Tag Archives: migrants

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.