Tag Archives: Hungarian refugees

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

Eva S. Balogh interview with Benjamin Novak

I’m afraid this is a bit old. It was recorded on September 29, 2015, shortly after the Röszke incident on the Serb-Hungarian border. The reason for the delay was difficulties encountered with the placement of the subtitles. Click on cc to get the English subtitles.

Fidesz attack on the Hungarian Helsinki Commission and conditions in the Debrecen refugee camp

Just the other day Viktor Orbán’s friend Vladimir Putin signed a new law against “undesirable” NGOs. The law gives Russian authorities the power to shut down foreign-financed organizations, introduce fines, and even mete out jail time of up to six years for those who violate the law. This new law further restricts the activities of NGOs financed in part by foreign donors. The 2012 law affected 60 groups that were branded “foreign agents.”

Hungary is not far behind Russia when it comes to harassment of non-governmental groups that receive foreign financing. Some of them, especially those that deal with human rights issues, are under constant siege. The latest attack is on the Hungarian Helsinki Commission.

The occasion for Fidesz’s assault is a dispute over the origins of immigrants coming from outside the European Union. Under normal circumstances it wouldn’t warrant such an outburst on the part of the government party. In fact, the text of the press release reminded Hungarians of the darkest days of the Rákosi regime.

The pseudo-civic Helsinki Commission, which fulfills the political orders of the international financial speculators, brazenly tries to falsify black-and-white facts. As opposed to their lies, the fact is that four-fifths of those seeking refugee status, 35,000 people, don’t arrive in Hungary from war zones. They come only for the money. This year only 17.3% of the arrivals came from war zones, and hence the great majority of those who illegally cross the border are not political refugees.

We call on the Helsinki Commission to stop lying and at least in such an important and serious question not be preoccupied with stuffing their pockets with the money of György Soros.

The terms used here to describe the evil forces of international finance, with their anti-Semitic overtones, could be found daily in the notorious party newspaper of the early 1950s, Szabad Nép.

What makes Fidesz so jumpy that it feels compelled to release a Soviet-style rant about something that may have been a simple misunderstanding? There is a good possibility that it has something to do with the Hungarian Helsinki Commission’s involvement in the investigation into the circumstances in which refugees are forced to live in the Debrecen refugee camp.

It was about a month ago that Ombudsman László Székely and his associates investigated the situation in the Debrecen camp, and it is likely that the investigation was prompted by a request from the Hungarian Helsinki Commission. The report that was published in April is an indictment of the conditions in the camp. And that was enough for the Fidesz types to lash out at the “troublemakers.”

In the first place, the camp is terribly overcrowded. The facility can handle a maximum of 807 individuals, but right now there are 1,188 men, women, and children living in the former barracks that serves as a refugee camp. Although Viktor Orbán wants to close the Debrecen camp, an association formed to assist refugees and migrants is trying to convince the government to enlarge the facility.

The Debrecen camp has two sections. One is for people who can leave the camp during the day. There is, however, also a closed section, which is actually a glorified jail. The people held there didn’t commit any crime. They are the “lucky” ones whose refugee status is being contemplated by the Hungarian authorities. The rationale for their incarceration is the authorities’ demand that they be available at all times for “speedy decision making.” They can be kept captive for as long as six months. At the time of the ombudsman’s investigation, there were 65 people in this section. All, with the exception of one couple, were families with children from Kosovo.

A room in the Debrecen refugee camp

A room in the Debrecen refugee camp

The closed section of the camp is surrounded by a 3m-high solid fence, topped with barbed tape–a mesh of metal strips with sharp edges. The inhabitants are watched 24 hours a day by policemen situated in six guard rooms placed along the inside of the wall. The guards seem to do a thorough job screening new arrivals. For example, women complained that they had to strip naked in front of male guards. Apparently, when a family arrives in the camp, policemen strip search them as a group. So, the father and mother have to strip naked in front of their children. The armed guards even follow the new arrivals to their medical examinations.

There is a room where children can play for a few hours, but even these small children are under constant surveillance. Although the section in which these families are kept has plenty of rooms, the authorities often put two or three families in a single room. There are rooms in which a family with three children, along with a couple without children, have to live. Men can shave for only an hour–from 9 p.m.–and the act is again watched by armed guards. After the men finish shaving, the guards collect the razors. The next day these razors are haphazardly distributed to the “inmates.” Families with children have a hard time keeping clean. Although there is a room where they are supposed to be able to use an old-fashioned washing machine, the officials had difficulty even producing the key to the room. From the look of room inside, it was clear that the place hasn’t been used lately.

Viktor Orbán was terribly upset when some members of the European Parliament dared to bring up the treatment of Hungarian refugees in 1956. He indignantly announced that those 200,000 people who fled after the Soviets decided to quell the uprising “escaped from Soviet tanks.” Well, let’s face it, most of those refugees left Hungary in the hope of a better life. There were of course some who could be considered bona fide political refugees, but relatively few.

As for the treatment of the 56ers, let me give you a few examples from my own experience. In Eisenstadt, which was a major collection center, I was asked whether I would like to go to Wienerneustadt or the Alps. It was not a difficult choice. We received train tickets to the Carinthian Alps, where a Volkswagen bus took us to Weißensee, the highest mountain lake in Austria. There we were housed in a comfortable Gasthaus. There was only one couple with us, and naturally they received separate quarters. From our mountain resort we used to go to the nearest village, where the owner of the movie theater made it a point to order films with Hungarian themes. He never accepted any money from us. Once two of the boys returned from the village with brand new shoes because the owner of the local store had noticed that their shoes were in bad shape. When in Vienna, we didn’t have to pay for tickets on streetcars and buses and received a weekly stipend. We received meal tickets in restaurants owned by the city of Vienna, where the food was as good as any decent restaurant. Compare our welcome in Austria to the way the miserable people in the closed section of the Debrecen camp are being treated.

But since the Hungarian Helsinki Commission had the temerity to call attention to the unacceptable conditions in the so-called refugee camp, they must be part of an international conspiracy.