Tag Archives: anti-immigration propaganda

Severe labor shortage combined with anti-immigration propaganda

Two days ago, seemingly out of the blue, Mihály Varga, minister of the economy, got in touch with MTI, Hungary’s official telegraphic agency, to make the grand announcement that “the government is taking steps to remedy the growing labor shortage that is becoming an impediment to economic growth.” As it turned out, the minister’s move was prompted by a proposal submitted by the National Association of Employers and Manufacturers (Munkaadók és Gyáriparosok Országos Szövetsége/MGYOSZ) to address the acute shortage of qualified workers in many fields.

Varga stated that the government agrees with many of the recommendations, which include the importation of guest workers from so-called third countries, i.e. outside the European Union. In order to facilitate this recommendation, the government promised to reduce the tax burden on companies that bring in foreign employees. This is the first time the Orbán government has officially admitted that the lack of qualified workers is a serious problem in Hungary.

The problem, of course, is not new. Already a couple of years ago Stefan Körmendi, managing director of Europakraft GmbH, bitterly complained that the Hungarian government had deceived him and his company when it sang the praises of the “well-qualified Hungarian labor force.” His company needed skilled welders, pipe fitters, and disk roller specialists. There were plenty of applicants, but when they had to demonstrate their skills, most of them were unable to perform even the most basic tasks. Sixty percent of the 600 applicants tested couldn’t even weld, and all of these people had a piece of paper testifying that they had successfully been trained as welders. The whole sad story can be read in my post from 2014.

Since then the situation has only gotten worse. At the end of June Népszabadság reported that some foreign companies are so desperate that they are importing employees from their other factories to work in their Hungarian division for shorter or longer stints. The article highlighted the case of a factory that makes tops for luxury convertibles. The company’s Hungarian division, situated in Szügy, a small village in Nógrád County, was in such trouble that it had to bring in four women and four men from its Mexican division in Toluca for three months. Even with the added expense of transportation from Mexico and perhaps bonus pay, this solution was apparently still worth it. Guest workers also came from the company’s Russian and Serbian divisions. These foreign employees were necessary because the quality of the work done by the locals was not what management expected. The number of rejects was far too high. Moreover, this factory ran three shifts, and it was difficult to fill all the shifts with Hungarians. They weren’t interested in working outside the usual daytime hours.

Bors, a Hungarian tabloid, dispatched a reporter to Szügy, where he learned more details of the lives of Mexican guest workers while in Hungary. They were placed in a stately mansion that serves as a hotel; they were taken to Budapest and other cities in the country on sightseeing trips; the company even made sure that they could watch Copa America football matches on television. Apparently, they didn’t like the food, but otherwise I’m sure this Hungarian trip was quite an adventure for them. After the Mexicans left, a new batch of people came from Tatarstan, Russia. Clearly, the situation is desperate, and I’m sure that the management of this company is just as frustrated as Körmendi was back in 2014.

MGYOSZ’s suggestions “for the handling of the critical labor shortage in Hungary” started with the main reasons for this shortage: low birthrate; emigration, especially of more highly qualified workers and university graduates; the fact that almost half of those seeking employment are unskilled; and a workforce whose quality is on the decline. Something must be done quickly because otherwise the economic growth of the last couple of years will come to a screeching halt.

To solve this crisis, first and foremost the government should assist in attracting foreign workers. For example, one million Ukrainians are working in Poland at the moment. In Hungary’s case, that would mean the importation of about 250,000 foreign employees. But Hungary is not an attractive place for guest workers because of low wages, high taxes, the lack of housing, and the low level of social services. MGYOSZ asked the government to lessen the tax burden on employees so they could raise wages. And naturally, to put more effort into the proper training of workers. The long-term goals include a better educational system that emphasizes the 4Ks: kreativitás, kommunikáció, kooperáció, and kritikai gondolkodás. As we know, Viktor Orbán’s ideas on education stand in sharp contrast to these guiding principles.

Turkish guest workers arriving at the Düsseldorf Airport on November 27, 1961 / Source: en.qantara.de

Turkish guest workers arriving at the Düsseldorf Airport on November 27, 1961  Source: en.qantara.de

Mihály Varga, I’m afraid, was a bit too hasty when he reacted positively to MGYOSZ’s suggestions. The Orbán government has consistently and fiercely opposed any kind of immigration and keeps repeating that more babies will solve all the problems. Mind you, the demographic statistics show no great positive changes on that score. Viktor Orbán must have been furious, and I wonder what “Misi” got from the boss.

Fidesz published a statement saying that the Hungarian government provides work opportunities for Hungarians, not for immigrants. Only the political left and Brussels want to flood Europe and the labor market with immigrants. The Prime Minister’s office also spoke out again against immigration. According to its spokesman, statistics prove that immigration actually exacerbates the problems of the labor market. MSZP’s spokesman, Nándor Gúr, also objected to the scheme because the presence of foreign workers would lower wages in general. The government mouthpiece, Magyar Idők, tried to provide cover for Varga by claiming that MGYOSZ actually talked about guest workers from “the neighboring countries” and not from “third countries.”

Some commentators, like Kinga Facsinay of Magyar Nemzet, pointed out that after a year and a half of intense anti-immigration propaganda, Varga’s enthusiastic embrace of the importation of a large number of guest workers is a strange turn of events. Actually, this is just another example of the confusion within the government that has been endemic ever Fidesz won the election in 2010.

But, yes, the propaganda was, and remains, both intense and expensive. On the anti-migrant campaign the government spent billions: 960 million forints for a “national consultation” and 1.2 billion for the two billboard campaigns. The “Message to Brussels” campaign wasn’t cheap either; it cost 1 billion forints. And the October 2 referendum on quotas will cost 4.5 billion. Instead of wasting all this money on propaganda, the government could have used it to improve the education of future Hungarian workers.

More than 25 years have gone by since the arrival of democracy in Hungary, and yet over 40% of those who are actively seeking employment today have no qualifications for any job. This is a devastating indictment of the Hungarian educational system. It also underscores the failure of successive governments to create an economic environment that would have kept emigration within bounds. Since both have been neglected, I see no short-term internal fix for the Hungarian labor shortage. And this will in turn discourage foreign companies from investing in the country.

If the Hungarian government changed course and welcomed guest workers, this might help a bit. But under the present circumstances few people, especially highly skilled workers, would be enticed to emigrate to Hungary in the hope of a better life.

July 8, 2016

Hungarians’ fear of migrants and terrorism

A new Medián-HVG poll came out yesterday on the Hungarian people’s attitude toward migrants and immigration. The results were published in HVG‘s print edition yesterday and are not yet available online.

Given the Orbán government’s anti-refugee propaganda, I’m sure nobody will be surprised to learn that since September, when Medián conducted a similar poll, Hungarian xenophobia and aversion toward the migrants from the Middle East and Africa has grown substantially. In November 2014 only 66% of the population thought that acceptance of the refugees should be further restricted. By now 80% of the adult population demand such limits. The same is true when the question was about a restriction on the number of “colored people.” The proportion of Hungarians surveyed who would limit their numbers jumped from 47% to 60%. These negative feelings also spilled over to long-time Arab and black residents/citizens. Their acceptance rate dropped fairly significantly as a result of the migrant crisis and terrorist attacks. In the case of Arab residents from 38% to 30% and in the case of blacks from 42% to 37%. The figures on attitudes toward gays and Jews remained fairly stable.

During the same period people’s feeling of security decreased substantially. When respondents were asked what comes into their minds when they hear the word “fear,” more people (23%) named terrorism than illness, crime, or poverty. This fear is widespread and across party lines. Even DK sympathizers, who come from the least prejudiced segment of Hungarian society, shared this feeling of insecurity given the present situation in Europe.

More Hungarians now think that the migrants are more aggressive and demanding than in September. Today 83% of Jobbik, 68% of Fidesz, 65% of undecided voters, 40% of MSZP, and 31% of sympathizers of the smaller democratic parties are convinced that the migrants are belligerent and demanding.

One of the key elements of the government propaganda is the close relationship between terrorism and the migrants. The message has reached the population. The researchers confronted the respondents with two statements: (1) It is most likely the case that the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks came from the refugees arriving in Europe and (2) One cannot claim this; there is no proof. Fifty-six percent of the respondents agreed with the first statement and only 40% with the second. Even worse, 46% agreed with a very controversial claim of Viktor Orbán that “regardless of what anyone says, all terrorists are migrants.”

Government and opposition billboards on the migrants

Government and opposition billboards on the migrant issue

The respondents also had to indicate their feelings on a number of statements and mark the intensity of these feelings on a scale of 0-100. For example, “immigrants pose health risks for the native population” (77), “immigrants substantially increase the danger of terrorist attacks” (77), “those who illegally cross the borders will have to serve a jail sentence” (69). The statement that “immigration might have a beneficial effect on Hungary because it would remedy the demographic problems and would add to the labor force” elicited little enthusiasm (24). The government’s propaganda against quotas, on the other hand, has been successful. While in September the EU proposal regarding quotas received a score of 50, by November that number had dropped to 29. Even the topic “humane treatment of the refugees” suffered a setback (from 72 to 62 points). Moreover, the majority of Hungarians (56%) are convinced that “sooner or later Muslims will be in the majority in Europe and they will force their religion and culture on us.” Here is the breakdown according to party affiliation: Jobbik (71%), Fidesz (64%), MSZP 40%, other opposition parties (28%), and those without party preference (51%).

The fence is extremely popular. In September 68% of the population approved it, but by now 87% of the population stand behind Viktor Orbán’s solution to the migrant problem. The new supporters of the fence come from the left. In September Jobbik and Fidesz almost to the man stood behind the idea of building a fence and keeping out the migrants. The real change has taken place on the left where the number of supporters has grown by 30 percentage points.

Finally, what is the Hungarian public’s attitude toward the cause of the exodus The poll takers offered three different theories: (1) “The terror of the Islamic State and the civil war,” (2) “Growing poverty and hunger,” and (3) “Certain unnamed outside moving forces are behind the mass migration.” The absolute majority (54%) of those surveyed opted for choices #1 (37%) and #3 (37%), and only 18% agreed with the proposition that it is poverty and hunger war that are the cause of the wave of migrants. Besides the 37% who opted for the 3rd choice, for a follow-up question another 26% (thus, overall 63%) suspected that certain interest groups are behind the migration crisis.

When it comes to which “hidden power” is behind this conspiracy, most people suspect the United States, although a fair number pointed the finger at Israel, the Jews, or George Soros. Some of the combinations are really bizarre. For example, some people coupled Israel with the Islamic State as being behind the flow of migrants. It is not surprising that Jobbik voters are the ones who most readily believe these theories, especially when it comes to a Jewish conspiracy. Medián’s summary of their research doesn’t specifically talk about the attitude of Fidesz voters toward conspiracy theories, but given Viktor Orbán’s frequent references to George Soros as a serious contender to be one of the hidden forces behind the flow of refugees I would suspect that Fidesz voters are just as ready to espouse Jewish conspiracy theories in connection with the migration crisis as are Jobbik voters. Anti-American feelings are also fueled by the new government mouthpiece, Magyar Idők, whose editorials are full of vicious anti-American rhetoric.

The Hungarian government is largely responsible for the growth of xenophobia, fear of the refugees, and the spread of conspiracy theories. The result is an immense growth in the Fidesz camp, but at what price?

The moral health of Hungarian society

More and more thoughtful Hungarians are raising their voices, calling attention to a moral and social crisis in their country. The deplorable state of Hungarian society has been a phenomenon of long standing. It wasn’t Viktor Orbán who created a society that is oblivious to the fact that the country in which they live is heading toward a tipping point when the entire edifice might collapse, burying the country’s citizens beneath the ruins. Though it is Viktor Orbán who is speeding up the process.

While an overwhelming majority of the population can be mobilized against non-existent immigrants, most people pay not the slightest attention to the demographic crisis in their own country. They blithely accept the fact that far too many young, well-educated people are leaving the country because they see no future in their homeland.

Hungarian education is in serious crisis. The new centralized system created by the second Orbán government barely functions, and student performance is deteriorating. Segregation of schools has become a reality and, with it, social mobility has been further stifled. The autonomy of the universities is long gone. Healthcare is inadequate because, among other things, there are not enough doctors and nurses. Hungarian bureaucracy has always been cumbersome and expensive, but by now it is close to collapsing because political loyalty is more important to Fidesz and its leader than professional competence.

Corruption has been growing steadily, and I’m not talking only about financial corruption but about the corruption of the soul, the contempt for others, racism, a lack of solidarity, the widespread vulgarity, the churches’ total indifference to the sufferings of the asylum seekers, the cowardice of individuals who don’t speak up against blatantly illegal acts of the government.

Hungary, a country that was the model in the region, has become a laggard in economic growth. The rate of investment is very low, poverty is growing, too little money is being spent on education. Should I continue?

These problems can be summed up in a single word: Hungarian society is ill. László Lengyel, an economist and public commentator, went so far as to to say that “Hungary is dying.” Not so much in the material sense as in the sense of spiritual wellness. He was referring to the culture of callousness (szívtelenség) that is widespread among Hungarians.

Let me share a story that was widely reported in the media. It is hard to believe, but an old, sick man sat for four solid days on a bench on II. János Pál pápa tér surrounded by a swarm of wasps who were drawn to him by the sores on his legs. He was waiting there to die. No one paid the slightest attention to him, although a lot of passersby must have seen him. On that very square a few weeks earlier hundreds of asylum seekers had camped out, waiting for the trains to take them to Austria. The locals immediately reported them to the far-right Fidesz mayor of the district and demanded their removal. Yet a couple of weeks later no one cared one whit about that sick man. Their hatred of and callousness toward strangers seems to be stronger than their sense of solidarity, even with their own. Gusztáv Megyesi, the talented ÉS journalist, wrote a brilliant essay on this story in today’s Népszabadság.

Others express their amazement at the gullibility of the Hungarian people, which may well be linked to a school system that emphasizes rote learning instead of independent thinking. For a good five years Viktor Orbán’s foreign policy consisted of what he called the “Eastern Opening.” The West, he argued, was in decline but the illiberal states in the East are successful. Democracy is a cumbersome system of governance that doesn’t allow for a speedy reaction to a fast-changing world. But then comes the refugee crisis in which Orbán, knowing his people only too well, sees great opportunities to gain popular support, and he switches his line. The East is abandoned, and now all he talks about is defending European civilization from the East. Hungary, he now says, has been part of the West for 1,100 years. Earlier, he proudly announced that Hungarians are products of the East and that, in fact, he feels more at home in Kazakhstan than in Brussels. Yet an overwhelming number of Hungarians are ready to join him now in defense of the West just as they were willing to follow him to the East. The government’s manipulation machinery seems to work faultlessly because there is a large audience that all too easily succumbs to Viktor Orbán’s siren songs.

solidarity2

Orbán’s anti-immigration propaganda has only strengthened the lack of solidarity prevalent in Hungarian society. And solidarity is a significant component of what makes societies successful. Studies have shown that societies in which different social groups feel solidarity toward one another are more successful than those where such solidarity is either nonexistent or weak. But the Orbán government has effectively abandoned certain segments of society. For example, those who live in poverty. The government is interested only in people who are better off economically and has made it clear that with the low flat tax they will be even better off. As a Népszabadság journalist points out in an op/ed piece titled Keleti (Eastern), even Greece and Portugal have developed more robust social networks to look after society’s neediest than Hungary has. Viktor Orbán lacks empathy and thus solidarity with others. László Lengyel repeats the words of Viktor Orbán who in one of his speeches blamed Aljan Kurdi’s parents for the little boy’s death. It was irresponsible of his parents to start the journey at all. After all, he said, their lives were not in danger in Turkey. But if we applied that kind of thinking to other life situations, the end result would be a placid acceptance of the inevitable and the suppression of any desire for change. Wasn’t it irresponsible to fight against the Kádár regime in the 1980s? After all, the lives of those people were not in danger. Surely, there are times when one has to act even if his life is not in imminent danger. Every move entails unforeseen dangers, but without initiative life is empty.

Orbán created a country where no one wants to settle and many have already left or want to leave. It is a country where far too few people are interested in the world around them or seem to care that their freedom is being taken away from them bit by bit. When will they wake up, if at all?

Viktor Orbán’s new “propaganda ministry”

The Hungarian media is full of speculations about Viktor Orbán’s decision to shake up the Prime Minister’s Office, which is a monster of a ministry with as many as 740 employees at last count. The modest office Viktor Orbán inherited has grown enormously in the last five years or so. The number of its employees, believe it or not, has increased eightfold, and that is not the end of it.

In addition to the Prime Minister’s Office (Miniszterelnökség), a new ministry was just created, ostensibly for “political coordination.” It is apparent, however, that this new ministry, under the direction of Antal Rogán who until now was the head of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, will be a “propaganda ministry.” Not only anti-government media outlets and opposition politicians call it that; even János Lázár does. And he ought to know. Having a propaganda ministry, even if it’s called something else, brings to mind such unsavory examples as Nazi Germany’s Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, the Soviet Union’s Department for Agitation and Propaganda, China’s Central Propaganda Department, and Fascist Italy’s Ministry of Popular Culture. Orbán is continuing his march toward a one-party state inside the European Union. Quite a feat.

I don’t like to speculate about the reasons for personnel changes because we know very little about the complex political and personal relationships in high Fidesz and government circles. But, given the strictly hierarchical structure of Fidesz and the Orbán government, we can safely assume that the most coveted positions are those closest to Viktor Orbán since all important decisions are made by the prime minister. Although stories circulated about Rogán’s desire to be a member of the government one day, I think we can safely say that it was Viktor Orbán who decided that the work of András Giró-Szász, undersecretary in charge of communication in the Prime Minister’s Office, was not effective enough. Here I’m not relying on rumor but am simply quoting János Lázár again, who today made the off-the-cuff, cutting remark that “here is now the opportunity for a new team in the ministry of propaganda and information to show that they can do an even better job than András [Giró-Szász] did.”

I’m somewhat baffled why Viktor Orbán thinks the government’s current propaganda is not satisfactory and he needs another ministry to take over. The latest opinion polls indicate that Fidesz’s popularity, as a result of the government’s anti-refugee propaganda, has bounced back. The hate campaign worked. Whatever we might think of the method, it was successful politically. The propaganda machine has been working faultlessly ever since April of this year. So why set up an entirely new ministry now?

I suspect that Antal Rogán has something to do with the current anti-immigration campaign. We know from Antal Rogán himself that the first time the possibility of his move into the prime minister’s office in some capacity was discussed was in late April. It was about the same time that the Orbán government decided to send out questionnaires inquiring, with leading questions, into the population’s views on immigration. It was in June that the huge billboards in Hungarian told the migrants how to behave and how not to behave in the country. All this leads me to believe that there is a good likelihood that it was Rogán who came up with the step-by-step game plan for the anti-migrant campaign. Hence Orbán’s decision to entrust communication/ propaganda to him. Success builds on success.

The Hungarian media is portraying Orbán’s decision to move Rogán over to the Prime Minister’s office as a typical Machiavellian move on the part of Orbán. The prime minister thinks, they argue, that János Lázár has far too much power and lately has become something of a media star with his lengthy Thursday press conferences. Journalists point out that Orbán makes sure that no one person acquires too much power, which might eventually threaten his position. Hence, he is playing Rogán off against Lázár. In addition, there are stories going around that the two men dislike each other, which Lázár denied a couple of days ago.

Quite independently of whether there’s personal animosity between the two men or not, the fact is that the original plan to have Rogán in the Prime Minister’s Office as a kind of chief-of-staff tasked with “political coordination” wouldn’t have worked. As Lázár pointed out, there must be one and only person who takes responsibility for the work done in the office. In fact, Lázár threatened to resign if Rogán joined his ministry. Since Orbán didn’t want to lose Lázár, he was ready for a compromise. Headlines in certain papers saying that “Orbán wouldn’t mind if Lázár quit” were, in my opinion, figments of journalistic imagination. Lázár is too important a man in the administration. If he quit today, the whole government would be in disarray, perhaps for months. Orbán was in a quandary. He needed Lázár but he also wanted Rogán’s alleged skill as a propagandist. Hence a new ministry for Rogán.

The last press conference given together by János Lázár and András Giró-Szász

The last press conference given jointly by János Lázár and András Giró-Szász

This new ministry will be in charge of all communication. Rogán will be the boss of all the communication workers, whether in the government or in Fidesz. And there are many, including Giró-Szász’s team of twenty men and women in the Prime Minister’s Office, who will be subordinated from here on to Antal Rogán’s ministry.

In this shakeup, although Lázár eventually decided to stay, Giró-Szász resigned, despite the offers he received from Rogán and Lázár. He had the luxury of picking up his hat and leaving since he is a very rich man. His salary in the Prime Minister’s Office is chump change. The reason for this decision? He obviously didn’t want to work for Rogán, whether for personal, structural, or, perhaps the main determinant, political (even a smidgen of ethical?) reasons.

It is very hard to know what goes on behind the scenes in the Orbán empire because those who are close to the boss are very tight-mouthed. They know that what counts above all is personal loyalty, which means agreement with Orbán on all issues. They know that the prime minister’s political longevity trumps every other consideration. We can now wait with morbid curiosity to see how Rogán’s ministry ensures that Orbán remains in power for twenty years.

The European Summit has begun: Viktor Orbán arrived with a plan

Here are a few examples of what a government-led hate campaign can do. About three weeks ago a Facebook group was formed where venom spews out from hundreds of comments. Some people openly discuss killing all the refugees. Then “there would be silence,” one of them wrote. A few days later a proud owner of an expensive Porsche with a Slovak licence plate threatened two women with a hand grenade because they gave a lift to a Syrian family on M1 on their way to Austria. A week later some students of a private high school in the New Buda district of Budapest spat into the dough of scones (pogácsa) the school was going to donate to the refugees. And today we learned that in a school in the third district a boy in the seventh grade held a knife to the throat of a half Nigerian-half Hungarian six-grader demanding that he leave the country because he was “an immigrant.”

This shameful anti-refugee propaganda intensified after the clashes between the security forces (TEK) and the refugees at Röszke. The more I read about this incident the more convinced I am that the members of TEK, which most people call Viktor Orbán’s private army, actually provoked the incident in order to reinforce the population’s antagonism toward the refugees. The more Hungarians fear these people the more grateful they will be to their brave, unyielding prime minister. The strategy has worked. Hungary’s reputation may have suffered immeasurably, but Fidesz’s popularity has shot up. Since the refugee crisis Fidesz has gained 300,000 new followers. The same strategy is working in Slovakia. I suspect that Robert Fico’s uncompromising stand in Brussels has a great deal to do with the fact that there will be national elections in Slovakia in six months’ time. As it stands, Fico’s party (Smer-SD) has gained support since the beginning of the crisis.

Over the weekend the Hungarian media learned that Viktor Orbán was ecstatic over the political gains he had achieved as a result of his position on the refugee crisis and his determination to keep the country Christian and ethnically pure. The next day Ipsos’s poll came out, confirming that the prime minister’s strategy was indeed a great political success. We don’t know, of course, how long Orbán can hold out against Brussels. What will happen if Hungary eventually has to permit EU officials to establish “hot spots” where uniform standards will be applied in determining who is granted asylum? As it stands now, one reason for the refugees’ refusal to be registered in Hungary is the low percentage of positive decisions about their status. While in Germany more than 40% of the asylum seekers succeed in gaining asylum status, in Hungary in the past few years that number was 9%.

The establishment of “hot spots” would also mean the presence of large refugee camps in the country to house the refugees until their cases are decided and they can be moved to a community that would handle their integration. In this case, the Hungarian government’s efforts to keep refugees out of the country would have been in vain.

Yesterday it became clear that, despite Viktor Orbán’s protestations, refugees will be coming to Hungary. Moreover, although the ministers of interior of Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia voted against the plan, the fourth country of the Visegrád4–Poland, on whose support Orbán counted–voted with the majority. Thus Orbán can no longer rely on a united front by the Visegrád4 countries.

Viktor Orbán arrives at the summit / Reuters / Photo: Francois Lenoir

Viktor Orbán arrives at the summit / Reuters / Photo: Francois Lenoir

Before the summit began Viktor Orbán gave a press conference in which he emphasized certain parts of the agenda that are close to his heart. According to the press release issued by the Hungarian prime minister’s office, “the most important issue [of the] EU summit is the protection of the Greek borders.” If Athens is unable to secure them, then Europe should be allowed to step in. If Greece’s borders cannot be defended, “he must obtain support [from the EU] to enable Hungary to enforce the Schengen Agreement.” And, he added, “if they do not support us in this effort, they should state clearly that the Schengen Agreement is no longer binding, and we should then organize a corridor through which migrants may reach Austria or Germany.”

I doubt that the matter of the Greek borders will be the most important issue at the summit. Although Donald Tusk also talked about strengthening the borders, he emphasized that this by itself will not solve the problem. And defending the borders of Greece, a country that is made up of an incredible number of inhabited islands (variously cited as between 166 and 227), is well nigh impossible. More important is support for the United Nations agencies that operate refugee camps in Syria and Turkey. One reason for the recent influx of people from Syrian and Turkish refugee camps is that, in the last few months, life in the camps became very hard due to a lack of food and other necessities of life. The UN can no longer provide adequate support due to a lack of money. Donald Tusk indicated to the prime ministers that this question “can no longer wait.” The member states will have to make financial sacrifices. The goal is to collect one billion euros for the United Nations World Food Program from the 28 member states.

Viktor Orbán also has his own six-point plan of action. (1) EU countries should offer help to Greece in defending its own borders. (2) Determination of asylum status should be determined outside of the Schengen borders. (3) The European Union should draw up a list of safe countries. (4) In order to gain additional monies each member state should raise its contribution to the EU budget by 1% while they should reduce their expenses by 1%. This would produce three billion euros. (5) Certain countries should create “special partnership agreements.” For example, such a partnership could be developed between Turkey and Russia. (6) The refugees should be distributed worldwide to ease the pressure on Europe.

Whether Orbán’s plan will be discussed is hard to tell. Commentators believe that Brussels should respond to these ideas, some of which, in my opinion, deserve consideration. It’s too bad that Viktor Orbán, instead of discussing a joint problem with the rest of the European Union, decided to build a fence by which he managed to alienate everybody. It may be too late for a constructive plan from Hungary.

Viktor Orbán at a crossroads: Alone or together?

By all objective standards Viktor Orbán’s refugee policy is a resounding failure. The hastily constructed fence, as predicted, is useless. This past weekend almost 9,000 refugees arrived in the country. The Hungarian government’s handling of the crisis has been roundly criticized, and by today Germany with the assistance of Austria decided to bend the rules and deal with the situation in a “flexible manner,” which meant taking over the registration of the would-be immigrants from the incompetent and malevolent Hungarian government.

Yet, from the point of view of the Orbán government the outcome of the protracted refugee crisis may not be a total loss. Yes, a lot of money was spent on anti-refugee propaganda and western powers are horrified at the heartless measures introduced and/or contemplated by the Hungarian government. But according to the latest public opinion poll by the Republikon Institute, as a result of the “firm” attitude of the government regarding the refugee issue, the downward slide of Fidesz’s popularity has stopped. The anti-refugee propaganda also reinforced the xenophobic tendencies of Hungarians to the point that, by now, 66% of the population believe that “the refugees pose a danger to Hungary and therefore they shouldn’t be allowed” into the country. Only 19% think that “it is the duty of Hungary to accept them.”

The most vociferous opponents of a generous immigration policy are the Fidesz voters (79%). They even surpass followers of Jobbik (71%). But even supporters of the opposition parties are not too keen on foreigners. For example, 64% of MSZP voters and 52% of LMP supporters harbor anti-immigration sentiments. DK voters polled lowest, at 47%, but this number is still surprisingly high given the liberal disposition of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s followers. Thus, one can safely say that a large majority of Hungarians would recommend strong measures against the influx of refugees and support Orbán’s categorical refusal to accept any refugees whatsoever.

It is another matter, however, whether the policies that have been introduced thus far satisfy the expectations of the electorate. Again, by objective standards, they shouldn’t because the results of these efforts, legislative and otherwise, are zilch. Yet I don’t think that Fidesz’s attempt to gain political advantage from the immigration crisis is in jeopardy. The government can always blame the European Union for its failures. Laying the blame on Brussels is a relatively easy task given the total confusion that reigns in the capitals of the member states and in Brussels itself.

Today’s events are a perfect example of that confusion. Yesterday the ministry of interior categorically announced that without a passport and a valid visa nobody can leave the country. Never mind that in the last few months more than 100,000 people left without either of these documents. This morning the same ministry claimed that there will be plenty of space in Hungarian jails for “illegal immigrants.”

By midday the Hungarian government blamed Germany for the situation that had developed at the railway stations in Budapest and elsewhere. András Giró-Szász, one of the government spokesmen, not without justification complained that Hungary has followed all of the Dublin III regulations governing immigration procedures when it is now Germany that has shown “a more permissive attitude toward Syrian refugees … which has raised hopes among the illegal immigrants who possibly come from Syria.” He asked the German government “to clarify the legal situation.”

Then something happened at the Eastern Railway Station (Keleti) between six and seven this morning. Within an hour all the policemen who were supposed to make sure that no refugee gets on any train heading west disappeared. Within minutes the news spread that Syrian refugees can embark on their journey to Germany where they are being welcomed. That meant a sudden reversal of Hungarian policy, which was undoubtedly prompted by a telephone call from Angela Merkel to Viktor Orbán. The Austrians stopped the two trains carrying the refugees at the border, but after making sure that the trains were not overcrowded they let them proceed to Germany.

The trains at the Austro-Hungarian border,August 31, 2015

The trains at the Austro-Hungarian border, August 31, 2015

I’m not sure whether, after the German change of policy, the Hungarian government will proceed with its plans to modify the criminal code, which would lay the groundwork for declaring a state of emergency. This might be incompatible with Hungary’s membership in the European Union. It seems, however, that the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia will hold a mini-summit in Prague on Friday. It was expected that these countries would stand together in their refusal to take any refugees. But Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz of Poland announced today that, given the changed situation, Poland is ready to accept far more than the 2,200 refugees it had offered at the time the quota system was originally discussed. So the staunchest holdouts may be limited to the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia.

As 444.hu said, a Kulturkamp has broken out between Western and Eastern Europe over the refugee issue. While the west wants to return to a discussion of quotas, the former socialist countries are refusing to accept any such solution. The tension is palpable. Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner used strong words today. She announced that “pressure should be put on those countries” that refuse to cooperate. In her opinion, Brussels might reduce the amount of support for the recalcitrant member states.

The easterners keep repeating that they want to remain Christian countries. Robert Fico is perhaps the least bashful in expressing this view, saying that Slovakia is willing to take 250 immigrants but they must not be Muslims. But the Poles, Estonians, and Czechs feel the same way about “refugees who come from a different cultural background,” as Miloš Zeman rather politely put it. As a result, in the Western European countries one often hears about the “heartlessness” of East Europeans while they stress their own humane attitudes. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls yesterday recited Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus”: “Give me your tired, your poor, /Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.” Italy, Austria, and Germany have indicated that if there is no common solution, free movement within the European Union cannot be maintained.

Four days ago an opinion piece,”The price of zero,” appeared in Népszabadság by the excellent veteran journalist Endre Aczél. He begins his piece by saying that he wasn’t at all surprised that it was Germany that first decided to abandon the “Dublin Convention” and not to send refugees back to the countries where they reached the territory of the European Union. The Germans remember their own post-World War II history when 14 million Germans were forced to move from east to west. The Germans, the French, and the Italians contemplate a pan-European solution. But Thomas de Maiziere, German minister of the interior, “quietly” mentioned the possibility of guarding national borders in the future. “Anyone, like Orbán, who declares zero acceptance of immigrants should think twice: What would be the benefit or advantage from limitations to Hungarians’ free movement within the European Union?” Of course, it would be a terrible blow. If it came to that, Viktor Orbán wouldn’t be prime minister of Hungary for long. One wouldn’t even have to wait for the next scheduled election.

Péter Boross on immigration, the European Union, and the United States

Péter Boross, prime minister of Hungary between December 12, 1993 and July 15, 1994, periodically makes outrageous statements. Today was one of those times and, as is usually the case, every internet organ is full of condemnation of Boross. This time the Hungarian media discovered that the former prime minister of Hungary is a racist. To my mind there is nothing surprising about this. It goes with the territory. Boross, who was born in 1928, would feel right at home in the Hungary of Gyula Gömbös and Pál Teleki, two prime ministers in the 1930s who were zealous “defenders of the race” (fajvédők).

Nowadays people who find the far-right regime of Viktor Orbán unbearable are apt to think of the Antall-Boross governments’ conservative system as a liberal heaven in comparison. But let’s not get carried away. Seeds of many of the political sins of today were sown by the conservative coalition of József Antall, whose good friend was Péter Boross. Thanks to that friendship Boross made a fantastic political career. First as undersecretary in the prime minister’s office and within months as minister of the interior. Once Antall died, he was chosen by his party to become prime minister.

Those of you who would like to learn more about Boross should read my post on him, which includes a brief biography. I also wrote a longer piece in Hungarian for the by-now defunct Galamus. In addition, I discovered a 2002 tongue-in cheek article by Gáspár Miklós Tamás (TGM) titled “An example for the progressive youth.” The conclusion is that Hungary’s former prime minister is a not very smart, reactionary, bigoted, narrow-minded man who was ill-suited for a political career in the first place. But, let’s face it, Hungary’s first democratically elected government was absolutely full of these characters.

The interview appeared in Magyar Hírlap, a far-right paper that is supportive of Fidesz. It was somewhere in the middle of the interview that Tamás Pindroch, a journalist whose views are not far from those of Boross, asked him whether he shares the widely-held view that the would-be immigrants cannot adapt to European norms because of their “cultural differences.” The civilizations where these people are coming from are so different from our own that adjustment is impossible. Of course, we know that this is the view Viktor Orbán holds who, in my opinion, defines “culture” in a very narrow sense. Since he denies that multi-national Hungary was a multi-cultural country, we must assume that for Orbán cultural difference means religious difference, Christian versus Muslim.

Boross, Magyar Hirlap

Boross, as it turned out, doesn’t share that view. Let me quote the crucial sentences:

Today no one dares to say that immigration is not a cultural but an ethnic problem. Namely, millions arrive in Europe whose languages and skin colors are different from those of Europeans. It is important to note that they don’t just come from different cultures but their psychic apparatus, their biological and genetic endowments are different. It is a well-known fact that in Western Europe third-generation immigrants oppose the nations that took them in. What kind of conclusion can we draw from this? If it were simply a question of culture, they should have adjusted a long time ago: they attended school in the countries they live in, they speak the language, they are familiar with the customs and behavior of Europeans. Cultural integration doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked with the Gypsies, although they have lived with us for hundreds of years. In this case, there is not much of a chance that it will work with masses of Muslims who are crossing our borders.

Liberal publications were shocked and condemned Boross for his racist remarks, but Válasz, a pro-Fidesz publication, was also critical. The article argued that after the appearance of this interview, all those who consider people “who don’t welcome the new arrivals with EU flags in hand bigoted and narrow-minded racists” will be able to point to the racist remarks of the former prime minister. Right-wing politicians in the West would never resort to such language. Listing cultural differences is enough for them.

Admittedly, Boross’s racist remarks were shocking, but I wouldn’t ignore some of his other observations which, though they might not touch on sensitive race issues, also manifest an attitude that is not far from the thinking of many Hungarians, politicians and non-politicians alike.

Although Boross covered many topics, I will pick only a couple that I found the most interesting. One such topic was the European Union. A careful reading of the text reveals that, as far as the former prime minister is concerned, Hungary would be much better off if she didn’t belong to the Union. He states that if there were only independent nation states in Europe, “this flood could easily have been stopped.” In what way it would have been easier to handle the problem, he neglects to tell us. But since the existence of the EU is a given, at least its important organizations shouldn’t be situated in Brussels, Strasbourg, and the Hague, which are strongholds of “western left-liberalism.” And since the EU is expanding eastward, it would be logical to change the venue of EU institutions. Somewhere in the former East Germany would be an excellent place.

What should the European Union do with the flood of immigrants? The answer is certainly not a quota system, which would divvy up the immigrants among the member states. What the EU needs is an army. Such an army, together with the military of the United States, should achieve peace by military force in the troubled regions, after which the immigrants can be sent back to where they came from. This joint military effort should be financed “from the money of the Americans because they were the ones who, without any thought for the future, began a war in the region.”

Boross then shared his golden thoughts on the United States. We learn that “the Americans live in a culture of competition without any human content.” When he talks about culture, he warns that the word must be put between shudder quotes because American culture is “the culture of the ‘half-learned'” (félművelt). Then he elaborates.

What I mean is that the Americans reward the stronger over the weaker in every case. In the United States the strong can trample on the weak without any interference. They call their system “absolute democracy.” After they became a superpower, they thought that democracy as it functions at their place will follow the “Arab spring.”… They are intellectually unfit to lead the world. Rome back then was wise because it left the conquered territories in peace and accepted some of the gods of the conquered as their own. Washington does exactly the opposite, it wants to force its own god, democracy, upon the conquered lands. (emphasis mine)

For Péter Boross democracy is something the Americans want to foist on every country, including Hungary. But Boross and his ilk want nothing to do with the god of the Americans, who after all are totally unfit to dictate anything to anyone.

It seems that Boross is right on one point: the United States doesn’t think that Hungarian democracy is thriving under Viktor Orbán. Moreover, it has the temerity to say so. This is the message Secretary of State John Kerry sent on the occasion of Hungary’s national holiday, which will be celebrated tomorrow:

On behalf of President Obama and the citizens of the United States, I offer heartfelt congratulations to the people of Hungary as you commemorate Saint Stephen’s Day this August 20th.

Today, we recall and pay tribute to the rich history of Hungary and to the great unifier, King Stephen I. The United States is proud to have honored his legacy by protecting the Crown of St. Stephen on behalf of the Hungarian people after the Second World War. This day is one of personal significance for me, moreover, as my own paternal grandmother was from Budapest.

The strong and enduring ties that exist between the United States and Hungary can be seen in our shared membership in the NATO Alliance, our mutual support for a sovereign and democratic Ukraine, our thriving economic and trade relationship, and a multitude of familial and cultural connections. To further our common interests, it is vital that we uphold transatlantic values including democracy and good governance, both in our own countries and around the world.

On this special day, the United States wishes the people of Hungary continued peace and a future filled with prosperity and joy.

Foolish, foolish, half-educated Americans still believe in democracy. Although the Americans, according to Boross, trample on the weak and the defenseless, Mr. Kerry most likely would be terribly shocked if he heard that a former prime minister of Hungary and an adviser to the present one thinks that human considerations must be set aside in the current immigration crisis. “Unfortunately, the opposition media, playing on human emotions, show crying children and thus manipulate public opinion. But in this question the fate of our nation takes priority. We must push human considerations into the background in handling this crisis.” Boross doesn’t have to worry. Viktor Orbán’s government has been doing just that for months by now.