Tag Archives: internment camps

October 3 may not be a day of rejoicing for the Hungarian government

Viktor Orbán has put a tremendous amount of energy into having a valid and successful referendum, although it is not clear what he wants to do with it, at least at home. He is certainly keeping his plans secret–if, that is, he has plans. One cannot exclude the possibility that he doesn’t know what his next step will be.

As for his plans for the European Union, the official explanation is that a successful referendum will strengthen his hand in his tough fight with the EU. His latest brainstorm, however–having a giant refugee camp in Libya–was not exactly greeted with enthusiasm at his meeting in Vienna with Angela Merkel, Donald Tusk, Christian Kern, and the prime ministers of the Balkan countries. Moreover, this time the usually silent European Commission also raised objections. Natasha Bertaud, the spokesperson of Jean-Claude Juncker, explained yesterday that the registration of asylum seekers can take place only within the borders of the European Union. Orbán should study the admittedly complicated rules and regulations of the EU a bit more thoroughly before he comes out with his bizarre ideas.

I guess I don’t have to go into the details of Libya’s reaction to Orbán’s proposal. The Libyan Unity Government found Orbán’s idea of a refugee camp for one million people along Libya’s seashore under EU supervision unacceptable since such an arrangement would constitute an infringement of the country’s territorial integrity. So, it is highly unlikely that Orbán will pursue this idea any further.

Otherwise, since the question of compulsory quotas is pretty much off the table, I don’t think that a successful referendum makes any difference in his negotiations in Brussels. Perhaps he just wants to show that he has the whole country behind him. In his interview with Origo he claimed that he would be truly happy only if all eligible voters went to the polls because, after all, this is a national issue that has nothing to do with party politics, which is, of course, a joke.

The effort that is being put into achieving the desired result is phenomenal. The government is pressuring localities to deliver the votes because otherwise they will be the ones stranded with the dreaded migrants. These are mostly communities where the mayor and the town council refused to send out propaganda material to each household. According to 444.hu 11 Hungarian communities with a combined population of 3.68 million have been directly threatened by the government. That is about a third of the population of the country. At least one mayor of a small town near Győr made it clear to his constituents that, with a high turnout, his “managing the applications for EU subsidies currently under consideration” will be much easier. In plain English, if they don’t vote EU subsidies will go somewhere else. So, the generous support of the European Union is being used by the Orbán government to blackmail the population to vote in a referendum that is designed as a club against the EU itself.

Even so, there have been signs in the last few days that, despite all the propaganda and threats, enthusiasm for the referendum is waning. This is especially surprising because, as a result of all this effort, today Hungarians believe that the “migrant question” is one of the most important problems the country currently faces. Deficiencies in healthcare still leads the list, but second place is shared by the migrant issue and corruption (35%). It’s more important than the state of the economy (30%). In the last three months, while they were preoccupied with the “migrant question,” Hungarians marginalized the problems of education (11%).

One of the earliest hints of the government’s concern about achieving a valid referendum (a turnout of 50% of the electorate plus 1) was something Undersecretary János Halász in the prime minister’s office said a few days ago. Halász claimed that those who are urging a boycott and plan not to vote in fact would like to say “no” but “don’t dare admit it.” There is another interesting bit of news about ballots arriving from Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, and a few from western countries. There are 274,000 eligible voters in this group, and so far 73,000 ballots have arrived. But, of the 15,601 ballots that have already been counted, only 12,835 or 82% were valid. Almost every fifth ballot will be added to the invalid pile. Of course, we have no idea whether these ballots were spoiled on purpose or not, but in the final analysis it doesn’t matter. They will end up in the pile of protest votes.

Finally, in its latest poll Medián suggests that the referendum might not be valid because only 42% of the sampled population are sure they will vote. Almost a fourth disapprove of holding the referendum. Of this group 36% will remain at home, 18% will spoil the ballot, and 18% will vote yes. In addition to Medián, Publicus Research and Závecz Research will release polls between now and October 2.

An invalid ballot

An invalid ballot

Some of the opposition parties, most vocally Jobbik and the Demokratikus Koalíció, are demanding Viktor Orbán’s resignation in the event of an invalid referendum. Of course, he would not resign, but a failure would definitely be a political setback for Viktor Orbán. The more people stay home, the more people vote “yes” or spoil their ballots, the more embarrassing the whole affair will be. Orbán is in a high stakes game with, as far as we can see, a very small pot. Lots of risk, very little reward. If the referendum is invalid, Orbán’s reputation as a miracle worker will vanish. It will become clear that, after all, he is not unbeatable.

September 28, 2016

Spread of indifference and hate in Hungary

The events of the last few days have been shocking reminders that something has gone very wrong in Hungary in the last few years. Hungarian society has been poisoned by monstrous ideas. And it seems that the more the present government feels threatened, the more vicious it becomes in the hope of appealing to the beast in all of us.

Sometime ago I read about a study of the Orbán government’s social policy which appeared in the prestigious Journal of European Social Policy. It was written by a member of ELTE’s Faculty of Social Studies, a faculty whose existence has been threatened by the latest “university reforms.” She maintained that the present Hungarian government has no coherent social policy. One finds elements of neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, and etatism, all at the same time. She came to the conclusion that “the only aim of the government is the punishment of the poor.” What an indictment.

In a recent editorial in HVG, “Hate the weaker!,” the author recalls those instances when the Orbán government incited hatred against the homeless, the unemployed, and now the refugees. This government went so far as to change the constitution to legalize punishment of homeless people. The government pared back unemployment insurance benefits to only three months. Welfare payments have been cut to practically nothing, while public works programs are used to influence electoral outcomes. And now here are refugees arriving with only the clothes on their backs.

The government is inciting the population against foreigners in general even though in January 2014 only 1.4% of the population consisted of foreign nationals. Although the government talks about the huge numbers of applicants for refugee status, in 2014 only 360 political refugees received permission to stay in Hungary. These incitements are intended to divert attention from the incompetence (and worse) of the government, but their negative effect on the psyche of the population is immeasurable.

A lack of compassion is discernible among Fidesz politicians, even when working-class Hungarians are the victims. The other day a 21-year-old girl was murdered while working in one of the stores allowed to sell tobacco products. Her murderer, a young boy as it turned out, killed her for 22,000 ft. ($80.00). The interiors of these stores cannot be seen from the street. Their windows are covered; the doors are solid and cannot be left open. All that in the mistaken notion that young people, just by glancing at packs of cigarettes through the shop window, will take up smoking. As a result, the number of robberies at these stores has been far above the average. But at least until now no shopkeeper was killed. But here we have the first victim of this ludicrous new law. The owner of the store where the tragedy happened had enough. He decided that he is taking off the protective material from the shop windows of all his stores. He cares not whether it is against the law. He will not endanger the lives of his employees. One death was more than enough.

Will the government change the law which clearly serves no purpose and endangers lives? A reporter for Hír24 was all set this morning to ask the opinion of Fidesz politicians as they arrived in parliament. One after the other, starting with the prime minister, they went by without a word and without the slightest sign of sympathy for the victim. A few muttered that they had no time to say anything. Up to now over 200 comments have appeared commenting on this video, and practically all of them are highly critical of the whole Fidesz lot. One recurring accusation is that they were elected by the people and have an obligation to answer reporters’ questions. Another charge is that these Fidesz politicians refuse to answer because they haven’t yet received their orders from above. They simply don’t know what the “right answer” is. And finally, there are many who believe that Viktor Orbán and his minions are incapable of admitting that their decisions could be wrong. These people also predict that the law will not be changed.

How much does Fidesz’s anti-immigration policy stem from racist prejudices? The first reaction is that it has nothing to do with prejudice. Fidesz is not a racist party. Viktor Orbán is just using the anti-foreign card for political purposes. It is only Jobbik, the far-right neo-Nazi party, that owes its popularity to openly racist, anti-Roma and anti-Semitic ideology. But then what can we make of what happened today at a press conference given by László Pósán, a member of Fidesz since 1992 and a member of parliament from 1998?

Pósán is a historian who became an associate professor of history at the University of Debrecen after receiving his Ph.D. in 2000. He is a medievalist who specializes in the German principalities and has written a book on medieval Germany. This illustrious professor of history told journalists that to allow people of different cultural backgrounds to settle in Hungary would have very serious consequences. After all, what would parents think if their child, returning home from school, “was surrounded by six African blacks making threatening gestures?” Naturally, he fully supports Viktor Orbán’s ideas on immigration. If this isn’t racism, I don’t know what is.

For good measure he told a few horror stories about the Debrecen internment camp for political refugees. According to him, at one point there was a fight inside of the camp that was so serious that “600 policemen had to be called to the scene.” Well, being a historian myself, I  looked into the 2013 incident in the Debrecen camp. Apparently the camp was terribly overcrowded. Some of the inmates didn’t even have a bed to sleep on. They had to be satisfied with a mattress on the floor of the cafeteria. The fight broke out as a result of a football game between two different groups. As for the number of policeman, Index heard about 100-150, but they could not confirm the number. So much for Pósán’s 600 policemen.

The Debrecen refugee camp in June 2013

The Debrecen refugee camp in June 2013

On the other hand, while I was searching for details about the fight in the Debrecen camp, I found a 2009 article, also by Index, which perhaps tells us more about the real state of affairs than Pósán’s exaggerated story. It was about an Afghan refugee who jumped from a second-floor window, trying to commit suicide. He didn’t die but broke an arm and a leg and damaged his spine. He was to be sent back to Greece and, when the police arrived for him, he jumped. He was first caught in Greece, from where he escaped to Serbia. He was arrested in Serbia and spent 70 days in jail. It was at that point that he headed to Hungary, where he asked for refugee status. He was promised that after ten days he would be sent to Debrecen as a refugee waiting for approval or rejection of his case. Instead, on the thirteenth day after his arrival he was told that he would be sent back to Greece. Apparently, the treatment of refugees in Greece is much worse than in Hungary, and he certainly didn’t want to go back to Afghanistan where he feared for his life. He claimed that his father had already been murdered by the Taliban, and he was afraid that he would be next. His long journey from Afghanistan to Greece, Serbia, and Hungary indicates to me that he was most likely telling the truth. He was not a “megélhetési bevándorló” or, to use Miklós Haraszti’s English rendition, an “occupational immigrant.” A few hours after the suicide attempt 27 Afghan refugees began a hunger strike to protest against and try to escape the fate of deportation.