Tag Archives: fear of migrants

Hungarian refugees of 1956 and the current refugee crisis

I have been thinking about the topic of today’s post for a long time, but it was only in the last couple of days that the threads came together to form a unified whole. 444.hu published an article yesterday with the title “Viktor Orbán’s 100 lies,” which prompted me add one of my own about the Hungarian refugees of 1956. That particular Orbán lie has been bothering me for ages, but I had no time to search for the necessary statistical data to prove that, as usual, Viktor Orbán is either purposely lying or is simply ignorant. Today, however, I got my proof. Népszava published a detailed article about the Hungarian Statistical Office’s originally secret compilation of data on people who left the country after the October 1956 revolution. I should also note that the hysteria over the sighting of alleged migrants that erupted in a village provided an added impetus for me to make some observations about the “good Hungarian refugees” as opposed to the “evil migrants,” a contrast that is often drawn by Fidesz leaders as well as the general population. Finally, there are a couple of telling sentences in a new poll about “the Hungarian dream” that may have some relevance here.

So, let’s start with the lie that 444.hu didn’t include in its list. It was about two years ago that Viktor Orbán explained that keeping “migrants” within walled compounds guarded by police was the norm when the Hungarian refugees arrived in Austria. “What do you think? They were free to go anywhere? They were in camps for years until they were properly vetted.” This was essentially Orbán’s justification for creating closed camps for those refugees who arrived in Hungary, after a fence was erected to keep most of the refugees out. According to official Hungarian statistics, 193,748 people left the country between October 23 and the spring of 1957, most of them via Austria (174,057). What happened to these people? Did they stay in closed refugee camps, waiting for years? No. According to the statistics, by March 31, 1957 only 35,250 Hungarian refugees were still in Austria. The rest were moved within months to 35 different countries, which offered them food and shelter until they found jobs.

This was an enormous achievement in and of itself, but there were also many difficult cases that the authorities had to handle. For example, I just read parts of a book about the 20,000 unaccompanied minors who needed protection. Some of them were war orphans who had lived all of their lives in institutions and who had special needs. Many of these children eventually found their bearing in their adopted countries, but some drifted from country to country, or ended up in the French Legion or in Vietnam. Most of the unaccompanied minors, however, were just normal kids, many from white-collar families. Their host countries provided them, among other things, with free education. As we know, among the refugees coming from the Middle East there are many unaccompanied minors, whose arrival is viewed with suspicion. But if you think about it, in the Hungarian case 10% of the refugees were under the age of 18, so these youngsters’ presence in the current migration mix is not unusual.

A Hungarian refugee boy somewhere in Europe in 1957

The other common complaint about the mass of Middle Eastern refugees is the predominance of young men. They should have stayed and fought, the argument goes. What was situation in 1956? Two-thirds of the refugees were men. Not only that, but more than half of them were under the age of 25 and one third were relatively young (25-39 years old). Moreover, the largest category of men was of military age: 10.3% of all 20-year-olds and 9.3% of all 19-year-olds left the country. Although about half of the refugees were from Budapest, the number of men from the capital was especially high. More than 15% of 15- to 24-year-olds in Budapest left the country. Perhaps these statistics could give today’s Hungarians some food for thought, but naturally one cannot expect the officials to enlighten people about the nature of migratory movements.

In fact, any comparison of the Hungarian exodus in 1956 to the present situation is hotly denied. As if all Hungarian refugees were either skilled workers or highly educated intellectuals. No, it was a mixed crowd that included troubled children and common criminals who were let out of the jail. And, of course, many who settled into a comfortable middle-class existence or who achieved fame in their professional lives. I think that, by and large, the host countries  benefited from their initial investment.

Meanwhile, the Orbán government’s anti-refugee propaganda is still going strong, and the results are disheartening. A couple of days ago panic broke out in the village of Kömlő in Heves County, which has a majority Roma population and a Roma mayor who seems to have a lot of common sense. An elderly inhabitant, who happened to be a non-Roma, claimed to have seen a couple of migrants, who actually turned out to be locals. Panic set in. People saw migrants everywhere. They allegedly saw them entering houses and stealing food off the table or out of the refrigerator. Total fear gripped the place. The village has four or five anti-Soros posters but, as the mayor explained, the locals have no idea who he is. It is not the posters that are responsible for the fear that exists in the village but “what they see on television. There is no real danger here, but still that is what the TV tells them all day long.” I wonder what would have happened in 1956 and 1957 if the Austrian government had launched a campaign against the refugees, claiming that they were all communists.

Finally, a fascinating poll was taken about the future Hungarians would like to see for themselves. This is not the time to discuss this poll in any detail, but the upshot of the survey is that “Hungarians would like to live about 800 km farther west, somewhere close to the Austrian-Swiss border, and live in the predictability and the social equality of the Kádár regime but with western standards of living.” This conclusion didn’t surprise me, but what grabbed my attention was a comment from one of the respondents: “We should reach Western Europe economically but not culturally.” Apparently, Hungarians dream about some “specific Hungarian road within the Union.” As Tamás Boros, one of the researchers who worked on the study, noted, they dream about “a rich and egalitarian but ethnically homogeneous country.” Hungarians have been chasing a “Hungarian road” in vain for almost one hundred years. The combination they are dreaming about is unattainable and most likely also undesirable.

November 4, 2017