Tag Archives: migrants

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.