I assume not too many people know that between July 19 and 26 the 2017 World Fencing Championships were held in Leipzig. The Hungarian team did reasonably well, ending up in fourth place after Italy, Russia, and South Korea. Although Hungary has some very good fencers, their accomplishments received relatively little coverage since they were competing for media attention with the World Aquatic Championships, held in Budapest. It wasn’t until the fencing competition was almost over that it became hot news. Unfortunately, the story had nothing to do with fencing.
Gábor Boczkó, a silver medalist at the 2004 Summer Olympics, is the newly appointed secretary-general of the Hungarian Fencing Association. Although I don’t know much about Boczkó’s political views, I assume that he is sympathetic to the present government because he was awarded a prestigious decoration (Magyar Érdemrend tisztikeresztje) on March 15, 2016. People who are known to have political views not in line with those of the Orbán government never receive any decoration whatsoever from the present regime.
For a number of years Boczkó worked as the marketing director of the Hungarian Fencing Association. About a month ago he was appointed secretary-general of the organization. At the same time he was named to the 13-member board of the European Fencing Association.
Boczkó accompanied the Hungarian fencing team to Leipzig. The championships were not quite over when Boczkó was interviewed by M1 of Magyar Televízió (MTV). Boczkó complained that the Hungarian team was unable to concentrate on the competition because of the dreadful situation that exists in the city of Leipzig. In fact, the situation was so bad that the members of the team didn’t dare to walk alone on the streets, especially not after dark. They always made sure that they were moving about in groups. Boczkó recalled that in front of their hotel there were constant disturbances, most likely by migrants. For example, they saw a man who was brandishing a machete, and “they witnessed a black man in the middle of trying to kidnap the two-three-month-old baby of a white woman.” In order to further emphasize the dangerous situation that exists in Germany, M1 included some videos of the Munich and Berlin terrorist attacks.
By now non-governmental media outlets are suspicious of practically everything the government propaganda machine puts out. 444.hu is usually the first independent news site to fact-check stories like the one Boczkó told about the situation in Leipzig. After looking at German papers, including ones published in and around Leipzig, and finding nothing approximating Boczkó’s stories, they approached the City of Leipzig, whose spokesman assured them that Leipzig is a safe city where people freely move around day and night. No one knew anything about a person brandishing a machete or about a stolen white baby. The spokesman for the Leipzig police also knew nothing about these alleged crimes. He added that in a local park there was an argument between a North African couple but no crime was committed.
It took only two days for the Leipziger Volkszeitung to discover Boczkó’s description of their fair city and to publish a lengthy article about the unflattering report of the Hungarian fencing team. The article said that the hotel where the Hungarian and nine other teams stayed is not in the best part of Leipzig. It was described by the paper as a crime center and an area drug users frequent. Perhaps, with his head full of Orbán propaganda about criminal migrants, Boczkó simply assumed that any unsavory characters he saw were terrorists who had descended on Germany.
But Hungarian state television normally doesn’t let sleeping dogs lie. They refused to admit that the information received from Boczkó was at best inaccurate or at worst a falsification of facts. The station called on a secret service agent from the Kádár period, who has since become a useful “expert witness” for the government side of any such argument. He again performed well by announcing that in cases like the ones Boczkó described, the German police is inclined to cover up the real facts and lie when receiving media inquiries. In addition, M1 also got on the telephone with the German police whose spokesman “admitted that there was a baby affair because a North African couple got into an argument.” (Sorry if this sentence is not comprehensible. It wasn’t in the Hungarian original either.) The “expert” then went on and on about Sweden and Great Britain where the police also suppress negative news about migrants. He even talked at some length about Donald Trump’s tweet about Sadiq Khan. (“You have to be kidding me?!: Terror attacks are part of living in big city, says London Mayor Sadiq Khan.”)
Interestingly, Jenő Kamuti, a former Olympic fencer and vice president of the Hungarian Fencing Association who was also in Leipzig, didn’t notice anything unusual. The city, he said, is calm; the world championship is well run and safe. He didn’t encounter any disturbances involving migrants. But Boczkó wouldn’t let the affair die a quiet death, and the Hungarian Fencing Association produced several videos and photos that were supposed to prove that he was right about the dreadful conditions in Leipzig. On one of them “a policeman holds a long knife in his right hand.” The statement of the Hungarian Fencing Association assumes that this piece of equipment was taken from a suspect the police tried to restrain. The same expert who gave long descriptions of the reluctance of western police forces to share information about migrants was again asked to comment on these photos. He dramatically asked the audience: “Do we want to live like that?”
But that wasn’t quite enough. Yesterday another “expert,” the German-Hungarian Georg Spöttle, was questioned on the situation. He claimed that the citizens of Leipzig stood by the Hungarian fencing team’s secretary-general, as is clear from the hundreds of comments accompanying the article about city hall and the police denying that anything is amiss in the city. Leipziger Volkszeitung, which published the article, doesn’t seem to allow comments. It would be interesting to check whether such comments actually exist. Having some familiarity with Spöttle, I am inclined to doubt that they do.
According to Spöttle, the area where the Hungarians stayed is “in the hands of the Muslims.” It is a real “no-go zone.” Spöttle also claimed that, after Berlin, Leipzig is the second most crime-ridden city in Germany. Admittedly, the list I found of the safest and most dangerous cities in Germany is three years old, but it doesn’t bear out Spöttle’s figures. The “most dangerous” list is headed by Frankfurt am Main, followed by Cologne. Berlin is third, and Leipzig had to be satisfied with eighth place. Spöttle also rattled off some statistics about the crime rates in these two cities, but I suspect that they are most likely wrong as well.
The squabble between M1’s Híradó and 444.hu might seem petty. But then I read in today’s privatbankar.hu that the ministry of foreign affairs and trade just released a statement in which they urge Hungarians traveling to Western Europe to register at Hungarian embassies and consulates because of the extreme danger due to migrants and terrorists. This should be done even if Hungarian citizens visit one of the Western European countries only for a couple of days. This way the Hungarian authorities can easily reach them and offer assistance in case of need.
That reminds me of those years in the 1960s and 1970s when we Hungarian refugees were first allowed to visit our relatives. I don’t know about other western countries, but Canada and the United States definitely advised visitors to countries behind the iron curtain to go to their embassies and register. But today, advising people to register because of the presence of migrants in Western Europe is surely nothing more than yet another attempt to reinforce the Hungarian population’s fear of strangers invading the continent. Perhaps the safest course of action would be to go nowhere and to hermetically seal the borders.