Today I would like to share two pieces of writing. One is an article written by Professor András B. Göllner, whom you already know from his astute comments on Hungarian Spectrum. The article originally appeared in Canada’s National Post, a nationally distributed newspaper based in Toronto. The other is a letter addressed to Chancellor Angela Merkel and signed by 43 well-known Hungarians deeply concerned about their government’s behavior. The letter was first published in Népszabadság. These concerned people might be in the minority, but they are the conscience of the nation during these difficult times.
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András B. Göllner: Hungary facing a slow slide into despotism
Last week, Hungary’s nationalist strongman, Viktor Orbán, read the riot act to his diplomats. At a meeting in Budapest, he ordered them to go on the offensive in the Western media and come to the defence of his government’s approach to stemming “the Muslim tide” that is sweeping across Europe from the South.
In his speech, Orbán declared that he will not allow Hungary to become the victim of multiculturalism and promised to do whatever is necessary to ensure that Hungary remains a country populated only by white-skinned Christians. He told his listeners that Western media outlets, including those in Canada, are government mouthpieces that purposefully distort the truth about his country’s handling of the migrant crisis. He ordered his ambassadors to set the record straight. A few days later, his ambassador to Canada, Bálint Ódor, took up the challenge by writing an open letter to the news editors of the CBC and to Canada’s major newspapers, including the National Post. (The full text of the letter is available on the website of the Hungarian Embassy in Ottawa).
In his letter, the Ambassador says that he wants to help our national editors to become better informed. He unfortunately starts off by telling them a monumental lie. He claims that 150,000 of the 160,000 aliens entering Hungary had asked for political asylum in his country. The fact is that hardly any of them did so. Most wanted nothing but to get out of Hungary as fast as their feet could carry them.
Everyone knows that Europe and the world are facing a refugee crisis of epic proportions, sparked by a meltdown in global conflict resolution. No one expected that Hungary, a small and poverty stricken country directly in the path of the tide, should have to solve the problem on its own. But everyone expected that in the process of struggling with the crisis, Hungary would uphold the values that are the sacred trust of the UN and of such bodies as the European Union. The latter expectations are now totally shattered.
The last time Hungary embarked on a racially motivated immigration policy, it was an ally of Nazi Germany.
Through a series of hastily passed laws that will go into effect on Sept. 15, Hungarians and any foreign nationals on the territory of Hungary will face the following conditions. Anyone entering Hungary illegally, regardless of his/her circumstances, will be classified as a felon and face a three-year prison term. Any Hungarian citizen who assists an alien will also be charged. Hungary has erected a 175 km long, four-meter-high razor-tipped fence along its southern border with Serbia. Anyone who climbs over this fence and survives will be faced by members of the Hungarian armed forces, who have been given orders to kill if necessary to arrest trespassers. Hungary’s security forces have been given the power to enter anyone’s home in search of aliens — no warrants are necessary. Those who may offer safe haven to a refugee could have their homes confiscated, and may face imprisonment. The security forces have been given unlimited powers to tap telephone lines, to inspect Internet correspondence, to censure the media that glorifies the felons. A new law is also on the table that will force all Hungarians to possess a face-recognition ID. Their personal data will be entered into a national data bank that can be freely utilized by the country’s security forces without any judicial oversight.
What Prime Minister Orbán is doing today is not unprecedented, but the circumstances under which he is doing them are novel. The last time Hungary embarked on a racially motivated immigration policy, it was an ally of Nazi Germany. Today it is a member of a community — the European Union — that doesn’t allow such discrimination. But this new turn in Hungary is part of a much more serious Volta Face. According to respected constitutional expert Kim Lane Scheppele of Princeton University, “The Hungarian government’s disregard for the rights of refugees in EU law presages its disregard for the rights of its own citizens in the coming surveillance state. Over the last five years, the Hungarian government has eliminated all checks on its power and now it is using the refugee crisis to usher in a police state.”
Last year, in a highly publicized speech, Hungary’s Prime Minister declared that he will remodel Hungary’s political system according to the Russian and Chinese templates. It seems that he is staying the course and is doing his utmost to court the support of Harper’s Conservatives for his enterprise. A few weeks ago, the Orbán government gave over $100,000 to “The Victims of Communism” memorial in Ottawa, a pet project of the Harper government. The letter from Hungary’s ambassador to our national media is part of this manipulative exercise, and so far, the strategy seems to be working.
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The letter of 43 Hungarian intellectuals to Chancellor Angela Merkel
Dear Chancellor Merkel,
We, citizens of the European Union who are signing this letter, are concerned. We are concerned for the thousands of refugees from civil wars around Europe who, as hostages of a failed refugee policy of the European Union and as pawns of a national government that is increasingly escaping any political control, are bound to face, in inhuman circumstances , a most insecure future in Hungary. For the Hungarians with a European sensibility who, for twenty-five years have taken pride in being the first to cause a fissure in the Berlin Wall, this situation is shameful and humiliating.
For several months the Hungarian Government, through billboards and telecasts, is continuously stirring up fear of and hostility against the refugees, thus smashing the stone tablets of European fundamental values. The activity of these politicians aims at criminalizing from the outset, through razor wire fences and administrative strictures, those who seek asylum with us, at creating a pretext for their deportation, and at endearing themselves with far right voters. The Government made a further dangerous step toward this political dead end last Friday when, with the help of the far right MP’s, it obtained authorization to introduce, beginning on the 15th of September, a kind of state of emergency under the pretext of the refugee crisis. This measure would permit the deployment of the army against the refugees. This constitutes a clear mockery of the democratic political system and a vain sabre-rattling. Certainly, these politicians who are openly reneging on solidarity and humanity are Hungarian, but they are also your party allies in the European Parliament. For several months they have been acting in Hungary as if the European People’s Party had announced the Caliphate of xenophobia and the Shariah of intolerance and national self-centeredness.
Resisting the hate campaign of the Hungarian Government, the citizens of Budapest have given proof of their European dignity; through spontaneous civil initiatives they are sharing their modest income and free time with the refugees who, for several weeks by now, have been camping in the train stations. Volunteers are sharing information, looking for interpreters, playing with traumatized children, caring for the sick – often wounded by the Hungarian razor wire fence, while Government politicians are playing their disastrous games on the European floor. Our daily experience teaches us that in these political circumstances we cannot expect from the Hungarian State either a fair assessment of applications for refugee status or a successful policy of integration of the refugees. When, on Wednesday, Mr. de Maizière emphasized the need for the elaboration of common European standards of refugee policy, he spoke from the very heart of all European citizens, including us. All of us are for a proportionate sharing of the burdens. The Hungarian Europeans have sufficiently proven their willingness through donations and their voluntary work in the transit zones. However, until there is a political agreement on the aforementioned standards and they are engraved through practical work of enlightenment in the marble tablets of the hearts and also until their practical implementation is overseen, we cannot entrust the refugees in Hungary to the inhuman machinery of a procrastinating bureaucracy that, from the outset, is aiming at their deportation. Were we doing so, they would remain the hostages of political intrigues.
We, the signatories of this letter, ask you to work on the unique European solution that this historical moment offers. Please help us keep our faith in a common European house and help the refugees of the civil wars to travel to Germany. Do not expose these miserable people to the Hungarian razor wire fence politics.
Ágnes Aczél, sociologist
Judit B. Gáspár, psychologist
Tamás Bulkai, engineer
Margit Bulkai, engineer
Dr. Gábor Demszky sociologist, former Mayor of Budapest
Orsolya Dobrovits, art historian
Sára Gábor, university student
Balázs Galkó, actor
László Garaczi, writer
József Gehér, advisor
Balázs Györe, writer
Eszter Kállay, university student
György C. Kálmán, university professor
Mihály Kiss, educator
Mihály Kornis, writer
Dr. Ilona Kovács, university professor
József Kőrössi Papp, poet
Júlia Lángh writer, journalist
Júlia Lázár, high-school teacher, poet, translator
Júlia Lévai, publicist
László Miklósi, history teacher
Mihály Nagy, university student
András Nyerges, writer
Anna Perczel, architect, president of ÓVÁS! Association
István Perczel, university professor
Péter Perényi, CEO
Viktória Radics, writer, literary critic
Zoltán Radnóti, rabbi
András Schuller, doctoral student
Anna Soproni, physician
Ferenc Szijj, poet
István Sziklai, history teacher
Ádám Tábor, writer
Gáspár Miklós Tamás, philosopher, former director of the Institute of Philosophy of the Hungarian Academy of Science
József Tillmann, university professor
Ildikó Tóth, translator, interpreter
Erika Törzsök, sociologist
Annamária Uzelmann, CEO
Károly Vajda, associate professor
Péter Várdy, retired associate professor (Twente)
Anna Wessely, art historian
Gábor Zalai, real estate developer