The Hungarian media, as usual, are split when it comes to evaluating Jean-Claude Junker’s state of the union address. Those on the left consider it a very tough speech with pointed messages to Viktor Orbán. After all, he condemned the Orbán government even though he didn’t explicitly mention Hungary, but everybody knows about the appalling conditions the asylum seekers have to endure once they cross into Hungary. He promised to look into the fate of the money given to member states that may not have been used for its intended purpose. He stressed that giving assistance to the asylum seekers is a humanitarian and not a religious question. He warned EU member countries to obey EU law, which includes offering asylum to those who are eligible for refugee status. As for the defense of EU borders, Juncker said that the answer lies in a joint effort at border defense. Juncker announced the introduction of the quota system. Moreover, he indicated that, if necessary, the European Commission has the means to force reluctant member states to comply with the directives of the European Union.
At the moment it is impossible to predict the final outcome of the struggle between “national egotism” and “Europe,” although Juncker optimistically predicted that the former “will be defeated in this migration crisis.” Still, he had to admit that at present “there is neither Europe nor Union.” Europe in this context means “European values” and Union, “solidarity.”
Juncker avoided any reference to “Christian values.” By contrast, one of Viktor Orbán’s arguments against accepting refugees from the Middle East is their non-Christian religious background. Slovak and Hungarian attitudes are very similar in this respect. Robert Fico announced that his country is willing to accept 250 migrants, but they must be Christians. The Hungarian government, which incessantly talks about “Christian Europe,” wasn’t that blatant until yesterday. Zoltán Balog, while attending a conference in Paris, defended the current Hungarian immigration policy by revealing that during 2013 and 2014 1,000 Egyptian and Iraqi Christian families received asylum and citizenship in Hungary. All this, he said, was done in secret. I must say that I am dubious about the truthfulness of this piece of news. I can’t see how in a relatively small country the government can grant citizenship to 1,000 families (or approximately 4,000-5,000 people) without anyone noticing it.
The newcomers’ faith is not, however, the only disqualifying criterion as far as Viktor Orbán is concerned. Orbán’s critics claim that racism is the moving force behind his steadfast opposition to admitting any of the asylum seekers. As we have discussed earlier, Viktor Orbán didn’t always oppose immigration. In fact, he thought it would foster economic growth. Most likely he still thinks that an additional 100,000-150,000 immigrants over the next few years would benefit the Hungarian economy. But not these kinds of people. Not people whose skin color is a shade darker than our own.
On what basis can we charge the Hungarian prime minister with racism? In the past, Orbán has always been careful to draft his speeches in such a way that it would be difficult to accuse him of racism, irredentism, anti-Semitism, fascism, or Nazism. But, according to his critics, in the speech he delivered to the Hungarian ambassadors on September 7 his caution abandoned him and he revealed himself to be an outright racist. Here is the passage:
Hungary’s historical given is that we live together with a few hundred thousands Roma. This was decided by someone, somewhere. This is what we inherited. This is our situation, this is our predetermined condition…. We are the ones who have to live with this, but we don’t demand from anyone, especially not in the direction of the west, that they should live together with a large Roma minority.
The first comment on this speech, as far as I could ascertain, came from András Jámbor of kettosmerce.blog.hu. He called Orbán a racist because he treats the Roma as separate and distinct, perhaps even a burden.
In my opinion, an analysis by one of the readers of Hungarian Spectrum is much more astute. According to Gábor Tóka, professor of sociology at the Central European University, this is “a clear plea to consider the Roma in Hungary an equivalent of refugees from Syria: ‘I do not ask you to take a quota of the Roma, so in return you should not ask me to take a quota of the refugees.'” There is only one way to avoid this interpretation but, in his opinion, it is not any better. Perhaps Orbán considers “both [the Mid-Eastern refugees and the Roma] a burden, an economically unproductive mass living on welfare. Here the problem is not simply with how wrong, prejudiced and evil this premise is, but with the idea that ethnicity means (under)class and vice versa. Whichever of the two interpretations you take, the end result is the same: Orbán declared himself to be not simply like-minded with the far-right on immigration but specifically highlighted his racism as a reason for this policy choice.” I consider Gábor Tóka’s analysis to be spot on.
In Hungary this crucial passage was largely ignored, perhaps because the “Roma issue” is something few Hungarians like to talk about. But this passage provides a window into Viktor Orbán’s mindset. Orbán is not so worried about the fate of Christian Europe as he is about racial purity, which has already been compromised by former colonial powers like Great Britain and France and lately by countries like Germany and Sweden.
And so the European Union now has a prime minster who not only embraces illiberal democracy if not worse but who also espouses racist sentiments.