Tag Archives: anti-immigration policy

Viktor Orbán on his western critics

What a coincidence. Smack in the middle of perhaps the biggest crisis of the Orbán era, Hungarian ambassadors met in Budapest this morning. It was their regularly scheduled get together at which it is almost obligatory for the prime minister to speak.

It has been the custom for many years that during the month of August, when most people are enjoying their summer holidays, Hungarian ambassadors travel home to get some direction and personal guidance from their ministry. This year, however, it was decided that one such gathering is not enough. From here on the heads of Hungarian missions will travel back to Hungary twice a year. Once in early spring and once sometime in late August.

These occasions give Viktor Orbán an opportunity to deliver a lengthy speech in which he outlines his thoughts on Hungarian foreign policy. These speeches are regularly criticized by foreign policy experts as a string of inarticulate, ad hoc ideas that often cannot be reconciled with one another. In addition, he usually manages to make some provocative statements. At least one commentator labelled today’s speech “the most incoherent one” Orbán has managed to put together.

Péter Szijjártó finds the jokes of Viktor Orbán very amusing

Péter Szijjártó finds the jokes of Viktor Orbán very amusing

Some themes in these speeches are constant, such as the stress on an “independent Hungarian foreign policy” which takes only one thing into consideration: “Hungarian interests.” Fidesz is the party that represents the true interests of the country. A rival foreign policy tradition caters “to the interests of others.” Of course, we know whom he has in mind: the socialists and the liberals who refrained from waging a war against the European Union but chose cooperation and compromise instead. He indicated today that there might be an inclination to exhibit this kind of opportunistic behavior given the immense “international attacks against us.” But it would be a mistake to take the easy road and avoid conflict with fellow diplomats on account of personal relations. The reaction should be exactly the opposite. Hungarian diplomats should be even more combative when international pressure is on the rise.

It is hard to know whether Viktor Orbán really believes it or not, but in this speech he had the temerity to accuse the western media of being in league with their governments. The Hungarian media is much freer and more independent, he said, than the media in western countries. Opinions in Hungarian newspapers and on internet news sites are much more varied because in Hungary the government in no way tries to influence journalists and reporters. The uniformly bad press his government has been receiving is therefore an orchestrated affair. Governments joined by journalists purposefully spread lies about the Hungarian government. A journalist friend of mine couldn’t help but be reminded of the Kádár regime when high party officials held very similar views about the role of journalists as lackeys of antagonistic, imperialist powers. I guess such attitudes derive from the very nature of dictatorship.

In addition, Orbán accused western governments of being ignorant of the true feelings of their citizens. They are not democratic enough, unlike the Hungarian government which made certain it would have a dialogue with the Hungarian people. He expressed his satisfaction with his earlier decision to launch a national consultation on the question of terrorism and immigration. “The reason we can steadfastly follow our refugee policies is because the voters clearly told us what we should do.” I hope you all remember those twelve leading questions the Hungarian government came up with back in April. Anyone who would like to refresh his or her memory should reread my post on the subject. They were leading, manipulative questionnaires sent out to more than 8 million voters, out of which only 1 million were returned. To bring up this “national consultation” as a mandate is one of the most cynical statements Orbán has ever uttered.

What else is wrong with the west? They are a hypocritical lot. Hungary “has been centuries behind in two-facedness.” Here is, for example, the French foreign minister who criticizes the Hungarian fence while the French government is building one. “And they are not ashamed.” Hungary is not alone in refusing to take in any refugees. The United States, he said, has categorically refused to take any refugees in order to lighten the European Union’s burden, which is not the case. His other example, Israel, cannot be taken seriously as an excuse for Hungary’s refusal to offer a new home for a few thousand refugees.

Otherwise there doesn’t seem to be any change in the stated aims of Hungarian immigration policy. Nobody should be let in, all the refugees should remain in Turkey, and Greece should not allow the refugees in. Hungary doesn’t want to have any immigrants because no nation should be forced by others to let in people it doesn’t want. These are the great man’s ideas.

And then came a seemingly unconnected reference to Hungary’s Roma population. Hungary’s historical lot is to live together with hundreds of thousands of Gypsies. “Someone sometime decided that it would be that way … but Hungary doesn’t ask other countries in Europe to take Hungarian Gypsies.” On the contrary, when they want to emigrate to Canada “we ask them to stay.” The truth of the matter is that Hungary wouldn’t mind at all if every Gypsy picked up and left, if only Canada would let them in. When the Canadian government put up posters in Miskolc, the city from which most of the Roma went to Canada, to tell them that they will be deported back, the Fidesz mayor of Miskolc created an international incident by telling Canada that it cannot “send its refugees to Miskolc,” i.e. cannot send the Hungarian Roma migrants back to where they came from. Some opposition parties found Orbán’s remarks concerning the Roma disrespectful.

The last topic I consider noteworthy in Orbán’s performance today was his answer to a question about “what differentiates the government’s policies from those of Jobbik.” He began by saying that “the government is not interested in the extreme right.” Hungary is a country where Jewish holidays can be celebrated on the streets without anyone having to go through electronic gates and being asked “whether you are a fascist animal.” What distinguishes Fidesz from Jobbik is “the general security,” whatever that means. So, he didn’t answer the question, for which he should be applauded. It would have been really painful to listen to his lies about the substantial ideological differences between Fidesz and Jobbik.

The fence “matches the brutal policies of Premier Orbán”

One of Viktor Orbán’s most successful political ploys, we often read, is to divert attention from the failings of his administration by bringing up new topics that dominate the news. So, the argument goes, last fall’s crisis that erupted after revelations that the U.S. had banned certain Hungarian officials from entering the United States due to corruption and this spring’s scandal of government involvement in the financial fraud of the Quaestor Group almost automatically led to the “creation” of the grave immigration crisis. Yes, the talking heads maintain, there is a serious immigration crisis in the western part of the European Union, but that is not the case in Hungary. Ninety-nine percent of those who cross the Serb-Hungarian border leave the country at the very first opportunity.

I am one of the few people who don’t subscribe to this theory. I am convinced that Viktor Orbán honestly believes that Hungary should remain uni-cultural and that the mixing of cultures brings only strife and conflict. Commentators tend to forget that already in August 2014, while delivering a speech to the country’s ambassadors, Orbán lashed out against immigration, stating that “the goal is to cease immigration altogether.”

Unfortunately, his own personal beliefs happen to coincide with the feelings of the majority of the Hungarian people. Orbán is a smart, if corrupt and immoral politician, who knows better than most people that the majority of Hungarians are xenophobic. Over the years, polling results unequivocally showed that Hungarians didn’t want to let immigrants into the country. They didn’t even want to have anything to do with “pirézek,” a nonexistent group of people. So, one doesn’t have to be a political genius to know that the “immigration card” is a sure bet. It will always work. Especially if it is presented in such a way that the population comes to believe that it is Viktor Orbán and his government who are defending them from a peril that threatens their way of life.

Such rhetoric can dramatically influence public sentiment, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Fidesz and Viktor Orbán’s popularity increases in the next few months. This game is not about diverting attention but about regaining popularity and hence retaining power. Preferably for decades to come. Orbán always seems to be capable of coming up with clever new ideas to secure his position. Whether these moves are injurious to the country’s reputation or its position in the European Union interests him not at all. Simply put, he is ready to do anything to remain the prime minister of Hungary. And as long as the Hungarians swallow his ideas hook, line, and sinker, he will succeed at his game.

A lot of people on the left are skeptical about the polling results of Századvég and Nézőpont, and they are certainly correct when it comes to Nézőpont, but Századvég numbers are more reliable. Therefore, I don’t seriously question Századvég’s latest poll on the population’s reaction to the three billboards that the government created in order to incite Hungarians against immigrants. It turns out that the majority of Hungarians agree with the billboards’ messages. Eighty-five percent agreed that the immigrants must obey the laws of the country, which is no surprise at all. Seventy-five percent agreed that they have to respect Hungarian culture. Even the most controversial message, “If you come to Hungary, you can’t take away the jobs of Hungarians!” is supported by 59% of the population. In the case of the first two questions there is no discernible difference between pro-Fidesz and pro-Jobbik respondents on the one hand and supporters of parties of the left on the other. When it comes to taking jobs away, those who reject the message come only from the left. However disheartening it may be, the majority of the population supports this sickening campaign.

All of the non-Hungarian newspapers I looked at today disapproved of the way the Orbán government is handling the crisis. First of all, almost everybody agreed that the problem is European-wide and can be managed only by the joint effort of all the member states. In addition, almost all the newspapers decried the brutish methods employed by the Hungarian government. As Die Zeit says, the construction of the 175 km-long security fence “matches the brutal policies of Premier Orbán.”

The idea of building a wall was first suggested by László Toroczkai, a neo-Nazi who last year became the Jobbik mayor of a village close to the Serbian border. That was back in February. Once again, Fidesz is taking over a Jobbik idea. Admittedly, there are other walls and fences all over the world by now which, by the way, are no answer to migration. But in Hungary’s case sealing the border with Serbia is especially shameful. Twenty-six years ago, on June 27, 1989, Gyula Horn, the country’s foreign minister, along with his Austrian counterpart, cut the wire fence between the two countries to symbolize the beginning of a new era. The country allowed thousands of East German refugees to cross to Austria and freedom. Hungary also sent its own share of refugees to other countries in 1956, refugees who found sympathy, shelter, and eventually new homes abroad.

A funny comment on the wall by an "internet artist"

A comment on the fence by an “internet artist”

Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vučić was “surprised and shocked,” and tomorrow at a Serbian-Hungarian summit he most likely will reiterate his reaction. He declared that Serbia will not follow Hungary’s example: “it will not build walls … and will not live in Auschwitz.”

As for the seriousness of the situation, opinions differ widely. Jan Schroth, head of the Czech office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), claims that the current situation is neither dramatic nor unusual. The only difference is that too many people are dying needlessly at the borders of the EU. Using IOM’s data, he alleges that in the first half of the year 100,000 refugees arrived, while last year the total number was 200,000. So, there is no appreciable increase in the numbers. In his opinion, “Europe with its population of 500 million could easily absorb one million immigrants over a number of years.”

A lot of economists would agree. The birthrate in European countries is very low, and hence their populations are aging rapidly. For the most part the immigrants are young, and they could contribute to economic and demographic growth. The Hungarian situation has been particularly bad as far as the country’s demographics are concerned. The last time the fertility rate was over 2, which would have kept the size of the population more or less stable, was in 1979. Since 1981 the natural change has been consistently in negative territory. In 1981 the country’s population was 10,700,000, while in 2014 it was only 9,849,000. This is an 8% decrease. To this figure we could add the almost half a million Hungarians who have left the country in the last ten years or so and yet remain on the census rolls. All efforts to change this trend have failed, and I see no other remedy than a gradual but determined policy of immigration. But for political purposes Viktor Orbán is doing everything in his power to prevent such a course of action.

Hate campaign against immigrants, rev. 2.0

The Hungarian government simply refuses to stop its campaign against immigrants despite the obvious failure of its national consultation effort. At the end of April the government announced its intention to spend 2 billion forints on poisoning the souls of Hungarians by mailing them a questionnaire with leading questions designed to incite hatred and fear of possible immigrants and refugees. When the commissioner for refugee affairs of the United Nations received a translation of the questionnaire, she could only gasp. Yes, she had heard about it and knew that it was bad, but when she actually read the questions she was shocked and “deeply concerned by the way the government increasingly vilifies people who have fled from war zones like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and who desperately need safety and protection in Hungary.” Yes, this government vilifies people who would need Hungary’s help, and it is not ashamed to show its true face to the world. It may even be proud of its tough “Hungarians first and only” stance. Viktor Orbán certainly doesn’t see anything wrong with his government’s behavior. He is convinced that his is the right way and that it is a position that Europe as a whole should follow.

Most observers think that Viktor Orbán is spreading “the bad name” of Hungary and Hungarians, some of whom are utterly ashamed of their prime minister, even of the fact that they belong to the same nation as he does. What will the world think of them? Well, some foreigners have already asked: how on earth could you elect such a man to be your prime minister? Or, how could you give him that much power? Especially the second time around? Or, why are you quiet, why don’t you send him somewhere where he will be far away from power and politics?

Well, the fact is that the vast majority of Hungarians didn’t fall for Orbán’s xenophobic campaign. That’s the good news. Eight million questionnaires were sent out, and thus far only 200,000 have been returned. Among them, I’d wager to say, given the mood of the country, several probably included unprintable remarks about Viktor Orbán and his government. At any event, a 2.5% response rate–and that by government calculations–is dismal, pretty close to what direct marketers can expect. To improve the stats, Hungarians can now answer the questionnaire online, and they will have two more months to do so. By the end it is possible that a much larger response figure will be announced, the accuracy of which, of course, we will not be able to ascertain. Nor will we know how they answered the questions.

Despite the poor response thus far, it looks as if the officials working in the prime minister’s office still think that they might be able to squeeze some political benefit out of this shameful topic. They switched into campaign mode to sell the original idea more aggressively. Perhaps their famous “communication” wasn’t effective enough, and if they turn up the volume a bit they will shift the mood of indifference to the anti-immigrant propaganda into one of frightened acceptance. They plan to use stronger language and better methods to increase Hungarians’ awareness of the dangers of immigrant hordes. They already tried hammering home the slogan that “Hungary should remain Hungarian,” but it didn’t have the desired effect. What about appealing to fears that immigrants will take the job of the natives? It looks as if this is the new scare tactic of the government.

During a press conference Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary for public diplomacy and relations, announced that this new “information campaign” will also include plastering the country with anti-immigration posters. It didn’t take long for the Hungarian media to get hold of a photo of one such poster from a print shop that got the job of producing 333 large billboards with the message: “If you come to Hungary you cannot take away the jobs of Hungarians!” At first blush, this poster looks like a joke since would-be immigrants couldn’t possibly understand the text. The message is, I assume, directed at the locals. The population should realize that if Hungary accepts 700 or so political refugees their jobs might be in jeopardy. They should therefore band together and support the prime minister to prevent these alien, job-grabbing people from settling in Magyarorszag.

"If you come to Hungary you cannot take the jobs of Hungarians!"

“If you come to Hungary you cannot take the jobs of Hungarians!”

Yes, the hate campaign is on. There are two more posters  in the works, and Index learned that the government in this new campaign is concentrating on areas along the southern border where specific anti-immigrant messages will be sent. I’m not sure what they expect. Perhaps that the local inhabitants will chase the immigrants away or round them up to be taken into police custody. But if I were the government, I would be careful. All that hate might be translated into action, and one day a “true believer” might just shoot some of the people crossing the border in the dead of night, rationalizing his foul deed by saying that these people were either political or economic terrorists who had to be stopped, that–just like the prime minister–he was protecting the country he loves.

The tragedy in France and Viktor Orbán’s political agenda against immigration

In August 2014 Viktor Orbán was still riding high on the wave of his infamous speech about the superiority of an illiberal state. Hungarian ambassadors had gathered in Budapest, as they do every year in late summer, to listen to a speech by the prime minister in which he outlined the main objectives of Hungarian foreign policy. To a question on the Hungarian attitude toward immigration, Orbán repeated parts of an earlier speech he delivered in Ypres, Belgium, at the European Union prime ministers’ summit. On immigration, he said, Hungary has “hard and fast policies.” It is a topic on which the difference between liberal and illiberal states is clear-cut. Hungary in no way supports immigration, and he himself does not believe in the value of a multicultural society. On the contrary, he is in favor of an ethnically homogeneous nation-state.

In Ypres he wanted to include in the EU leaders’ joint statement a sentence to the effect that immigration is wrong and that Europe’s aim is to stop immigration. In this he didn’t succeed, but at least he can make sure that “Hungary remains a nation-state speaking the same language and having Christianity as its religious cornerstone.” Later in November during his visit to Korea he returned to the subject when he again expressed his opposition to immigration, lashing out at “political correctness” and calling the issue “a forbidden topic.”

In light of Viktor Orbán’s attitude toward ethnic and religious diversity, it was not hard to predict what the prime minister’s reaction would be to the tragedy in Paris. In his Friday morning “interview” the topic naturally came up. That his anti-immigration sentiments would surface no one doubted, but what enraged some people was that he felt compelled to include a not too subtle reference to his anti-immigration stance while the search for the terrorists was still under way. He couched his message in these terms: “For the time being it is not worth speaking in the voice of reason, it is still time for mourning,” as Hungary Today reportedWhat the official propaganda site did not mention was that during the course of the interview Orbán announced that “Hungary must be defended against an influx of immigrants.” Well, this is a position that will resonate well with the majority of Hungarians who are, as is well known, the most xenophobic people in Europe.

Viktor Orbán will undoubtedly do his best to influence EU policy on immigration, but I somehow doubt that he will succeed in convincing Brussels to send refugees coming from Africa and the Middle East back home.

immigrants

Hungarian journalists whose colleagues were murdered in France are split on the issue. Right-wingers and some religious leaders seem to lay the blame on the journalists at Charlie Hebdo who “provoked” the followers of Islam. They would like to see a European response that takes into consideration Islamic sensitivities. On the liberal side, commentators consider the attack on the editorial offices of the satirical weekly an attack on the freedom of the press. They consider the right’s point of view “appeasement,” which would only lead to further demands by the Islamic terrorists.

Of the two right-wing dailies, only Magyar Nemzet decided to write editorials on the French terror attack. Csaba Lukács, who closely follows the lead of Viktor Orbán, wrote the first. Yes, it was an unacceptable, barbaric act. But once we recover from the shock it is necessary to talk about “the question of immigration.” Because of mass immigration, “we [Europeans] are no longer the same, we have fewer and fewer values in common…. There are unbridgeable differences between religions and cultures which we must recognize.” Lukács seems to think that terrorism is somehow tied to a different religious experience. While a secularized Christian just shrugs his shoulders when he encounters an anti-religious cartoon, “a radical Islamist picks up his Kalashnikov.” The staff of Charlie Hebdo “provoked” these people. Nobody should be surprised at what happened because, after all, “for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”

Lukács’s colleague, Zsuzsanna Körmendy, goes even further. She would like to see some statistics about how many family members of the assailants “have been killed by the democracy express of one of the western great powers going back all the way to 2001.” In plain English, all murders by Islamic terrorists from 9/11 on are the fault of the “democracy express.” Although she “feels sorry for the colleagues,” she finds it interesting that four of them were “decidedly old (68, 73, 76, and 80) who may have tasted the honey of ’68.” That is, they were ultra liberals. So, I guess, they deserved it.

The mention of 2001 is no coincidence. It was after 9/11 that István Csurka, chairman of MIÉP, an openly anti-Semitic party, and a member of parliament, rose in the House and delivered a speech in which he blamed the United States for what happened at the World Trade Center in September 2001. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was in the chamber and said nothing. George W. Bush never forgave his silence, and Orbán has been persona non grata in the White House ever since.

Heti Válasz‘s Szilárd Szőnyi is of the opinion that “we should not publish cartoons which are repugnant not only to these beasts but to all decent men.” Another commentator thinks that Arabs and black Africans have an entirely different temperament from Europeans. They are aggressive, they don’t value human life, they are primitive. They live in a tribal society whose “laws are strict.” I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that they murder a few people in cold blood, presumably acting in accordance with strict tribal laws.

Finally, let me quote a university professor, György Nógrádi, who is always introduced as a “national security expert.” I consider him a buffoon. His take on immigration: “It is absolutely ridiculous. They come here when we don’t need them. They come here on ships whose crew escaped. The boat floats until we save them. But it occurs to no one to take them back where they came from. If they come from a country where there is civil war that is something else. But most of them come from Africa to escape hunger.” No comment.

I was happy to hear that according to János Hajdú, head of TEK (Terrorelhárítási Központ) and formerly Viktor Orbán’s personal bodyguard, there is no terror threat in Hungary. However, I’m sure that the Orbán government will reap great political benefits from the tragedy in France. The propaganda against immigration has already begun. The Hungarian prime minister did not even wait for the burial of the victims.