Tag Archives: migrants

A new declaration of war: Justice for Hungary!

I had no intention of writing about Trianon today. The truth is that I had completely forgotten about the “Day of National Unity” until I began skimming the Hungarian media’s headlines this morning. Some of these headlines piqued my curiosity and prompted me to read further. What I found astounded me.

I assume that most people even vaguely familiar with the history of modern-day Hungary know that the Treaty of Trianon was the peace treaty between the by then independent Kingdom of Hungary and the Allied and Associated Powers. It was signed somewhat belatedly on June 4, 1920, almost two years after the end of World War I. The demand for a day of remembrance originally came from Jobbik, but it was promptly adopted by the new Orbán government.

My decision to read an assortment of articles on Trianon turned out to be wise because I found some real gems among them. From the interpretations there emerges a fascinating sociological and psychological portrait of the Fidesz regime. It’s not pretty, but it may help us to understand the thinking of Viktor Orbán’s propaganda machine. In light of the official government announcement by János Lázár, this particular Day of National Unity may be a turning point in the Orbán government’s handling of the Trianon issue.

The first problem is the false historical background these far-right, nationalistic authors present in their writings. The general thesis is that Hungary was the blameless victim of those nationalities that Hungary’s rulers allowed to settle in Hungary at various times over history. In their interpretation, the nationalities in pre-1918 Hungary had extensive rights, and their continued national existence was in no way threatened. In fact, it was the cursed liberalism of the Hungarian political elite that was responsible for the growing number of non-Hungarians at the expense of Hungarians. This statement, by the way, is erroneous.

In almost all these writings journalists and politicians portray present-day Hungary not terribly differently from the “victim” that was being torn apart by hostile neighbors in 1918-1919. At least one of the commentators, György Pilhál of Magyar Idők, who labels the members of the Little Entente hyenas, considers Hungary’s present neighbors just as antagonistic toward Hungarians as their people were 100 years ago. Hungary is still being besieged and unfairly treated, just as in the past.

Moreover, Pilhál continues, cataloging Hungarian woes, before Trianon there was the Mongol devastation in 1241, the Battle of Mohács in 1524 which signaled the beginning of 150 years of Ottoman rule, and the surrender at Világos in 1849 after a lost war of independence. Pilhál ends this greatly distorted historical summary with the following remarkable words: “Do you want to flood this mutilated, blood-soaked remainder of the homeland with migrants? No, No, Never!” Thus, the migrant question today is being elevated to the level of the most significant dates in Hungarian history. Just as Hungarians had to face the Mongols, the Turks, and the hostile Austrians and Russians, now if they don’t stand fast they might end up being victims of the onslaught of migrants, which would be the equivalent of a second Trianon.

György Pilhál’s son Tamás, who works as a journalist for Pesti Srácok, also wrote an opinion piece that in some ways is even more interesting than his father’s. He also has some harsh words for members of the Little Entente, but in his eyes the real perpetrators were the allies. “The West, with capital letters, cut our hands and feet and threw us among to-this-day antagonistic neighbors that had been fattened by our body parts.” These new neighbors hate the Hungarians because they know that they were conceived in sin and received their territories as a result of unforgivable injustice. Therefore, they don’t feel secure within their own borders. They are not really robbers or thieves, “they are only fencers of stolen goods.” The real criminals obviously are the western powers. “The West is Trianon itself. They have never apologized, they have never tried to rectify their sins and lessen the damage.”

How can Hungary regain its former position as a mid-sized power in Europe? Just as the historian of the Trianon Museum suggested, Hungarians must “repopulate the Carpathian Basin.” Well, he used a more amorous, untranslatable expression “szeressük vissza Magyarországot!” which more or less means getting Hungary back by love-making. This is not a very different formulation from the one Szilárd Németh, Fidesz vice-chairman, uttered a while back, according to which the world belongs to the nation that populates it. So, the only way of getting back Hungary’s former glory is through “the modification of the national scale.” And the horizon is not the “mock borders” of Trianon but at least the confines of the Carpathian Basin.

The third piece is by István Stefka. His ideas might strike readers as outright bizarre, but he fervently believes everything he says. It was about a week ago that I saw him on a television program where three other journalists, including a conservative one, tried to convince him in vain that his theories are untenable. He too sees a second Trianon coming through the activities of George Soros, who is “the Béla Kun, György Lukács, Oszkár Jászi, and Mihály Károlyi combined, who with his civic organizations wants to ruin the country.” Hungary 27 years ago regained its sovereignty, but “now not with weapons, but with scheming, lies, ignominy, hard financial influence, and paying off internal enemies” Soros and like-minded people want to take away Hungary’s mastery over its own affairs. If the Hungarian socialists and left-liberals don’t stand by the people and follow Soros and Co., “they can no longer be considered part of the nation.” In that case, they are also working toward the destruction of Hungary.

Let me now turn to a more official source: the second most important man in the Orbán government, János Lázár. In a speech yesterday he sent the following message to Brussels: “It’s time for our neighbors and the leaders of Europe to acknowledge and adjust their policies accordingly: the Hungarian nation is the victim of Trianon and not its originator and perpetrator.” It is unacceptable that the only thing the leaders of the neighboring countries can say is that it’s time for the Hungarians to get over their old grievances. “The Hungarian nation should receive if not material at least moral reparations for the greatest injustice in world history.” He added that “we don’t want any change of the borders and especially not ethnic tension … new wars in Europe … but that doesn’t mean that we will tolerate the provocations, the repeated violations of our national sensibility for another 100 years. Yes, we can say even now: “Justice for Hungary!” which was the cry for revision after 1929.

I strongly suspect that these new words were not born in the heat of a fiery nationalistic speech. The Orbán government seems to have decided to open another front in its war against Europe, this time for a reinterpretation of the Treaty of Trianon. This is a serious turn of events that may not bode well for peace in the region.

June 4, 2017

The Hungarian government’s shameful treatment of asylum seekers

On Sunday, March 5, 2017, a report from Belgrade was published in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. It claimed that refugees “with visible traces of Hungary’s brutal policies” had told the Swedish journalist about severe beatings with batons by Hungarian policeman. The officers also used attack dogs. Their stories were confirmed by Andrea Contenta of Doctors Without Borders. According to him, the number of incidents has multiplied of late. There was at least one day when 20 people needed medical attention. One of the asylum seekers ended up into the emergency room of the nearby hospital. Accompanying the story were photos of the men with visible wounds and bruises.

In no time all the major newspapers of Europe and the United States picked up Aftonbladet’s story, which was followed by a worldwide condemnation of the Hungarian government’s treatment of asylum seekers. A day later the Hungarian ministry of interior released a statement that Magyar Nemzet described as an “ill-tempered personal attack.” In it, the ministry “categorically repudiated the unproven accusations that appeared in the international and domestic media” leveled against the Hungarian government. The ministry called attention to the fact that such accusations usually occur when “Hungary is forced, in the defense of the European Union and its own citizens, to strengthen its borders.” The press release also noted that Doctors Without Borders is supported by George Soros. As for the few possible incidents, Hungarian prosecutors have already investigated eight cases, six of which turned out to be bogus. The denial of these reports continued today when Zoltán Kovács, a government spokesman, declared that the report of Doctors Without Borders is nothing more than a pack of lies.

But that was not all. On March 7, two days after the Swedish newspaper story, the Hungarian parliament passed a new piece of legislation that will force all asylum seekers into detention camps. UPI’s report specifically recounted that “although [the law] was fiercely criticized after its submission last month, the legislation won near-unanimous approval … by a vote of 138-6.” This lopsided vote was the result of the abstention of MSZP members of parliament, a sign of their usual ambivalence when it comes to the migrant issue. While their cases are being decided, asylum seekers, including women and children over the age of 14, will be herded into shipping containers surrounded by a high razor-fence on the Hungarian side. These camps will be wide open on the Serbian side. Therefore, Hungarian government officials can declare with some justification that the people inside these camps are not incarcerated; they just can’t step onto Hungarian soil.

On the very same day that Fidesz-KDNP and Jobbik members of parliament voted for the bill that was to receive worldwide opprobrium, Viktor Orbán delivered a short speech at the swearing-in ceremony of 462 new “border hunters.” In the speech he called the new recruits’ job a “calling” in “the service of the country and the defense of the Hungarian people.” He pointed out that even if there is at the moment no migrant pressure at the borders of Europe, Hungary must be prepared for repeated onslaughts of migrants. It is for that reason that the Hungarian government will build a new fence which, according to some reports, might be attached to a source of low-voltage electricity. He described “migration as a Trojan horse of terrorism,” which assumes that all migrants are potential terrorists. Or perhaps one could go even further and interpret this sentence as akin to the contention of those American Islamophobes who say that Islam is not really a religion but rather an ideology of terrorism.

Another memorable Orbán line from this speech addressed the dichotomy between human rights and the law. Those migrants who cross Hungary’s border break the law. “This is reality which cannot be overwritten by all that rarified claptrap about human rights.” Orbán certainly doesn’t beat around the bush. Human rights are not something he worries or cares about. In fact, he is ready to transgress them in the name of “reality.”

A day later Magyar Nemzet reported that Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, expressed his “deep concern” over the detention of asylum seekers in guarded camps which, in his opinion, violates the obligations spelled out in the European Convention of Human Rights. And he is not alone. Two rapporteurs of the Council, Tineke Strik and Doris Fiala, asked János Áder to refuse to countersign this new law that most likely is in violation of international agreements. Zeid bin Ra’ad al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, considers it “a far cry from international norms” and recommends its withdrawal.

As far as the European Commission is concerned, there seems to be a shift in its position toward this latest outrage. At first Margaritis Schinas, the chief spokesperson of the Commission, informed inquiring journalists that the Commission would not make a statement now but would wait until the law comes into effect. A day later, however, another spokesperson, Natasha Bertaud, told Népszava’s correspondent in Brussels that Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU commissioner for migration, will be dispatched to Budapest “to conduct serious negotiations with the Hungarian authorities about the amendments to the Asylum Act.”

By now I don’t have much hope that any international organization, be it the United Nations, the Council of Europe, or the European Commission, will be able to influence Hungarian policies either on the migrant question or on the transgression of democratic norms. Here and there one can hear from European politicians that the Hungarian government’s behavior should at least have financial consequences, but so far Brussels has been unwilling to punish Hungary for the actions of its government.

There are times when Viktor Orbán, despite all his bluster, quietly falls into line. Like today, when he cast his vote for the reelection of Donald Tusk as president of the European Council. Orbán abandoned his best friend and comrade Jarosław Kaczyński and voted for “the icon of immorality and stupidity,” as the Polish foreign minister called Donald Tusk. There are steps which even Orbán is reluctant to take.

March 9, 2017

Another summit, another battle: Viktor Orbán forges on

In this post I’m covering an unfinished story: the Brussels summit of the European Council that is taking place today and tomorrow. I believe, however, that I have enough Hungarian material to make some tentative predictions about the outcome as far as the Hungarian prime minister is concerned.

First, I want to emphasize that today’s summit looks very different from Budapest than it does from Germany, France, Great Britain, and the United States. The western media considers this particular meeting to be “a minefield” of “sensitive, explosive” stuff, but the topics so identified bear no resemblance to the ones described in the Hungarian press. The top challenges, seen from the West, are sanctions against Russia, the situations in Ukraine and Syria, and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. Naturally, the migrant crisis will also be on the agenda, with the discussion centering on how to stop further migration from the Libyan coast to Italy.

Someone who relies exclusively on Hungarian sources would be surprised to hear this because Viktor Orbán’s clever propaganda machine has shifted the emphasis to topics that best serve his political interests at home. He is moving onto a battlefield populated with his self-created phantoms.

What do I mean by this? Orbán has been making sure that everybody in Hungary understands that he will wage a life and death struggle against compulsory quotas. Every important government official in the last few days has stressed that the “pressure” on Hungary is tremendous. The prime minister left Hungary this morning with the firm resolve to veto such a resolution. He will fight to the bitter end. Since the question of compulsory quotas will most likely not be on the agenda, it is an empty resolve. He can come out of the meeting and announce to the few Hungarian journalists waiting for him that he successfully defended the country from the Muslim peril, at least for the time being.

Orbán obviously thinks that the idea of Hungary, a small country but one that can threaten the mighty European Union with a veto, resonates at home. He made sure that everybody understands the significance of such a move. The Fidesz and KDNP parliamentary delegations specifically asked the prime minister to veto such a resolution if necessary, reinforcing the gravity of the situation. Of course, it was the prime minister’s office that gave the orders to the delegations and not the other way around.

For good measure, Orbán also threw in another issue he was going to fight for in Brussels: the European Union’s alleged decision to abolish government-set prices for electricity retailers. Initially, the plan was to lift price controls over a five-year period, but lately the word is that, once the proposal is accepted, it will be introduced immediately. Such a move would tie the hands of the Orbán government, which in the last three years has been using price controls as an effective way to lower prices and thus gain popularity. But as far as I know, the issue will not be discussed at the meeting. And for the time being, it is just a proposal. To become law the support of both the European Parliament and the qualified majority of the European Council is necessary.

Once Orbán arrived in Brussels he immediately began to trumpet his own importance to the Hungarian journalists waiting for him. Back in October in Vienna he proposed the establishment of guarded refugee camps under EU military control, an idea that was flatly rejected by the countries present at the meeting. Since then he has somewhat modified his original idea and is now just talking about refugee camps financed by the European Union situated in Libya and Egypt. He admitted during this short press conference that his proposal hasn’t been accepted yet by the majority, but he indicated that he is optimistic that his suggestion will soon be supported by most of the member states. He is equally optimistic about another suggestion of his: “the return of migrants rescued from the sea to wherever they came from.” The defense of borders he demanded was once a “forbidden point of view,” but by today attitudes have changed and “it has become a recognized common task.”

Viktor Orbán enjoying the limelight / Source: MTI/EPA

Orbán’s Hungarian critics believe that the prime minister has arrived in Brussels significantly weakened after his recent domestic setbacks. Despite the incredible amount of money spent to achieve a valid referendum on the compulsory quota question, Orbán ended up with a large majority but, because of lackluster voter turnout, an invalid referendum. Nonetheless, he went ahead with his plan to amend the constitution, allegedly to prevent the settlement of large numbers of unwanted foreigners in the country. But he was thwarted in this effort by Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, an extremist party that has been trying with varying degrees of success to become a respectable right-of-center party.

Orbán therefore can’t portray himself as the voice of a groundswell of anti-migrant sentiment. The Hungarian voters didn’t give him a mandate, nor did the Hungarian parliament. And the Visegrád countries are no longer solidly behind him.

Instead, Orbán seems to be grasping at straws. For example, he urged Hungary’s mayors to sign a letter addressed to Jean-Claude Juncker, which the mayor of Kaposvár, Károly Szita, a devout Fidesz loyalist, would like to hand to the president of the European Commission in person.

Perhaps tomorrow we will learn how much of Orbán’s agenda was approved by the European Council. Personally, I don’t think it’s a cliffhanger.

December 15, 2016

Orbán came home from the summit empty-handed

Viktor Orbán has had a very busy schedule in the last few days. He paid a visit to Munich, where the socialist members of the Bavarian parliament (Landtag) were less than thrilled with the Hungarian prime minister’s appearance among them as he talked about his country as “a land of liberty which has never tolerated and never will tolerate occupation, repression, and dictatorship.” In perhaps the most outrageous remark of the speech, he compared closing the country’s borders to the refugees to opening its borders for the East Germans in 1989. Both were for the defense of European freedom, he claimed.

A day later Orbán gave a long interview to the Passauer Neue Presse. What first caught my eye was his attempt to prove that the enormous amount of EU subsidies Hungary receives is but a fraction of what Hungary lost by opening its markets to western companies. In the past only the far right espoused this economic fiction, but now it has been adopted by the prime minister of the country himself. As he put it, “Hungary is being overrun” by the economically strong nations of the European Union which “make a lot of money in Hungary at the expense of Hungarians.” The cohesion funds do not fully counterbalance these losses. Of course, this is absolute rubbish. We can only imagine what would have happened to Hungary if its government had closed the country’s borders to foreign capital and know-how in 1989. I also wonder what the managements of Mercedes-Benz and Audi think when they hear this complaint. After all, a good chunk of Hungary’s GDP comes from the Hungarian plants of these two car manufacturers.

It always amuses me when Viktor Orbán decides to show off his knowledge of history. Let’s savor this sentence: “Hungary has a healthy attitude toward Muslims and respects Islam because it civilized a very difficult part of the world.” Perhaps Orbán was playing hooky when his history teachers talked about the great civilizations of Mesopotamia and Persia.

In Orbán’s static worldview countries that accept Muslim immigrants “will face an entirely different world in 15 to 20 years” because “Muslims have more children than we Europeans.” No one disputes that Middle Eastern families are on average larger than European families, but it is also true that over time immigrants become increasingly acculturated to the majority population in thinking and behavior.

To Orbán’s mind, countries like Germany that accept immigrants entertain a notion he calls “social romanticism,” which I find difficult to interpret. In his opinion, German politicians today “artificially want to change the composition of the population.” He, on the other hand, is dead against any kind of immigration because Hungary is not a country with a history of immigration. Really? I often think of the enormous number of Hungarian surnames that reek of Magyarization of fairly recent vintage, names that were, in many cases, originally either German or Slovak.

Viktor Orbán's press conference after the summit MTI / Photo bey Gergely Botár

Viktor Orbán’s press conference after the summit
MTI / Photo bey Gergely Botár

Viktor Orbán also went to the summit in Brussels, his mind firmly made up. Currently, his top concern is the migrants and his fight not only against compulsory quotas but against all refugees. They would, he contends, introduce an alien culture and a dilution of what he considers to be a uniform ethnicity. He has a couple of other goals in addition to the migrant issue, but he hasn’t been at all successful in the last two and a half years in convincing the European Council of the efficacy of his suggestions. One is lifting sanctions against Russia; the other, lifting visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens. Sanctions remained, as Orbán had to admit after the summit, because of Russia’s interference in the Syrian civil war. The Ukrainian visa issue just gets postponed from meeting to meeting.

His most important demand was the withdrawal of the earlier decision on compulsory quotas, but Jean-Claude Juncker refused to abrogate the earlier decision. For the time being Orbán escaped the onerous task of signing something he swore he would never sign. What he really hoped for was the complete erasure of the former decision, which he considers illegal. But he failed.

There was another development that may not have been noticed by the casual observer. The document that the prime ministers signed contained a paragraph about the speedier dispersion of asylum seekers among the member states. Hungary and Slovakia attached minority opinions to this particular point. Only Hungary and Slovakia? What happened to Poland and the Czech Republic? I consider the Visegrád 4’s lack of solidarity on this issue a definite setback for Orbán.

Finally, Orbán apparently suggested the removal of refugees and so-called economic migrants to refugee centers outside the European Union. This suggestion seems to me a variation of the plan he tried to sell at the mini-summit in Vienna on October 3–for the EU to set up a giant refugee camp in Libya under EU jurisdiction. This plan was vetoed. Moreover, a few days after the meeting one of the European Commission spokespersons explained that the registration of asylum seekers can take place only within the borders of the European Union. It seems that Orbán doesn’t hear what he doesn’t want to hear and repeats the same thing at every EU gathering.

Finally, a few choice nuggets from Orbán’s press conference after the summit. In connection with his suggestion of setting up refugee camps outside the European Union, he added that “it is much more humane not to allow them into the territory of the EU in the first place.” And, defending his anti-immigrant stance, he said: “There are immigrant friendly and immigrant unfriendly countries. Is it necessary for everybody to be friendly or do countries have the right not to be such?” As for the criticism of Hungary’s lack of solidarity, he “can declare that Hungarian solidarity manifests itself by protecting not only ourselves but the whole European Union.” He also promised to fight even harder in the future.

Another summit is over and Viktor Orbán’s only “accomplishment” was that the decision on compulsory quotas was postponed. All of his other ideas were rejected. Not exactly a reason for him to rejoice.

October 21, 2016

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

Hungarian fantasies about a radical Roma community allied to Islamic extremists

A friend sent me dictionary.com’s “Word of the Day,” which she found amusing. It is “kakistocracy,” meaning “government by the worst persons; a form of government in which the worst persons are in power.” The first two syllables don’t have anything to do with the Hungarian word with which we are familiar but with the Greek word “kakistos,” which means “worst.” This word couldn’t have arrived on a better day since I had just decided to write about the Orbán government’s illustrious minister of justice, László Trócsányi, and his faux pas at a conference on the dangers of extremism and their possible remedies.

And while I am on the subject of words, C. György Kálmán, a literary historian and lover of language, also wrote today about another “misunderstood” statement by a government official. The official happened to be the same Trócsányi, who said the wrong thing at the wrong time. Linguistic carelessness has been plaguing Hungarian political life ever since 1990, Kálmán suggested. It would be time to learn to speak more precisely.

So, what was Trócsányi’s faux pas? On October 19 Nikolaj Nielsen of euobserver.com reported on a conference in Brussels at which “Hungary’s minister of justice Laszlo Trocsanyi … said there is a risk Roma could end up in Syria as foreign fighters alongside jihadist or other radical groups.” It turned out that Trócsányi didn’t say what Nielsen attributed to him but, given the context in which his two-minute contribution was uttered, one could infer such a meaning from his words.

Let’s see what Trócsányi actually said. He emphasized that, unlike in Western European countries, in Hungary there are no would-be terrorists who are ready to go to Syria and fight on the side of ISIS. However, Hungary is a “transit country” through which radical Muslims would travel to catch a plane to Istanbul on their way to Syria. And he continued:

I would like to call attention to another aspect of the problem which we haven’t talked about up to now. Radicalism can reach other groups as well. In Europe there are 10-12 million Roma. During Hungary’s presidency we paid a lot of attention to Roma strategy. We believe that this is a very important task. [We are dealing with] a community of 12 million in Europe who lag behind [leszakadt] and whose integration is very important because they can be the victims of radicalization. I would really hope that the European Commission would pay special attention to the Roma integration program.

Trócsányi didn’t conjure up the image of Roma going to Syria to fight, but he made the mistake of indicating that they may join extremist groups. And because the whole conference was about Islamic radicalism, it was easy to draw the conclusion that Trócsányi envisages a time when European Roma might join jihadists to fight against the infidel.

László Trócsányi / Photo Zoltán Gergely Kelemen, MTI

László Trócsányi / Photo Zoltán Gergely Kelemen, MTI

Trócsányi also spoke to MTI, the Hungarian news agency, right after the meeting. What did he consider to be the most important topics of the conference? “There was a discussion about foreign nationals who fight alongside the Islamic State. We touched on online recruiting activities on behalf of the Islamic State.” It was right after these discussions that Trócsányi rose and talked about the radicalization of the Roma. It’s no wonder that Nielsen drew the conclusion that, in Trócsányi’s mind, there was a danger that European Roma would join the jihad fighters in Syria.

The reporter’s impression was further reinforced when he talked to the spokesman for the office of Hungary’s permanent representative in Brussels. The reporter was obviously so struck by what he heard that he wanted confirmation of Trócsányi’s message. When Nielsen asked the spokesman why Roman Catholic Roma would choose to fight alongside radical jihadist groups in Syria, the spokesman said “it is because they are a deprived people and they are usually more exposed to radical views.” The spokesman added that the minister’s position “was just a hypothesis” that “had not been fully explored.” So, the spokesman reinforced the reporter’s initial inkling of a connection between the two topics.

Realizing the adverse reaction abroad as well as at home to Trócsányi’s linking the Roma community to Islamic extremism, both the government and the party have been trying to minimize the effects of Trócsányi’s ad hoc, unnecessary introduction of the topic. They called Nielsen’s description of his remarks an outright lie. A reporter for the pro-government Válasz offered perhaps the most imaginative interpretation of Trócsányi’s statement. “Trócsányi might have been thinking that one day a Malcolm X type of character will be born in the Roma community who could take them along the road of radicalization. However, luckily there is no sign of such a development, and such a supposition is not at all timely. Let’s not talk of the devil, especially when government officials should know that, whatever they say, our foreign adversaries will misinterpret them.”

The explanation of the spokesman at the Hungarian permanent representative’s office in Brussels, however, indicates to me that the topic is not new in government circles. The idea didn’t just pop into Trócsányi’s head. The linkage of Hungary’s Roma population to the current refugee crisis began in May when Trócsányi in an interview with Inforádió explained that the reason for Hungary’s refusal to accept any “economic migrants” is that the country is burdened by the integration of 800,000 Gypsies. The Roma theme also emerged in early September in Viktor Orbán’s speech to the ambassadors, where out of the blue he came up with a reference to Hungary’s Roma population. Hungary’s historical lot is to live together with hundreds of thousands of Gypsies. “Someone sometime decided that it would be that way … but Hungary doesn’t ask other countries in Europe to take Hungarian Gypsies.”

As for Hungarian Gypsies sympathizing with Muslim extremists, let me tell a funny story. Somewhere near Nagymágocs, not terribly far from the Serbian border, a group of public workers, mostly Roma, noticed that a few people were hiding in a cornfield. They got scared: these people must be migrants. One of the public workers reported their presence to the police, who told them to get on their bicycles and pedal as fast as they can. Halfway home they encountered a policeman who wanted to arrest one of the Roma in the group, thinking he was a migrant. Meanwhile it turned out that the other “suspicious” group, whose members were bopping in and out of the cornfield, were not migrants either: they were surveyors. So much for the burgeoning friendship between the Roma and Muslim extremists.

Indeed, “kakistocracy” is at work. C. György Kálmán’s suggestion to government officials to improve their language skills is not enough. One needs some brainpower as well, and that seems to be lacking in most of Viktor Orbán’s underlings.

Ignorance and prejudice in Hungary

Tibor Frank, a Canadian-Hungarian economist who lives in Vancouver, just returned from Hungary after a longer visit where he gave several interviews. After his return he also talked to Kanadai Magyar Hírlap about his impressions. During the interview he expressed his amazement at “how someone can turn around his little finger a whole country, how he can enrich his whole family, how he can turn against the whole world and how he can still remain popular.” Indeed, he is not alone in finding all this difficult to understand.

At the moment the refugee question and the government’s response to the arrival of migrants is the hottest topic in Hungary, something that sharply divides society. The campaign of fear and hate conducted by Fidesz politicians continues unabated. Just to give one example, here is László Kövér, one of the founders of Fidesz and best friend of Viktor Orbán, who wonders whether the large number of refugees arriving in Europe is not so much a simple migration as Orbán described it but “an invasion organized with a secret purpose in mind.” Terrorists arriving in Europe “may make the next decades the age of dread.” So, it’s no wonder that a barely literate man, who lives right on the Serbian-Hungarian border, says on a video taken by HVG that “Europe is kaput,” or that “something is going to happen here,” which I take to be a primitive summary of Kövér’s fear-mongering vision.

It makes a difference what kinds of messages the population receives from its political leaders. Hatred mixed with fear has spread like wildfire all over Hungary lately, the sources of which are Fidesz and Jobbik politicians. And the seeds of hatred find a perfect breeding ground in the backward region where most of the refugees cross the Serbian-Hungarian border.

ignorance

What do these people know about the new arrivals? The older woman on the HVG video knows absolutely nothing about them and has no desire to learn. “It’s not my business,” she says. The police should take care of them. The man on the video thinks he does know something. According to him, the refugees are Kurds who are “cigányok, Roma” and, showing off his knowledge of English, adds “Gypsies, you know.” He is originally from Subotica/Szabadka where they call these Kurds “talibánok” because they come from “Tália or something.” He may be ignorant but he has strong opinions. He is not afraid of the migrants because after all he has a “shovel, hoe, and pitchfork” which “unfortunately” he didn’t have to use yet. Why unfortunately? “Because I can’t stand them.”

And I suspect that not too many people in this region have more accurate information about the refugees than these two.

Yesterday we talked about the generally low level of medical knowledge among Hungarians. One of the comments to the post talked about unhealthful eating habits. Indeed, it is a major problem that should be dealt with on the highest political level. But as a commenter pointed out, there is no government campaign to change the dietary habits of Hungarians. The result is obvious, as it should be to the prime minister himself who has put on a great deal of weight. Obesity is a huge problem in the United States, but Barack and Michelle Obama have been actively promoting a change in dietary habits. Obesity is also a problem in Hungary, but there the population only sees and hears how much the prime minister likes “Hungarian  cuisine.”

And finally, let’s talk about another area of ignorance, the nature of homosexuality. This topic has been in the forefront of discussions lately, mostly because of the very successful Budapest Pride, a week of celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the first gay demonstration in Budapest. Although this was the largest Pride ever, the majority of Hungarians still entertain virulently homophobic attitudes. Again, some of these prejudices stem from ignorance. And I’m talking not only about ignorant laymen. I’m talking about a doctor who, on top of everything else, is a DK politician in Baranya County. His name is László Sütő, and he is a general practitioner (háziorvos) in the village of Baksa, population 800. To DK as well as to Gyurcsány personally, who is a supporter of the LGBT community, he became a major embarrassment.

Sütő spread his ignorance on Facebook where he claimed that “the science of medicine considers all chromosomal abnormality illness. There can be no exception for sexual chromosomes.” After this pseudo-scientific announcement he expressed his true feelings with the worst kinds of obscenities. It turned out that Sütő has gone through many parties since the regime change in 1990. Originally he was a member of the Smallholders, which before the appearance of István Csurka’s MIÉP was considered to be the quintessential rightist party. Later he joined MSZP and, when Gyurcsány left the socialists, Sütő followed him to the newly established Demokratikus Koalíció. Sütő apparently also held views not exactly compatible with the ideas of his party on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, when he took a pro-Moscow position.

One could say that a single ignorant doctor means nothing. The trouble is that he is not alone. I  myself encountered a Hungarian psychiatrist who believed that homosexuality is like smoking. One can take it up and one can give it up. And just yesterday another learned physician felt compelled, on György Bolgár’s program, to support Sütő’s position. So, I was glad that today a real scientist and an expert on the subject was invited to report on the state of scientific research into the genetic component of homosexuality.

Unfortunately, getting rid of ignorance, which fuels prejudice and hatred, doesn’t serve the interests of the present regime. Actually the more ignorant the better; they will believe everything the government tells them.