. Stay there, it’s risky to come! We can’t guarantee that you will be accepted here.'”
Prior to his arrival in Brussels, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, he described Europe’s response to the crisis as “madness.” He reiterated his opposition to allowing Muslims into Europe. “Those arriving have been raised in another religion and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims…. This is an important question, because European identity is rooted in Christianity…. We have no option but to defend our borders.”
I’m sure that Orbán hoped that Donald Tusk at least, being a politician from Catholic Poland, would sympathize with him. He turned out to be mistaken. At a press conference in Brussels, Tusk had the following to say on the subject: “Finally let me make a personal comment with reference to PM Orbán’s article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. I want to underline that for me, Christianity in public and social life carries a duty to our brothers in need. Referring to Christianity in a public debate on migration must mean in the first place the readiness to show solidarity and sacrifice. For a Christian it shouldn’t matter what race, religion and nationality the person in need represents.”
Tusk was equally negative on Orbán’s “solution” of banning all refugees who reach the borders of Hungary. While he admitted that the borders of the Union must be more effectively defended, he added that “our attitude to refugees is in fact an expression of European solidarity.” He also said that “EU countries will not change their migratory policies overnight.” Translated into plain English, Orbán, if he wants to stay in the Union, will have to allow asylum-seekers across that fence.
Orbán’s meeting with Martin Schulz didn’t go any better. After the meeting, Schulz told reporters that “the Schengen treaty is under threat.” And he warned people that “a deeper split of the union is a risk we cannot exclude.” This indicates that during the meeting Orbán showed no willingness to compromise. Since in Orbán’s opinion the flood of refugees is not a European problem but a German one, since everybody wants to go to Germany, he believes that Hungary should not be obligated to adjust its policies to those demanded by the European Union. After the press conference Schulz appeared on ZDF, the German public television station, where he expressed himself more forcefully. According to HVG, Schulz announced that Viktor Orbán’s position on the refugee crisis is “totally unacceptable.”
We know relatively little about the meeting between Viktor Orbán and Jean-Claude Juncker since no press conference was scheduled, which usually means that the meeting was not exactly a roaring success. The spokesman of the European Commission called the talks “constructive,” which pro-government Hungarian papers heralded with great fanfare, as if “constructive” in this context means something positive. “Constructive” usually means that each man expressed his opinions and there was no meeting of the minds. Apparently, Orbán talked about his idea for a sealed border, which Juncker disapproved of, while Juncker lectured Orbán on the necessity of a common European solution. At least this is my interpretation of the very brief description I read of the meeting.
After this trip Orbán can reassess what he wants to do: face the threat of the abrogation of the Schengen Treaty, which means the end of free movement and labor within the Schengen borders, or give up the promised legislative package on the refugees, whose provisions would greatly restrict basic democratic rights.
Meanwhile German-Hungarian relations are on the rocks as well. Neither Martin Schulz nor Angela Merkel appreciated Orbán’s accusations. First, Orbán accused Germany of being responsible for Hungary’s current problems with the refugees, and then came the accusation that the refugee crisis in general is a German problem. Chancellor Merkel didn’t wait long to respond: “Germany is doing what is morally and legally required of us, no more and no less,” she said in Bern.
Meanwhile at home János Lázár used the strongest language against Germany’s behavior, which he found to be “beyond words.” It is Germany that is opening and closing the doors of Keleti (Eastern Station) with its irresponsible statements about accepting Syrian refugees.
It was only a couple of months ago that we heard that Hungary’s foreign policy is anchored in the excellent relationship between Hungary and Germany. Moreover, Hungary is heavily dependent economically on Germany. Is it worth attacking the strongest power in the European Union for the sake of playing the role of Defender of the Faith and Europe?
Viktor Orbán has managed to maneuver Hungary into an untenable position. The country’s reputation is in tatters. Finally the whole world can see what kind of a country Viktor Orbán and his fellow Fidesz politicians have created in the last five years. I’m sure that a lot of people thought that the opposition parties and commentators critical of Orbán’s regime were exaggerating. They kept saying: “But Hungary is still a democracy.” The democratic features of the Orbán regime, however, are only skin deep, beneath which one can find many features reminiscent of Mussolini’s Italy.