Tag Archives: Johanna Mikl-Leitner

Viktor Orbán’s solution to the refugee crisis has been discarded

I really hate leaving the topic of the teachers’ revolt because I am convinced that this is an important event that may have lasting consequences in the political life of Hungary. Of course, we will return to the subject by Saturday at the latest. But, although Hungarians in the eighteenth century liked to think that “extra Hungariam non est vita, si est vita, non est ita” (there is no life outside of Hungary and if there is, it is not the same), the world is currently teeming with events that may have a substantial impact on Hungary, which Viktor Orbán is trying to insulate from the rest of the world.

I think it is patently obvious by now that the Hungarian prime minister imagines himself to be a key player on the world stage. In the last few weeks he has positioned himself as a counterweight to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, offering an alternative policy of how to handle the refugee issue.

Russian bombers are furiously attacking moderate opposition forces in Syria, driving tens of thousands more people into exile in Turkey and thereby swelling the number of refugees who are embarking on the dangerous voyage to Greece and from there to points farther north. In bombing Aleppo, Russia is wittingly or unwittingly exacerbating the crisis within the European Union, fueled in no small measure by Viktor Orbán himself. Clearly, Europe must find a solution to the crisis. It’s not that even two or three million people couldn’t be absorbed by a region of 500 million inhabitants, but such numbers, especially if the refugees swarm into only one or two countries, can become unmanageable.  So, the influx must be slowed and regulated.

Currently there are two very different concepts in circulation regarding the defense of the European Union’s external borders. One is an orderly resettlement of refugees, which involves slowing the influx of refugees by controlling the Aegean Sea. This idea is supported by Angela Merkel. The other is “the brainchild” of Viktor Orbán and is supported by some of the Central European politicians. The greatest supporter of Orbán’s scheme is Miro Cerar, prime minister of Slovenia. This involves constructing an insurmountable fence between Greece and her three neighbors:  Macedonia, Albania, and Bulgaria. Which of these two plans has the better chance of being approved at the end of the day? Most observers think that Orbán’s plan will fail because “it would needlessly and unfairly antagonize Greece, destabilize the Western Balkans, and create a huge demand for readily available smuggling services.” In addition, it would require a fence as long as and as sturdy as that between Israel and Egypt that took three years to build. It would also entail a willingness to use deadly force.

As the result of Orbán’s masterplan, Hungary’s relations with Greece are strained. How tense they are became public only very recently when Nikos Xydakis, the Greek deputy foreign minister for European affairs, paid a visit to Budapest. The Greek foreign ministry announced on February 8 that Xydakis, whom the Greeks call “alternate minister,” was to visit Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary. In Austria he had a meeting scheduled with Minister of the Interior Johanna Mikl-Leitner and the secretary-general of the Austrian foreign ministry, Michael Linhart. From Vienna he was to travel to Slovakia, where he was to have a meeting with Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák and Deputy Foreign Minister for European Affairs, Ivan Korčok. Finally, he was to meet with officials in Budapest.

Xydakis got a mouthful from Johanna Mikl-Leitner, who severely criticized Greek measures taken in keeping the refugees at bay. She “wanted to know why the Greek leadership did not use its deployment-ready naval fleet for civilian purposes.” In Bratislava, where he met with the foreign minister himself, he had an easier time. Their meeting was described as friendly. Instead of criticizing Greece, the Slovak foreign minister wanted to hear about Greece’s refugee management.

In Hungary Xydakis had three meetings. One was with Interior Minister Sándor Pintér, the second with Levente Magyar, deputy to Péter Szijjártó, and the third with Szabolcs Ferenc Takács, undersecretary in charge of European affairs. We don’t know what transpired at these talks, but Xydakis wasn’t in a very good mood when Népszabadság asked him for an interview. He minced no words, calling Hungarian policy towards Greece “hostile.” Hungary hasn’t even sent one tent to Greece, and it contributed only five policemen to the staff of Frontex’s mission. At the same time Hungary sent 100 km of barbed wire and 31 soldiers and policemen to assist in the building of a fence along the Greek-Macedonian border. “This was a political decision, which we consider to be a hostile act from a NATO ally and an EU partner whom we considered our friend. The Macedonian and Bulgarian action is unfriendly, but it understandable that they want to defend their own borders. What, however, is unacceptable is that other EU countries send policemen and soldiers to the Macedonian-Greek and Bulgarian-Greek borders. Who is the enemy? We, the Greeks?”

From the interview we learned that both Vienna and Bratislava offered material aid to Greece, which has had an influx of almost a million refugees. In Budapest Pintér offered nothing. He said only that he will take a look at the list of items Greece desperately needs. Xydakis also reported during the interview that German-Greek relations, which during the Greek financial crisis were severely strained, have improved greatly. The refugee crisis has brought Germany and Greece closer, and today they work hand in hand because collaboration is an absolute necessity under the present circumstances.

In Xydakis the Hungarians found somebody who is not like the usual overly cautious and overly diplomatic West European politicians. Xydakis, who is relatively new to politics, used to be the editor-in-chief of Greece’s premier daily Kathimerini. Knowing the Orbán regime’s policy of immediate counterattack at the slightest criticism of its policies, you can imagine what Péter Szijjártó had to say after reading this interview. The diatribe against Greece was long, but one can summarize it easily: Greece has no right to give lessons on solidarity. It is entirely Greece’s fault that Europe is defenseless because Greece isn’t fulfilling its obligations. Hungary had the remedy from the very beginning: one needs soldiers, policemen, ships, helicopters, airplanes, not Frontex officials. If Europe is ready to defend the border by force, Hungary is ready to contribute to the effort.

Source: The Independent

Source: The Independent

I wonder what Szijjártó thinks now that a few hours ago the decision was made to deploy the NATO fleet to the Aegean Sea. The decision was made right after Greece declared Turkey a “safe third country,” which gives it the legal framework to turn back asylum-seekers arriving through Turkey. The fleet, which is currently under German command, “will be tasked to conduct reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of the illegal crossings in the Aegean sea.” It seems that the West, which has been so severely criticized by Orbán, is quite capable of acting without his assistance. The idea of keeping Greece under quarantine failed. I wonder what will happen to the 100 km of barbed wire Budapest sent to the Macedonian border.

February 11, 2016

Viktor Orbán at a crossroads: Alone or together?

By all objective standards Viktor Orbán’s refugee policy is a resounding failure. The hastily constructed fence, as predicted, is useless. This past weekend almost 9,000 refugees arrived in the country. The Hungarian government’s handling of the crisis has been roundly criticized, and by today Germany with the assistance of Austria decided to bend the rules and deal with the situation in a “flexible manner,” which meant taking over the registration of the would-be immigrants from the incompetent and malevolent Hungarian government.

Yet, from the point of view of the Orbán government the outcome of the protracted refugee crisis may not be a total loss. Yes, a lot of money was spent on anti-refugee propaganda and western powers are horrified at the heartless measures introduced and/or contemplated by the Hungarian government. But according to the latest public opinion poll by the Republikon Institute, as a result of the “firm” attitude of the government regarding the refugee issue, the downward slide of Fidesz’s popularity has stopped. The anti-refugee propaganda also reinforced the xenophobic tendencies of Hungarians to the point that, by now, 66% of the population believe that “the refugees pose a danger to Hungary and therefore they shouldn’t be allowed” into the country. Only 19% think that “it is the duty of Hungary to accept them.”

The most vociferous opponents of a generous immigration policy are the Fidesz voters (79%). They even surpass followers of Jobbik (71%). But even supporters of the opposition parties are not too keen on foreigners. For example, 64% of MSZP voters and 52% of LMP supporters harbor anti-immigration sentiments. DK voters polled lowest, at 47%, but this number is still surprisingly high given the liberal disposition of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s followers. Thus, one can safely say that a large majority of Hungarians would recommend strong measures against the influx of refugees and support Orbán’s categorical refusal to accept any refugees whatsoever.

It is another matter, however, whether the policies that have been introduced thus far satisfy the expectations of the electorate. Again, by objective standards, they shouldn’t because the results of these efforts, legislative and otherwise, are zilch. Yet I don’t think that Fidesz’s attempt to gain political advantage from the immigration crisis is in jeopardy. The government can always blame the European Union for its failures. Laying the blame on Brussels is a relatively easy task given the total confusion that reigns in the capitals of the member states and in Brussels itself.

Today’s events are a perfect example of that confusion. Yesterday the ministry of interior categorically announced that without a passport and a valid visa nobody can leave the country. Never mind that in the last few months more than 100,000 people left without either of these documents. This morning the same ministry claimed that there will be plenty of space in Hungarian jails for “illegal immigrants.”

By midday the Hungarian government blamed Germany for the situation that had developed at the railway stations in Budapest and elsewhere. András Giró-Szász, one of the government spokesmen, not without justification complained that Hungary has followed all of the Dublin III regulations governing immigration procedures when it is now Germany that has shown “a more permissive attitude toward Syrian refugees … which has raised hopes among the illegal immigrants who possibly come from Syria.” He asked the German government “to clarify the legal situation.”

Then something happened at the Eastern Railway Station (Keleti) between six and seven this morning. Within an hour all the policemen who were supposed to make sure that no refugee gets on any train heading west disappeared. Within minutes the news spread that Syrian refugees can embark on their journey to Germany where they are being welcomed. That meant a sudden reversal of Hungarian policy, which was undoubtedly prompted by a telephone call from Angela Merkel to Viktor Orbán. The Austrians stopped the two trains carrying the refugees at the border, but after making sure that the trains were not overcrowded they let them proceed to Germany.

The trains at the Austro-Hungarian border,August 31, 2015

The trains at the Austro-Hungarian border, August 31, 2015

I’m not sure whether, after the German change of policy, the Hungarian government will proceed with its plans to modify the criminal code, which would lay the groundwork for declaring a state of emergency. This might be incompatible with Hungary’s membership in the European Union. It seems, however, that the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia will hold a mini-summit in Prague on Friday. It was expected that these countries would stand together in their refusal to take any refugees. But Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz of Poland announced today that, given the changed situation, Poland is ready to accept far more than the 2,200 refugees it had offered at the time the quota system was originally discussed. So the staunchest holdouts may be limited to the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia.

As 444.hu said, a Kulturkamp has broken out between Western and Eastern Europe over the refugee issue. While the west wants to return to a discussion of quotas, the former socialist countries are refusing to accept any such solution. The tension is palpable. Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner used strong words today. She announced that “pressure should be put on those countries” that refuse to cooperate. In her opinion, Brussels might reduce the amount of support for the recalcitrant member states.

The easterners keep repeating that they want to remain Christian countries. Robert Fico is perhaps the least bashful in expressing this view, saying that Slovakia is willing to take 250 immigrants but they must not be Muslims. But the Poles, Estonians, and Czechs feel the same way about “refugees who come from a different cultural background,” as Miloš Zeman rather politely put it. As a result, in the Western European countries one often hears about the “heartlessness” of East Europeans while they stress their own humane attitudes. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls yesterday recited Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus”: “Give me your tired, your poor, /Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.” Italy, Austria, and Germany have indicated that if there is no common solution, free movement within the European Union cannot be maintained.

Four days ago an opinion piece,”The price of zero,” appeared in Népszabadság by the excellent veteran journalist Endre Aczél. He begins his piece by saying that he wasn’t at all surprised that it was Germany that first decided to abandon the “Dublin Convention” and not to send refugees back to the countries where they reached the territory of the European Union. The Germans remember their own post-World War II history when 14 million Germans were forced to move from east to west. The Germans, the French, and the Italians contemplate a pan-European solution. But Thomas de Maiziere, German minister of the interior, “quietly” mentioned the possibility of guarding national borders in the future. “Anyone, like Orbán, who declares zero acceptance of immigrants should think twice: What would be the benefit or advantage from limitations to Hungarians’ free movement within the European Union?” Of course, it would be a terrible blow. If it came to that, Viktor Orbán wouldn’t be prime minister of Hungary for long. One wouldn’t even have to wait for the next scheduled election.

Viktor Orbán’s message to Brussels

Viktor Orbán is again marching to a different drummer. While European politicians and leaders of the European Union are working hard to find a humane and peaceful solution to the refugee crisis, the Hungarian prime minister is preparing for war–war against anyone who tries to seek refuge in Hungary.

Angela Merkel, by legalizing the settlement of Syrian refugees in Germany, took a step in the right direction. But Germany cannot solve the problem alone; there must be a common effort by the 28 member states. Johanna Mikl-Leitner, the Austrian interior minister, is also of the opinion that bona fide refugees should be given a permanent home, a step that should end the kind of human trafficking that resulted in the death of those 71 people who were found in an abandoned truck on an Austrian highway. Viktor Orbán and the politicians of the party he leads, however, see it otherwise. The Hungarian government will not accept anyone, refugee or not, and today officials worked to make sure that they will have the legal means to introduce draconian measures.

The day started with Zoltán Kovács, government spokesman, blaming the refugees who died in that truck for their own death. Since there is no war situation in the Balkan countries, there was no reason for them to escape to (and through) Hungary. “Therefore we are talking about people who make themselves victims.”

Yesterday János Lázár and Antal Rogán laid the groundwork for the government’s response to the waves of people entering Hungary when they insisted that the use of the army along the border and modifications of the criminal code are necessary because of the “growing aggressiveness” of the asylum seekers. It matters not that the ministry of interior is unaware of any such aggressiveness, which is not a criminal category in any event.

Jobbik and Fidesz are vying with each other to see which party can come up with the most hateful anti-refugee propaganda and which one can suggest the most severe measures against the asylum seekers. This rivalry is especially evident when it comes to the question of deploying the army along the border. Gábor Vona, chairman of the neo-Nazi Jobbik party, submitted a proposal yesterday to modify the constitution to allow the use of arms in the defense of the borders because, as Ádám Mirkóczky, deputy chairman of Jobbik, said, “a situation may arise when the soldiers and/or the police must use firearms to defend themselves.” Fidesz claims that the government can achieve the same end without touching the constitution. Their proposal also includes the use of “coercive instruments.” They can use guard dogs, rubber bullets, pyrotechnics, tear gas, and netting to stop the people at the border. Also, they can use firearms “if they encounter an attack which seriously endangers life or causes bodily harm, or if the asylum seekers attack an object under surveillance.” The troops will be moving into the transit zone on September 15. Because there is no real difference between the two positions, I have no doubt that Jobbik will assist Fidesz in enacting this horrendous new law.

What else is waiting for the refugees and those who try to help them? The punishment for climbing over the fence will be three years in jail. Taking part in a mass disturbance warrants a maximum five-year jail term. If someone loses his life during the disturbance, any participant could end up in jail for a term of five to ten years. Those who are found guilty will be automatically expelled from the country even if that means forcible separation from their families. There are a few exceptions to these rules: the expulsion of pregnant women and mothers of children under the age of one can be postponed, but only if their stay in the country doesn’t seriously endanger public safety and public order. In addition, the police can enter private property without a warrant if they suspect that Hungarian citizens are hiding refugees in their homes.

It will be much worse soon / AFP-photo Attila Kisbenedek

It will probably be much worse soon / AFP-photo Attila Kisbenedek

As for refugee camps, the government finally came up with the “perfect” solution. Several “transit zones” will be created along the border. They will be fenced in on the Hungarian side but will be open on the Serbian side. The refugees will have to enter one of these camps, which will protrude sixty meters into Hungary. The necessary land will be expropriated from the present owners. After processing the applications, authorities will make a decision within eight days about the fate of the refugees. It is quite clear from the messages we get from Fidesz politicians that nobody will be considered a refugee who comes through any Balkan country. So basically, they will go through the rigmarole of registering the refugees, which is necessary to comply with current EU rules, and then will deny them entrance to the country on the ground that they are not refugees. That will be the Hungarian solution to the refugee crisis.

Finally, Fidesz decided to send a message, in the form of a parliamentary resolution, to Brussels, “whose irresponsible policies are responsible for the death of people.” The resolution, titled “Message to the leaders of the European Union,” was submitted by seven Fidesz and two Christian Democratic politicians, among them important people like Antal Rogán, leader of the Fidesz delegation, Péter Harrach, leader of the Christian Democrats, Gergely Gulyás, the legal whiz of the party, and Szilárd Németh, the heavyweight in more than one ways who was in charge of utility rate cuts two years ago.

The resolution continues: “We must declare that every European politician who encourages the immigrants with the hope of a better life to leave everything behind, to imperil their lives, and to begin their journey toward Europe is irresponsible.” I guess this includes Angela Merkel, who by allowing Syrians to settle in Germany is actually encouraging them to pack up and leave. The document, speaking in the name of all Central European countries, goes on to say that they “cannot be the injured party as a result of the mistaken policies of Brussels.” Furthermore, they have “the right to defend [their] culture, language, [and] values.” Therefore they “call on the leaders of the European Union to listen to the voice of the people. Get their senses back and defend Europe and the European citizens.”

I worry about the fate of the refugees who try to cross into Hungary. I fear that Brussels may soon have cause to turn the Hungarian government’s own words against it: that its “irresponsible [I would say cruel] policies [were] responsible for the death of people.”

From the government’s words and actions in this refugee crisis it’s hard not to conclude that it is made up of a bunch of psychopaths. Just consider the first eight characteristics of Robert Hare’s checklist to determine who is a psychopath: glibness and superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse, emotional shallowness, callousness and lack of empathy, unwillingness to accept responsibility for actions. Check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check.