Category Archives: Hungary

Miklós Horthy redux

While the anti-refugee propaganda is loud and shrill, the rehabilitation of Admiral Horthy, regent of the Kingdom of Hungary (1920-1944), is quietly taking place in the background. About a month ago the website of the “Truth Institute,” my name for the Veritas Institute established by the Orbán government to set Hungarian history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries straight, advertised a conference to be held in Kaposvár on August 22 with the innocent-sounding theme “Society and culture in Hungary between the two world wars.” I became suspicious, however, when it turned out that one of the scheduled speakers was vitéz László Hunyadi, captain-general of the Order of Knights, established by Miklós Horthy to honor soldiers with a record of distinguished service in World War I. At the order of the regent, no Jew, no matter how valiantly he fought in the war, could be a member.

I became even more suspicious when I heard that the conference began with a holy mass for István Horthy, the older son of the admiral who died in an airplane accident in Russia, and for the fallen during World War II. István (Sharif) Horthy, Jr. was the guest of honor.

What the program did not reveal was that the Hungarian government, through its National Cultural Fund (Nemzeti Kulturális Alap), contributed generously to the conference which, as it turned out later, was the brainchild of the Horthy Miklós Alapítvány (Miklós Horthy Foundation). The Hungarian military was also represented by the air force band of Veszprém.

Unfortunately there is a public record of the speeches of only three speakers: the introductory words of the “chief sponsor”–Sándor Lezsák, a very minor poet in whose backyard the Magyar Demokrata Fórum was born and who today is the deputy speaker of the Hungarian parliament; István Horthy, Jr.; and Sándor Szakály, a military historian and director of the Truth Institute. Anyone who can handle the language can listen to their speeches as recorded by the cameraman of a local newspaper.

Sándor Lezsák and the knights

Sándor Lezsák and the knights

Although it was Sándor Lezsák who opened the conference, I would prefer to begin my analysis with the short speech of István Horthy, Jr., who has proved himself, on the few occasions he was called upon to speak in Hungary, to be a moderate and reasonable man. He pointed to the divide that cuts across Hungarian society and the inability of the two sides to find common ground. He expressed his hope that the conference would help bring divergent opinions closer together.

With his prepared speech in hand, what could István Horthy have been thinking when he listened to Sándor Lezsák’s introductory words, which were full of condemnation of those who don’t agree with his views? Here are a few key sentences. “Those historians, teachers, politicians, journalists who have been singing the old international songs about the white terror or Horthy’s fascism read from the scores of communism, socialism or liberalism.” A good beginning. And he continued. Of course, it is possible that “these people are misled by the long-time conductors of this anti-Horthy campaign.” It is hard to know whether the historians are the ones who are misled by these unnamed “conductors” or whether it is the historians themselves who are the evil conductors who want to discredit Miklós Horthy and his regime.

According to Lezsák, the white terror supervised by Miklós Horthy was designed to end the chaos created by the events of 1918-1919 and to bring order to the land. In his version, Horthy had nothing to do with the atrocities committed by his detachments that resulted in the deaths of approximately 1,200 people, many Jews among them. In fact, he was the one who was strong enough to put an end to the atrocities. This version of the story, alas, bears no resemblance to reality.

Lezsák, as one of the founders of MDF, inherited the narodnik (népi/népiesek) ideology of those writers and sociologists who severely criticized the Horthy regime’s agricultural policies, which created a large landless peasantry. Therefore, his only criticism of the Horthy regime was on that front, which he called “the darkest side of the regime.” A commentator criticized Lezsák for neglecting to mention the Holocaust, which surely was a much greater tragedy, but I would have been greatly surprised if he had. After all, in the official view of the Orbán regime the Hungarian government had nothing to do with the Holocaust because after March 19, 1944 Hungary ceased to be a sovereign nation. This is an untenable position. It is enough to look at the members of the Hungarian governments formed after that date and Horthy’s decision to stay in his post to demonstrate the continuity.

The third speech was delivered by Sándor Szakály, whose main theme was revisionism, which was supported by all segments of Hungarian society.  In his view no inter-war government would have survived that abandoned the idea of revising the Treaty of Trianon. As far as public sentiment was concerned, Szakály has a point, but what he failed to mention was the Hungarian government’s very effective propaganda. It eventually led to a situation that prompted even John F. Montgomery, U.S. minister to Hungary between 1933 and 1941 and a friend of Horthy, to remark that “the Hungarian people were not quite sane” on the subject of the Treaty of Trianon. Szakály’s conclusion was that since nothing but a revisionist foreign policy was possible, Hungary had to rely on those great powers that were ready to help, and they were Germany and Italy. End of discussion.

It’s too bad that no one reported on some of the other lectures. For example what István Ravasz, a military historian, had to say about “the Hungarian casus belli” on July 26, 1941, when Hungary entered the war on the side of Germany against the Soviet Union. Or how Zalán Bognár, who teaches at the Gáspár Károli Hungarian Reformed University, handled the German occupation of Hungary. The title of his speech sounds intriguing: “Arrow Cross takeover, deportations, counter-measures.” What kinds of counter-measures could he possibly be talking about?

All in all, the task of rewriting the history of the interwar period is under way. And this is only the beginning. The Truth Institute is publishing several books that I’m sure are destined to replace monographs about the period by well-known historian. It’s enough to visit the website of the Veritas Institute. They are busy revisionists.

Viktor Orbán’s message to Brussels

Viktor Orbán is again marching to a different drummer. While European politicians and leaders of the European Union are working hard to find a humane and peaceful solution to the refugee crisis, the Hungarian prime minister is preparing for war–war against anyone who tries to seek refuge in Hungary.

Angela Merkel, by legalizing the settlement of Syrian refugees in Germany, took a step in the right direction. But Germany cannot solve the problem alone; there must be a common effort by the 28 member states. Johanna Mikl-Leitner, the Austrian interior minister, is also of the opinion that bona fide refugees should be given a permanent home, a step that should end the kind of human trafficking that resulted in the death of those 71 people who were found in an abandoned truck on an Austrian highway. Viktor Orbán and the politicians of the party he leads, however, see it otherwise. The Hungarian government will not accept anyone, refugee or not, and today officials worked to make sure that they will have the legal means to introduce draconian measures.

The day started with Zoltán Kovács, government spokesman, blaming the refugees who died in that truck for their own death. Since there is no war situation in the Balkan countries, there was no reason for them to escape to (and through) Hungary. “Therefore we are talking about people who make themselves victims.”

Yesterday János Lázár and Antal Rogán laid the groundwork for the government’s response to the waves of people entering Hungary when they insisted that the use of the army along the border and modifications of the criminal code are necessary because of the “growing aggressiveness” of the asylum seekers. It matters not that the ministry of interior is unaware of any such aggressiveness, which is not a criminal category in any event.

Jobbik and Fidesz are vying with each other to see which party can come up with the most hateful anti-refugee propaganda and which one can suggest the most severe measures against the asylum seekers. This rivalry is especially evident when it comes to the question of deploying the army along the border. Gábor Vona, chairman of the neo-Nazi Jobbik party, submitted a proposal yesterday to modify the constitution to allow the use of arms in the defense of the borders because, as Ádám Mirkóczky, deputy chairman of Jobbik, said, “a situation may arise when the soldiers and/or the police must use firearms to defend themselves.” Fidesz claims that the government can achieve the same end without touching the constitution. Their proposal also includes the use of “coercive instruments.” They can use guard dogs, rubber bullets, pyrotechnics, tear gas, and netting to stop the people at the border. Also, they can use firearms “if they encounter an attack which seriously endangers life or causes bodily harm, or if the asylum seekers attack an object under surveillance.” The troops will be moving into the transit zone on September 15. Because there is no real difference between the two positions, I have no doubt that Jobbik will assist Fidesz in enacting this horrendous new law.

What else is waiting for the refugees and those who try to help them? The punishment for climbing over the fence will be three years in jail. Taking part in a mass disturbance warrants a maximum five-year jail term. If someone loses his life during the disturbance, any participant could end up in jail for a term of five to ten years. Those who are found guilty will be automatically expelled from the country even if that means forcible separation from their families. There are a few exceptions to these rules: the expulsion of pregnant women and mothers of children under the age of one can be postponed, but only if their stay in the country doesn’t seriously endanger public safety and public order. In addition, the police can enter private property without a warrant if they suspect that Hungarian citizens are hiding refugees in their homes.

It will be much worse soon / AFP-photo Attila Kisbenedek

It will probably be much worse soon / AFP-photo Attila Kisbenedek

As for refugee camps, the government finally came up with the “perfect” solution. Several “transit zones” will be created along the border. They will be fenced in on the Hungarian side but will be open on the Serbian side. The refugees will have to enter one of these camps, which will protrude sixty meters into Hungary. The necessary land will be expropriated from the present owners. After processing the applications, authorities will make a decision within eight days about the fate of the refugees. It is quite clear from the messages we get from Fidesz politicians that nobody will be considered a refugee who comes through any Balkan country. So basically, they will go through the rigmarole of registering the refugees, which is necessary to comply with current EU rules, and then will deny them entrance to the country on the ground that they are not refugees. That will be the Hungarian solution to the refugee crisis.

Finally, Fidesz decided to send a message, in the form of a parliamentary resolution, to Brussels, “whose irresponsible policies are responsible for the death of people.” The resolution, titled “Message to the leaders of the European Union,” was submitted by seven Fidesz and two Christian Democratic politicians, among them important people like Antal Rogán, leader of the Fidesz delegation, Péter Harrach, leader of the Christian Democrats, Gergely Gulyás, the legal whiz of the party, and Szilárd Németh, the heavyweight in more than one ways who was in charge of utility rate cuts two years ago.

The resolution continues: “We must declare that every European politician who encourages the immigrants with the hope of a better life to leave everything behind, to imperil their lives, and to begin their journey toward Europe is irresponsible.” I guess this includes Angela Merkel, who by allowing Syrians to settle in Germany is actually encouraging them to pack up and leave. The document, speaking in the name of all Central European countries, goes on to say that they “cannot be the injured party as a result of the mistaken policies of Brussels.” Furthermore, they have “the right to defend [their] culture, language, [and] values.” Therefore they “call on the leaders of the European Union to listen to the voice of the people. Get their senses back and defend Europe and the European citizens.”

I worry about the fate of the refugees who try to cross into Hungary. I fear that Brussels may soon have cause to turn the Hungarian government’s own words against it: that its “irresponsible [I would say cruel] policies [were] responsible for the death of people.”

From the government’s words and actions in this refugee crisis it’s hard not to conclude that it is made up of a bunch of psychopaths. Just consider the first eight characteristics of Robert Hare’s checklist to determine who is a psychopath: glibness and superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse, emotional shallowness, callousness and lack of empathy, unwillingness to accept responsibility for actions. Check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check.

Viktor Orbán did not attend the Balkan Summit

Although most commentators are critical of the European Union’s handling of the flood of refugees, today I’m more optimistic that a viable solution will be found, which might not be to the liking of Viktor Orbán. I came to this conclusion after reading summaries of speeches at the second West Balkan Summit, held today in Vienna. These summits were originally designed to prepare the ground for the eventual EU membership of six so-called West Balkan states–Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, but today’s gathering was completely overshadowed by the migration crisis.

It was perhaps for that reason that HVG wanted to find out from the prime minister’s office why Viktor Orbán didn’t attend the summit. The prime minister’s office rightly pointed out that Hungary is not a Balkan country, and therefore “the question of the prime minister’s attending the summit hasn’t come up at all.” Subsequently, KlubRádió interpreted the information from the prime minister’s office in a way that implied that the invitation came but was turned down. The headline read: “Orbán didn’t go to the conference on migration” (Orbán nem ment el a menekültügyi konferenciára). We don’t know for sure whether Orbán was invited to the meeting or not, but I suspect that he was because, in addition to EU officials (Federica Mogherini, responsible for foreign affairs, Maroš Šefčovič, president of the Energy Union, and Johannes Hahn, in charge of enlargement negotiations), the German delegation (headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier), and the delegation of the host country of Austria (headed by Chancellor Werner Faymann and Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz), all the countries that have been most affected by the refugee crisis were present: Greece, Italy, Macedonia, and Serbia. Only Hungary was missing.

Chancellor Werner Feymann, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Denis Zvizdić

Werner Faymann, Angela Merkel, and Denis Zvizdić of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Why am I optimistic after reading reports on the summit? First of all, because the reports show that European politicians have started thinking about finding a common solution to the problem. Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian foreign minister, put forth one plan that would create “safe havens” in the migrants’ home countries and elsewhere where those seeking asylum would be under UN protection. Here the refugees would be processed and, once cleared, would be given safe passage to Europe. All 28 countries would have to take their share of the new immigrants. Although I see quite a few problems with these “safe havens” as envisaged by Kurz, this suggestion could be a beginning to a comprehensive handling of the crisis.

Prior to the conference, Kurz told the media that Austria currently has more refugees than Italy and Greece together. If other EU countries refuse to cooperate, Austria will have to tighten its borders to restrict free passage to and from Austria. Although Hungary and Bulgaria refused to accept any refugees under the quota system, it looks now as if the European Commission has returned to the idea. In fact, Commissioner Johannes Hahn told reporters that “we’re going to have a quota settlement approach, and in light of recent developments, I believe all 28 member states are now ready to accept and approve that.” Does this mean that Viktor Orbán behind the scenes changed his mind and that all his saber rattling is for home consumption only? It looks that way.

Chancellor Faymann had just finished telling the other European leaders that there was an urgent need to do something about human traffickers when the news came that at least 20 refugees but perhaps as many as 50 had been found dead in a truck just a few miles away.

The story as it is unfolding is complicated. The truck itself belonged at one point to a meat processing plant, Hyza, located close to Žilina/Zsolna in northern Slovakia. It was one of 21 trucks the company sold to somebody in Slovakia who then resold it to a Hungarian company in Budapest called MasterMobilKer Kft., established in 2011 but by now defunct. The first story, told by János Lázár himself, that the temporary license plate on the truck was issued to a Romanian citizen turned out to be false. Apparently, the man who went to the Hungarian equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicles was a Hungarian who lives on a ranch near Kecskemét. The truck, however, began its journey in Budapest and crossed the Austro-Hungarian border sometime between Wednesday at 9 p.m. and Thursday at 6 a.m. Yet when the truck was found on the roadside this morning the bodies were already in an advanced stage of decomposition with bloody fluids dripping from the truck. Although the temperature has been very high, I find it difficult to believe that the people in that truck had been traveling for only for a few hours.

While Angela Merkel was “shaken by the awful news,” which “reminds us that we in Europe need to tackle the problem quickly and find a solution in the spirit of solidarity,” Fidesz’s reaction was accusatory. According to the party’s official statement, “this shocking event shows that the migrant policies of the European Union have failed.”

What would the official Hungarian solution be? It sounds simple enough: the borders must be properly defended and crossings should occur at designated places under the watchful eyes of the authorities. In this way such tragedies could be avoided. The problem is that it doesn’t matter whether the refugees come through designated “gates” of some sort or over the fence as long as they can fall prey to unscrupulous smugglers, who in this case, it seems, happened to be Hungarians. In fact, I heard György Kakuk, the author of El Camino de Balkan, say in one of his interviews that the smugglers he encountered in crossing the Serb-Hungarian border came from Hungary. Building fences will only increase the number of enterprising smugglers. Thus, the Hungarian government is, wittingly or unwittingly, encouraging men like the one(s) who is/are responsible for the horrendous crime discovered today. It would be time to sit down with others and come up with a better solution than the one the Hungarians devised on their own.

Jobbik shows the way, the Orbán government follows

There are several new developments on the refugee front, both inside and outside of Hungary. Let’s first discuss Germany’s surprise move  yesterday to allow all bona fide Syrian refugees to remain in Germany regardless of where they entered the European Union. The Germans thus made the first move to suspend the current rules governing refugees laid down in the Dublin agreement. As the spokesman for the interior ministry said, the decision was dictated first and foremost by humanitarian considerations, but there were also practical reasons for suspending the current practice. For instance, it took an incredible amount of paperwork and money to send refugees back to the first EU country where they set foot. I suspect that there was a third, unspoken reason for the change in policy. Out of the would-be immigrants, the Syrians are the most desirable from an economic and social point of view. Their integration seems to be the most promising. Learning from its past mistakes, Germany now offers new immigrants help to make their adjustment as easy as possible. Germany has registered 44,417 asylum applications from Syrians in the first seven months of this year.

In Germany new arrivals who are approved receive generous benefits. Their apartments are rent-free, and each adult receives 391 euros/month and children between 229 and 296 euros/month, depending on their age. The government also provides free intensive language lessons three hours a day, five days a week. Legal immigrants can become German citizens after six to nine years of residence. Even before the recent policy change, Syrians automatically received residency permits good for two years. But now Syrian refugees can really breathe a sigh of relief.

The Hungarian government’s reaction was typical. Government spokesman Zoltán Kovács “hailed the German decision, [which means] that no one will be deported back to Hungary.” He quickly added that Hungary is grateful “even if only one-third of the migrants come from Syria.” Kovács noted, however, that “one should not overestimate the German gesture because one cannot really argue about numbers, and the fact is that migrants arrive in Hungary from 67 different countries, including Bangladesh and Mali.”

Meanwhile, as everybody predicted, the new fence was an absolute waste of money. The Serbian government hires buses to move the refugees close to the Hungarian border where they can easily get across the low, flimsy fence or, even better, they walk along the railroad tracks bothered by no one. As a result, at Röszke, the official border crossing, the lines are getting longer and tempers are flaring. This morning there was a bit of a scuffle that ended in one jittery policeman using teargas on people who had to wait outside in the pouring rain. I assume that this confrontation is going to be used to justify new, more serious measures against the refugees who are, in the Hungarian government’s opinion, illegally crossing the country’s border.

kerites ma

This is what the fence looks like nowadays

The Orbán government’s strict measures seem to be inspired by Jobbik, a neo-Nazi party. The idea of building a fence was first suggested by the Jobbik mayor of a larger village close to the Serbian border. The next Jobbik demand was reestablishing the border guard units that were abolished after Hungary became part of the Schengen zone. Soon enough the government obliged and created a force with the intentionally frightening name of “border hunters” (határvadászok). Today we learned details of this force. It will be made up of 2,000 men who will start patrolling the border on September 1. One-third of the force will consist of second-year students from two-year police academies. There are four or five such police academies in the country, and the ones I checked have only around 200 students in each class. Thus, I gather that the entire incoming second-year class will be ordered to the Serb-Hungarian border instead of to their classrooms.

The Orbán government’s latest brainstorm, that is, sending the military to the border against the refugees, also comes from Jobbik. A couple of days ago János Volner, deputy chairman of the party, expressed Jobbik’s fear that “because of the growing aggressiveness of the illegal immigrants a police presence will not be enough.” He recalled that at the Greek-Macedonian border the police force proved to be inadequate to stop the masses of immigrants. He pointed out that the constitution allows the use of the military in case of emergency. Volner most likely has Article XXXI(3) of the Hungarian Constitution in mind, which reads: “During a state of national crisis, or if the National Assembly so decides in a state of preventive defense, adult male Hungarian citizens with residence in Hungary shall perform military service.”

The very next day the government announced that it is thinking about using the army along the borders. However, as Magyar Nemzet reported yesterday, legal experts can’t quite agree whether such use of the army is permissible without changing the constitution since Article 45(1) specifies that “Core duties of the Hungarian Defense Forces shall be the military defense of the independence, territorial integrity and borders of Hungary.” Clearly, the military would not be defending the country’s independence or its territorial integrity, but I suppose it would be argued that they would be defending its borders. This morning Zoltán Kovács informed the media that next week parliament will vote on the deployment of the army along the Serb-Hungarian border. That to my mind means that the government’s legal experts have decided that there is no need to change the constitution and that a two-thirds majority in parliament will suffice. Such a super majority can easily be achieved with the support of the large Jobbik parliamentary delegation.

None of these developments is heart-warming, although at the moment the scene at the border is more like what you see on this video. The refugees simply walk through gates in the sturdier fence that was constructed along a few sections of the border.

It is hard to understand what Viktor Orbán is planning to achieve with his harsh policies. No matter what he does, Hungary will be unable to stop the flow of immigrants. The fence has turned out to be a joke. Although government officials often talk about jailing all those who damage their fence, such a response is beyond the capability of the government. Then why all the saber rattling? I assume, like everything Viktor Orbán does, it is intended to consolidate support. He has but one overarching goal–to remain in power, if possible until he drops. And, he undoubtedly believes, Hungarian voters should reward him for protecting the country against the extreme danger these refugees pose. Thus far public opinion polls indicate that Hungarians haven’t bought into the government rhetoric. The vast majority of the population never encounter any refugees, most of whom disappear from Hungary as soon as they can, so they don’t feel threatened by these Middle Eastern and African asylum seekers. Hungary is just a thruway, not a destination–unless, of course, the EU eventually decides to return “undesirables” from Bangladesh and Mali to Hungary.

Hungary at the Milan Expo: An expensive, embarrassing pavilion

In the last few days quite a few alleged corruption cases have surfaced that may deserve closer scrutiny. For today’s post I picked one, the story of the Hungarian pavilion at the Milan World’s Fair. It might be amusing if it were not so sad. More than five billion forints were spent building a pavilion and designing a program that was supposed to say something meaningful about  Hungary’s contribution to sustainable agriculture and the environment. The result? Hungary ended up with a monstrous building and an inferior kitschy exhibition that most Hungarian visitors are outright ashamed of.

The building was more or less ready by the deadline, May 1, when the Expo officially opened. Several Hungarian politicians showed up for the event. Among the media, only MTI (the state telegraphic agency) and the state television station were invited. As if the organizers and the politicians involved in the project realized that it would create a scandal at home. The fewer people who know about it the better.

The man who was responsible for the project is Géza Szőcs, a Hungarian poet originally from Cluj/Kolozsvár, who with a detour to Switzerland returned to Eastern Europe. He went first to Romania, where he served in the Romanian Senate (19901-1992), and eventually settled in Hungary, where in May 2010 Viktor Orbán appointed him undersecretary in charge of culture in the ministry of human resources. In two years it became crystal clear that Szőcs was a disaster in the job, and although the prime minister doesn’t like to fire people, Szőcs was let go. As a consolation price he became of the many chief advisers to Orbán and, in addition, got the job of overseeing the Milan Expo.

Szőcs turned out to be as unfit to be a government commissioner (kormánybiztos) as he was to be an undersecretary. The first scandal attached to his name in this capacity was the choice of a design for the pavilion that would house the Hungarian exhibition. Arbitrarily he opted for the runner-up instead of the one that was approved by the Association of Hungarian Architects. All organizations that have anything to do with architecture were horrified, as was the public.


What most likely captured the imagination of Géza Szőcs were the two “wheels,” which apparently are shaman drums. Szőcs’s father apparently was fascinated by early Hungarian history and the origins of Hungarians. And one of Géza Szőcs’s first projects was launching genetic research that would decide once and for all the connection between Hungarians and other people speaking Finno-Ugric languages. An absurd idea for at least two reasons. First, linguistic relationships have nothing to do with genes. Second, genetic research of the kind Szőcs proposed has already been done, and it turned out that the genetic makeup of Hungarians is in no significant way different from that of any other European group.

The winning (but rejected) design, at least in my opinion, was more in keeping with the theme of the Expo. It depicted an old-fashioned water-mill, which would have played into the idea of renewable energy. Moreover, Hungarian mills had a very important role to play in the economic development of the country. This is what it would have looked like.


András Földes of Index listed six Hungarian sins which, in his opinion, are all present in the pavilion and exhibition. The first two are lack of competence and conceit. The other sins are a lack of transparency, (suspicion of) corruption, blaming others for one’s own failures, and being elusive. Szőcs first blamed the Italians for the delays and then hid from the journalists on the day of the opening. Földes also includes a seventh Hungarian sin: cheapness (kisstílűség). Lots of money spent on inferior, tasteless items.

By the time the pavilion was built, it bore no resemblance to the original design, the result of which was that even the creators refused to give their names to the project. It is hard to decide which is more hideous, the design or what became of it. As Földes points out, at least in the original design the shaman drums looked like shaman drums and there was a recognizable garden. The final result (below) reminded Földes of a 19th-century steam engine. But why then is the pavilion called the Garden of Life?


Hungarian visitors, and not just journalists, tell us that there are mighty few people who are interested in the Hungarian exhibition which, instead of having a main theme, simply displays  items traditionally associated with Hungary, including dried red peppers that hang everywhere. In the past, Hungary employed its best chefs for such occasions. This time even the food is inferior (and expensive).


The same András Földes who reported on his impressions of the pavilion yesterday published a second article after Index received some information from the ministry of human resources on expenditures connected to the “Garden of Life.” The list of financial misdeeds is too long to itemize, but here are a few. The government spent 60 million forints for 16 documentary films which up to now no one has seen. Apparently, the films have absolutely nothing to do with sustainable agriculture. Instead, some historians talk about relations between Hungary and Lombardy. EuroAtlantic Solutions, a firm known to American-Hungarians as a lobbying group owned by Tamás Fellegi, a former professor of Viktor Orbán and his first minister of national development, was also involved in the project. Budapest Beacon reported already in March that Fellegi’s firm received $2.85 million to organize and promote the Hungarian pavilion in Milan. The agreement included organizing events, travel arrangements and lodging, catering, marketing, public relations, creative work, and media management. Judging from the reports about the poverty of events and programs, EuroAtlantic Solutions was overpaid.

The ministry of human resources, which is responsible for the project, is up in arms. They are certain that the journalist who wrote the article did so in order “to discredit” Szőcs and the ministry. They will sue Index and those opposition parties who, on the basis of Földes’s report, are asking for a police investigation into Szőcs’s activities. I have the feeling that the ministry and Szőcs would be much wiser to let sleeping dogs lie.

The dynamics of mass migrations

Just as predicted, thousands of refugees still manage to cross the Serb-Hungarian border even where that useless fence is already in place. I don’t know who in his right mind thought that this pitiful-looking contraption would stop anyone who has been on the road for months from Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria with the intention of entering the European Union. After all, the refugees are facing their last hurdle, and it is unlikely that they will be frightened off by a flimsy fence and will turn back. Only people who know nothing about mass migrations could come up with such an impractical idea. Mass migrations have their own momentum that cannot be stopped by the command of a petty dictator like Viktor Orbán.

Surely, the Orbán government didn’t think that by building this fence Hungary could single-handedly defend European Christianity from the onslaught of Muslims. They couldn’t have been that naive, although this is the kind of talk one hears from high-level politicians like János Lázár. Some of his admirers compare Viktor Orbán to János Hunyadi (1406-1456), the voivode of Transylvania, who successfully defended Belgrade/Nándorfehérvár during 1443-1444 against the Turks, which saved Hungary from a Turkish invasion for about 60 years. The best Orbán could have hoped for was that the refugees would find another route and thus Hungary would not have to share the burden of a migration that affects the whole European Union. But he was mistaken.

News travels fast nowadays, and would-be refugees from as far away as Afghanistan have heard about the construction of the fence. Consequently, people are speeding up their departure in order to arrive in Hungary before the fence is finished. Mind you, they don’t yet know that the fence is so flimsy that it won’t stop anyone from crossing into Hungary.

Viktor Orbán's useless wall

Viktor Orbán’s useless fence

For the time being the escape routes haven’t changed, but this fence has already caused considerable trouble further south. There was one very serious situation at the Greek-Macedonian border where the Macedonians, frightened by the prospect of being stuck with thousands of refugees sent back by the Serbs, tried to stop the inflow of refugees from Greece. In no time, however, they realized that a mass migration of this sort cannot be stopped, and Macedonia was forced to open its borders again.

One mistaken notion about the current migration is that the real culprits behind this “hysteria” are the smugglers who lure people into packing up and leaving. The Orbán government shares this naive idea. That’s why they originally planned to place billboards in Middle Eastern countries warning people against smugglers’ promises. But this is not how a refugee’s journey begins.

Since I took part in a mass migration in November-December 1956 after the failed Hungarian uprising, I believe I have a more realistic idea of the mindset of the emigrants as well as of the dynamics of the whole undertaking.

First of all, the circumstances from which a person tries to escape must be bad enough for him to leave everything behind except for what he can fit into a rucksack. Moreover, there has to be a prevailing feeling that the situation will not improve any time soon. In fact, there is a likelihood that the already bad situation will become even worse.

At first only a few people make it across the border, but news spreads of their good fortune: one refugee family received an old Volvo in Sweden in addition to a furnished apartment, and a friend from high school is already in France and has a scholarship to study at such and such university. As a result of stories like these, more people decide to escape.

Before leaving, people try to learn as much as possible about the safest route to the border. One hears that on certain trains the security forces check passenger IDs, and therefore that route ought to be avoided. In one village a man who was paid handsomely to lead the refugees across the border abandoned his group when they were still on Hungarian soil. Today all these stories are being transmitted by cell phones, but the gathering of information was just as important then as it is now. Let’s assume that the would-be emigrant was caught by either the Russians or the Hungarian border guards. In case of capture the authorities didn’t have to take the would-be escapee prisoner. It was enough to take his ID away. The ID-less person was then truly desperate to leave, fearing retribution after the post-revolutionary chaos was over.

What normally happened in 1956 was that a family or a couple of friends decided to leave. They made the journey alone, mostly by train, to the vicinity of the Austrian border. From there they had to proceed on foot and needed help figuring out where the border was and how to get across it. This is where the “smugglers,” if you want to call them that, entered the picture. In my case, they were enterprising railway employees and farmers thoroughly familiar with the terrain. They picked up people along the way, eventually shepherding a fairly large group of Hungarians into Austria. Although a substantial amount of money was collected for their assistance, the money had to be split among a number of people. Moreover, theirs was a dangerous job that might mean long years in jail.

Smugglers will always be found as long as there is a need for them. In today’s mass exodus they are definitely needed at critical junctures. But going after the smugglers will not put an end to the ongoing mass migration because others will be ready to take their place. Only the prices will go up.

An article of mine appeared in today’s Népszabadság, which is essentially the same piece I wrote for Hungarian Spectrum on Hungary as a country of immigrants over the centuries. A commenter, who basically agreed with me, added: “I am outright ashamed, but I haven’t read even one article or report in which just one single migrant said that he came here specifically and that it is here that he would like to start a new life…. That means that for these people Hungary is not good as a destination.” Perhaps instead of building fences, Hungary should find highly qualified refugees and tried to convince them that Hungary is not such a bad place after all. Mind you, that might be a hard sell.

Hungary: A nation of emigrants?

This year’s August 20 state holiday was used, on the one hand, to disseminate anti-immigration propaganda and, on the other, to emphasize Hungary’s sacrifices in the defense of Western Christianity. Perhaps the harshest rhetoric against the refugees was that of Csaba Hende, minister of defense, who said that Hungary will not be a thoroughfare for people on the go. But the fact is that Hungary, by virtue of her geographical location, has been a passageway for centuries. And since 2010, I would venture to say, more foreign citizens have used Hungary as a take-off point than at any time in modern history. A great number of Hungarians from Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia, after acquiring Hungarian citizenship, quickly departed for greener pastures. They far outpaced the number of 56-ers who, after reaching retirement age, decided to return to the country of their birth, not necessarily for sentimental reasons but because their dollars or euros were worth a great deal more than in their adopted countries.

And yet, as study after study shows, while the government is worried about immigration to Hungary, demographers, economists, and social workers are much more concerned about emigration from Hungary. I became aware of the concern this past spring when articles began to appear about the alarming rise in emigration with  headlines such as: “In six years the number of emigrants rose sixfold,” or “There are so many Hungarians in London that they can fill a whole stadium and they won’t come back,” or “We have become a country of emigrants.”

Blogs, like, publish posts by Hungarian emigrants from all over world. These posts are intended to help Hungarians who are planning to join the exodus. By now there are sizable Hungarian colonies throughout Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States which, according to the newcomers, are most helpful in providing advice and assistance.

Tárki’s latest poll on emigration shows that the number of Hungarians who want to leave permanently and set up a new life has grown especially fast since 2014. These are most likely people who find the current political atmosphere in the country unbearable. The rest are primarily “economic migrants.”

blue: short-term employment; orange: long-term employment; grey: emigration; yellow: a combination of many factors

blue: short-term employment; orange: long-term employment; grey: emigration; yellow: a combination of many factors

Initially, articles in the Hungarian media talked about the thousands of doctors and nurses who packed up and left for the United Kingdom or Sweden. By now, however, there are shortages in all almost all economic sectors. There aren’t enough computer scientists, truck drivers, engineers, butchers, waiters, chefs, dental technicians–one could continue endlessly. Small businessmen are unable to hire qualified workers. The situation is especially bad close to the Austrian border, but during the summer there were similar problems in the tourist industry at Lake Balaton. As HVG said, “everybody is packing,” including seamstresses because there is a shortage of them in Western Europe. Employment agencies specializing in finding job opportunities for would-be emigrants are swamped with applicants. And for some of these jobs one doesn’t even have to know the language particularly well.

Do you remember the story in El Camino de Balkan of the policeman who explains to a would-be immigrant why he should move on? “Hungary, no money, Orbán Viktor.” One couldn’t say it better. Low wages and no hope that life is going to get much better any time soon. And yes, there are some people who find Viktor Orbán’s regime far too oppressive.

Of course, government officials and politicians try to minimize the problem by emphasizing the usefulness of going abroad for a while, just like in the old days when journeymen packed up and went to foreign lands to gain experience. And that is fine and useful. These journeymen returned, and the modern journeymen will do the same, they argue. I wouldn’t be so sure. The gap between living standards in Hungary and in the countries where the emigrants are heading is huge, and there is no sign of any impending change on that score.

Since the 2008 economic crisis Hungary has created mostly low-paying jobs while other European countries have managed to increase the number of higher-paying jobs as well. We may consider this development unfortunate, but according to economists it actually suits the Orbán government’s ideas about Hungary’s economic future. Orbán makes no secret of his intention to keep wages low. When addressing foreign investors he often talks about what makes Hungary attractive, in addition to its geographic position and well-developed infrastructure: “the relatively low labor costs given the quality of the workforce.” By now wages in Hungary are lower than in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, or Poland. According to HVG, even in certain regions of China wages are higher than in Hungary. But though Hungary may advertise its low wages, it soon won’t be able to tout the quality of its workforce, which is deteriorating, due in part to emigration.

Nowadays even the Central Statistical Office (KSH) considers the situation desperate: high emigration, low birthrate, and low educational attainment of the population. The KSH study that describes the desperate situation recommends immigration which, as we know, the Orbán government refuses to contemplate. According to economists and demographers, the problem has reached crisis proportions. The Orbán government, however, refuses to face facts.