Tag Archives: immigrants

Shrinking population, shrinking labor force, sluggish economy

Given the Hungarian government’s fierce opposition to accepting any refugees, I decided to take a look at the latest Hungarian population statistics.

Since Viktor Orbán became prime minister in 2010, the population of Hungary has shrunk from 10,014,324 to 9,830,485 (as of 2016). It has lost 183,939 persons, roughly the population of the second largest Hungarian city, Debrecen. If we break these figures down by age group, the situation is even more dire. Today there are fewer children between the ages of 1 and 14 (-62,408) and fewer adults between the ages of 15 and 64 (-264,527) than in 2010. What is more alarming is that the number of those over the age of 65 has grown substantially. To be precise, by 164,517, which is about the population of Szeged, Hungary’s third largest city.

Ever since the second half of the 1980s, the natural decrease of the population was around -3.5 per 1,000 annually. Last year was one of the worst, at -4.1. The Demographic Research Institute of the Central Statistical Office predicts that if the trend of the last 30 years continues, Hungary’s population will be under 8 million by 2060.

Current population statistics most likely overestimate the number of inhabitants residing in the country since many of those who moved abroad in the last few years never bothered to announce their departure to the authorities. Their number might be as high as 600,000, according to figures provided by Eurostat and assorted national statistical offices. Under these circumstances, a labor shortage in practically every sector of the economy is unavoidable.

Last summer I wrote two posts about the severe labor shortage in Hungary caused by the low birthrate and the massive exodus of Hungarians. I expressed my belief that without an infusion of foreign labor the situation cannot be remedied. A few days later the National Association of Employers and Manufacturers (MGYOSZ) suggested that Hungary would immediately need about 250,000 foreign workers, who should be enticed to come to Hungary from abroad. Mihály Varga, minister of national economy, agreed with MGYOSZ’s estimate of the situation, but in no time Fidesz published a statement saying that the Hungarian government provides work opportunities for Hungarians, not for immigrants. Both MGYOSZ and Varga got the message, but it turned out that the government “secretly” began the importation of foreign workers from so-called third countries, i.e., countries lying outside the European Union.

Hungary can hope for immigration only from countries with lower living standards than its own. Thus the government gave Samsung Magyarország, located in Jászfényszaru, a town of 5,000 in the northern portion of the Great Plain region of Central Hungary, permission to recruit workers from war-torn Ukraine. Of course, for Ukrainian speakers Poland or the Czech Republic might be more attractive given the easier linguistic communication there, so Samsung had to make its job offer especially enticing. By November of last year Samsung employed about 150 Ukrainians, and apparently their numbers are growing. In addition to their monthly pay of about 125,000 forints, they receive housing, some food, and travel expenses to return home once a month. About 100 of them live in nearby Jászberény in apartment houses; others are still in temporary housing on a camp site. The 125,000 forint salary isn’t much, but in comparison to what they would make in Ukraine it is considered to be quite good. Index interviewed a couple who are all set and ready to settle in Hungary. In a few years they will be able to save enough money to buy a house in one of the nearby villages. Another man with a Hungarian wife is learning Hungarian in order to become a Hungarian citizen.

The Ukrainians working on the Samsung assembly line were given on-the-job training. The same is most likely true of the six Indian guest workers who milk cows on a dairy farm in Sarud, close to Eger. Locals were either not interested in the job or, once hired, didn’t work out. The owner of the dairy farm heard about Indian workers at another farm who were highly praised. So he decided to follow suit. The first six have arrived. They are so hard working and reliable that the Hungarian dairy farmer has nothing but praise for them.

Sándor Csányi, head of Hungary’s largest bank, established a slaughterhouse in Mohács. He had a terrible time finding butchers because experienced Hungarian butchers had left for Germany a long time ago. Supermarkets also have a very hard time finding workers, and their management teams have been thinking of ways to fill these positions–one strategy is to retrain public workers. The few migrants who received permission to stay in Hungary quickly gain employment–mind you, mostly by foreign-owned firms.

The government is now trying to remedy the serious labor shortage by allowing retirees to accept tax-free part-time jobs. It was only a few years ago that the Orbán government insisted on a mandatory retirement age of 65. Now the government is trying to entice retirees to return to work.

Hungary, of course, is not alone in facing this problem. Germany’s labor shortage won’t easily be remedied with often unskilled migrants who don’t speak the language. But immigrants learn fast. With a well thought out plan, within a few years Germany might solve its labor shortfall. Great Britain, on the other hand, will be in trouble if Theresa May’s government succeeds in putting an end to or severely restricting immigration to the British Isles. For example, Brits show little interest in working in hotels and restaurants. In one chain, Pret a Manger, 65% of the employers are from countries outside the European Union. The hospitality industry would probably collapse without a steady flow of immigrants. Only recently Global Future, an employer-backed think tank, reported that the British economy needs an inward migration flow of 200,000 people a year “to avoid the catastrophic economic consequences” of Brexit. They warned that if the UK refuses to be flexible about labor inflow, the country could face decades of slow growth similar to that experienced by Japan. Just today The Guardian published an article that recounts the possible plight of Hall Hunter Partnership, a business that grows 10% of the UK’s strawberries, 19% of its raspberries, and 42% of its blueberries on thousands of acres. The company needs 3,000 pickers, who come from Bulgaria, Romania, and other East European countries. The opponents of EU membership talked about sovereignty and control, railed against the free movement of labor, but “what they didn’t mention is the way the British food supply chain has, over the past 30 years, become increasingly reliant on workers from elsewhere, both permanent residents and seasonal labor.” Around 20% of all employees in British agriculture come from abroad, mostly from Romania and Bulgaria, while 63% of the employees of members of the British Meat Processors Association come from outside the UK.

Indeed, the example of Japan might be a good illustration of what could happen to Great Britain if it closes its doors to immigrants vital to maintaining its economy. Japan’s birth rate has been dropping since the 1970s. “One percent shrinkage in population will slow Japan’s economic growth by about half a percentage point each year. So 0.5 percent of GDP is about 2.5 trillion yen ($2.95 billion) every year that’s potentially lost economic revenue,” according to an economic expert on Japan. He thinks that Japanese society will finally have to decide that they must embrace the idea of immigration. This is not going to be easy in insular, quasi-racist Japan.

The same holds true in Hungary, given Viktor Orbán’s insistence on “cultural purity.” It is impossible to maintain a robust economy with a shrinking workforce and an aging population. Something must be done.

May 21, 2017

Scare tactics: The coming of an Islamic Europe

Reactions to the election of Sadiq Khan as mayor of London depend on people’s attitude toward Islam and multiculturalism. Those who are optimistic about the integration of the newly arrived refugees from the Middle East welcomed this tremendous victory by the son of Pakistani immigrants. It capped a distinguished political career over the last ten years or so. Khan served as minister of state for communities and minister of state for transport in Gordon Brown’s government.

Yesterday Khan gave an interview to Time Magazine in which the name of Donald Trump came up in connection with the presidential candidate’s anti-Muslim sentiments. Back in November Trump told Yahoo News that he would consider requiring Muslim-Americans to register and mandate that they carry special identification cards. By December he was calling for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. Although Khan would like to meet with the mayors of New York and Chicago, he said in the interview that “if Donald Trump becomes the President, I’ll be stopped from going there by virtue of my faith, which means I can’t engage with American mayors and swap ideas. Conservative tacticians thought those sorts of tactics would win London and they were wrong. I’m confident that Donald Trump’s approach to politics won’t win in America.”

Trump’s answer to Khan came yesterday in an interview with The New York Times. He said that “there will always be exceptions” to his proposed ban, and naturally Sadiq Khan would be exempt. He hoped that Khan will do a good job “because I think if he does a great job, it will really — you lead by example, always lead by example. If he does a good job and frankly if he does a great job, that would be a terrific thing.” As you will soon see, Trump sounds like a raging liberal in comparison to the Hungarian right’s attitude toward Muslims in general and the election of Sadiq Khan in particular.

To illustrate the hate campaign being waged in Hungary against Muslims I’m turning today to an opinion piece written by one of the shining lights of Fidesz journalism, János Csontos. On paper he looks terrific. Since 1991 he has published 13 volumes of poetry and 22 volumes of prose, has produced five theatrical productions and at least two dozen documentary films, and has received 11 prizes, most for his documentary films on architectural monuments. However, he also received a couple of prizes for “journalistic excellence” from strongly right-leaning groups. His only literary prize came last year from the Orbán government, which considered him worthy of the once prestigious Attila József Prize. I managed to read only one poem by Csontos, “A sentence on lie,” which calls up Gyula Illyés’s famous poem written in the 1950s, “A sentence on tyranny.” Csontos’s alleged masterpiece is about Gyurcsány’s speech at Balatonőszöd.

His article, “Londonistan,” is full of factual errors, as an article written by Elek Tokfalvi, a pen name that is a mirror translation of Alexis de Tocqueville, points out. First of all, Csontos wants his readers to believe that the municipal election in London was not a battle between the candidates of the Conservative and the Labour parties but a “desperate struggle … between the child of a penniless [csoró] Pakistani immigrant and the rich Jewish child of a Rothschild,” which, by the way, Goldsmith is not. Csontos, following Samuel P. Huntington’s thesis, considers the outcome of the election a victory for Islam over Christianity.

For Csontos it is especially galling that the people of London could overwhelmingly elect a Muslim because, “after all, London is not a small town somewhere in one of the Benelux countries but it is the second largest financial center of the world whose first citizen will frequent mosques in his spare time and will ask the help of Allah against the faithless giaours [non-Muslims].” Surely, Csontos writes, it would be time to stop talking about Christian anti-Semitism. Instead, “in the spirit of the Scriptures, Christians and Jews should unite against Muslim expansion.” Csontos is obviously trying to set Jews against Muslims and minimize the political fallout of anti-Semitism, which in his view is no threat to European Jewry.

Let’s not abandon the Jewish theme in this nauseating article so quickly. Csontos describes a horrid future for both Christians and Jews, but Jews have more to worry about than anyone else. Jews are wrong in thinking that “everything will be politically correct in Eurorabia, whose leaders will be worried about the proper way to deliver speeches at Holocaust memorials.” He continues: “Do you think that a Muslim Tarlós [the mayor of Budapest] would allow György Soros’s private composer, Lajcsi Lagzi, to slink around on Vörösmarty tér in the hope of a tip?”

In order for non-Hungarians to understand this sentence I have to give some linguistic and cultural cues. Of course, Soros’s private composer is Iván Fischer, conductor of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, here thinly disguised as Lajcsi Lagzi, a musician who had a couple of popular programs on TV2 until he was arrested in September 2015 for fraud. “Lagzi” is the familiar form of “lakodalom” (wedding). So, we are talking about a musician who plays at weddings. Now we can move on to the verb I translated as “to slink.” The word is borrowed from the Romani language, “bazsevál.” It describes a Gypsy violinist who has focused on one of the guests, playing his favorite song in hope of a tip. And I don’t think it is a coincidence that Csontos uses another Gypsy word, “csoró,” to describe the penniless state of the Khan family.

Mayor Sadiq Khan and Chief Rabbi Mirvis. They seem to be getting along fine

Mayor Sadiq Khan and Chief Rabbi Mirvis. They seem to be getting along just fine.

Back to London (and reality). As Elek Tokfalvi noted in his article, the very first official act of the new mayor of London was to pay his respect to the millions of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. A detailed description of the event can be read here.

But in Csontos’s view of the future, in the center of which is an Islamic Europe, little Prince George will be forced to marry an Arab girl one day. It will be politically incorrect to teach the French Song of Roland or the Hungarian Eclipse of the Crescent Moon, a twentieth-century novel popular among young readers. What a juxtaposition! Instead, Hungarian kids will have to watch a film about Suleiman the Magnificent from which they will learn that the depraved Hungarians deserved what they got in the Battle of Mohács (1526).

I assume Csontos is relieved that this apocalyptic future is not here yet. Hungarians can still assert their superiority here and there. Turks have complained about a children’s song, taught in Hungarian kindergartens, about a stork’s bloodied leg that was cut by a Turkish boy and healed by a Hungarian child. A French woman living in Hungary also had objections when her child had to learn the song. Not to worry, Hungarian psychiatrists responded. At this early stage in a child’s development, any anti-Turkish message the song might send will not plant any seeds of prejudice. I don’t know, but I wonder whether the children will ever ask how it can happen that the stork’s leg is healed by a pipe, drum, and a violin-shaped instrument (nádi hegedű) made out of broomcorn. I had to look up the last instrument, the description of which I found in the Hungarian dictionary of folklore available online.

Kindergarteners might not comprehend the message of the ditty about the Turkish and Hungarian boys, but the readers of Csontos’s piece will get the message just fine. After all, the Hungarian parliament just approved the referendum on unwanted immigrants.

May 10, 2016

Viktor Orbán: Hungary is at war

Viktor Orbán is in his element. At last we are at war with ISIS. François Hollande said so, and a few hours later French planes bombed important targets in ISIS-held Raqqa in northern Syria. And since in Viktor Orbán’s interpretation it was not only France that was attacked but the whole European Union and thus also Hungary, the prime minister could triumphantly announce that Hungary is also at war. That pronouncement must have buoyed Orbán, who feels best when he imagines himself in a warlike situation.

Right after the terrorist attack in Paris Orbán cancelled a scheduled trip to Montenegro. Instead, he decided to stay at home and deliver a speech today in the Hungarian parliament that he promised would be tempered given the tragic events that took place in Paris on Friday night. Well, the speech didn’t turn out to be low-keyed. On the contrary, most commentators consider it his most brutal attack against the asylum seekers. Or, as András Jámbor of kettosmerce.hu said,”Orbán is waging war not against the terrorists but the refugees.” The speech that was posted with record speed on the prime minister’s website has practically nothing to do with the terrorist attack in Paris or its victims. After announcing that “the European Union was attacked and we are also in danger,” he immediately launched into outlining the nature of this danger. It is not that one day some tourist-filled sections of Budapest will suffer the same fate as Paris. Rather, the real danger is allowing asylum seekers into Europe.

In the speech Orbán justified his decision to close Hungary’s borders in light of the French terrorist attack and criticized the politicians of the European Union who didn’t listen to him. Instead of coming up with practical solutions, “the leaders of some countries to this day are trying to contrive ways of importing masses of immigrants” into Europe. In Brussels the politicians still insist that immigration is “a good thing” while there is more and more proof every day that it is “a bad thing.” Brussels sends “invitations to the migrants” instead of sending the honest message that life here is not at all what they expect.

What kinds of dangers does Europe face with the arrival of these asylum seekers? First, their presence increases the danger of terror attacks, “just as we learned Friday night.” Thus, way before we know much about the people who committed the crime, Orbán draws a direct correlation between the current flow of refugees and the terrorist attack in Paris. Second, this mass migration adds to “the growth of criminal activities” in countries with large immigrant populations. Statistics and opinions vary on that score, but as far as the United States is concerned, immigrants commit fewer crimes than their American-born counterparts. Studies in the United Kingdom showed that the presence of immigrants made no appreciable difference in crime statistics. However, it is true that in some other countries this is not the case. By this evening, Orbán was frightening his listeners on state television with the specter of rape that is awaiting Hungarian women if immigrants are allowed to settle in the country. Third, immigration poses a danger to “our culture, life style, customs and traditions.”

Among Orbán’s objections to immigration from war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria there is a curious item that needs further elucidation. After calling attention to the hundreds of thousands of people who arrive without identification and “without knowing what they want,” he said: “They are coming from territories where military action is going on. Such a thing has never happened before. We allow, nay transport, into Europe people from places that are at war with the European Union.” The only way I can interpret these sentences is that he considers the asylum seekers active belligerents who, instead of being given shelter, should be put into prisoner-of-war camps. Certainly a unique interpretation of the situation.

The next item he addressed was the quota system. As we know, the Hungarian government is dead against any quotas. Viktor Orbán has made that eminently clear. Critics of Orbán’s steadfast refusal to admit even one asylum seeker consider his stance dangerous because the majority of the member states might punish Hungary by excluding it from the Schengen zone, with all the adverse consequences of such a move. Orbán himself sees the danger of this possibility, but he arrives at this conclusion in a circuitous way. He argues that compulsory quotas will not “decrease the pressure of immigration” but will instead increase it. “And if it goes on much longer, this pressure will result in the end of the Schengen system and borders will be reintroduced within the Union.” So, it is not his refusal to cooperate that might lead to the breakup of the Schengen zone but the pressure the immigrants put on the member states.

Finally, Orbán announced that there is no use tinkering with the present political system of the Union. “There is a need for a new European political system.” When it came to specific suggestions, Orbán was unable to provide any practical solutions to the ills of the current setup. Yes, we must defend the borders, culture, and economic interests of the European Union. That’s all the wisdom he could offer. He certainly doesn’t seem to have any ideas about what to do with the almost one million people who are already within the European Union.

Lajos Kósa: "How many people have to die before Juncker resigns?"

Lajos Kósa: “How many people have to die before Juncker resigns?”

Some of the most outlandish comments by Viktor Orbán and Lajos Kósa, the newly elected leader of the Fidesz caucus, came during the discussion period after the speech. For example, Orbán compared dismantling nation states to Nazism. To quote him verbatim: “Yes, we need intellectual originality. This is true. But racial theory and Stalinism came from the madness of European intellectuals. Today the undoing of the nation states, which is the current mad and dangerous idea [of intellectuals], is similar to national socialism or communism.”

Kósa is known for his outrageous statements, some of which have had outsize consequences. It’s enough to remember his irresponsible words on the state of the Hungarian economy during the summer of 2010 when he managed to create a mini financial crisis in the international markets. This time he called upon all European Union leaders to resign. “How many dead people do we need for Juncker to resign,” he asked. And if that were not enough, he also suggested Greece’s expulsion from the Union. I have the feeling that in this new setup it will be Kósa who says what Orbán either can’t or doesn’t want to say.

At the moment Orbán is riding high. The question is for how long.

Fact checking Viktor Orbán’s latest speech

I know that some readers found Viktor Orbán’s speech more worthy of analysis than I did. To me, it was just more of the same. I did, however, decide to do some fact checking. Orbán’s assertions about the dangers immigrants pose to European civilization might be technically correct (and, yes, those immigrants include East Europeans, not just people from “alien” cultures), but he conveniently left out details and background information that give us a fuller understanding of the issues.

Image and icons by Amy Crone / Voice of San Diego

Image and icons by Amy Crone / Voice of San Diego

Converting Catholic churches in France into mosques

A good example of this kind of distortion is Orbán’s claim that the situation is already so bad in Europe that Muslims “openly proposed that the French state should hand them Christian churches because they would gladly convert them to mosques.” The implication is that the number of Muslims is so high that they are overtaking France’s Christian population. Well, the story sounds a little different once one takes a look at the media coverage of the case. Dalil Boubakeur, a French Muslim leader, called for “the country’s abandoned Catholic Churches to be turned into mosques.” The French Catholic Church in the last decade closed 60 churches for lack of worshippers. Although 64% of the population describe themselves as Catholic, only about 4.5% (1.9 million) of them regularly attend services. There is a shortage of mosques, and Muslims often have to worship on the streets when the time comes for their prayers. Christian leaders earlier supported Boubakeur’s call for more places of worship. The head of the French Catholic Church only a few months ago told the media that “Muslims should, like Christians and Jews, be able to practice their religion.” There is nothing strange in that. Not too far from where I live a former Hungarian Catholic church is now a day care center and a Presbyterian church was converted into a synagogue.

Immigrant crime in Italy and the Scandinavian countries

To show how dangerous the immigrant population is, Viktor Orbán gave the example of Italy, where, according to him, one-quarter of the crimes that occurred in 2012 were committed by foreigners.

Italy is not the best example to illustrate the alleged gravity of the situation. In fact, it is something of an aberration in Europe, as can be seen from the fact that Italian prisons are extremely overcrowded. Officially prison facilities could house 45,000 men and women, but today 67,000 inmates are crowded into these buildings. A case related to overcrowding reached the European Court of Human Rights, which ordered the government to pay €100,000 to seven inmates who brought the test case. In Italy many people are being jailed for minor crimes. Sixty percent of the inmates are sentenced for less than three years. Thirty-eight percent of all inmates are drug offenders (14% in Germany and France and 15% in England and Wales). The Italian situation is also peculiar due to the inordinate number (42%) of pre-trial detainees (versus a European average of 28.5%). It is true that a large number of the prisoners are foreigners, but these people don’t come exclusively from Africa or the Middle East. A lot of Romanians and Bulgarians entered Italy in the last few years. Currently, there are about 150,000 Gypsies in Italy, largely from Romania, and their relations with the Italians are not free of friction.

Since Orbán also talked about the criminal behavior of foreigners in Sweden, I highly recommend a study published recently on “Immigrants in Norway, Sweden and Denmark” by the Norwegian Bureau of Statistics. After reading this excellent article, one realizes the absurdity of the picture Viktor Orbán paints of Africans raping blonde Swedish girls right and left.

Swedish law doesn’t allow the publication of detailed lists of inmates by nationality, but we know that the percentage of foreigners in the prison population is high in both Norway and Sweden: around 32-33%. And Norway’s detailed statistics about foreign nationals in prison are available. First of all, we are talking about very small numbers. In Norway there are only 3,842 inmates altogether, out of whom the highest number of foreigners (155) are from Poland. Lithuania and Romania follow, with 131 and 128  There are 56 Somalis;  47 each from Sweden, Iraq, and Albania; and 22 each from Denmark and Germany. From the data given in “Immigrants in Norway, Sweden and Denmark,” the ethnic backgrounds of Swedish prisoners are most likely very similar to the Norwegian ones. Both countries suggested at one point that perhaps these inmates could serve their jail terms in their countries of origin. Therefore, I suspect that the vast majority of inmates in both of these countries are not from war-torn parts of the Middle East or Africa.

Definition of rape in Sweden

Comparative criminal statistics are full of pitfalls due to the divergence among judicial systems, laws, levels of law enforcement, and a willingness to report crimes, especially when it comes to rape.

I think I should quote verbatim the passage in which Viktor Orbán brought up the high number of rape cases in Sweden.

And finally we should say a few words about something one should be bashfully silent about on account of political correctness. According to western police statistics, where large numbers of illegal migrants live the rate of criminality drastically rises, and proportionally with it the security of the citizens decreases. I will give you a few thought-provoking examples. According to the statistics of the UN–not the Hungarian government’s, but the United Nations’s–as far as rape cases are concerned, Sweden is in second place right after the South-African Lesotho.

Indeed, a frequently cited source when comparing Swedish rape statistics internationally is the regularly published report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, based on official statistics provided by each member state. The Office itself calls for caution when dealing with these comparative statistics. In Sweden’s case there is a broader definition of what constitutes rape than in most countries, but the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention claims that discrepancies in definitions of rape between Sweden and other countries can be mitigated by the results of yearly surveys conducted by Statistics Sweden. Here are some of the questions from the surveys: “Were you threatened last year in such a way that you were frightened?” “Are you anxious about crime in society?””What is the extent of your confidence in the way the police carry out their work?” According to criminologists, these surveys are better indicators of the level of criminal activities in a given country than the police reports submitted by the member countries to the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime. On the basis of these surveys coming from ten different European countries, it can be safely said that “Sweden does not top the list.” In fact, it stands “around the average mark, which is also the case for assaults and threats, despite the fact that compared to other countries, we have many such crimes reported.”

It is almost certain that Sweden’s broader definition of rape is responsible for the high numbers reported to the United Nations. Rape cases have been on the rise since 2005, when Sweden reformed its sex crime legislation. In addition, the Swedish police have improved the handling of rape cases in an effort to decrease the number of unreported cases. Sweden’s statistics simply cannot be compared to those of Lesotho. In fact, a European Union survey on sexual violence against women, published by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention in 2014, placed Sweden below Denmark and Finland.

I might add that according to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, in 2013 70,326 men and women were found guilty of crimes. By the fall of 2014, 18,439 people were behind bars. Italy with a population of 60 million has 67,000 inmates, while Hungary with 10 million has almost 20,000. It looks as if Hungary does not need immigrants to compete with Italy when it comes to crime and punishment. So much for Viktor Orbán’s attempt to causally link immigration and crime.

The latest Hungarian plan to seal the border: It will be difficult

I am almost certain that, in the long run, the Orbán government will not come out well from its planned confrontation with the European Union. At the moment, the details of the government’s position are being worked out by clever Fidesz strategists. The government is planning to modify the present law governing the treatment of political refugees, a law that was introduced after the European Union found the previous provisions illegal. Prior to 2012 Hungary was able to arrest any and all who illegally crossed its borders. But, as Viktor Orbán admitted recently, the European Union threatened Hungary with infringement proceedings unless it abandoned this practice, and therefore the government caved.

From the various Fidesz politicians who in the last couple of days have expressed their opinions on the matter and have offered solutions to what they consider a serious problem, it looks as if the government would like to revert back to the days prior to 2012 when Hungarian border guards could arrest anyone who illegally crossed into Hungary, regardless of their possible refugee status. But surely, a restoration of the old law is out of the question, so new legal tricks must be employed. An alleged solution is already in the works. The Fidesz caucus would change the law on the refugee status of immigrants by authorizing the government to set up “a list of so-called safe third countries.” The idea is that no one would be accepted into Hungary who, in the course of his emigration, had been in a safe country.

We don’t know how long the list of “safe” countries will be, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Serbia heads it. Once Serbia is declared a safe country, there is no need for barbed wire fences along the Hungarian-Serbian border, which had been mentioned earlier by some of the politicians. Everybody who is caught crossing the border will be expelled immediately, no questions asked. Critics of the plan claim that the Serbian situation is not as rosy as Fidesz politicians portray it. The Serbian police “sometimes beat the refugees, sometimes rob them, and at times they do both.” And according to Boldizsár Nagy, a constitutional lawyer and an expert on refugee issues, declaring Greece one of those safe havens will not work either because Greece is so overwhelmed by the influx of refugees that the European Commission only recently asked other countries to take over about 20,000 refugees currently in Greece.

The government wants to change the definition of political refugee as soon as possible: anyone entering Hungary from a safe third country will lose his claim to refugee status. And Orbán is in a great hurry. He wants to have the amendment passed before the summer recess. It is likely that, with Fidesz and Jobbik votes, the amendment will sail through. But what still remains a question is the practical application of this newly amended law. Arresting everyone who crosses into Hungary from Serbia doesn’t strike me as a real option. What will the government do with all the people it arrests? Sending them back to Serbia might result in legal wrangling between the two countries. I should mention that by now the thousands who cross the Serb-Hungarian border are not Kosovars.  On Sunday the police caught 325 individuals, most of whom came from Afghanistan and Syria. According to estimates, 80% of the people who arrive in Hungary come from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, most of whom are definitely eligible for refugee status.

The frantic propaganda campaign against immigrants conducted by the government might just backfire, especially if their clever legal loophole turns out to be a dud. It could easily happen that the hastily put together plan will simply not work in practice. Or that the European Commission will take action against it. If after such a propaganda campaign Orbán’s plan fails, the reputation of the government may be further damaged.

As it stands, even some Fidesz supporters find the huge billboards distasteful. Népszabadság reported a case of a billboard that was placed in a schoolyard in Budapest. Teachers and parents initiated a “billboard reduction” campaign. They filled eggs with paint, which they threw against the billboard. Együtt organized a defacing campaign, and the party’s activists did quite a job on many of the posters. A group of six youngsters was arrested and kept in jail overnight. Two others tore down a billboard and then went to the closest police station and turned themselves in.

Poster plan / mkkp.hu

Planned poster / mkkp.hu

What I like best is an “anti-poster” campaign initiated by the “Two-Tailed Dog’s Party,” which as you can imagine is a group of jokesters who got together with a popular political blog called Vastagbőr (Thick skin). They began collecting money on Facebook for their own set of posters with messages of a very different nature from those displayed by the government. The response was phenomenal. As one of the organizers said, they receive 1 million forints every hour. Their original goal was three million forints, but by now they have reached 11 million (over 35,156 euros), which is enough for 150 posters. They have a few ideas already, and they’re waiting for others, which I’m sure will be pouring in. These guys are very clever.

Poster plan / mkkp.hu

Planned poster / mkkp.hu

Orbán’s hate campaign hasn’t gone unnoticed. A couple of days ago the Council of Europe issued a strongly worded report criticizing the Orbán government for its xenophobia and violence against migrants and minorities. Some Austrian and German papers have already noticed the “poster-war” that is currently underway. Now we just have to wait and see how successful Orbán will be at handling the immigration issue on his own instead of cooperating with the other EU member states.

Viktor Orbán will take care of Hungary’s unwanted immigrants

As many as 900 people may have drowned in the Mediterranean a few days ago in their attempt to enter Europe as illegal immigrants. This tragedy once again focused attention on the serious refugee problem the European Union faces. Thousands of people from war-torn Iraq and Syria have been joining citizens of African countries in dangerous journeys to escape danger and poverty. The EU has been slow to respond to the problem. The extraordinary summit held on Thursday dealt exclusively with those refugees who arrive by boat–admittedly the most pressing, life-threatening problem. But Hungary also receives a large number of applications for settlement in the European Union. The would-be immigrants are largely Kosovars, Syrians, and Iraqis who opted to travel by land across the Balkan peninsula. Their final destination isn’t Hungary but countries in western Europe. Hungary is just a transit point. Nonetheless, Viktor Orbán has been trying to use the immigration issue to his own political advantage.

Orbán’s populist attitude toward immigration has received wide coverage in the press. He appeals to the basest instincts of Hungarians, whose xenophobia is well known. Hungarian commentators point out that his latest suggestions for dealing with the immigrant problem–which currently is no problem at all–echo the ideas of Jobbik. (Jobbik warmly welcomed the prime minister’s new statements about refugee seekers.) Because it is Jobbik that wants to solve all problems by force, something that Viktor Orbán now advocates himself. This way, the argument goes, he hopes to recapture those Fidesz voters who have moved over to Jobbik and to bolster his sagging popularity among the population as a whole.

What are the main features of Orbán’s ideas on immigration? First and foremost, Europe does not need immigrants at all. Second, the European Union should be sealed and defended against intruders by the army. Third, the European Union should not overreach in its immigration/refugee policies. Each country should formulate its own policies and deal with its unwanted immigrants as it best sees fit.

"We need no refugees" Gábor Pápai / Népszava

We need no refugees” Gábor Pápai / Népszava

I will come back to these topics later, but first let me turn to the government “consultation” on immigration.The government will send out eight million questionnaires to the voting-age public, in the expectation that one million will be filled out and returned. The results will be seen only by government officials, if they bother at all with the exercise. The survey asks the following twelve leading questions.

1. How important is the spread of terrorism as far as your own life is concerned?

2. In your opinion could Hungary become the target of terrorism in the next few years?

3. Do you agree that mistaken immigration policies contribute to the spread of terrorism?

4. Did you know that economic immigrants cross the border illegally and that lately their numbers have increased twentyfold?

5. Do you agree with the opinion that economic immigrants endanger the jobs and livelihoods of the Hungarian people [magyar emberek]?

6. In your opinion did Brussels’ policies on immigration and terrorism fail?

7. Would you support the government in its effort to introduce stricter immigration regulations in opposition to Brussels?

8. Would you support a new regulation that would allow the government to place immigrants who illegally entered the country into internment camps?

9. In your opinion should those immigrants who illegally enter the country be returned to their own countries in the shortest possible time?

10. Do you agree that those economic immigrants who stay in Hungary should have to work to cover the cost of their keep?

11. Do you agree that the best means of combating immigration is to give economic assistance to the countries of origin of the immigrants?

12. Do you agree with the government that instead of allocating funds to immigration we should support Hungarian families and those children yet to be born?

I don’t think that I have to comment on this “national consultation.”

Instead, I would like call attention to something that few people have touched upon. In criticizing Orbán, many commentators point to the large number of Hungarians currently working in western Europe, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Are they not “economic immigrants” in the countries where they have settled? The government’s answer is that the two cases cannot be compared. Hungary belongs to the European Union, which allows citizens of member states free movement and equal job opportunities anywhere inside the borders of the EU. Indeed, this is the case, and on this level the Hungarian government has a valid point. But let’s tackle the problem from another angle. Viktor Orbán appeals to a law that allows Hungarians the privilege of free movement. This privilege is an expression of the common will of the European Union. But now Hungary wants to be solely responsible for creating its own immigration policy that would deal with immigrants from outside of the European Union. When it is to his advantage, he appeals to the authority of the European Union, but when it looks as if he has to take joint responsibility for the immigrant issue, he refuses to cooperate.

If, by the way, Viktor Orbán thinks that immigrants from Eastern European countries are always welcomed by the population in countries of western Europe, he is very wrong. Just yesterday Austrian right-wingers demanded that the government introduce a quota system to keep Hungarians out of the country. They claim that there are enough of them as it is. And Orbán’s friend, British Prime Minister David Cameron, hasn’t shown himself to be exactly a friend of immigrants who come from the eastern periphery of the EU. In general, one can say that immigrants are unpopular, especially in economically difficult times. They are blamed for accepting jobs for less money and taking away the livelihoods of the natives. This is true now, and it was even true in countries, like Canada, where a large number of Hungarians settled in 1956.

As for the generosity of the Hungarian government, let me tell you about a Kurdish family who has lived in Hungary for the last seventeen years. The couple has three children, the oldest of whom is 18. The two younger ones were born in Hungary. Last year the office handling immigration issues refused to give the family permission to settle in Hungary. It was only two days ago that the court ordered a review of the case. The classmates of the older daughter wrote a heart-wrenching letter, pleading with the court not to expel their classmate from the country. So much for the famously Christian country.

Viktor Orbán: The Hungarian people are by nature politically incorrect

In the last few days I have been mulling over a lot of topics that I wanted to make available on Hungarian Spectrum, among them key elements of Viktor Orbán’s speech on the “state of the nation” that I did not cover earlier. Specifically, his opinions on multiculturalism, immigration, and political correctness. A young political commentator, Zoltán Ceglédi of the Republikon Institute, believes that Orbán’s claim that “Hungarian people are politically incorrect by nature” is about the most egregious sentence he has ever uttered. In Ceglédi’s opinion, it is worse than his reference to “illiberal democracy.”

Judging from foreign press coverage, “political incorrectness” didn’t set off the shock waves that “illiberal democracy” did last summer and has ever since. Yes, English-language sites quoted it, but it was only the Associated Press that considered it important enough to include in its coverage of the speech. It was also AP that emphasized Orbán’s denunciation of multiculturalism and immigrants. Thus, Orbán’s words on these subjects reached only those foreign newspapers that subscribe to AP’s news service.

Let me quote the appropriate passage. I’m using the Budapest Beacon‘s translation.

We shouldered unworthy attacks and accusations and abandoned the dogma of political correctness. As I see it, the Hungarian people are by nature politically incorrect, or have not yet lost their commonsense. Nobody is interested in talk but rather deeds, results rather than theories, they want work and cheap utility costs (rezsi). They do not swallow the jimson weed that unemployment is a natural part of modern economies. They want to free themselves from the modern age’s servitude of debt created by the foreign exchange loans. They do not want to see masses of people of a different culture in their country who are incapable of adapting, who represent a threat to public order and their jobs and their survival.

“Political correctness” is, according to one definition, “an attitude or policy of being careful not to offend or upset any group of people in society who are believed to have a disadvantage.” Or, “politically correctness is concerned with promoting tolerance and avoiding offense in matters of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.” If we can substitute “proper” in this context for “correct,” as I believe we can, then “incorrect”means “improper” or, more loosely, “inappropriate.” Is this what Viktor Orbán had in mind? Indeed, one ought to be careful with words.

Orbán assumes the worst of immigrants. They “will never be willing to accept, they originally came with the intention of destroying, European culture.” In his eyes, Europeans have already lost their “collective European home.” He also added that if the Hungarian government had not acted against the immigrants, Hungary would have been “turned into a refugee camp.”

On the question of “illiberal democracy” he retreated somewhat when he told his audience that liberal principles after 1990 “brought many good things to Hungary for which we ourselves struggled.” But the world has changed and liberalism is no longer relevant. However, he added, “there are things which are worth retaining from a previous period, such as democracy, the one without an adjective.” Actually, I find this off-the-cuff remark about democracy being “worth retaining” a telling clue to Viktor Orbán’s attitude toward democratic values.

I discovered only one internet site that applauded Orbán’s endorsement of political incorrectness and his denunciation of multiculturalism, immigrants, and liberalism. It is a neo-Nazi site called The Daily Stormer, according to which “Orban is by no means a great hero, but by Western political standards, he is definitely a pretty cool guy.” After quoting the appropriate passages from the Associated Press’s summary of the speech, the author adds: “All he is really saying is something incredibly basic, which is: ‘come on, this is stupid.’ The idea that more leaders are not coming out and stating the obvious fact that it makes exactly zero sense to allow unlimited number of entirely useless and dangerous subhumans to invade our countries demonstrated just how deeply sick the West is.” Approval from neo-Nazis! Does Viktor Orbán realize the kinds of circles in which his ideas are being embraced?

The author of of The Daily Stormer liked Viktor Orbán's attack on immigation, multiculturalism, and liberalism

The author of of The Daily Stormer liked Viktor Orbán’s attack on immigration, multiculturalism, and liberalism

I don’t know what his audience and his constituency thought of his references to multiculturalism, immigration, liberalism, and political incorrectness, but by now we have a fairly good idea of what Fidesz voters thought of the speech in general. They are deeply disappointed because they were waiting for an announcement of a radical change in political strategy after the serious setback Viktor Orbán and Fidesz suffered in Veszprém. Instead, he simply announced that the Fidesz candidate lost badly. It looks as if he is convinced that the only reason for the debacle was a lack of hard work on the part of the Fidesz team on the spot. They didn’t mobilize Fidesz voters. But a large number of his followers think that the fault lies with Viktor Orbán and his government: its pro-Russian and anti-European Union policies, corruption, lack of communication with the general public, ostentatious behavior of members of the government and the people around Orbán, the growing poverty, ineptitude on every level of government, one could list the problems endlessly. But Orbán said not a word about any of these issues. He is not a man who is quick to face reality after a setback.

Magyar Nemzet, which in the past two weeks has become much more critical of the government, also found the speech wanting. An editorial titled “Reveille” expressed its doubt that Orbán’s “Good morning, Hungary!” will be enough to recapture the trust of his followers. Tamás Fricz, a so-called political scientist and one of the fiercest defenders of Viktor Orbán, tried to hang on to a single sentence in Orbán’s 45-minute speech: “Probably there is a need for more discussion and consultation.” Yes, said Fricz, this is the essence of the whole speech. And yes, what Hungary needs is people who believe in equality, “who don’t worship even Viktor Orbán, who don’t believe in the superiority of politicians.” Society must talk about what went wrong in “the national, conservative camp.” After three great wins, it is safe “to conduct these natural and necessary debates, to express differences of opinions, and talk straight with one another as befits us.” Unfortunately, Viktor Orbán does everything in his power to steer clear of debate and to tamp down differences of opinion. And he seems positively allergic to straight talk. The national, conservative camp will have to talk among themselves, without their leader.