György Konrád, a highly respected Hungarian writer whose first book, The Case Worker (1969), brought him international fame, wrote an article “Human flow” (Emberfolyam) in the March 25 issue of Élet és Irodalom. It is an argument against the influx of Muslim refugees. Konrád, to the great disappointment of many of his admirers, hasn’t hidden his negative views on mixing cultures and religions in Europe. For at least a year he has been voicing his opinions in the public media and, in fact, went so far as to write an op/ed piece for The New York Times in which he praised Viktor Orbán for his farsightedness in recognizing the danger of the “migrants.”
The influx of over a million refugees to the territory of the European Union is, of course, the subject of fierce debate. Many people who are not at all xenophobic fear the consequences of such a sudden, large influx of people coming from a different culture. They are convinced that the refugees cannot be absorbed by the mainstream and foresee “parallel societies” developing within the European Union. On the other side are those who, for both practical and humanitarian reasons, argue that the refugees should be accepted and assisted. The practical consideration is Europe’s aging population due to its low birthrate. Most of these newcomers are young people, as is the case in any mass movement of this kind.
As I noted earlier, we have known Konrád’s views for quite a while. But this was the first time that he put his thoughts into writing, aside from the short English-language piece in The New York Times. If I read the general reaction of Konrád’s admirers correctly, it is one of total dismay over the message he delivered. The opposition media has acted as if the article had never been published. Only Magyar Idők and Pesti Srácok talked about Konrád’s “conquering immigration” in an approving way. So, I decided to tackle certain parts of the text in an attempt to decipher Konrád’s views on Islam.
This is not an easy task because a great number of Konrád’s assumptions about the Muslim refugees are just that, assumptions. He also paints with a broad stroke. He doesn’t distinguish between the moderate form of Islamism and the ideology of those jihadists whom we see on TV beheading their victims. For him, all varieties can be called “Islamofascism,” a controversial term which, according to most scholars, should be avoided. Yet Konrád chooses to draw a direct parallel between Islamism, Nazism, and communism. All three are enemies of democracy. He admits that not all Muslims are jihadists, “only their minority, but the majority of Muslims are Islamists.” Hence the majority of the arrivals are Islamists “who possess a totalitarian mindset and who are ready to employ ruthless measures against those standing in their way.” These are most likely completely wrong assumptions about the refugees, who in many cases escaped from precisely those relatively few jihadists of whom Konrád is rightly afraid.
What other characteristics does Konrád attach to the refugees, with whom he has had no direct contact whatsoever? According to him, “most of the Muslim totalitarians feel oppressed, and because of their backwardness due to a lack of freedom they have a good dose of resentment.” At the beginning they are grateful, but “once they become stronger they will present their demands.” They will not integrate easily because “they don’t consider European culture and humanism superior to their own.” Konrád believes that in Muslim societies “communities exist not next to each other, but the order of communities is vertical: one is either above or below.” Once they are the majority they will be on top and the Jews and Christians beneath them. So, most Muslim refugees look down on European civilization and democracy and consider Islam superior. Eventually, they will want to change and take over the land that welcomed them and gave them shelter.
A refugee or immigrant should be eternally grateful: “in the olden days immigrants greeted the natives politely, not like now.” As these people settle, they become more self-confident and actually want to “change the skyline.” That means they want to build mosques. Those Europeans who took these people in will notice that “the newcomers are not so grateful anymore; they demand more and more. And the immigrants will realize that the natives are not so kind anymore.” So, if I understand Konrád correctly, immigrants can never really be members of the accepting society with the same rights as natives. Immigrant communities shouldn’t be able to worship in their own churches. Well, let’s leave the Muslim community for a moment and, in a thought experiment, apply these same measures to Russian and Polish Jews or for that matter to the downtrodden Slovak and Hungarian peasants who arrived in the United States before World War I. They eventually had the temerity to build synagogues and churches where their own rabbis, priests, and ministers looked after the immigrant flock. What would we think of a society that made a distinction between immigrants and their descendants and the so-called natives who must be politely greeted? A preposterous view.
Konrád also shares his view of the nature of the “human flow.” Although he is certainly right that integration will be more difficult than if only 10,000 people had arrived in Germany, it is shocking to discover that Konrád’s ideas are practically identical to those of László Földi, the Islamophobic intelligence officer from the Kádár era who is convinced that these masses have been sent to Europe by their Islamist leaders. As Konrád puts it, “with the newly arrived migrant masses came their superiors” who will keep them in the fold. A little later he is quite explicit. “The wandering masses don’t follow the authorities of the countries they are heading toward, but they are regulated by those under whose guidance the march is conducted.” Moreover, “the immigrants are not individuals but parts of the extensive Muslim nation who will become members of a minority parallel society.” This is a total denial of these people’s individuality and free will. Their “superiors” move them about as if they were pawns on a chess board.
Although there are several more outlandish assertions in Konrád’s article, I will close this post with his not at all original argument that these people are not really refugees because, if they were, they would stay in the countries neighboring Syria. But no, they want to settle in countries with high living standards. Therefore, one becomes very suspicious of their motives.
If we compare the present flow of refugees to the Hungarian case after 1956, it becomes evident that this argument is unsound. The 1956 refugees were quite numerous, all fled within a couple of months, and if the Hungarian and Russian forces hadn’t managed to close the borders by the end of the year more people would have packed up and tried to cross into Austria. Where did most of these Hungarians go? To the United States and Canada and other “rich” countries. I very much doubt that a Hungarian refugee, if he could have chosen, would have picked Colombia over Canada, the United States, or Germany. If one has the choice one will pick the country considered to be most advantageous. This is human nature. It has nothing to do with the Muslim psyche.
Moreover, in Konrád’s view their decision to settle in “rich places” might backfire. “They heard this and that, but they don’t know what is waiting for them.” Although he doesn’t spell out just what it is that awaits them, he writes that “to bear homelessness in richer Western European countries” is more difficult than elsewhere. This is so even for those “central Europeans who are looking for better paying jobs in these countries.” I don’t know where Konrád gets the idea that Hungarian immigrants in Germany or the United Kingdom have a particularly difficult time and that perhaps their integration would be easier in Poland or Romania. The newcomers’ “natural habitat is the Near East and North Africa,” where they should have stayed. Similarly, Hungarians and Poles also have their natural habitat where they feel at home. Thus, Konrád practically ties people to their homelands and claims that life outside a certain geographic area is unnatural and in the final analysis goes against human nature.
As I said at the beginning of the post, there has been a deafening silence in the Hungarian opposition media since the appearance of Konrád’s article. But I saw an interview that Krisztina Bombera conducted with him. At the end of the interview she asked Konrád whether those Orthodox Jews who escaped to America from the pogroms of Tsarist Russia were not in a similar situation to the Muslims arriving in Europe today. They also came from a very different culture. Didn’t Konrád see parallels here? No, he didn’t.
I’m sorry that Konrád felt compelled to write this article.