Tag Archives: Italy

Fact checking Viktor Orbán’s latest speech

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

Image and icons by Amy Crone / Voice of San Diego

Image and icons by Amy Crone / Voice of San Diego

Converting Catholic churches in France into mosques

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

Immigrant crime in Italy and the Scandinavian countries

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

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

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

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

Definition of rape in Sweden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viktor Orbán’s redefinition of the refugee crisis

Two days ago the Hungarian ministry of foreign affairs and trade posted a statement on its website that emphasized that “political refugees have always been accepted by Hungary.” Péter Szijjártó continued: “It is incumbent on Hungary to be generous because of its history and experience…. When war was still ravaging the Western Balkans, Hungary received the refugees arriving from there, who ran from the region to save their own and their families’ lives from the war, without any major international assistance.” This statement presaged the prime minister’s redefinition of who counts as a political refugee–which, as might be expected, does not include people from the Middle East.

The original EU plan to distribute by a quota system 60,000 refugees currently in Greece and Italy failed, mostly because of the unwillingness of former socialist countries to accept their share of the burden. Donald Tusk, the Polish president of the European Council, sided with them. By contrast, Jean-Claude Juncker has very serious doubts that the proposed plan of voluntary offers by individual countries can possibly solve the problem.

There are two countries that do not have to accept any refugees from Greece and Italy: Bulgaria and Hungary. Bulgaria because it is the poorest country in the European Union and Hungary because this year one-third of all newcomers ended up in Hungary, more people than actually reached Italy. So Hungary doesn’t have to take the 860 refugees from Greece and Italy, as set out in the original plan. But this victory was more than offset by the fact that Viktor Orbán had to agree to follow the Dublin III Regulation, which governs refugee policy within the Union.

I suspect, however, that Orbán is preparing a new assault on Brussels in his effort to keep Hungary unicultural. He seems to be laying the groundwork by redefining key terms in the debate.

Earlier Orbán divided the newcomers into “economic immigrants” and genuine “political refugees.” At the time when about 40,000 Kosovars began their journey northward, Orbán might have been right that these people from a terribly poor country were indeed seeking a better life somewhere in Western Europe. Since then, however, the migration from Kosovo has slowed to a trickle, and most of the people who now cross the Serbian-Hungarian border are Iraqis, Afghans, and Syrians.

In this new situation, Orbán tried to argue that, although these people come from war zones, by the time they arrive in Hungary they are no longer political refugees because earlier they reached safe countries like Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia where their lives were not threatened. It looks to me as if this argument didn’t make an impression in Brussels because Orbán claimed right after the long debate on the refugee question had ended that Hungary will follow the rules of the Dublin III Regulation.

The old arguments are no longer useful or applicable, so an entirely new approach is necessary. Orbán offered a historical analogy. He renamed the refugee crisis a modern Völkerwanderung, the age of migration, or the barbarian invasions of the early Middle Ages. I gave the German term first because the word Orbán used is its mirror translation (népvándorlás). Between about 300 A.D. and 900 A.D. whole ethnic groups moved from east to west, west to east, and north to south. The last such mass migration was that of the Hungarian tribes in 895 and the Vikings’ conquest of Great Britain.

Orbán’s latest brainstorm is that we are not simply confronted with individuals escaping war and persecution but we are facing a modern-day invasion of sorts, the result of which will be the formation of an entirely new political and cultural map of Europe. Under these circumstances the Dublin III Regulation is no longer applicable.

Of course, the description of the current refugee crisis as a modern-day Völkerwanderung is deeply flawed. Most of the movement of peoples in the early Middle Ages involved force and unitary leadership. This is certainly not the case today. I think Orbán himself understands that giving a new name to a phenomenon is not enough to change the essence of it. But somehow, he believes, language can still serve his cause. He is now in the process of giving a new definition to the word “refugee.”

The dictionary definition of “refugee” is simple enough: “one who flees, especially to another country, seeking refuge from war, political oppression, religious persecution, or a natural disaster.” Orbán decided to create his own peculiar definition of the term. In his view one can be called a refugee only if he is running for his life and escapes to a neighboring country. “Since Hungary is not adjacent to Syria, when a migrant arrives at our door he is no longer a refugee.” Orbán, like Szijjártó, brought up the case of the Yugoslav refugees of the early 1990s who were real refugees, unlike those who arrive in Hungary today. If a refugee situation developed along the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, “that would be our responsibility.” The current crisis is obviously not. If tens of thousands of people sought refuge in Hungary from Ukraine he wouldn’t count on the help of the European Union.

I assume this mad talk is mainly for domestic consumption because I can’t quite believe that Orbán would dare deliver such a speech in front of his colleagues in the European Council.

In a Greek refugee camp

In a Greek refugee camp

I also doubt that Orbán will share his thoughts on the sole responsibility of Greece and Italy to handle the massive refugee crisis. According to Orbán, the problem is that Greece and Italy don’t comply with the regulations of Dublin III when they allow migrants to move on to other countries north in order to reach Hungary. All those who went through Greece should be returned to that country. Orbán made it crystal clear that Hungary doesn’t want to have any refugees and hence no refugee camps. All such camps should be set up only in Greece and Italy, which are officially declared to be “front countries.” Greece already in 2013 had 1.1 million refugees, or 10% of the whole population.

Judging from Orbán’s references to the status of front countries, it looks as if Hungary was either offered and declined or decided not even to apply for front-country status which it was entitled to, given the very high number of refugees appearing at its southern border. Such a status would have meant financial assistance to the tune of 130-160 million euros instead of the current 1.5 million. Orbán didn’t take advantage of this opportunity for obvious reasons. He does not want to see any refugees in Hungary, period.

I don’t know how much of this is only idle talk. But even if only half of it represents the Hungarian government’s considered position, I can foresee another round of sparring between Viktor Orbán and the European Commission.