Tag Archives: Germany

László Kövér, the voice of Fidesz’s inner thoughts

It was shortly after Fidesz’s loss in the elections of 2002 that the American-Hungarian Coalition invited some members of the Hungarian parliament for a two-week visit to Washington. The idea was for these MPs to gain exposure to American democracy in action. The American-Hungarian Coalition, which at this point was the only organization allegedly representing Hungarians living in the United States, was a decidedly conservative body and therefore in Hungarian politics usually sided with the right: the Antall government between 1990-1994 and Fidesz between 1998 and 2002.

The Coalition’s bias became patently obvious when it turned out that only Fidesz MPs were selected to visit the U.S. The others obviously didn’t deserve such a trip. László Kövér, who by the way doesn’t know any English, was one of the Fidesz MPs who was chosen. I’m afraid that the money spent on him was a total waste. He doesn’t understand anything about democracy, and today he has a burning hatred of the United States.

I said earlier that Kövér is one of those people who doesn’t know when to shut up. After his unfortunate remarks at the Fidesz Congress, he made his rounds of radio stations and tried to explain what he actually meant. So, when Pesti Srácok approached him for an interview, he couldn’t resist. In response to this interview, a friend of mine said that he hasn’t seen “such concentrated stupidity, lack of information, and simple ignorance put together based on visceral anti-Americanism and the misconceptions of the far right.”

Of course, one of the topics that was covered was the refugee issue. Kövér sees two villains here: Germany and the United States. In his view, the German government wants to satisfy the needs of German business, but its real aim is to enlarge the voting base of the left. Don’t ask me why Angela Merkel would want to add voters to her Christian Democratic Party’s strongest opposition, the social democrats. Logic obviously is not Kövér’s strong suit. As for his knowledge of the employment of earlier immigrants to Germany, he talks about the prospect of having only 10% of the newcomers gainfully employed while the other 90% will be living on welfare payments. And after this piece of nonsense, Kövér embarks on another one. In his opinion, the “essence of the left’s ideology is permanent liberation.” The left suggests to one group after the other that they are oppressed and therefore need protection. Kövér “doesn’t want to offend the Muslim migrants, but in the eyes of the European left there is really no difference between them and transsexuals.”

uncle sam2

Well, we could say that Kövér cannot be taken seriously and therefore it is not worth spending time on his ridiculous statements. But the situation is not that simple. These thoughts have been cropping up in Viktor Orbán’s speeches as well. He talked several times about the advantage the German socialists see in admitting refugees who then will vote for them as soon as they become citizens.

In Kövér’s view, which I’m sure Viktor Orbán shares, politicians in responsible positions have lost their minds, except naturally for Fidesz politicians. “One’s stomach turns, and one has difficulty breathing. One chokes on the stupidities of European politics, from the mediocrity and the dishonesty of its representatives. One feels that there is no hope because we are sitting in a boat where everybody around us is an idiot or at least they pretend to be.”

Taking his cue from the far right, Kövér considers the United States to be the greatest villain in the refugee drama. Apparently, the real problem with the U.S. is that “it needs ever newer enemies, conflicts, phony rows in order to keep its military machinery in motion.” In a way, the situation during the Cold War was less dangerous, according to Kövér. Then “at least we knew who was on whose side.” But today “do we know the goals of each side in the war against the Islamic State?”

The countries of Central Europe are only pawns in this game, but luckily they are beginning to define and defend their own interests. “Everything started with the history of Cain and Abel, and the role of Cain is filled by those who possess the greatest power.” Kövér was slow to discover that the real enemy is the United States. It surprised him, but by now he knows that with the collapse of the Soviet Union America remained without an enemy and therefore looked for new ones: the Russian mafia and Osama Bin Laden, the chief evil (főgonosz). Eventually, after some confusion, they managed to take aim at Russia and to provoke a conflict with Ukraine, which by the way divided Europe. And then came faceless corruption as a target.

I find it shocking that Kövér equates Osama bin Laden with the Russian mafia or corruption. Moreover, the word “főgonosz” carries the connotation that this man’s wickedness was exaggerated by the United States for political reasons. As for the division of Europe as the result of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Kövér here seems to be admitting that Hungary is secretly on Russia’s side because on the surface there seems to be unity among the European countries.

Kövér doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when Ambassador Colleen Bell urges the Hungarian government to follow the Romanian example and investigate and bring to justice corrupt politicians when she got her cushy job only because she collected money for Obama’s presidential campaign. “So, let’s forget about the fairy tales.” I guess this means that Colleen Bell is as corrupt as any of those whom the U.S. government would like to bring to justice in Romania or Hungary.

In Kövér’s opinion, the standards of political discourse have sunk so low that “one has no appetite to react to the statements of even the American ambassador.” Obviously, Kövér is not very sensitive to what Péter Szijjártó, János Lázár, Lajos Kósa, Antal Rogán, or, for that matter, Viktor Orbán talk about. It’s enough to read, for example, Viktor Orbán’s accusations against West European politicians who purposely want to ruin European civilization.

Kövér’s speeches and interviews are useful for anyone looking for insight into the true nature of the Orbán regime and Fidesz. He is not the odd man out but one who speaks most openly about matters others try to either hide or tone down. We can learn from him more than some people think. Indeed, this far-right drivel is part and parcel of Fidesz’s worldview.

The homeland needs more babies

I just learned that there is a group of economists who are convinced that opening borders all over the world and thus allowing the free flow of people would have immense benefit to mankind. For instance, Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University, claims that such an open-border policy would double the world’s GDP. The website Open Borders offers evidence that immigration for highly developed countries is beneficial, especially if the given country’s birthrate is low. This is certainly the case in Germany where, according to the Statistisches Bundesamt, in order to sustain the present industrial capacity and living standards the country would need about 6 million immigrants between now and 2060. The situation is somewhat similar in the United States where the birthrate has been falling year after year, although it is not as bad as in Germany or for that matter in Hungary. In the United States the current fertility rate is 1.87 per woman and in Canada 1.61. In Germany it is 1.38 and in Hungary 1.34.

Of these four countries it is only Hungary that steadfastly refuses to even consider the possibility of accepting any newcomers. Germany, which at the moment is taking care of almost one million refugees, in the past few years has quietly settled millions of foreigners, among them close to 200,000 Hungarians, more than 500,000 Poles, over 100,000 Syrians, close to 100,000 Iraqis, and 75,000 Afghans. The United States opens its doors to close to a million immigrants every year. As for Canada, papers reported today that Canada is prepared to settle 50,000 Syrians by the end of next year. Germany will take most of the asylum-seekers but wants signs of solidarity from the other member states of the European Union and therefore asks them to accept a relatively small number of refugees. The four Visegrád countries are balking at this request.

In the last few days Hungarian papers were full of stories about László Kövér’s speech at the Fidesz Congress on the duty of women to produce grandchildren for him and others of his generation. Soon enough came the outrageous remarks of the pop singer Ákos, who is a faithful promoter of Viktor Orbán’s regime. Ákos in an interview pretty well repeated what Kövér had to say about women. Their primary role is to produce babies. For good measure he added that it is not “their task to make as much money as men do.”

Kövér’s speech and Ákos’s interview were ill-conceived first stabs at introducing the Hungarian government’s new nationwide propaganda campaign that hopes to boost the country’s miserably low fertility rate. The underlying message is: “We’ve saved you from these Muslim hordes but you, for your part, must have many more children.” According to Katalin Novák, undersecretary in charge of family affairs in the ministry of human resources, the demographic problems of Hungary could be solved if every Hungarian family would produce just one additional child.

The government realizes that, given the low wages, the general housing shortage, the high price of apartments and the small sizes of the existing units, few families will embark on having two or three children. In the last few days all sorts of vague promises were made about lowering the VAT on housing construction from 27% to 5%, but details are missing. No one knows what part of the construction would benefit from the drastic lowering of the tax. In addition, the government promised to give 10 million forints gratis to families who commit to having three children within ten years. These people would also receive a loan of up to 10 million forints with a low interest rate to buy an apartment in a newly constructed building. Although we know few details, critics point out that 10 million for a brand new apartment is peanuts and thus only the better-off families would benefit from the government largess, most likely the ones who don’t really need it.

An ideal Hungarian family

An ideal Hungarian family

Sometime in May we learned that Hungary’s population was continuing to shrink. The equivalent of a smaller town had disappeared within one year. In today’s papers one can find new data on the subject. It is true that 0.5% more children were born between January and October, but the number of deaths rose by 5.5% during the same period. Thus, another middle-sized town disappeared. To be precise, 33,291 people.

How effective the new government measures will be only time will tell, but I’m not optimistic. In fact, I have the feeling that even if there are some small demographic improvements, they will not be nearly enough to replenish the population, which has been decreasing steadily ever since the 1970s. I also predict that emigration will accelerate for at least two reasons: David Cameron’s threats of discriminatory measures against immigrants from other EU countries and the Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan immigration to Germany. Would-be emigrants heading to the United Kingdom may think that they should go now since no one knows what kinds of new restrictions Cameron’s government will come out with in the next few months. As for Germany, at the moment job opportunities, especially for blue collar workers and unskilled labor, are plentiful, but who knows what will happen once the newcomers are ready to join the workforce. Mind you, it is possible that the Syrian refugees are better educated than the East Europeans working in Western Europe. According to one poll, 86% of Syrian refugees attended high school or university. Of these people 16% are students and 4-5% of them are doctors or pharmacists.


We left Mária Schmidt berating German journalists for being largely responsible for Hungary’s unsavory reputation in the West. She accuses them of being in the pay of the CIA, the German intelligence, and rich Arab countries. Here she relies on a book by Udo Ulfkotte, former editor of the Frankfuter Allgemeine Zeitung, titled Gekaufte Journalisten. Schmidt describes him as someone who is being deliberately passed over in silence because his revelations are so embarrassing to the German media.

So, who is this man? According to Wikipedia, the only source I found for information on his career, he spent a good twelve years in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Jordan. He was born into a Christian family but at the age of 21 declared himself to be an atheist. While in the Middle East he converted to Islam, which he later abandoned. He is now a born-again Christian.

As for his activities, I found an article by David Vickrey in German-American Opinion: Politics and Culture in which Ulfkotte is called a “fake journalist” and a “Putin propagandist.” According to the author, Ulfkotte “distinguished himself as a racist and anti-Islam hatemonger, demanding that all Muslims be deported from Germany in order to create more Lebensraum for ethnic Germans.”

Indeed, he was pretty well ignored in the last few years, but lately he was revitalized by two events: the Ukrainian crisis and the rise of the “Pegida movement” (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident). He began writing in Russian propaganda outlets and appeared as a speaker at Pegida gatherings. Earlier Vickrey reported that at one event organized by young social democrats protesting Ulfkotte’s speech on the dangers of immigration, he choked and threw a 15-year-old boy against the wall. Currently he is in hiding because, he claims, he received threats against his life.

Mária Schmidt seems to believe every word Udo Ulfkotte has ever uttered. She even managed to drag Boris Kálnoky of Die Welt into the controversy when she claimed that Kálnoky, whose parents left Hungary in 1947 and who learned Hungarian only as an adult, actually confirmed Ulkfotte’s allegations when in an interview on a Hungarian television station he said that he and his fellow journalists were told that, when writing about the migrants, they should concentrate on families and children. Later Kálnoky expressed his regret that Schmidt had misunderstood him. Perhaps his not quite perfect Hungarian was the reason for the misunderstanding. He was simply referring to readers’ interest in the travails of refugee families on the road.

That didn’t deter Mária Schmidt from retelling the story that Kálnoky denied. She reiterated that German journalists are instructed to present a positive picture of the migrants. In Germany “what really counts is the never-ending war against racism, anti-Semitism, and Hitler.” This from the woman who was entrusted with the establishment of a new Holocaust center, the House of Fate, specifically devoted to the children who were victims of the Holocaust. She has the audacity to complain about this “never-ending” fight.  Has she thought through what she is saying here? I guess if I confronted her about the exact meaning of this sentence she would tell me that I had taken the sentence out of context. She was talking only about “the leftist generation of 1968” who today think that they are the only ones who can make judgments about this issue. And then what? Would this be an acceptable explanation?

The much criticized selfie with a Syrian refugee

The much criticized Merkel selfie with a Syrian refugee

About half way through her text Schmidt completely lost her logical faculties, writing such sentences as “when as is her wont Chancellor Merkel talks about the sins of Europe and Germany, does she know that in the 17th and 18th centuries the Saracens (Muslims) carried off masses of Christians from Italy and sold them as slaves?… Perhaps she hasn’t heard of an Afghan custom which has been related by many ever since the 19th century that [the Afghans] cut off all four limbs of their English, Russian, and American prisoners of war?”

In this long harangue there are a couple of sentences that deserve more attention than the horror stories about cut-off limbs: “Does she [Merkel] believe that there were no mass murders on other continents? That at other places there was nothing to be ashamed of? … When will the Western European elite end this fruitless ritual of self-recrimination and self-abandonment?” Here Schmidt first of all equates the Holocaust with other mass murders and, second, pretty well tells the Western Europeans to forget about what happened to the Jewish population of the European Continent.

In the last few weeks Viktor Orbán accused Angela Merkel of not being democratic enough because she doesn’t listen to the people. Hungary is vastly superior to Germany in this respect: they introduced several national consultations and at the moment Fidesz is collecting signatures against the quota system. Schmidt decided to chime in and teach Merkel a thing or two about democracy. The proof that “Merkel can’t stand democracy” is that she prefers grand coalitions, and therefore it is practically impossible to distinguish the right and the left “especially if they are both gray and boring.” Schmidt is convinced that the reason for these grand coalitions is Merkel’s lack of democratic commitment. What she most likely purposely neglected to say is that in all three cases the reason for these grand coalitions was the refusal of the greens and the social democrats to form a government with the communist party (Linkspartei), not Merkel’s anti-democratic impulses.

What else is Merkel guilty of? Merkel and the ruling elite’s goal is “to replace the Germans and Europeans with a multi-cultural, globalized, and Muslim population. The only thing that matters is cheap labor.” In fact, Merkel can’t stand either the Germans or the Europeans in general. “She especially hates the Germans who will always remain Nazis and collectively guilty.” She is not a compassionate person when it comes to her own kind. “She never quotes from German books. She never talks about German history. And when she does, it would be better if she didn’t because it is always about the Holocaust.”

“Western Europe with its media and politicians see value everywhere except in their own. What moves them is self-hatred. And the greatest problem is that they have completely depleted their democracies.” The migrant crisis for this people comes in handy because again “they can prove their ideological commitment against racism, fascism (whatever they mean by it), and clericalism, while they affirm their allegiance to multiculturalism.”

I’m trying to be charitable, but on the basis on this text I consider Mária Schmidt to be guilty of Holocaust relativism, if not much worse.

Angela Merkel and Germany from the perspective of the Hungarian right. Part I

German-Hungarian relations are troubled, due primarily to Viktor Orbán’s relentless attacks on Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom he accuses of being largely responsible for the arrival of close to a million asylum-seekers in Europe. On one occasion he denounced her for “moral imperialism,” and he even meddled in internal German politics when he sided with Horst Seehofer, minister president of Bavaria, in his debate on the migrant question with Merkel. A few days ago vs.hu learned from reliable sources that a scheduled meeting between Angela Merkel and Viktor Orbán at the Malta summit was cancelled at the last minute by the German side. Apparently several meetings between German and Hungarian ministers were also cancelled during the month of November.

The pro-government media naturally follows Viktor Orbán’s lead, so anti-German, specifically anti-Merkel, articles abound in the Hungarian press. Back in October Zsolt Bayer, the prolific anti-Semitic, foul-mouthed hack, wrote an open letter to Angela Merkel in four parts in which he called her a liar who mixes up “the friendly face of the European Union with the snicker of slobbering idiots.” Hungarians who are angrily watching this refugee crisis unfold don’t understand how Angela Merkel could  join “those who are destroying Europe.” He labeled her an untalented person who in no way can be compared to Konrad Adenauer or Helmut Kohl. The Germans who now promise to integrate the refugees from the Middle East didn’t even manage, in 25 years, to integrate the East Germans. The former GDR is today a wasteland with hopeless old people. “So, what are you talking about?,” Bayer asks Merkel. “You are not a doddering leader of an embroidery club.” But listening to some of her idiocies, one can question her sanity.

In Bayer’s opinion the “soul of the German nation was crushed after World War II and all [Germans] are victims of a tragic mistake.” Germany’s political leaders think that divesting the Germans of national character or rights is the only antidote to Nazism. This is nonsense. Instead, Merkel should utter the “magic word, ENOUGH.”

Well, one can say that Zsolt Bayer cannot be taken seriously. He loves to hear his own voice and tries to shock. Still, one must not forget that Bayer is “one of them,” one of the founders who brought Fidesz into being. And, by the look of things, he remains close to Viktor Orbán.

This must be Schmidt's favorite picture. She herself picked it for this article

This must be Schmidt’s favorite picture. She herself picked it for this article

Using Bayer’s rants as a reasonably reliable source for the thinking of the top leadership is justified by a long tirade by Mária Schmidt on the same topic. One would think that one cannot top Bayer. Well, Mária Schmidt managed. The “learned” historian, the close adviser of Viktor Orbán, spewed out her venom not only against Merkel but also against Germany. In her essay she goes as far as to glorify the communist interlude that made East Europeans superior to the effeminate westerners. Schmidt has never sunk so low to please her boss. A complete translation of this incredible piece would be warranted to understand the Hungarian right’s current mindset.

Schmidt’s essay is titled “Útban az önmegsemmisítés felé” (On the road to self-destruction). The title bears a striking resemblance to that of Thilo Sarrazin’s book, Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany destroys itself), which created such a controversy when it was published in 2010. Because of the length of the piece I will concentrate here only on passages relating to Angela Merkel, Germany, and western attitudes toward “the inferior” easterners.

The first staggering claim is that western politicians were “irate” when East Europeans didn’t allow Gorbachev to finish his reforms. “Why didn’t we wait until he fashions the existing order into socialism with a human face?,” she claims they asked. These western politicians were disappointed and angry that “we ruined their peaceful and comfortable world” by allowing the East Germans to leave Hungary and join their fellow Germans in the West. The “idiotic” Hungarians thought that they did the West Germans a favor, but “it was exactly this gesture that caused the unbridled hatred of the German media and intellectuals toward us.” We forced them to join their “poor relatives” who were safely tucked behind the Berlin Wall.

And now that the poor relatives, East Germans as well as other East Europeans, have joined the European Union, it is time to re-educate them. The East Germans live in a world that is even worse than it was during the 45 years of Russian occupation as far as freedom of speech is concerned because now they have to conform to the rules of “politically correct speech.” Two former East Germans, Angela Merkel and Joachim Gauck, lead Germany, but they so desperately tried to conform that they became more Wessis than the original Wessis: “they have given up their national identity and try to hide their Christian values.” The conclusion Schmidt draws at this point is that perhaps those years behind the Iron Curtain were beneficial in some respects. “They strengthened our resolve against outside forces and hardened our belief in our own value system.” While East Europeans have their national identity, “West Germans are citizens of the world–Europeans, and the German Federal Republic is simply a comfortable place of residence to which they feel no particular attachment.”

Merkel’s Germany is a place where “newly announced opposition parties face a ban and the elite immediately label them far-right regardless of who they are and what they want.” Anyone who opposes them is called “fascist.” Merkel prefers to form “coalition governments” that greatly resemble the former SED, the East German unity party. As if Merkel would purposely choose a coalition over a purely CDU government. Merkel “is unfamiliar with the history of her own country, the region, or for that matter Europe. In fact, she has only limited knowledge of the world. In her view, as in that of the German elite, only the compulsory Walk to Canossa for Auschwitz can fit.” Her speeches are “hopelessly shallow and common.” They remind Schmidt of the 70s when activists from the youth movement of the German Communist party spent their summer vacations at Lake Balaton. Schmidt and her friends used to make fun of them because “it didn’t matter what the topic was, they kept repeating the party’s official line.”

Germany today is being governed by the left media and intellectual elite. Merkel “talks their language, she meets their requirements. She doesn’t really formulate policies because for such a task she is too irresponsible, barren of ideas, without any accomplishment.”

At this point I’m about half-way through Mária Schmidt’s masterpiece, but I guess there is enough here to digest and discuss. This is the Orbán regime’s way of “making friends and influencing people.”

To be continued

Anti-American and anti-Israeli voices in connection with the refugee crisis

Viktor Orbán is very angry with György Soros, who in late September published a statement titled “Rebuilding the Asylum System” in which he outlined a plan that goes against everything that Viktor Orbán stands for. Soros in that statement offers six suggestions that would result, in his opinion, in the eventual absorption and integration of “more than a million asylum seekers and migrants a year.” But Soros is not the only one on Orbán’s black list. The other culprit is Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany. Though not calling out either Merkel or Germany by name, he noted in his speech on Friday that “it is not correct to invite people into our country and then divvy them up among other nations.”

Ever since Merkel announced at the beginning of September that Germany is ready to accept up to a million refugees this year she has been under attack by the Hungarian right. Magyar Narancs reported on September 17 that an organization that calls itself Honfoglalás 2000 (Conquest 2000) demanded Merkel’s resignation. The organization is a strong supporter of Viktor Orbán and Fidesz. Merkel was accused of being the leader of a country that had already inflicted immense pain and suffering on the people of Europe, including six million deaths, in the course of two world wars. The same country is now in the process of causing a third disaster by inviting Muslim migrants into Christian Europe. The statement specifically mentioned among the victims Jews, Gypsies, and left-wingers. The reference to the Holocaust is no accident. Right-wingers often connect German guilt for the Holocaust with their foolishly generous welcome of strangers from other cultures.

But this criticism has become even more strident of late. By now it is not only far-right sources like hir.ma and alfahir that are calling Merkel practically a dictator for forbidding the German police to report publicly about the alleged 750 incidents that have involved newly arrived migrants. The new, pro-government paper, Magyar Idők, has joined the chorus. 

Yesterday two op/ed articles on Merkel appeared in this new mouthpiece of the Hungarian government. One of the authors simply expressed his fervent hope that Horst Seehofer will manage to force Merkel’s resignation. The other, much more interesting piece was written by Tamás Fricz, a so-called political scientist, whose admiration for Viktor Orbán knows no bounds. Fricz used to have a weekly column in Magyar Nemzet, which he left in a great hurry to join the new “government paper” edited by the same people who earlier had made Magyar Nemzet practically unreadable. Unfortunately, we cannot simply ignore Magyar Idők because its articles and editorials give us a window into the thinking of Viktor Orbán and his underlings. The only good thing I can say in connection with Tamás Fricz is that he is no longer an employee of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Political Science. I guess Fricz’s extracurricular activities became too embarrassing.

Yesterday Fricz published the fruit of his sharp intellect under the headline “It is a mystery what makes Merkel tick.” But, it turns out, it is not a mystery at all because Fricz knows the answer full well. Here it goes.

A few years back, thanks to Wikileaks, it came to light that the American National Security Agency (NSA) had wiretapped Angela Merkel’s cell phone. Everybody expected a huge diplomatic scandal but nothing happened except for some hemming and hawing. What does this mean? That not only are there strong ties between the two countries but also that Angela Merkel is not an equal partner in this relationship. Just last May it became known that the NSA and the German secret service had cooperated on wiretapping the Élysée Palace, the European Commission, and several European conglomerates. Therefore, it is likely that the Americans know absolutely everything about Angela Merkel. It is also likely that the German and U.S. governments are cooperating in refugee affairs.

This logic may be suspect, but what comes after is truly bizarre, especially since Fricz doesn’t bother to give any reasons for his hypothesis. His supposition is that a “multi-racial, multi-cultural, federal Europe” is the ideal partner for the United States and global financial interests. But why? I would have loved to find out because I’m intrigued. Unfortunately, Fricz skipped that crucial step.

Naturally, the state of Israel is part of this conspiracy theory. After some searching, Fricz found a quotation from a speech that Merkel delivered in the Knesset in March 2008. Unfortunately for Tamás Fricz, the whole speech is available in English on the Knesset’s website. Here is the original:

Here of all places I want to explicitly stress that every German Government and every German Chancellor before me has shouldered Germany’s special historical responsibility for Israel’s security. This historical responsibility is part of my country’s raison d’être. For me as German Chancellor, therefore, Israel’s security will never be open to negotiation. And that being the case, we must do more than pay lip-service to this commitment at this critical point. Together with its partners, Germany is setting its sights on a diplomatic solution. But if Iran does not come around, the German government will remain fully committed to sanctions.

Angela Merkel addressing the Knesset

Angela Merkel addressing the Knesset

So, let’s see what came of these sentences in Fricz’s “translation.”

Germany’s responsibility for Israel is my country’s raison d’être. In other words, the security of Israel for me as chancellor of Germany cannot be the subject of bargaining. But if it were to become such, in the hour of verification [of this commitment] these words wouldn’t remain empty phrases.

On the basis of this so-called translation Fricz comes to the conclusion that Merkel’s words actually mean that Germany, together with the United States, will be ready to fight alongside Israeli forces against Iran. As is clear from the original text, Merkel was talking about sanctions against Iran “if Iran does not come around.” I am still surprised at the brazen falsification of facts, figures, and texts by these people.

Fricz’s overall conclusion is that Merkel in her decisions is not “completely independent.” This is a big problem and “a danger for Europe.” But there is still hope. Merkel loves power and doesn’t want to leave her post. Under growing pressure from the right she will have to compromise in order to keep her job.

Yet another attempt to foment hatred of both the United States and Israel, and to implicate Germany in this web of conspiracy–once again, with no respect for the facts.

Germany and the Syrian refugees

A Hungarian-language article on Angela Merkel’s current political problems stemming from the refugee crisis was titled “Merkel is either stupid or she knows something.” The quotation is from a German source. I don’t think too many people view Merkel as a stupid, naive politician carried away by emotions. But then, people ask, why does she insist on an increasingly unpopular immigration policy?

One can only guess at her motives, but I believe her decision to stick with her original pro-immigration policy is motivated by moral as well as pragmatic considerations. Only a few days ago she harshly criticized the eastern European governments for not having learned anything from their history. “The eastern Europeans–and I’m counting myself as an eastern European–we have experience that isolation doesn’t help… It makes me a bit sad that precisely those who can consider themselves lucky that they have lived to see the end of the Cold War now think that one can completely stay out of certain developments of globalization…. A rejection [of taking refugees in] as a matter of principle, that is–excuse me for being that blunt–that’s a danger for Europe.” A few hours later in the European Parliament she was outspoken about the Christian Europe that must be defended when she declared: “When someone says: ‘This is not my Europe, I won’t accept Muslims…’ Then I have to say this is not negotiable.”

There is also a pragmatic side to the issue: Germany’s need for a demographic injection. A country’s fertility rate must be at least 2.2 to maintain the size of the population. In Germany ever since 1972 the fertility rate has been lower than that. It hovers around 1.2-1.3. If Germany were only for the native-born, its population would shrink precipitously. Germany already has a large immigrant population. Out of a population of approximately 80 million 16 million people are first- or second-generation immigrants. And their numbers are steadily growing. So, immigration is a fact of life in Germany. It is only the size of the present wave that comes as a shock to the Germans.

It is true that Angela Merkel was critical of what in Germany and some other European countries is called “multi-culturalism,” which in practice means parallel communities living side by side. In Germany this was especially true of the Turkish guest workers because the understanding in those days was that their stay was temporary, and therefore there was no attempt to integrate them into German society. In the last few years, however, the attitude toward immigrants in Germany has changed dramatically. The new arrivals are already hard at work learning the language, and children are enrolled in special classes. The challenge is enormous but Merkel is optimistic. A Hungarian immigrant in Germany who teaches math somewhere in Westphalia phoned György Bolgár yesterday and related her experiences. Some of the children have been in Germany for three months and know a little German, others have just arrived. One teen-aged girl in her class had only three years of schooling. But children learn fast. She enjoys the challenge.

Abcúg.hu published a fascinating piece on how Berliners are coping with the refugee crisis and how Germans are integrating the new immigrants. The refugees spend a few months in hostels until they receive asylum. One of the hostel workers is a Hungarian immigrant herself. The lodging where she works has 400 beds, and soon enough it will have accommodations for 100 more. It is like a dormitory but occupied mostly by families. Syrians receive 400 euros for housing and 400 for living expenses, and a 660 to 960-hour “integration course,” 600 hours of which is set aside for German lessons. The German course tries to prepare the refugee to pass the B1 language test. If he fails the test, he gets another 300 hours of language training. Sixty hours remain for German history and culture as well as for the study of the principles of equal rights and toleration, ideas essential for integration into European culture.

Refugee hostel in Berling

Refugee hostel in Berlin

Civic organizations try to link up immigrants with employers running small companies. One organizer was afraid that it would be difficult to convince German businessmen to hire foreigners, but the experiment has worked. The employers are happy with their new employees, especially since some young Germans wouldn’t accept the kinds of jobs they can offer.

Another Hungarian immigrant who taught German in Hungary now teaches German to children and adults in Berlin. She is convinced that the Syrians will learn German and will be gainfully employed. “With that much help it will be achieved. The great dilemma is whether they will understand everyday cultural differences. For example, that if their child is slapped by a German classmate it is not because he is a Muslim but because this was the way they settled their argument. Or, that the obstetrician is not anti-Muslim when he tells a seven-month pregnant woman that she shouldn’t observe Ramadan.” The teacher continues, “the Syrians are very determined.” They don’t understand how it is possible that some Turks living in Germany still cannot speak the language. They don’t want to find themselves in a similar situation.

Many followers of Viktor Orbán’s anti-migrant policy argue that it is easy for Germany to be generous because “they are rich.” But as one of the aid-workers told the reporter of abcúg.hu, “the money by itself wouldn’t be enough, you need the volunteers and the right attitude.”

The people who are helping the refugees are optimistic, so are the refugees. As am I. Eventually the exodus will slow. As for Angela Merkel, once the initial problems are solved, there will be fewer critics.

Richard Field: Experts discuss causes and consequences of the refugee crisis

This summary of a round table discussion appeared in the October 1 issue of Budapest Beacon. The participants are Daniel Kelemen of Rutgers University and Rafaela Dancygier and Kim Lane Scheppele, both of Princeton University. The discussion took place at Princeton on Tuesday, September 29.

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The end of the honeymoon?

Rafaela Dancygier, who studies ethnic diversity in advanced democracies, said she was puzzled by the fact that a vast majority of Germans supported the government’s decision to admit almost a million refugees so far this year and an additional 500,000 over the next four years.

Dancygier noted that this is the largest number of refugees to be taken in by Germany since the end of the Second World War, the major difference being that this time they are not ethnic German victims of ethnic cleansing, but people from the Middle-East and central Asia having no connection to Germany, culturally, linguistically or otherwise.

She said that traditionally Germans have not been all that welcoming of refugees, but according to a public opinion poll taken the previous month a vast majority of Germans supported the country taking in refugees, especially those fleeing persecution or war, in the belief that it will contribute to an “easing of the labor shortage.”  However, Dancygier is concerned the “honeymoon” of positive public opinion will end as the large inflow puts upward pressure on rents and inundates towns and cities in eastern Germany where support for right-wing, anti-immigrant parties is high.

“Refugees are a gift” for a country like Germany whose population has been shrinking and which suffers labor shortages, according to Dancygier, who notes that “Germany has been trying to get more migrants, especially highly skilled, without much success.”  However, while Syrians tend to be better educated than refugees from Afghanistan or Eritrea, “almost none of them know German.”   For this reason, she believes integrating them into the German economy will be challenging, “even at the high-skilled end.”

Where to settle the migrants?

Another problem Germany faces is where to put the refugees.  “Putting them in areas where housing is available is going to create problems,” she said. “Putting them where they are welcome will result in rents going up” and the “end of the honeymoon phase.”

“Many Germans believe the refugees should be housed in the east where there is a surplus of housing. The problem is that there are few jobs available in the east.”  Moreover, she noted that support for Germany’s far-right, anti-immigrant party is very high in the east.

The Dublin system is broken

Kim Lane Scheppele, who is the director of the Program in Law and Public Affairs at Princeton University in addition to being a professor of Sociology and International Affairs, focused on the legal aspect of Europe’s refugee crisis.

“The EU has a legal framework for virtually everything that it is going to do,” noted Scheppele, adding that “asylum law, international protection law, and law for processing applications is all EU law rather than Member State law.” She pointed out that even though asylum law is one of those areas where EU law has taken precedence over Member State law, “there are huge differences in how Member States handle crises.”

“EU law itself is broken, most specifically around the question of who is responsible for processing asylum claims,” Scheppele said.

She explained that the Dublin system requires asylum seekers to apply for asylum in the first EU state they enter, to prevent the making of multiple applications, noting that “It didn’t make sense then and it doesn’t make sense now.”

The lack of a unified system for evaluating asylum applications meant the likelihood of an application for asylum or international protection being approved depends where one applied.  She noted that Germany traditionally approves over 60 percent of asylum applications.  By contrast, “front-line” countries such as Hungary (9 percent) or Greece (4 percent) rejected far more applications than they approved.

Poor countries can’t afford to care for refugees

EU front-line Member States also happen to be among its poorest members, noted Scheppele. Under Dublin, frontline states had an obligation to register migrants and process asylum claims, as well as provide shelter, food, housing, medical care, and opportunity for employment while applications were pending.

“This is no big deal in the case of 50 people,” said Scheppele.  But it was a very big deal if all of a sudden tens or even hundreds of thousands of refugees showed up on your doorstep.

According to the professor of sociology and comparative law, Greece is no longer considered a front-line EU state because the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice ruled it is no longer capable of discharging its responsibilities to asylum seekers after having instituted austerity programs.

The result, said Scheppele, was that tens of thousands of refugees fleeing war and overcrowded refugee camps “discovered Hungary.”

Refugee ping-pong

Being a government “run by lawyers” Hungary “will always do something in law before they do it in practice,” she said.  “Whether the laws are a good idea or not is a different question.

“Seeing that it was going to be a front-line state, Hungary decided that it was going to build a fence along its 100-mile border with Serbia.” The only conceivable purpose of the fence was “to force refugees to enter the EU via Romania or Croatia, both EU Member States.”

“EU law requires front-line countries to register and fingerprint asylum seekers.  It doesn’t require Member States to treat them badly. Considering that the Dublin system was broken to begin with, Hungary could just have easily let the migrants pass through.

“What the Hungarians were extremely worried about was that the Dublin system would be one day invoked and Hungary would be stuck with all these people.  All refugees entering the EU via Hungary could, under EU law, be returned to Hungary. “

Scheppele said Hungary responded by modifying regulations governing granting asylum claims.  “According to this law at the first proceeding all judges are allowed to ask is ‘how did you get to Hungary?’.  If the answer is via a state deemed safe by Hungary, then the asylum judge is limited to saying we’re sending you back because under our law you have to be processed.”

To the extent Hungary’s modified asylum law is not compatible with EU law or that of neighboring countries, she warned it could result in “refugee ping-pong” with Germany or Austria deporting refugees whose asylum requests have been rejected back to Hungary which, in turn, deports them back to Germany or Austria.

A need for unified standards

She said standards used to process applications are also subject to EU law, and every Member State is required to determine whether the individual has a well-founded fear of persecution in the case of asylum claims, or whether the person has reason to fear violence as in the case for applications for international protection.

Observing that if “Hungary is going to violate EU law or doing something unusual, it will never be the first,” she noted that just the previous week the European Commission took the unprecedented step of filing infringement actions against 19 Member States for failing to transpose, that is, codify into domestic legislation EU directives on asylum.

Noting that “Hungary is run by extremely clever lawyers” Scheppele said the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán “correctly judged that Dublin was insane” and that “we will be in very good company if we develop our own idiosyncratic standards for granting asylum and protection until the EC makes everybody transpose the directives.”

“They can’t go after Hungary for having bizarre asylum law, they have to go after everyone,” she said, adding that “This is not going to be a speedy process” and “it is going to be a very long time before the Europeans pass the laws and begin implementing laws.”  The situation was further complicated by the fact that in Hungary’s case “several different standards are being deliberately confused.”

The Princeton professor said economic migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are distinct determinations.  “Germany has decided that people whose primary residences are in ‘safe countries’ will be presumably turned down for asylum or international protection,” including refugees presently living in the former constituent states of Yugoslavia.

A sleight of hand

In Hungary’s case, the criteria was not residency but whether the refugee had passed through a safe country on his or her way to Hungary. “It will take years to sort this out,” warned Scheppele.  “Until then Hungary will claim to be copying Germany, which they aren’t.”

However, Scheppele noted that certain EU net donor states wish to condition fiscal transfers to net recipient states on the latter meeting their legal obligations.

“Everybody forgets that the EU is already a big transfer union.  Streams of funds cohesion, agriculture, regional programs redistribute money.  The EU is finally starting to wake up to the idea that this is leverage over the poorer states.” And there is “starting to be talk of EU sanctions, which should help bring some EU Member States into line.”

Causes and consequences

Rutgers University professor of political science R. Daniel Kelemen attributed the “incredible uptick this year” in migration to deteriorating conditions in the existing refugee camps in Turkey and elsewhere.

“Just in the past few weeks there may have been a rush to get to Europe because of the twin fact of Merkel’s announcement” that Germany would accept Syrian refugees, and the pending completion of the fence along the Hungarian-Serbian border, as well as an intensification of ISIS’s campaign, said the EU expert.

Crisis, failure, move forward

He said Europe’s refugee crisis was the product of “EU policy being one of a half-built union” and that “we’re seeing the peaking of the crisis that has been mounting for eight years or so.”

“At the core of the EU crisis is the fact that they launched a common currency without other policies, such as coordination of fiscal policies and central banks that you would ordinarily need to support monetary union,” said Kelemen, who likens the EU to a “half-built ship going out to sea—as soon as there is a stormy sea, it gets into trouble.”

He said the EU’s response “has been to add necessary elements “on the fly” and this applied to EU policy on refugees as well as the eurozone crisis and the Greek debt crisis.

“A fundamental unsustainable aspect of the EU is that it has tried to maintain the Schengen system of free internal movement and open internal borders.  But they’ve left control of external borders to national governments, and left them in charge of immigration and asylum policy,” said Kelemen. “Free movement internally is incompatible with national control over borders, asylum, and immigration when there is a crisis.”

Failing forward or backward?

Would the EU fail forward, in other words would it get more control over policing? Would they strengthen common controlled borders?  Would they harmonize common control of immigrant procedures and asylum policy?  Would they set up a system of allocating refugees across the EU?

Calling the Greek and eurozone crisis “interminable” Kelemen said the dual crises had “consumed all of the EU’s political capital” and “taken the wind out of the EU’s sails, be it on backsliding on democracy in Hungary, or the refugee crisis.”

On the subject of the “fundamental incompatibility of open internal borders, Schengen and national control of internal borders, immigration and asylum,” Kelemen said one of two things is going to happen:

“Either it’s going to fail back, and Schengen will die, which is what has happened temporarily with the suspension of Schengen” or it will “fail forward.”

He said the refugee crisis will result in the hardening of the EU’s external borders, but that the question was whether they should harden the borders of the 28 Member States or just Schengen, which is a subset of the EU but which includes Norway and Switzerland.

The Rutgers professor of political science said the European Commission tolerated Hungary building a fence along the border of Serbia, but it strongly objected to Hungary laying out razor wire along the border with Slovenia.  He anticipates the EU playing a larger role in the policing of external borders, as well as playing a larger rule in the resettlement of refugees.

“They could put a lot of stimulus money into Greece, where you could build cities for Syrians,” observed Kelemen. “There could be a permanent system for redistributing refugees, like in the US.”

Political consequences 

Kelemen said the EU had got itself on the “wrong side of two big issues” in terms of populist politics by demanding fiscal discipline on the part of Member States at a time of growing unemployment and poverty, while at the same time requiring them to provide refugees with the kinds of public services and benefits they cannot afford to give their own citizens.

Agreeing with Scheppele that “Dublin is dead” and “has to be replaced,” Kelemen anticipates “greater harmonization” and “more EU control over immigration, asylum and borders.”  However, this would come at a cost.

“They are going to throw a bone to the Right by getting more aggressive on policing the external borders, but will push for more guarantees for respecting basic criteria for humane treatment and processing of claims,” speculated the expert on comparative public policy.

Scheppele agreed that EU pressure to reduce social safety nets was incompatible with moral pressure to give away things to refugees.

“Hungary had to meet draconian conditions imposed on it by the IMF in 2009 just before the refugee crisis,” as a result of which it eliminated the entire social safety net.  “It is extremely difficult to give free housing and medical care to refugees,” said Scheppele.  “It can’t do it politically.  No country could.”

On the subject of the attempts by Orbán to exploit Europe’s refugee crisis for his own political and ideological ends, Scheppele noted that even as he was tearing Europe apart with one hand by unifying right-wing parties, he was promoting EU solidarity with the other through Hungary’s proposal that each Member State contribute part of their GDP towards building refugee camps in Turkey and Lebanon.

“The EU never knows what to do with Viktor Orbán. That is precisely how he will survive,” said Scheppele.

The Brexit threat

Scheppele agreed with Kelemen that it would be good if the EU could give money to the front-line states, calling it a “virtuous circle“ that would help solve the Greek crisis by infusing money into the beleaguered country.  However, she observed that the prospect of the United Kingdom exiting the EU would prevent this from happening.

“Britain wants a smaller, slimmer EU. So long as the UK leaving the EU remains on the agenda, the EU is paralyzed from doing anything that would increase its competencies and solidarity. It’s just bad luck that a solution to these crises is blocked by Brexit [an abbreviation of “British exit”].”

Kelemen noted that the euro remains very popular, even in Greece, but he is concerned about so-called “differential integration” or “variable geometry” whereby certain Member States are allowed to opt out of certain conventions. If the UK stays it may “harden the divisions between those in the core and peripheral members.”

“Do people like Schengen enough and free movement that they’ll do whatever it takes even if it involves increased EU control over border protection?”