Tag Archives: immigration

Immigrants in Hungary: The Dutch colony in Csemő

Today’s post was inspired by a fascinating report on Dutch families who in the last 10-15 years have settled in Hungary. To provide some context for this report, I did a little research on foreigners who settled on a more or less permanent basis in Hungary. The statistical literature distinguishes between people who arrived in Hungary from countries outside the European Union and those, like the Dutch immigrants in Csemő, a village on the Great Plains, who came from the EU.

Let’s look first at some data on those immigrants who came from so-called “third countries,” i.e. countries outside the European Union. In 2015 their number was estimated to be 60,000. Their arrival, according to the research conducted by the Central Statistical Office, “was beneficial for Hungary because these immigrants were younger, better educated, and economically more active than the Hungarian natives.” The largest group is the Chinese, but a lot of people came from Ukraine, Vietnam, and Russia. They can be counted as permanent residents since 60% of them have been living in the country for more than ten years. Two-thirds of them came either to work or to join other family members. Twenty-five percent came to study. In 2013 employment statistics for foreigners were higher than those of the local population:  67.9% as opposed to 58.2%. The educational attainment of the newcomers is also higher than that of the Hungarian-born population (48% v. 20%), most likely because many of the immigrants originally came to study in Hungary and then opted to stay. These statistics make Viktor Orbán’s hysterical anti-immigrant views even more ridiculous.

By the way, a few days ago someone asked about the size of the Chinese immigrant population in Hungary. If I recall properly, no one responded to the inquiry. I can now offer some information. The official, somewhat dated figure is 6,800, but, according to estimates, their number is closer to 20,000.  These people settled in Hungary on a more or less permanent basis and their children attend Hungarian schools. Very few of them, however, have become citizens so far.

Immigrants to Hungary quickly become part of the social fabric of the country. Two years ago an article appeared on napi.hu about a “surprising statistic” that proves that Hungary is in the forefront of countries where the integration of immigrants is rapid and rather painless. I must admit that I wasn’t as surprised by the findings of the Központi Statisztikai Hivatal/KSH (Central Statistical Office) as the journalist of napi.hu was. Historically speaking, immigrants who settled in Hungary, within a generation or two, especially in larger towns and cities, became completely integrated. Budapest and Pécs were excellent examples of that phenomenon during the second half of the nineteenth century.

Of course, there are quite a few immigrants who come from member states of the European Union, many of them still young and working, mostly in Budapest and larger cities, but others retired or semi-retired who come for various reasons, including cheaper accommodations, more living space, and a quieter life.

It is a subset of this second group that Magyar Nemzet’s report “Dutch ‘refugees’ on the Great Plains” describes. About 100-150 Dutch people settled in and around the village of Csemő, a place that didn’t exist until 1952. Unlike most Hungarian villages, which boast histories going back to the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries, Csemő’s Wikipedia entry lists under “Places of Interest” two town squares and a hunting lodge. To my great surprise I found an elementary school named after one of my classmates from ELTE, Mihály Ladányi, a poet who spent his last years in the village.

The way these ethnic mini-enclaves come into being is through word of mouth. One family discovers a picturesque village somewhere, and they then tell their friends about the place. This is how Jeroen and Jacqueline Bastiaensen found a run-down homestead (tanya) in Csemő, which they bought “for a tenth or twentieth the price of something comparable in the Netherlands.” This was five years ago, and they claim they do not regret their decision. Since then they have fixed up the place. The couple also operates two guesthouses that they rent out to Dutch and Belgian visitors. In addition, for some extra income they take care of the properties of those Dutch families who spend only a few weeks in Csemő. The reporter also talked to Lammi Luten, another Dutch settler whose family arrived in Hungary eight years ago. Her children attend the local elementary school and are naturally fluent in Hungarian.

The Lutens in front of their house / Source: Magyar Nemzet / Photo: László Végh

Of course, the Hungarian reporter was eager to find out what these people think of Hungary and the Hungarians. Jacqueline explained that certain things are very different in Hungary. As an example, she brought up the case of “Holnap Zsolti” (Tomorrow Zsolti), the local plumber. They call him “Holnap Zsolti” because every time he is phoned for a job he promises he will be there tomorrow, but he doesn’t show up. Jacqueline is surprisingly good-natured about Holnap Zsolti, but she admits that there are times when his attitude seriously interferes with her business. She also complained about someone she hired as a cleaning lady who often doesn’t come to work because “her grandmother is sick, or she overslept, or she simply had other things to attend to.” Obviously, Jacqueline has already learned enough Hungarian to explain to her that this is not the way to be a responsible employee.

Lammi Luten’s criticism of her Hungarian neighbors points to something that might be a more deep-seated and serious problem. As she sees it, Hungarians are not as hard-working as the Dutch. If a Dutchman has the opportunity, with a little extra work, to earn 200 euros a week instead of 100, he will jump at the opportunity. She believes that “Hungarians are satisfied with less; they work only as much as they have to.” She also complained about the unreliability of her fellow villagers. But she feels compensated by what she considers to be a stress-free living situation. Finally, by way of comparison between the Dutch and the Hungarians, she talked about the differences between their bicycling habits. “A Hungarian bicyclist pedals slowly and keeps looking around. It is a miracle that the bicycle remains upright. A Dutchman will pedal hard, having little goals in mind. For example, to pass the bicyclist ahead of him.” These are of course generalizations, but this kind of attitude must be prevalent enough to strike outsiders as typical.

As we can see, the newcomers manage to interact with the local folks. But, according to the mayor, the local inhabitants “don’t learn much from the practical, well-disciplined, correct Dutch.” He claims that the language barrier prevents closer interaction. Still, the mayor of the village, Dr. Roland Lakos, who in addition to Hungarian speaks only Russian and therefore doesn’t have much interaction with the Dutch inhabitants of the village, included a Dutch translation of the description of Csemő on its website. It claims to be “one of the most flowery villages” of Hungary. From the video I must say it looks like a very pleasant place.

September 16, 2017

What are Soros’s solutions to the refugee crisis? Not what Orbán claims

Most people will be surprised to hear that until now no one bothered to publish a Hungarian translation of George Soros’s article “This is Europe’s Last Chance to Fix Its Refugee Policy,” which appeared in Foreign Policy. This is especially surprising since it was on the basis of this article that the Orbán government declared Soros to be the devil incarnate who wants to abolish nation states, destroy European culture, and inundate Hungary with migrants.

The article was written a year ago, shortly after the Brexit vote and before the rerun of the Austrian presidential election, the Hungarian referendum on refugee policy, and naturally all the national elections in Europe that took place in 2017. Soros looked upon the refugee crisis and Brexit as threats to the very existence of the European Union. He was naturally concerned over the growth of xenophobia and nationalism, with the accompanying rise of far-right parties and ideologies. Under these circumstances, he felt that a “comprehensive policy ought to remain the highest priority for European leaders; the union cannot survive without it.” What followed were his own recommendations for such a comprehensive approach, which would be built on “seven pillars.”

Before he outlined his “seven pillars,” Soros stressed that “the refugee crisis is not a one-off event.” The world must expect high migration pressures in the coming years, and therefore the European Union and other western countries must together work out an orderly and humane immigration policy.

The seven pillars are:

  1. The European Union, like the United States or Canada, should set a limit of legal immigration of 300,000 people a year from countries where most of these refugees and economic migrants are currently. The rest of the world could also take in the same number of people. This would be a high enough number that it would discourage illegal border crossings. Moreover, once this guaranteed quota is in place, those people illegally crossing the border of the European Union would be disqualified from being admitted as legal immigrants.
  2. The European Union must regain control of its borders. The chaos that exists now alienates and scares the public. The remedy is to provide Greece and Italy with sufficient funds to care for the asylum-seekers temporarily.
  3. Funds are necessary for the long-term challenges connected to the refugee crisis, which at the moment are not available. In 2014 the member states and the European Parliament reduced and capped the EU budget at 1.23 percent of the sum of its members’ GDP, which is simply inadequate. Soros thinks that 30 billion euros a year will be needed to carry out a comprehensive asylum plan, which is a lot of money but still less than the political, human, and economic cost of a protracted crisis. How should the EU get the money? “By raising a substantial amount of debt backed by the EU’s relatively small budget.” The EU has a low amount of debt, and “it should therefore leverage this budget like all sovereign governments in the world do.”
  4. The EU must build common mechanisms for protecting borders, determining asylum claims, and relocating refugees.
  5. Soros is against the stillborn resettlement and relocation programs. “The union cannot coerce either member states or refugees to participate in these programs. They must be voluntary.” He suggests a program based on public-private initiatives in which small groups of individuals, community organizations, and companies support the integration of the newcomers. He brings up the example of Canada, which in four months admitted 25,000 Syrian refugees before the summer of 2016 and promised to settle 10,000 more by the end of the year. That number for Canada would be the equivalent of the EU allowing the settlement of 4.5 million immigrants annually.
  6. The European Union and the international community in general should be much more generous in their support of the refugee-hosting countries and African nations which at the moment receive financial aid only in exchange for migration control.
  7. Soros shares the general view that, given the EU’s aging population, it “must eventually create an environment in which economic migration is welcome.” Merkel’s generous act “was not well thought through” because such great numbers couldn’t be properly handled. Nonetheless, in his opinion “the benefits brought by migration far outweigh the costs of integrating immigrants.”

Soros is convinced that “pursuing these seven principles is essential in order to calm public fears, reduce chaotic flows of asylum seekers, ensure that newcomers are fully integrated, establish mutually beneficial relations with countries in the Middle East and Africa, and meet Europe’s international humanitarian obligations.”

©AP / Anja Niedringhaus

It is this article that is the basis of the Orbán government’s accusations against George Soros as the evil manipulator who wants to flood Europe with millions of non-European, non-Christian people, as a result of which Europe would lose its character. But as we can see, Soros agrees with Viktor Orbán on many issues. He thinks that the compulsory settlement of refugees is outright wrong. It is unfair to the local population as well as to the refugees. He also puts a great deal of emphasis on the effective defense of the European Union’s borders, just like Orbán. He, like Orbán, also wants to give more money to countries outside of Europe which are the first stations in the migrants’ journey to Europe.

Viktor Orbán may agree with many of George Soros’s ideas, but when it comes to the immigration of non-Europeans to the continent the Hungarian prime minister is adamant. He refuses to acknowledge the continuing migration pressures that force the EU to find solutions. Orbán’s answer of total exclusion is unrealistic. There is no way of preventing millions of people from entering the territory of the European Union.  For one country to erect a fence is a useless exercise. His boasting about his own fence on the Serbian-Hungarian border, which allegedly defends the whole of Europe from millions of illegal immigrants, is outright ridiculous. The only thing he managed to achieve with the fence was to prevent the asylum-seekers and economic migrants from traveling through Hungary toward their final destination.

Orbán also disagrees with Soros on the beneficial effects of immigration. First of all, he believes that current demographic trends can be solved from within, which, as the trends over the last 30-40 years show, is simply not true. No matter what the Orbán government does to promote higher birthrates, a serious turnabout is most unlikely. But for economic growth you need a robust internal market and a vibrant work force. In Hungary not only is the birthrate very low, but emigration is high. According to the latest statistics, every seventh Hungarian child is born abroad.

What is disgusting about the anti-Soros campaign, in addition to its anti-Semitic undertones, is that the government propaganda accuses Soros of things he doesn’t advocate. Most important, he doesn’t support the forcible settlement of refugees in Hungary against the will of the people, as the Orbán government claims. Thus, the whole anti-Soros campaign rests on a lie.

It is high time for Hungarians to read the complete text of Soros’s article which was published in HVG shortly after its publication. I just hope that people will take the time to read it. If they do, they will realize that the Orbán government concocted a whopper of a lie about Soros’s designs on Hungary.

July 9, 2017

Severe labor shortage combined with anti-immigration propaganda

Two days ago, seemingly out of the blue, Mihály Varga, minister of the economy, got in touch with MTI, Hungary’s official telegraphic agency, to make the grand announcement that “the government is taking steps to remedy the growing labor shortage that is becoming an impediment to economic growth.” As it turned out, the minister’s move was prompted by a proposal submitted by the National Association of Employers and Manufacturers (Munkaadók és Gyáriparosok Országos Szövetsége/MGYOSZ) to address the acute shortage of qualified workers in many fields.

Varga stated that the government agrees with many of the recommendations, which include the importation of guest workers from so-called third countries, i.e. outside the European Union. In order to facilitate this recommendation, the government promised to reduce the tax burden on companies that bring in foreign employees. This is the first time the Orbán government has officially admitted that the lack of qualified workers is a serious problem in Hungary.

The problem, of course, is not new. Already a couple of years ago Stefan Körmendi, managing director of Europakraft GmbH, bitterly complained that the Hungarian government had deceived him and his company when it sang the praises of the “well-qualified Hungarian labor force.” His company needed skilled welders, pipe fitters, and disk roller specialists. There were plenty of applicants, but when they had to demonstrate their skills, most of them were unable to perform even the most basic tasks. Sixty percent of the 600 applicants tested couldn’t even weld, and all of these people had a piece of paper testifying that they had successfully been trained as welders. The whole sad story can be read in my post from 2014.

Since then the situation has only gotten worse. At the end of June Népszabadság reported that some foreign companies are so desperate that they are importing employees from their other factories to work in their Hungarian division for shorter or longer stints. The article highlighted the case of a factory that makes tops for luxury convertibles. The company’s Hungarian division, situated in Szügy, a small village in Nógrád County, was in such trouble that it had to bring in four women and four men from its Mexican division in Toluca for three months. Even with the added expense of transportation from Mexico and perhaps bonus pay, this solution was apparently still worth it. Guest workers also came from the company’s Russian and Serbian divisions. These foreign employees were necessary because the quality of the work done by the locals was not what management expected. The number of rejects was far too high. Moreover, this factory ran three shifts, and it was difficult to fill all the shifts with Hungarians. They weren’t interested in working outside the usual daytime hours.

Bors, a Hungarian tabloid, dispatched a reporter to Szügy, where he learned more details of the lives of Mexican guest workers while in Hungary. They were placed in a stately mansion that serves as a hotel; they were taken to Budapest and other cities in the country on sightseeing trips; the company even made sure that they could watch Copa America football matches on television. Apparently, they didn’t like the food, but otherwise I’m sure this Hungarian trip was quite an adventure for them. After the Mexicans left, a new batch of people came from Tatarstan, Russia. Clearly, the situation is desperate, and I’m sure that the management of this company is just as frustrated as Körmendi was back in 2014.

MGYOSZ’s suggestions “for the handling of the critical labor shortage in Hungary” started with the main reasons for this shortage: low birthrate; emigration, especially of more highly qualified workers and university graduates; the fact that almost half of those seeking employment are unskilled; and a workforce whose quality is on the decline. Something must be done quickly because otherwise the economic growth of the last couple of years will come to a screeching halt.

To solve this crisis, first and foremost the government should assist in attracting foreign workers. For example, one million Ukrainians are working in Poland at the moment. In Hungary’s case, that would mean the importation of about 250,000 foreign employees. But Hungary is not an attractive place for guest workers because of low wages, high taxes, the lack of housing, and the low level of social services. MGYOSZ asked the government to lessen the tax burden on employees so they could raise wages. And naturally, to put more effort into the proper training of workers. The long-term goals include a better educational system that emphasizes the 4Ks: kreativitás, kommunikáció, kooperáció, and kritikai gondolkodás. As we know, Viktor Orbán’s ideas on education stand in sharp contrast to these guiding principles.

Turkish guest workers arriving at the Düsseldorf Airport on November 27, 1961 / Source: en.qantara.de

Turkish guest workers arriving at the Düsseldorf Airport on November 27, 1961  Source: en.qantara.de

Mihály Varga, I’m afraid, was a bit too hasty when he reacted positively to MGYOSZ’s suggestions. The Orbán government has consistently and fiercely opposed any kind of immigration and keeps repeating that more babies will solve all the problems. Mind you, the demographic statistics show no great positive changes on that score. Viktor Orbán must have been furious, and I wonder what “Misi” got from the boss.

Fidesz published a statement saying that the Hungarian government provides work opportunities for Hungarians, not for immigrants. Only the political left and Brussels want to flood Europe and the labor market with immigrants. The Prime Minister’s office also spoke out again against immigration. According to its spokesman, statistics prove that immigration actually exacerbates the problems of the labor market. MSZP’s spokesman, Nándor Gúr, also objected to the scheme because the presence of foreign workers would lower wages in general. The government mouthpiece, Magyar Idők, tried to provide cover for Varga by claiming that MGYOSZ actually talked about guest workers from “the neighboring countries” and not from “third countries.”

Some commentators, like Kinga Facsinay of Magyar Nemzet, pointed out that after a year and a half of intense anti-immigration propaganda, Varga’s enthusiastic embrace of the importation of a large number of guest workers is a strange turn of events. Actually, this is just another example of the confusion within the government that has been endemic ever Fidesz won the election in 2010.

But, yes, the propaganda was, and remains, both intense and expensive. On the anti-migrant campaign the government spent billions: 960 million forints for a “national consultation” and 1.2 billion for the two billboard campaigns. The “Message to Brussels” campaign wasn’t cheap either; it cost 1 billion forints. And the October 2 referendum on quotas will cost 4.5 billion. Instead of wasting all this money on propaganda, the government could have used it to improve the education of future Hungarian workers.

More than 25 years have gone by since the arrival of democracy in Hungary, and yet over 40% of those who are actively seeking employment today have no qualifications for any job. This is a devastating indictment of the Hungarian educational system. It also underscores the failure of successive governments to create an economic environment that would have kept emigration within bounds. Since both have been neglected, I see no short-term internal fix for the Hungarian labor shortage. And this will in turn discourage foreign companies from investing in the country.

If the Hungarian government changed course and welcomed guest workers, this might help a bit. But under the present circumstances few people, especially highly skilled workers, would be enticed to emigrate to Hungary in the hope of a better life.

July 8, 2016

The anti-Hungarian conspiracy: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George Soros

I’m sure that Viktor Orbán harbors ill feelings toward Bill and Hillary Clinton–and that’s probably putting it mildly. Hillary Clinton, when Secretary of State, wrote a letter to him a few days before the parliamentary vote on the new constitution. In it Clinton expressed her regret that her talk with Orbán in June of 2011 and “the constructive comments offered by the U.S. government … have not led to a serious reconsideration of [the] laws” included in the new constitution. The Obama administration was obviously not happy with Viktor Orbán’s illiberal state. It is worth recalling that, although Barack Obama wrote the usual congratulatory letter to Viktor Orbán on his “strong showing in the April parliamentary elections” in 2014, he added: “It is important that the United States and Europe stand together for democratic principles, particularly in a time in which the peace and security of Europe is being tested. As we work with Ukraine to instill rule of law, transparency, respect for individual liberty, and a system of checks and balances, we must remain dedicated to the same ideals at home. I hope you will use your new term to recommit yourself to building Hungary’s democratic heritage.” As I pointed out at the time, the Hungarian prime minister’s office, instead of translating the letter, merely summarized it. Naturally, these crucial sentences were left out of the summary.

A few months later, in September 2014, former President Bill Clinton, on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, said that “there’s the authoritarian capitalism model which is Russia and in a different way China, and it has some appeal. Like the Hungarian Prime Minister – they owe a lot to America; he just said he liked authoritarian capitalism, just saying ‘I don’t ever want to have to leave power’ – usually those guys want to stay forever and make money. And there’s the democracy model …” This was not an off-the-cuff remark. A few days earlier he said essentially the same thing in an interview with James Bennet in the Atlantic MagazineHe talked about different political models, among which “there is a contest here in the world today…. There’s autocratic governments trying to take advantage of market opportunities—what [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orbán embraced the other day.” Clinton was obviously familiar with the Hungarian prime minister’s by now infamous speech, described in a footnote as “a headline-grabbing speech,” calling for Hungary to abandon its “liberal methods and principles of organizing a society, as well as the liberal way to look at the world.” At about the same time President Obama, talking about countries from Russia to China to Venezuela which vilify legitimate dissent, included Hungary among them.

At the time Péter Szijjártó, who was not yet foreign minister, said only that the former president “was conned.” It’s been a long time since Bill Clinton visited Hungary and therefore he is ignorant of the real situation. Otherwise, government officials simply ignored the comments of the two U.S. presidents. At that time it was only the right-wing media that put forth all sorts of conspiracy theories to explain what they saw as a concerted attack on Hungary. It was at this time that George Soros’s name came up as a man behind Bill Clinton.

So, less than two years ago the Hungarian government refrained from inventing fanciful stories about the evil George Soros, whose “main hobby” is his repeated attempts to overthrow the Orbán government. This is no longer the case. Today the government leads the way and the right-wing media only follows.

Bill Clinton is once again the bête noire of the Orbán government. A week ago, during a campaign stop in New Jersey, he said that “Poland and Hungary, two countries that would not be free but for the United States and the long Cold War, have now decided this democracy is too much trouble. They want Putin-like leadership: Just give me an authoritarian dictatorship and keep the foreigners out.” In a response that seemed to come from the Hungarian playbook, Jarosław Kaczyński told reporters that “if someone feels that there is no democracy in Poland, they should be medically examined.” Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó, who happened to be in Sofia at the meeting of EU foreign ministers, announced that “no one, not even Bill Clinton, can allow himself to offend the Hungarian people in this way.” Of course, Bill Clinton was not talking about the Polish and Hungarian people but about the governments of Poland and Hungary.

But Szijjártó didn’t stop there. He claimed that “it is a well-known fact that George Soros is dissatisfied with the present Hungarian government and he would like it if someone other than Viktor Orbán would be the prime minister of Hungary. In our view, it is this dissatisfaction which is behind the American criticisms.” He reminded people that Soros is a friend of both Bill Clinton and his wife, who is currently running for the U.S. presidency. Soros always supported the “politics of the Clinton family.”

Fidesz immediately released its own communiqué, pretty much repeating Szijjártó’s claims. As Fidesz put it: “the face of the American criticisms is Bill Clinton’s but its voice is George Soros. In the past the American speculator tried to put pressure on the Hungarian government on several occasions, especially in issues of immigration and financial matters.”

President Bill Clinton and George Soros

President Bill Clinton and George Soros

The attacks of the Orbán administration on Soros and, by extension, on the U.S. government continue unabated. Today it was János Lázár who talked at length about Bill Clinton’s remarks at his usual Thursday marathon press conference. He went even further than Szijjártó because he managed to drag President Obama into the story. According to Lázár, “not so long ago while visiting Europe, President Obama clearly spoke in favor of the importance of migration, settlement and even the forced settlement [of migrants].” He added that Obama and the U.S. “are following a very strong pro-migration, pro-illegal migration policy in the interests of having as many Muslims as possible in Europe.” To Lázár’s way of thinking, immigration “dilutes” Europe. But, he continued, such a development will allow the European Union and the U.S. “to cooperate without constraints.” At today’s White House briefing Josh Earnest, who was unaware of Lázár’s comments, said he wasn’t “sure they’re worthy of a response.” Indeed Earnest is right. This is utter rubbish. The whole thing makes no sense, but this fact doesn’t seem to bother the head of the prime minister’s office.

The foreign press hasn’t yet picked up on the Hungarian government’s constant harping on George Soros’s allegedly vital role in U.S. foreign policy, but today Lázár also spent quite a bit of time on Soros. As he said, the “Hungarian government is convinced that Soros is one of the most influential supporters of the Democratic party and of the Clinton couple.” The Hungarian government is sure that “Soros will play an active role against one of his most dangerous adversaries in Europe, the Orbán government.” Moreover, as Lázár sees it, the current migration is “an organized movement,” behind which he suspects George Soros. “The Hungarian government is prepared for attacks from George Soros because of Hungary’s migration policies.” Magyar Idők went so far as to claim that “Soros, by exploiting the European Union’s good faith, naiveté, and legal and military weaknesses managed to bring about one million illegal migrants just to Germany and hundreds of thousands more to other parts of the European Union.”

One really wonders about the sanity of the man in whose head these bizarre thoughts were born. That man, I’m afraid, is Viktor Orbán himself. He made many references to George Soros as the instigator of the refugee crisis. Foreign newspapers were full of stories last October that Orbán lashed out at Soros: “His name is perhaps the strongest example of those who support anything that weakens nation states, they support everything that changes the traditional lifestyle.” Orbán’s minions simply repeat and elaborate on the great man’s thoughts.

May 19, 2016

Viktor Orbán, the “great supporter” of European common action

A couple of days ago we pondered the true meaning of the Kohl-Orbán joint communiqué, which emphasized a coordinated European response to the refugee crisis. What could have transpired during the hour Viktor Orbán spent with the ailing Helmut Kohl? What did the former chancellor tell the Hungarian prime minister to entice him to sign a document that emphasizes common action in the face of one of the greatest challenges the European Union has confronted in its existence? We now have the answer.

Today Viktor Orbán gave his customary, carefully choreographed Friday morning interview on Kossuth Rádió. About three-quarters of the conversation was devoted to Orbán’s views on the migration issue. His message was unequivocal. It matters not what he signed after his meeting with Kohl, he hasn’t budged an inch. He totally rejects a common European solution to the refugee problem–unless, of course, the rest of Europe accepts his solution. One could ask why he signed a document that goes against his deeply held beliefs. Because such a gesture at the moment was to his political advantage. For him it was only a scrap of paper without legal consequences.

Today’s interview began with a “little white lie.” Orbán claimed that “every time I visit the southern regions of Germany I visit Chancellor Kohl.” Sure thing, he just calls the Kohl residence announcing that he is somewhere nearby and the next thing we know he is sitting in Kohl’s living room.

He continued the interview by systematically misrepresenting the current German position on the refugee question. He claimed that although it is true that in the past there was “a significant difference between Germany and Hungary on the handling of the migrant crisis,” by now “the Germans have changed their position.” They recognized that Viktor Orbán was right all along, although “Europe doesn’t want to admit that.”

Viktor Orbán in the studio / MTI

Viktor Orbán in the studio / MTI

It was inevitable that the issue of compulsory quotas would surface in this particular Friday session. After all, the Orbán government is already hard at work preparing the ground for a referendum on the question of quotas. The Hungarian people are supposed to refuse, through a democratic process, to allow any refugees to be settled in Hungary. Orbán is adamant on the issue. His view is that if Angela Merkel “made a decision to accept migrants without any control, then she should take full responsibility for that decision.” Since other member countries, including Hungary, were not consulted, they are not obliged to take responsibility for the consequences of this action.

The reporter, who is of course carefully trained and never asks embarrassing questions, did venture to inquire whether Orbán doesn’t see a contradiction between the Kohl-Orbán communiqué’s reference to common action and Orbán’s emphasis on national sovereignty. The answer is worth translating verbatim.

No, because stronger cooperation means Schengen. My suggestion is that if a country is a member of the Schengen system and therefore enjoys its benefits, which means that its citizens can move freely within the borders, it must also accept the concomitant commitments, which include the defense of the Schengen borders. If a country refuses this obligation, the European Union should take away this country’s right to defend the borders. Well, actually, since we are talking about sovereign states, one cannot force them, but the EU should ask them to hand over the right of defense. If that country refuses to oblige, it should be expelled or its membership in the Schengen zone should be suspended.

I find it interesting that Orbán’s first thought was to use force against a truant state and that it was only a second later that he caught himself offering a solution that disregards the sanctity of sovereignty he so fiercely defends.

Relatively little time was spent on his Schengen 2.0 action plan, but the little there was is interesting. He gave the impression of such staunch German support for his plans that the interviewer summarized her understanding, saying that “there is then strong German support for your ten points.” Well, at that point Orbán had correct her and admit that “not quite, because Brussels in the meantime published its own proposals … [which are] absurd.” According to this “ridiculous idea,” Europe’s demographic situation is so grave that only immigration can solve the problem. This is a totally unacceptable idea according to Orbán, who finds it “unchristian and objectionable from the national point of view.”

The government has already prepared the ground for a forceful campaign for the totally superfluous referendum against compulsory refugee quotas. They dug up an old study the Gyurcsány government commissioned back in 2007 on the demographic problems facing Hungary. Magyar Idők, the government paper, dutifully printed a long article about the evil intentions of the socialist-liberal government. Even the headline is telling: “The left has been waiting for the migrants for the last ten years.”

Magyar Idők’s summary of the document shows it to be a well-reasoned analysis. The study maintains that, with globalization, migration is inevitable and Hungarians, especially highly qualified professionals such as doctors, will leave the country to accept better paid positions elsewhere. This exodus might be lessened by certain government policies, but selective immigration will undoubtedly be necessary to maintain the healthy demographic balance essential for a thriving economy. Natural reproduction cannot solve the demographic problems of the country, and therefore a selective immigration policy should be implemented. It is possible that by 2050 10% of the population might be of foreign origin, the study predicted.

Orbán is now using this study commissioned by the socialist-liberal government as a weapon against the opposition. The highly xenophobic population now can blame not only Brussels for its egregious refugee policies but also the Hungarian socialist and liberal politicians who wanted and most likely still want to flood the country with foreigners. “We must prevent this at all costs. We must stop not only Brussels but also the Hungarian allies of Brussels. We must stop the left because by now anybody can read what kinds of plans they were entertaining.”

This from the mouth of Viktor Orbán, who told us only a couple of days ago that he wants to have a common European solution to the refugee question.

April 22, 2016

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.

The Orbán government’s anti-immigrant stance

Although many studies show that immigration has a positive effect on economic growth, the Orbán government is dead set against allowing foreigners to settle in Hungary. It is not just against the immigration of refugees from the Middle East and Africa but against any immigration coming from outside of the European Union, including some of the most developed nations in the world. Back in May the Ministry of Economy reduced its immigrant quota, which is now calculated on the basis of the perceived need for workers in the private sector in a given year. That figure divided by twelve will determine the monthly quota. Previously, the calculation was based on all employment opportunities, both private and public. If we consider that doctors, who are in short supply, are public sector employees, we can begin to see the concerted effort on the part of the government to reduce labor opportunities for anyone coming from outside the EU.

As for those refugees who have decided to stay in Hungary, the Orbán government isn’t making their integration easy. In fact, the little earlier governments provided, like free Hungarian lessons, has been discontinued. After these people get permission to stay, it is the few civic groups that try to help the newcomers. These groups’ survival depends entirely on EU grants. The leaders of these organizations complain bitterly that the government’s “integration strategy” can be summarized as “you solve it!” According to one of the organizers, what they are able to do can be compared to “throwing rose petals on war-torn cities.”

Three major civic groups are trying to take care of these newcomers, but they are unable to handle more than about 100 individuals at a time. They are being financed by the Norwegian Civic Fund and the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) of the European Union. One of the groups, Artemisszió, concentrates on bridging cultural differences. Jövőkerék’s focus is on employment. Menedék’s work mostly involves improving the newcomers’ language skills. Of course, taking care of the needs of 100 individuals is a drop in the bucket even in the small foreign community of Hungary.

Learning the language is of paramount importance, and since there are no more free government-sponsored Hungarian lessons, most organizations involved with immigrants began offering language courses of their own. Since professional language instructors don’t come cheap, volunteers must take their place. And there are problems even with school-age children since the Hungarian school system is not at all prepared to handle foreign students. Apparently the problem is not with the children but with some of the principals and teachers. If a teacher is open and accepting, the foreign student’s integration into her new community is a great deal easier. But considering the xenophobia prevalent in Hungarian society as a whole, there is a good possibility that the student will be taught by someone who wishes she had never set foot in Hungary and who is not about to encourage her to outshine any of her Hungarian classmates.

Interestingly enough, finding a job doesn’t seem to be as difficult as one would think. Some of the participants in these programs land a job even before the program ends. As one of the civic leaders pointed out, immigrants usually are more enterprising, confident, and daring. Ready to meet new challenges. The timid, the fearful would never dare to leave.

And indeed, I read an interesting article in Bloomberg with the title “What Hungary can teach Europe about absorbing immigrants.” Intriguing, isn’t it? According to the article, “in Hungary, foreign-born workers, far from living on the fringes of society, are more likely to be employed than native-born Hungarians. In 2013, the last for which statistics are available, 67.9 percent of the foreign-born aged 15 to 64 had jobs, vs. 58.2 percent of the native-born in that age range.” As the graph shows, Hungary’s performance is spectacular, especially compared to other European countries.

immigrant workersOf course, among the immigrant workers are many ethnic Hungarians from neighboring countries, mostly from Romania. But Hungary’s historical experience shows a fantastic ability to absorb and assimilate large groups of non-Magyar speakers with ease. I know, some of you will say “Yes, but they didn’t come from an entirely different culture.” But they did. I am specifically thinking of Orthodox Jews who arrived in large numbers from Polish Galician shtetls. They spoke Yiddish, and their culture bore no resemblance to the majority culture in Hungary. Yet most of them a generation later spoke the language and became ardent Hungarian patriots.

Although studies show that immigration is imperative for economic growth, the Orbán government seems to be adamant: Hungary is for Hungarians. Viktor Orbán is making a huge mistake. The economic consequences of this policy will be serious. Hungary’s economic growth will permanently lag that of other countries in the region.

I know that Angela Merkel is criticized at home and abroad for encouraging immigration into Germany. Those who oppose allowing large numbers of people coming from different cultures to settle in the country point to Germany’s past difficulties with Turkish immigrants. But Merkel stressed that Germany will handle these immigrants very differently from the way it dealt with the earlier guest workers. In the 1960s and 1970s the German government looked upon them as temporary laborers who some day will go back to their homeland. There was no attempt to integrate them into German society. Merkel vows that this time it will be different. Germany will do its part to make the immigrants an integral part of German society and, in turn, the new immigrants will be expected to conform to the norms of the majority society. Indeed, this is the right way. It will be good for Germany and good for the new immigrants. This is what Hungary should do. After long years of cultural isolation the country should open its doors to the new world that is inevitably coming.