Viktor Orbán gave a lengthy interview to the German newspaper Bild, which I just learned has the sixth largest circulation in the world. According to an article that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, this German paper “is notorious for its mix of gossip, inflammatory language, and sensationalism,” but at the same time it has a huge influence on German politicians. So it makes sense that it was in Bild that the Hungarian prime minister decided to make public his proposals for solving the refugee crisis.
Let’s start with Orbán’s “constructive” suggestions, which he apparently will share with his fellow politicians in the European Union. It’s not clear what his views are on the fate of those refugees who are already inside the borders of the European Union, but he seems reconciled to the fact that they most likely will stay. Those on the other side of the Serb-Hungarian fence, however, should “go back.” In this context, “back” means back to the refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. These countries should be given massive financial support by the European Union. In his scheme each member country should pay into the common budget an additional one percent while “we reduce spending on other projects by one percent.” By his calculation, that would generate three billion euros with which the EU could support the countries neighboring on Syria. If that turns out to be insufficient, the Union will pump more money in until “the flow of refugees dries up.”
Otherwise, from the interview Orbán comes across as a callous man who blames the parents for the death of the little boy whose body washed up on the beach in Bodrum, Turkey. He, unlike his foreign minister who claimed not to have seen the shocking picture that upset the whole civilized world, says that he was shocked because he is a good Christian, but he also thought of the parents who “put their lives and those of their children at risk. One must make clear to them that the dangers that lurk on the way to Europe cannot be borne by us. It would be better if they did not come.”
Although Orbán is currently the chief villain of Europe, he will not retreat. As he put it, “I can only say: Here I stand. Cannot do otherwise.” These two sentences, which of course echo Luther, are intended to show Orbán’s missionary zeal in defending Christian Europe. He will perhaps be the leader of a movement that will prevent the Islamization of the Continent. Because, surprisingly and inexplicably, he seems to believe in the superiority of Islam. As he says, “if Europe allows a competition of cultures, then the Christians will lose. These are the facts.”
A careful reading of this interview reveals that, although Orbán when pressed tries to make a distinction between genuine refugees and economic migrants, deep down he considers all those who got as far as Europe economic migrants. The true refugees remain in camps in Syria’s neighboring countries, and the rest are being tricked by irresponsible western politicians who “promise them a better life…. but they will learn that the honey that flows in Germany is less sweet than they think.” I agree that the refugees underestimate the difficulties that await them, but it is unfair to accuse them of moving to Europe only to receive government handouts. Because this is what he indicates when he says that “after all, a good life is matter of accomplishment and not entitlement.” In fact, he claims that “there is no fundamental right to a better life, only a right to security and human dignity.” So, if you and your family are starving, you should bear it with dignity.
This pronouncement can easily be turned against Orbán. What about those half a million Hungarians who left Hungary in hope of a better life in Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and other western European countries? Surely, they left because they can make a great deal more money in western Europe than in Hungary. Since Orbán claims that their situation is entirely different because they are citizens of the European Union, he is basically saying that only the lucky people of Eastern Europe are entitled to seek a better life but that those outside of Europe cannot.
Finally, he showered plenty of accusations on Germany. Angela Merkel’s “announcement has caused a revolt in Hungary. Migrants have broken out of the lodgings, have attacked policemen. They refused to register.” Previously, the situation was under control. So, says the reporter, in this case “Chancellor Angela Merkel [was] wrong.” To which comes the witty Hungarian prime minister: “The German chancellor always gets it right–that’s item number 1 in the Hungarian constitution…. but let’s be serious.” The trouble with Orbán is that all his jokes have an edge, a sharp edge. At least as I read it, this was anything but a compliment. To me this remark shows frustration with the power of the German chancellor on whose goodwill so much depends as far as Hungary is concerned.
Only time will tell whether Orbán will be able to repeat a few months down the road “Here I stand. Cannot do otherwise” or whether he will have to relax his rigid opposition to sharing the burden of the refugee crisis in the European Union.