Tag Archives: immigration

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.

Hungarian public opinion on the government’s handling of the refugee crisis

Along the Croatian-Hungarian border not much has changed since yesterday or the day before yesterday, and therefore we can turn to Hungarian sentiment, which has been poisoned by the massive government anti-refugee propaganda. Anita Köműves of Népszabadság, who just returned to Hungary after a year as a journalist intern at the University of Maryland, was astounded by the general lack of knowledge about the causes of the refugee crisis and by the xenophobia that Viktor Orbán is generating. As she said, “take it from a Hungarian journalist: Orbán is playing a dangerous game.”

Just today Tamás Ungár, also a reporter for Népszabadság covering the region of southern Transdanubia, came up with a long list of opinions he gathered from Hungarians in a number of cities and towns from Pécs to Kaposvár. A young fellow from Pécs, a Jobbik sympathizer, is convinced that the current flow of refugees is financed by Israel. Where did he get this idea? He was told by others and that seems to be enough. Some Hungarians are convinced that the United States is behind the emigration of Syrians, Iraqis, and others. It wants to weaken the European Union. There is a widespread fear that terrorists are hidden among the refugees and therefore not one of the refugees should be accepted in Hungary. Most of the people Ungár talked to believe that these immigrants cannot be integrated into European society. Those with such decided opinions often refer to state radio or television as their source of information.

Ungár’s reporting was, of course, anecdotal. For more statistically significant insight we can turn to the follow-up public opinion poll by Publicus Intézet conducted this month. In mid-July Publicus polled Hungarians on three related subjects: the erection of a fence along the Serb-Hungarian border, the emigration of Hungarians to western Europe, and the possible immigration of refugees coming from the Middle East. At that time 46% of the population were convinced that the fence would not stop the flow of refugees and 21% were doubtful about the efficacy of the fence. As for the questions on emigration and immigration, by July government propaganda had already made inroads. While in May 57% of the people considered emigration a greater problem than immigration and 23% believed the opposite, by July the situation had changed. Only 42% of the people found emigration to be a greater problem and 44% were convinced that immigration was a greater threat.

Publicus’s September poll shows that the Hungarian government didn’t manage to convince the population about the usefulness of the fence. Today not 46% but 56% of those asked said the fence was totally useless and another 22% thought it was pretty useless. But how then do we explain the fact that when the respondents were asked whether, if they had been in the position of deciding whether to erect the fence, in July 56% would have decided against it and only 34% would have gone ahead with it whereas this month fewer respondents (50%) would have discarded the idea and 40% would have decided to build it. In brief, while today more respondents think the fence is useless, more would nonetheless have decided to build it.

Publicus was also interested in people’s attitudes toward the refugees. The participants in the survey had to express their opinion about the following propositions:

  1. It is our duty to help the refugees. The answer was overwhelmingly in the affirmative. 64% to 30%
  2. The refugees should be treated more humanely. 52% to 38%
  3. Hungary, according to her ability, should accept a number of refugees. 37% to 55%
  4. Too many refugees are arriving and Europe will not be able to handle the numbers. 87% to 9%
  5. If necessary, we must defend our borders with weapons in hand. 41% to 42%

I find this last figure especially troubling. I should also mention here that the majority of Jobbik voters (54%) are quite satisfied with the Hungarian government’s treatment of the refugees, which we know has been quite harsh and unfeeling. In their opinion, it seems, these refugees don’t deserve anything better.

Displaced SyriansPublicus was also interested in what the population thinks of the international reaction to the Hungarian government’s handling of the refugee crisis. Did foreign opinion of Hungary deteriorate or improve? To my surprise, Hungarians do realize that what Viktor Orbán is doing is harmful to the country’s image (66% as opposed to 18%). Why am I surprised? At least for two reasons. One is the oft-repeated claim that the Hungarian government is simply following the prescript of the European Union. In fact, it is only Budapest that observes the letter of the law. All other countries, from Greece to Germany, transgress the rules and regulations, and by their actions they aggravate the crisis. The second reason is that commentators often complain about the Hungarian population’s relative ignorance of the outside world. I read recently that only 12.5% of the population know a foreign language well enough to read a newspaper article or understand television news. Therefore, I must conclude either that the Hungarian opposition media is doing a relatively good job of informing people about the international reaction to the Hungarian government’s actions or perhaps that people extrapolated what this reaction must be from the videos that went viral on YouTube. I should mention though that while on the other questions only a relative small percentage of people had no opinion (2-10%), in this case 16% were unable to give an answer.

The feeling that Viktor Orbán has done harm to the country’s reputation is widespread and uniform. Even Fidesz voters believe that the international community reacted negatively to the policies adopted by the Hungarian government. For example, only 33% of Fidesz voters think that Hungary’s reputation has been enhanced by recent government decisions. And 65% of Jobbik voters realize that the country’s reputation has been seriously damaged in the last few months.

Finally, respondents were asked to grade the performance of the Orbán government in the refugee crisis on a scale of 1 (F) to 5 (A). Only Fidesz voters thought that the government deserved a grade higher than 3 (C ) (3.8). A C average is nothing to brag about.

What kinds of conclusions can we draw on the basis of this survey? There seems to be a growing number of people who feel somewhat ashamed of the government’s harsh treatment of the refugees and the callousness of most leading Fidesz politicians. At the same time very few people, one out of ten, would like to have any of these refugees settle among themselves. The reason, I suspect, is the propaganda about the unbridgeable differences in culture and religion between the refugees and Hungarians.

Most Hungarians seem to be convinced that the refugees cannot be integrated into European society. Yet facts tell a different story. There are already a fair number of Syrians, Iraqis, Lebanese, and Jordanians who have been living in Hungary for decades. There is a telling video taken in a village somewhere in the northeast corner of the country where the local doctor is a Syrian. A reporter went around in the village and asked people what they thought of accepting Syrian refugees. They were all dead against the idea. But, said the reporter, Dr. X. is a Syrian. To which the answer was: “Dr. X? But he is different. He is one of us.”

The Hungarian army will soon receive its marching orders

It looks as if the Orbán government will introduce a state of emergency on September 15, when a new era will begin, at least according to Viktor Orbán.

I wouldn’t venture to predict what exactly that state of emergency will entail because the Hungarian government doesn’t seem to be in control of the situation. A decision that was made yesterday is often scrapped today.

The idea of having transit zones on Hungarian territory that are open toward Serbia but impassable toward Hungary was considered to be a capital idea. The great legal wizard of Fidesz, Gergely Gulyás, in a lengthy interview assured the public that this plan couldn’t possibly be challenged by the present laws of the European Union. But then someone with more legal acumen came to the conclusion that since these transit zones will be built on Hungarian soil, they cannot be considered extraterritorial areas as another great legal expert, László Trócsányi, the minister of justice, claimed.

The picture that is emerging of Viktor Orbán not just in Hungary but in the world

He brought shame to the country: The failed immigration policy of Viktor Orbán

So, no more transit zones, only the fence where the thousands who arrive every day will be stopped by Hungarian police and, from September 15 on, by the Hungarian army. The refugees will, I guess, ask for asylum across the fence. The Hungarian authorities will then decline their requests within three days. There will be no exceptions because none of those who are trying to enter Hungary from Serbia are considered to be refugees. Serbia is, according to the Hungarian government, a safe country that could provide them asylum. There is no need for them to cross into Hungary. The whole thing will be a charade. The scenes the world can watch online of Hungarian police chasing refugees around the refugee camp don’t bode well for the future. But the government hopes that the army’s presence will achieve miracles.

And that brings me back to the sudden resignation of Csaba Hende, who had served as minister of defense since 2010. In the past he was often the butt of jokes because of his less than military physique and his lack of knowledge about military matters in general. His critics considered him incompetent. They were certain that he would not be reappointed when Viktor Orbán formed his third government last year. But Hende remained in his post. Orbán couldn’t have been that dissatisfied with him. But then why the decision to resign? It happened right after a meeting of the ministers directly involved with national security issues.

There are at least three stories circulating in Budapest about the circumstances of Hende’s resignation. The first is that Viktor Orbán fired him because the fence that was supposed to keep the refugees out of the country was not ready by August 15. The second story goes something like this: during the meeting Hende received a lot of criticism of his handling of the crisis and, after a heated debate, Hende decided that he had had enough. The third explanation is that Hende, being a lawyer by training, objected to the use of the army for domestic purposes without amending the Hungarian constitution. In addition, his generals also objected to the government’s plans. Hence, the resignation. My hunch is that there is a kernel of truth in all three versions.

So now Hungary has a new minister of defense, István Simicskó, whose encounter with Celeste A. Wallander, currently special assistant to President Obama and senior director for Russia and Eurasia on the National Security Council, I recalled two days ago.

Simicskó, I’m sure, feels on top of the world at the moment. I don’t know how long he has been dreaming about this job, but at least since 2002. In 2010 he was sure that his dream would be fulfilled, but then he ended up as the second man under Csaba Hende. The two of them didn’t get along, and after two years Simicskó resigned and became undersecretary in charge of sports in the ministry of human resources. He is an avid practitioner of martial arts.

In Simicskó Hungary will have a minister of defense who is very taken with the military. Although his college degree was in hotel management, he subsequently got a degree in economics and finally a Ph.D. in military science. So, he seems well prepared for the job, at least on paper.

There are, however, a couple of things in his bio that should give us pause. Simicskó was the only member of parliament of the 365 present who voted against Hungary’s joining the European Union. Mind you, Viktor Orbán simply didn’t show up that day.

For years Simicskó has been a dogged promoter of a Hungarian equivalent of the U.S. National Guard. Originally, he proposed calling it “Magyar Gárda,” but that name was subsequently taken by Jobbik’s paramilitary organization, which was eventually banned. In 2004, after compulsory military service was abolished, he campaigned for summer military training for eighteen-year-old boys. In 2007 he changed the name of his proposed organization to Honi Gárda (Home Guard), which he wanted to employ in the fight against terrorism. It is possible that now, as minister of defense, Simicskó will be able to achieve his goal.

Last year journalists noted that not all was well with the figures in Simicskó’s financial statements. According to journalists who pay attention to such matters, among Hungarian politicians Simicskó is the sloppiest. When they inquired from him about the discrepancies, he was rude. He accused them of besmearching his good name and of taking instructions from above–that is, from politicians of the opposition.

Simicskó was also accused of buying votes by distributing 10 kg sacks of inexpensive potatoes. And he was caught handing out orange-colored gym socks with bars of chocolate in them. All in all, he is considered by many to be a shady character.

His work is cut out for him. One just hopes that no tragedy will befall the frustrated asylum seekers at the hands of the armed military.