Tag Archives: Muslims

A town council on the Serb-Hungarian border takes care of Muslims and gays

At the end of November a bizarre news item appeared: the council of Ásotthalom, a village of 4,000 inhabitants adjacent to the Serb-Hungarian border, passed a series of ordinances that forbade building mosques, wearing the burka, all activities of muezzins and, for good measure, the “propagation of gay marriage” and any publicity given to “opinions about the family different from the definition in the constitution.” Just to remind readers, the so-called “Fundamental law”–that is, the new Fidesz constitution–states that “Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the survival of the nation.”

The mayor of Ásotthalom is the infamous László Toroczkai, who ten years ago led the assault against the headquarters of MTV, Hungary’s public television station. He even has a brief English-language Wikipedia entry in which he is described as “the founder of the far-right 64 Counties Youth Movement (HVIM).” He is, as the name of his organization demonstrates, a Hungarian irredentist, who as a result of his activities in the neighboring countries has been banned from Slovakia, Romania, and Serbia. I wrote several times about Toroczkai and his involvement in a host of far-right, neo-Nazi organizations. His affiliations and activities were obviously not viewed as a political liability in the village, however. He was elected mayor of Ásotthalom in a by-election in 2013.

Once the liberal media recovered from the shock that this man could become a mayor with over 70% of the votes, his name pretty much disappeared from the national press. But then came Toroczkai’s chance for renewed fame/infamy: the arrival of the refugees, whose escape route went through Ásotthalom. Toroczkai was in his element, organizing civic groups that were supposed to help the police and later the military in guarding the fence. I suspect that some of the atrocities against the refugees were actually committed by Toroczkai and his men.

The immediate reaction of the liberal media to Toroczkai’s ban was hilarity. A local ordinance against mosques and gays? One doesn’t have to be a legal expert to know that Ásotthalom’s ordinance is unconstitutional. Article VII of the constitution states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Moreover, “this right shall include the freedom to choose or change one’s religion or other belief, and the freedom of everyone to manifest, abstain from manifesting, practice or teach his or her religion or other belief through religious acts, rites, or otherwise, either individually or jointly with others, either in public or in private life.” It seems that of the six members of the village council two had the good sense to abstain while one had a valid reason to be absent. Thus only three council members voted for the resolution.

The locals learned about the decision from the papers and television and eventually came to the conclusion that these steps had been taken only as preventive measures in case the European Union forces Ásotthalom to accept Muslim migrants. As for the mosques, on TV they can see all those mosques in western cities; it is perhaps a good idea to spell out that no mosque will ever be built in their village. After all, as Toroczkai told Olga Kálmán on ATV the other day, “practically next door there is a mosque already.” It turned out that he was talking about Subotica in Serbia where there has been a mosque since 2007 to serve a community of 22 Muslims, all Serbian nationals.

Interestingly enough, there might actually be two Muslims living in Ásotthalom. One is a man from Kuwait who is married to a Hungarian Christian. After living in Kuwait for a while, they returned to Hungary 16 years ago. When asked, Toroczkai claimed that the ordinance is not directed against this man and his four children, who are Christians. He seemed to be more worried about a shadowy young woman no one really knows who apparently studied abroad and converted to Islam as the result of a romance with an Algerian man.

This incident created quite a headache for Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, who in a surprise move had recently asked Toroczkai to be one of his deputies. Toroczkai’s appointment followed the removal of Előd Novák, a far-right member of the Jobbik leadership who became an unwelcome burden with his radicalism and anti-Semitism. Vona has been trying to transform Jobbik into a right-of-center party that can be seriously considered to lead the country either alone or in a coalition. What no one could understand is why Vona thought that Toroczkai was less of an extremist than Novák. They are cut from the same cloth. When Novák learned about Toroczkai’s ordinance, he wrote on his Facebook page: “Hats off!” But otherwise, the Jobbik leadership didn’t appreciate Toroczkai’s move, about which he hadn’t notified his party. As Toroczkai complained, he had expected severe criticism from Muslims and gays but what surprised him was that “the most vehement attacks came from my own camp, the so-called national (radical) side.”

Gábor Vona, soon after the news of Ásotthalom’s ordinance reached the national media, paid a visit to the border town and had a long conversation with Toroczkai, which apparently led nowhere. Vona told N1 TV, an internet television station with ties to Jobbik, that he considers “the ordinance stigmatizing Muslims and gays irresponsible and unnecessary. Jobbik will guarantee freedom of religion to everyone” once in power.

László Toroczkai and Gábor Vona in Ásotthalom

Meanwhile, two gay organizations, Budapest Pride and the Hungarian LGBT Association, began organizing a trip to Ásotthalom for this afternoon to test Toroczkai’s ordinance. Toroczkai considered the demonstration a “provocation.” The homophobic elements of Toroczkai were considering a counter-demonstration, but the mayor wisely decided against it. He was, however, well prepared. He asked the Szeged police force to be on hand for the occasion and had one of the town employees standing by with a video camera. Toroczkai promised a careful examination of the video to ascertain whether anyone in the group of about a dozen men and women had “propagated gay marriage,” for example. There is the possibility that Toroczkai will consider the poster with the message “egy papa meg egy papa plusz egy gyerek” (one daddy and one daddy plus one child) a violation of the ordinance. If so, Toroczkai wants to fine the owner of the poster 150,000 forints. That’s unlikely ever to happen.

A few locals gathered to look at the spectacle. A yellow van normally used to take workers to the fields came by three times, and its passengers yelled through the open windows “filthy faggots.” One has the feeling that the locals are more preoccupied with gays than with Muslims. Interestingly enough, although the people of Ásotthalom encountered several thousand migrants last year, fewer people voted on the day of the referendum in the village than in the region as a whole.

♦ ♦ ♦

Finally, here is something that might cheer you up. You may recall that in my post on the PISA results I quoted Árpád W. Tóta, who said in his opinion piece that Orbán had managed to create “a school system for sheep.” That reminded Henk, who lives in Hungary and learned Hungarian very well, of a poem by Sándor Weöres (1913-1989) from his volume of poetry for children titled Bóbita (Tuft). Henk translated it into English. I’m very pleased to share his translation with the readers of Hungarian Spectrum.

A birka-iskola

Egyszer volt egy nagy csoda,
Neve: birka-iskola.
Ki nem szólt, csak bégetett,
Az kapott dicséretet.

Ki oda se ballagott,
Még jutalmat is kapott,
Így hát egy se ment oda,
Meg is szűnt az iskola.

The School for Sheep

Once there was a marvel great;
it was called: a school for sheep.
Who didn’t talk, but only bleat,
he was highly praised indeed.

Whoever refused to go,
was rewarded even more.
So, no one went to school of course,
and it had to close its doors.

December 10, 2016

György Konrád’s “Human flow”: An analysis

György Konrád, a highly respected Hungarian writer whose first book, The Case Worker (1969), brought him international fame, wrote an article “Human flow” (Emberfolyam) in the March 25 issue of Élet és Irodalom. It is an argument against the influx of Muslim refugees. Konrád, to the great disappointment of many of his admirers, hasn’t hidden his negative views on mixing cultures and religions in Europe. For at least a year he has been voicing his opinions in the public media and, in fact, went so far as to write an op/ed piece for The New York Times in which he praised Viktor Orbán for his farsightedness in recognizing the danger of the “migrants.”

The influx of over a million refugees to the territory of the European Union is, of course, the subject of fierce debate. Many people who are not at all xenophobic fear the consequences of such a sudden, large influx of people coming from a different culture. They are convinced that the refugees cannot be absorbed by the mainstream and foresee “parallel societies” developing within the European Union. On the other side are those who, for both practical and humanitarian reasons, argue that the refugees should be accepted and assisted. The practical consideration is Europe’s aging population due to its low birthrate. Most of these newcomers are young people, as is the case in any mass movement of this kind.

Konrad2

As I noted earlier, we have known Konrád’s views for quite a while. But this was the first time that he put his thoughts into writing, aside from the short English-language piece in The New York Times. If I read the general reaction of Konrád’s admirers correctly, it is one of total dismay over the message he delivered. The opposition media has acted as if the article had never been published. Only Magyar Idők and Pesti Srácok talked about Konrád’s “conquering immigration” in an approving way. So, I decided to tackle certain parts of the text in an attempt to decipher Konrád’s views on Islam.

This is not an easy task because a great number of Konrád’s assumptions about the Muslim refugees are just that, assumptions. He also paints with a broad stroke. He doesn’t distinguish between the moderate form of Islamism and the ideology of those jihadists whom we see on TV beheading their victims. For him, all varieties can be called “Islamofascism,” a controversial term which, according to most scholars, should be avoided. Yet Konrád chooses to draw a direct parallel between Islamism, Nazism, and communism. All three are enemies of democracy. He admits that not all Muslims are jihadists, “only their minority, but the majority of Muslims are Islamists.” Hence the majority of the arrivals are Islamists “who possess a totalitarian mindset and who are ready to employ ruthless measures against those standing in their way.” These are most likely completely wrong assumptions about the refugees, who in many cases escaped from precisely those relatively few jihadists of whom Konrád is rightly afraid.

What other characteristics does Konrád attach to the refugees, with whom he has had no direct contact whatsoever? According to him, “most of the Muslim totalitarians feel oppressed, and because of their backwardness due to a lack of freedom they have a good dose of resentment.” At the beginning they are grateful, but “once they become stronger they will present their demands.” They will not integrate easily because “they don’t consider European culture and humanism superior to their own.” Konrád believes that in Muslim societies “communities exist not next to each other, but the order of communities is vertical: one is either above or below.” Once they are the majority they will be on top and the Jews and Christians beneath them. So, most Muslim refugees look down on European civilization and democracy and consider Islam superior. Eventually, they will want to change and take over the land that welcomed them and gave them shelter.

A refugee or immigrant should be eternally grateful: “in the olden days immigrants greeted the natives politely, not like now.” As these people settle, they become more self-confident and actually want to “change the skyline.” That means they want to build mosques. Those Europeans who took these people in will notice that “the newcomers are not so grateful anymore; they demand more and more. And the immigrants will realize that the natives are not so kind anymore.” So, if I understand Konrád correctly, immigrants can never really be members of the accepting society with the same rights as natives. Immigrant communities shouldn’t be able to worship in their own churches. Well, let’s leave the Muslim community for a moment and, in a thought experiment, apply these same measures to Russian and Polish Jews or for that matter to the downtrodden Slovak and Hungarian peasants who arrived in the United States before World War I. They eventually had the temerity to build synagogues and churches where their own rabbis, priests, and ministers looked after the immigrant flock. What would we think of a society that made a distinction between immigrants and their descendants and the so-called natives who must be politely greeted? A preposterous view.

Konrád also shares his view of the nature of the “human flow.” Although he is certainly right that integration will be more difficult than if only 10,000 people had arrived in Germany, it is shocking to discover that Konrád’s ideas are practically identical to those of László Földi, the Islamophobic intelligence officer from the Kádár era who is convinced that these masses have been sent to Europe by their Islamist leaders. As Konrád puts it, “with the newly arrived migrant masses came their superiors” who will keep them in the fold. A little later he is quite explicit. “The wandering masses don’t follow the authorities of the countries they are heading toward, but they are regulated by those under whose guidance the march is conducted.” Moreover, “the immigrants are not individuals but parts of the extensive Muslim nation who will become members of a minority parallel society.” This is a total denial of these people’s individuality and free will. Their “superiors” move them about as if they were pawns on a chess board.

Although there are several more outlandish assertions in Konrád’s article, I will close this post with his not at all original argument that these people are not really refugees because, if they were, they would stay in the countries neighboring Syria. But no, they want to settle in countries with high living standards. Therefore, one becomes very suspicious of their motives.

If we compare the present flow of refugees to the Hungarian case after 1956, it becomes evident that this argument is unsound. The 1956 refugees were quite numerous, all fled within a couple of months, and if the Hungarian and Russian forces hadn’t managed to close the borders by the end of the year more people would have packed up and tried to cross into Austria. Where did most of these Hungarians go? To the United States and Canada and other “rich” countries. I very much doubt that a Hungarian refugee, if he could have chosen, would have picked Colombia over Canada, the United States, or Germany. If one has the choice one will pick the country considered to be most advantageous. This is human nature. It has nothing to do with the Muslim psyche.

Moreover, in Konrád’s view their decision to settle in “rich places” might backfire. “They heard this and that, but they don’t know what is waiting for them.” Although he doesn’t spell out just what it is that awaits them, he writes that “to bear homelessness in richer Western European countries” is more difficult than elsewhere. This is so even for those “central Europeans who are looking for better paying jobs in these countries.” I don’t know where Konrád gets the idea that Hungarian immigrants in Germany or the United Kingdom have a particularly difficult time and that perhaps their integration would be easier in Poland or Romania. The newcomers’ “natural habitat is the Near East and North Africa,” where they should have stayed. Similarly, Hungarians and Poles also have their natural habitat where they feel at home. Thus, Konrád practically ties people to their homelands and claims that life outside a certain geographic area is unnatural and in the final analysis goes against human nature.

As I said at the beginning of the post, there has been a deafening silence in the Hungarian opposition media since the appearance of Konrád’s article. But I saw an interview that Krisztina Bombera conducted with him. At the end of the interview she asked Konrád whether those Orthodox Jews who escaped to America from the pogroms of Tsarist Russia were not in a similar situation to the Muslims arriving in Europe today. They also came from a very different culture. Didn’t Konrád see parallels here? No, he didn’t.

I’m sorry that Konrád felt compelled to write this article.

April 5, 2016

Zsolt Bayer’s Grønland, Oslo–Not very original

A friend of mine is a regular reader of Zsolt Bayer’s opinion pieces that are published in the extreme right-wing, pro-Fidesz Magyar Hírlap. I often joke with him about having masochistic tendencies because it takes a strong stomach to read this man’s writings. Like the latest, the fourth part of a series of articles titled “At arm’s length,” which is a reference to the unfortunate advice of the mayor of Cologne to European women to keep a safe distance from men coming from the Middle East. By part 2 of his series, Bayer got confused about the meaning of the idiom and predicted that “civil war in Europe is at arm’s length,” i.e., near. Oh well….

The first part is about Frau Angela, who has “an inexplicable and undying love of hyenas” and, when the beasts kill all her relatives, she doesn’t blame the hyenas but the people who didn’t take good care of them. “This is reality in Europe today.” The second part is mostly about the lack of media freedom in Europe and “the whores of Femen,” who now, after the sexual attacks, are quiet. The third part is a critique of those who think that white Christian Europe cannot be preserved and that immigration is the only way to have a viable economy in the future.

And now we come to the fourth and final part published today, half of which is actually a translation from an English-language internet site, describing the situation in Grønland, a district of Oslo. Bayer gives the source as poquari.ml, which turned out to be a misspelling. It is actually poqari.ml (PoqariNews), but the same article can also be found in several far-right publications. The title claims that the Oslo police think they have lost the city. Grønland “looks like Karachi, Basra, and Mogadishu all rolled into one. People sell drugs openly… It is not Norway or Europe anymore, except when there is welfare money to be collected. The police have largely given up.” According to the article, 4,000 people have been robbed in the town center and the area of the Grønland police station, which is an immigrant ghetto. Just this year the victims numbered 351. So, if we can believe the article, Grønland is a living hell in the middle of Oslo.

If Bayer had done a better job, he could have found at least two more far-right sites that pay a lot of attention to Grønland. One is the “Gates of Vienna,” which reminds its readers that “at the siege of Vienna in 1683 Islam seemed poised to overrun Christian Europe. We are in a new phase of a very old war.” The blogger of this publication calls himself Baron Bodissey, a character referred to in many of the novels of science-fiction writer Jack Vance. His article from July 2013, titled “Enforcing Sharia in Grønland,” reports on an article from Aftenposten claiming that in this ethnically mixed district some zealous people harass non-Muslims or less devout Muslims to follow their strict rules. However, most instances seem to be minor. An old lady giving a lecture to a mother of two that her little girls are not properly dressed. She sounds like a busybody to me. But “Gates of Vienna” keeps a watchful eye on Grønland. Over the years Baron Bodissey has written at least a dozen articles on the situation in Oslo.

The morality squad doesn't seem to be too active

The morality squad doesn’t seem to be too active

Then there is the blogger who calls himself Vlad Tepes. If this name doesn’t ring a bell, try Vlad, the Impaler or Dracula. According to Vlad Tepes, in 2012 a group called Ansar-al-Sunna, which has a logo like the one used by al-Qaeda in Iraq, demanded full autonomy in Grønland. Moreover, this group threatened the Norwegians with another July 22, the date of Anders Breivik’s attack, if their demands were not met. People who are familiar with the situation in Norway, like Shoaib Sultan, an advisor to the Anti-Racist Center in Norway, believe that Ansar-al-Sunna is a handful of people of no consequence. And indeed, three years went by and no one has heard of Ansar-al-Sunna since.

It is true that on December 9, 2015 two people were stabbed to death in Oslo. A woman was found dead on Beitevein Road in the southeastern suburb of Meglerud. A man who died later in the hospital was found on Breigata Street in the central Oslo neighborhood of Grønland. Since then a man in his fifties was arrested and charged with both murders. But I found nothing that would indicate that either the victims or the perpetrator were immigrants or asylum seekers.

In contrast to these descriptions of Grønland as a center of crime and horrible conditions there are many who paint a very different picture of the place. A site addressing tourists talks about Grønland as Oslo’s “most diverse district [which] showcases the juxtaposition between the old and traditional, and the new and international, influences of the city. Immerse yourself in culture, history and good food, or just take a walk through Grønland.” The tour guide talks about concert halls, an intercultural museum, a church with fantastic acoustics. Another site gives high marks to the restaurants in the district. According to one admirer, the restaurant called Det Grøne Kjøkken is the best restaurant in all of Norway. Others sing the praises of the Grønland Torg, a shopping complex, and the Grønland Bazar, a shopping mall with a distinctly eastern design.

Which Grønland is the real Grønland? Most likely neither. Just like in any large city, there are plenty of drug dealers around, and I’m sure that there are occasional muggings or even worse. But the place currently is undergoing gentrification, which usually doesn’t happen if a district is beyond redemption. The problem with extremists is that they grossly exaggerate the negative, and Zsolt Bayer picks the most extreme islamophobic sites to draw on. His readership loves every word he utters and naturally agrees with everything he writes. Here are a few comments:

“Thank you, Mr. Bayer. One must call attention to the extreme peril. We Hungarians did experience the Turkish occupation. The West didn’t.” Or, “The district described here should be levelled after the proper population is evacuated.” I assume you know whom the lady had in mind when she talked about “the proper” population.  Bayer is a hatemonger with influence and thus harmful and dangerous.

The anti-immigration propaganda has its limits: The latest Tárki poll

There are some days, mind you not too many, when one starts to believe that Hungary’s future is not as bleak as we are inclined to think. It looks as if Hungarians, once they’ve had time to reflect, are not so easily manipulated.

The reason for optimism is a new Tárki poll on xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment. The company has been measuring the level of anti-foreign attitudes on a yearly basis, but this year they decided to conduct a second survey after the regular April one. The sociologists wanted to measure the effect, if any, of the intense anti-immigration campaign by the Orbán government. And here is the surprise and cause for some hope: the number of those who categorically reject the acceptance of any and all immigrants has dropped from 46% to 39% in two months. At the same time, the number of those who would make their decision on an individual basis has grown from 45% to 56%. This is a surprising and very welcome development, which shows that the enormous effort and considerable amount of money the Orbán government spent on inciting hatred and xenophobia hasn’t been as effective as they expected. Like all “political products,” to use Gábor G. Fodor’s term, this particular political ploy also has its limits.

This development is especially surprising because one would assume that the arrival of thousands of refugees day after day would make a decidedly negative impression on the population. Most Hungarians know by now that the vast majority of the arrivals move on within days, but the fear lingers that one day they will be sent back to the country where they entered the European Union. And yet the outright, en bloc rejection of all migrants/refugees hasn’t spiked.

Tárki published their figures on anti-immigration sentiment between 1992 and July 2, 2015, which shows interesting fluctuations. It starts in 1992 with a low 15% of respondents who would not allow a single immigrant into the country. I assume that also included members of the Hungarian diaspora. In the first four years that number grew considerably, reaching 40% in 1995. It’s difficult to know the reasons for that steep increase. It might have been the very hard economic times that befell the country during these years; people who are poor usually don’t welcome newcomers. Also, in that period there was an influx of about 50,000 refugees from warring Yugoslav territories, which might have made a difference in public sentiment. From 1996 on, the numbers settled around 28-30%, except for the years of the first Orbán government (1998-2002). Viktor Orbán during this period was at odds with all of Hungary’s neighbors and several other countries, including the United States. His harsh rhetoric might have influenced public opinion. After 2002, the negative attitude toward immigrants subsided until 2011, when it began to climb again with the arrival of the second Orbán administration. It reached its peak at 46% in April 2014. Clearly, Orbán’s harsh anti-foreign rhetoric does make a difference, but if we can believe today’s figures, it has its limits.Tarki graphOf course, these figures are still very high. Let me give you a few figures from the United States where a 2014 poll showed that 46% of Americans thought that all immigrants should be welcomed to the United States. That’s up from 33% in 2010, 24% in 2007, and around 20% in the mid-1990s. Those who say that there should be no immigration whatsoever dropped to 19%. In May the Pew Research Center published data on the attitude toward immigration in seven European countries (France, Germany, Spain, UK, Italy, Greece, Poland) which found very little enthusiasm for increased immigration and a great deal of support for less immigration. In Greece and Italy the opposition to immigration is very high: 86% and 80% respectively.

In Hungary, the rejection of Arabs is considerable: 76% would not allow them to settle in Hungary, although those people most likely don’t know that there are already a few thousand Muslims in the country, some of whom are citizens. Mind you, other Europeans also have an unfavorable opinion of Muslim minorities, varying from country to country, but even in tolerant Germany, France, and the UK the figures are high: 33%, 27%, and 26% respectively. Tárki didn’t release figures on Africans, but I assume that their negative numbers would be even higher than those for the Arabs.

The total rejection of immigrants is highest in the regions close to the Serb-Hungarian border where the migrants enter the country and lowest along the Austro-Hungarian border.

As far as the ideological makeup of the respondents is concerned, 54% of Jobbik sympathizers would close the door to all immigrants as opposed to 39% across the board. Unfortunately, we don’t have detailed information on Fidesz supporters or followers of the democratic parties. However, the Pew Research Center’s survey shows that in all seven countries studied, people who sympathize with the right are much more inclined to reject immigrants, while liberals and socialists are the most tolerant toward immigration in general.

As expected, education is a factor when it comes to the attitude toward immigrants. Only 13% of university graduates reject all immigrants’ acceptance in the country. Their rejection is also low among those who are planning to seek work abroad or who think of emigration: 12% and 17% respectively. These people can easily see themselves being disliked and/or discriminated against abroad, and therefore they sympathize with the plight of the arriving migrants. While people on the lower rungs of the economic scale are very much against immigration (43%), people of some means are a great deal less so (15%).

I left the most puzzling finding to last. Only 17% of those who attend church every week want to banish all immigrants. This is especially strange since the so-called historical churches have done practically nothing to alleviate the hardship of these migrants. Pope Francis can talk about compassion and charity, but his words don’t seem to resonate with the Hungarian high clergy or the so-called religious charitable organizations. On the other hand, it is possible that parish priests and local ministers, in response to the influx of migrants, called attention to Jesus’s teachings on the judgment of nations. The famous passage, Matthew 25, says that the Son of Man will divide the nations into righteous and accursed ones. On his right will be the righteous ones: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” On his left will be the accursed ones who left him hungry, thirsty and naked. They “will go away into eternal punishment” whereas the righteous will be rewarded with “eternal life.”

Fact checking Viktor Orbán’s latest speech

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

Image and icons by Amy Crone / Voice of San Diego

Image and icons by Amy Crone / Voice of San Diego

Converting Catholic churches in France into mosques

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

Immigrant crime in Italy and the Scandinavian countries

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

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

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

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

Definition of rape in Sweden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demographic realities and Viktor Orbán’s ideas on immigration

Over the past thirty years Hungary has been sliding toward a demographic disaster. And the slide has only accelerated of late. In 2010 the population fell below 10 million. In the first five months of 2011 10% fewer babies were born and 2.7% more people died than during the same period a year earlier. The second Orbán government was keenly aware of the problem and tried, in its own way, to remedy the situation with all sorts of financial incentives, which didn’t work. In 2012 Fidesz MPs delivered optimistic speeches about the beginnings of a baby boom, only to have the Központi Statistisztikai Hivatal (Central Statistical Office) announce in May that 3.6% fewer babies had been born between January and May of 2012 than between January and May of 2011. Between 2010 and 2014 the country’s population decreased by 158,000. And that doesn’t count the 350,000-800,000, take your pick, mostly young people who are working abroad.

Despite the government’s program to entice young couples to get married early and produce at least two or three children, recent studies show that, in fact, both men and women are waiting longer before having their first child. And even if some miracle happened overnight and suddenly all the hospitals were filled with babies, it would be only a quarter of a century later that there would be any beneficial impact. A recent study by the Népességtudományi Intézet (Demographic Institute) predicts that, if current trends continue, by 2060 Hungary’s population will be under 8 million.

Of course, Hungary is not the only country in Europe with very a low birthrate, but according to Péter Mihályi, a professor of economics at Corvinus University, if we ignore the former Soviet republics, it is only Bulgaria that is in worse shape than Hungary in this respect. From government propaganda one gets the distinct impression that Viktor Orbán’s concerns stem from nationalistic considerations. A fear that can often be heard in right-wing circles is that Hungarian speakers will one day be virtually nonexistent and the language will disappear. Mihályi, by contrast, looks at the situation from the point of view of an economist and recommends systematic and well-directed immigration policies as a solution.

In 2001 Viktor Orbán himself realized that the steady decrease in the population and its concomitant aging could be effectively remedied only by inviting immigrants. In 2001 he delivered a speech before the Amerikai Kereskedelmi Kamara (AmCham) in which he outlined a plan according to which in the next five years Hungary could welcome several million immigrants. Otherwise, he said, the country could not maintain its rate of economic growth. He claimed at that point that “Hungary could easily provide livelihoods for 14 million people.” What kinds of people did Viktor Orbán have in mind? Since in connection with immigration he also talked about the forthcoming admission of Hungary to the European Union, he was perhaps thinking of western businessmen settling in Hungary in search of economic opportunities. He also pointed out that every year several thousand ethnic Hungarians from the neighboring countries settle in Hungary. He certainly didn’t have in mind Muslims from the Middle East or refugees from Africa.

Lately, one often hears about the hospitality offered to Croats and Serbs escaping the ravages of civil war in Yugoslavia. In 1991 about 50,000 people arrived from the northern Slavonian region of Crotia, adjacent to the Hungarian border. They were well looked after. A couple of years later, however, 16,000 Muslim Bosnian refugees reached Hungary, who apparently received a less hearty welcome. In a village along the Serbian border Péter Boross, who later became prime minister, announced in 1992, as minister of the interior, that “Hungary is full.” Why were the Bosniaks less welcome? The difference was the refugees’ religion and culture, as a 1994 study pointed out. The author lists all the difficulties Hungarian authorities encountered with the Muslim refugees. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that a year after the arrival of the Bosniaks, the Antall government amended the law on foreigners’ settling in Hungary to make it more stringent.

Refugees from Bosnia. These are the kinds of immigrants Hungary doesn't want

Refugees from Bosnia. These are the kinds of immigrants Hungary doesn’t want

A few years later Viktor Orbán made it quite clear that, although in theory he is in favor of immigration, that immigration should not come from non-Christian countries. The occasion was the refugee problem of Muslim Albanians expelled from Kosovo. Western politicians came to the rescue by offering to fly a certain number of these refugees to their own countries. At this point Orbán declared that “there will be no numerus clausus in Hungary.” All refugees who ask for admission to the country will be welcome. How they would get to Hungary he neglected to say. That’s why a commentator called this “generous” offer “perhaps the most cynical statement of the prime minister’s ten-month tenure.”

So, it is not really true, as most commentators suggest, that in fifteen years Orbán completely changed his opinion on immigration. No, he hasn’t changed a bit: he does not want to have Muslim riffraff in his Christian  country. He especially doesn’t want blacks from Africa in a pristine, white Hungary.

Apparently, despite all the propaganda to the contrary, the government is fully aware of the long-term effects of the current demographic trend. Attached to the 2016 budget is the latest government prediction that by 2034 the number of people living in Hungary will be less than 9 million. That is, if the balance between immigration and emigration is zero, something which, given the recent population movement, is unlikely.

This demographic trend will have serious consequences. First, there is the problem of a rapidly aging society. Fewer and fewer people must support a larger and larger number of pensioners. The number of children is rapidly decreasing. In 1990 there were 2.1 million children under the age of 14. By 2014 there are only 1.4 million. At the same time, the number of people over the age of 65 is growing. That will put an ever increasing pressure on the pension system, especially if the proposed referendum passes, which would allow men, just like women, to retire after 40 years of employment. Those who have only eight grades of education could theoretically retire with full benefits at the age of 54-56.

A decreasing and aging population also means a smaller domestic market, which puts a brake on economic growth. And, according to Mihályi, it limits job opportunities, especially for less educated people. Infrastructure, houses, apartments, tourist facilities, museums, football stadiums, restaurants and pubs will be underutilized. If the facilities and their offerings have fewer takers, prices must be raised. But there is a limit to raising prices. Enterprises can end up being unprofitable, and in this situation fewer people will start new businesses. These are some of the economic consequences of unfavorable demographics that people who keep talking about Hungary’s inability to take up immigrants don’t consider. They think the fewer the better. As Mihályi says, only children think that it is better to have fewer guests at a birthday party because then each of them will have a larger slice of the cake.

Given the huge differences in living standards between the east and west of the European Union, Orbán’s old dream of filling the country with West Europeans cannot materialize for a very long time, if ever. The prospect of ethnic Hungarians coming in great numbers is also unlikely. Romanian living standards are on the rise, and the Hungarians in Slovakia are quite satisfied. The Serbian situation is different. I just read that Serbian men and women in the city of Szabadka/Subotica, where the majority of the population is Hungarian-speaking, are madly learning Hungarian. They want to apply for Hungarian citizenship. Of course, not to settle there. One of the men who figures in the story is already in Berlin. So, Orbán cannot be that choosy.