Tag Archives: refugee crisis

András Inotai: “Spiritual genocide is taking place here”

“They are creating hateful people and at the same time creating four million seriously deprived, poor people. . . . Inciting hatred within the population awakens the basest of human-animal instincts.” – András Inotai, former director of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences World Economic Research Institute

This is a partial translation of an interview with András Inotai, former director of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences World Economic Research Institute, published by the online daily zoom.hu on January 2, 2018 under the title: “András Inotai: Itt szellemi népirtás folyik.”

My heartfelt thanks to Budapest Beacon for allowing me to use their translation, which is republished here with some minor changes. The original Hungarian is somewhat longer. For those who can handle the language, it is worth looking at.

Source: zoom.hu / Photo Balázs Ivándi-Szabó

When we discussed meeting up, you commented that you had something to say because you were not too happy about the direction of the world and Hungary. What did you have in mind?

We are moving faster and faster towards globalization that strengthens and deepens mutual dependencies with steps that are increasingly difficult to understand or follow. This is not new. It is not possible to reverse this trend. These changes have winners and of course losers. At the same time, it is necessary to differentiate among the losers. There are absolute and relative losers. Looking at developments in Hungary after the system change and especially after 2010, I would consider myself and a significant part of the population to be relative losers.

Like many others, I do not sit in Lőrinc Mészáros’ place, and am not a Fidesz oligarch. Just as earlier I did not belong to MSZP or SZDSZ circles. So I live, I am okay materially, but spiritually more and more depressed.

It is important not to discount the rather wide circle of relative losers, whose motivation is as spiritual as material. Why? Because the class of relative losers includes those who voted for Brexit in a country that is one of the biggest winners from globalization. Especially financially. This by itself is a total absurdity. This class placed Donald Trump in the President’s seat in the United States, which for decades has been the motor of globalization and unequivocally its biggest winner, as it continues to be.

However, both the Americans and the English fell asleep over the past decade and a half. A significant part of the British believe that England is still a world power. They do not take into account that the world was fundamentally reordered over the past decades. The competitive Europeans showed up, both inside and outside the EU, as well as the Chinese, Indians, South Koreans, Mexicans, and Brazilians. A typical lower-middle class family living in the English countryside thinks that its country produces a significant part of the world output. Of course in 1948 this was indeed 12 percent, but today it’s two percent. In the case of the United States many believe that the country can do whatever it wants.

However, the connection between politics, society, and the economy has reached a point where nobody can say they are independent. This means that nobody can decide exclusively about themselves. For this reason nobody can take a maximal decision, only optimal, which means the best balance of advantages and disadvantages. This is a totally simple connection, although many people cannot see it. They are the ones who get it in the face and believe the nonsense that we are independent, proud, and strong. In their circles, however, frustration and anger is only getting stronger.

In this situation is it not a logical, indeed an expected, decision on the part of certain countries to raise the walls surrounding them in order to defend themselves?

You can call for an end of globalization. You can call for us to protect Hungarian sugar and milk. Let’s protect the Hungarian money market. So be it! We don’t need foreign banks! Statements of this nature have been frequently made at the highest levels. “Thanks” to this kind of thinking, today the local banking system is more than 50 percent in Hungarian hands. And what happens if the Hungarian bank collapses? We should finally acknowledge that foreign-owned financial institutions undertook recapitalization in the billions of euros in order to remain here during the 2008 economic crisis. If a Hungarian credit institution implodes, who is going to recapitalize it? The Hungarian taxpayers, if they want their deposits to be secure.

These corrupt deals that are taking place in the banking system are characteristic of the “growth” of wealth of an unprecedentedly selfish new oligarchy. We are very close to a banking system in which one or more Hungarian entities may collapse, or in which a single one may trigger a chain reaction.

The situation cannot be all that serious.

You are very much mistaken! People are stupid to allow this to happen. This is the product of the spiritual genocide that has taken place in Hungary over the past years, which the Hague court should address were it authorized to do so, as the crime is similar to physical genocide. The spiritual infection is active in the case of migration, Soros, EU opposition, as well as passive in that official “national” propaganda has become an organic part of government. The latest obvious example of this is that we now commemorate the anniversary of virtually everything. They reassessed the 1956 revolution within the framework of a year-long 60th anniversary “commemoration.” Here was the Saint László commemorative year even though they do not know precisely when he was born, but the official propaganda proclaimed it a celebratory year. By contrast, I do not know who took note of the fact that last year was the 150th anniversary of the Compromise of 1867 between Austria and Hungary, about which there was hardly any mention. Even though we could draw conclusions from its results, dilemmas, and consequences. Hungary managed, under the wise leadership of Ferenc Deák, to launch half a century of modernization despite the ever-opposing incendiary Lajos Kossuth, agitating against that Compromise from abroad. Because it is indisputable that the Compromise strengthened the nation and its future and served the country’s long-term interests. This can be demonstrated through an examination of history. It was the kind of a step of which there is no sign today. Meanwhile EU membership and EU money offer a unique historical opportunity, or would have, to prepare for the 21st century.

The first half of your answer was perhaps worded too strongly.

No! A hopelessly dramatic situation has come about! That is my considered opinion! Look what is happening with human capital, which is critical to sustainable competitiveness and the foundation for the balanced growth of society. This can be observed across three areas: education, research and development, and health care. These are the foundation stones. All three have been deliberately destroyed in recent years.

Related to this is the nature and extent of social polarization, the likes of which has never happened in the European Union. Moreover, I am a beneficiary of these, but I do not at all wish to be! Here are some examples so you can better understand what I am talking about. The flat tax in and of itself is brutally antisocial. Today I pay far less in taxes than before the introduction of the new tax rate, but I would be able to live quite well with the previous high tax burden as well. At the same time, others, for whom changes brought additional financial burden, are left struggling even as the budget has suffered a very significant loss of revenue which, among other things, could have been spent on education, social services, and health care.

The other is the pension system. I do not need that 1.8 or 2 percent which the current Hungarian pension system automatically assures everyone uniformly. I would gladly give that money to those who need more in order to live a life worthy of a citizen of the European Union.

The governing party’s behavior is unbelievably cynical and anti-social. And yet, people tolerate it.

Maybe that’s because people hear from the government what they want them to hear . . . 

Excuse me! I need to return to human capital. One must also have an innovative society, which is characteristic of the Scandinavian countries. Innovation is the defining element, the key, to successful and sustainable development in the 21st century. This is necessary to remain competitive, especially in small countries which are integrated into the world economy. The fundamental question is how capable society is to hold its own in the accelerated 21st century. From this point of view, Hungary is not only deeply in the negative range, but the government’s deliberate and irresponsible measures and propaganda destroys–in fact has already destroyed in many fields—the pillars of adaptation.

The innovative society is open, not closed. It shows solidarity, not hate. It is cooperative, not artificially polarized, fragmented. It is oriented towards the future and is not always escaping into the “glorious past.” It is prepared for changes, challenges, and actively adapts instead of continuously living in a state of anxiety, fear, insecurity, and artificially created crises in which it consumes increasingly limited physical, material, and intellectual reserves. Here I note that a natural part of globalization is polarization, but apart from Hungary there is not a single government that would deliberately strengthen this through its actions. Even crisis-hit countries with very limited resources try to contain that trend. Here, they add another shovelful.

They are creating hateful people and at the same time creating four million seriously deprived, poor people.

Is this really the goal? Because if so, then something has gone terribly astray. The self-proclaimed populist, Christian conservative government is sending the message that four million Hungarians should perish — please, forgive me — and we will defend six million. Is this the great national idea? Because if I put together the government’s numerous political elements, that is what I see. This is more than irresponsible, it is the murder of a nation.

Is the situation really this bleak?

Unfortunately, I must continue. There are still two elements necessary for lasting competitiveness. One is that society cannot maintain competitiveness without a certain degree of cohesion and solidarity. If this falls below a critical level, then we can see international examples of slowing and eventual cessation of capital infusion. Not only foreign but Hungarian capital would do the same, and in part already has. Who wants to keep their money in a country where there is continuous societal tension, where mutual distrust is artificially created, where there is insufficient skilled labor capable of thought due to poor education and health care? The second element is the effectiveness of the government sector. This is not only eradicated by an unprecedented degree of corruption comparable to an African dictatorship but also by the “results” of the “overgrown” public sector of the past few years. In contrast to the 2010 government program which, correctly, promised a modest but effective government sector, today 24 percent of those employed full time are tied either directly or indirectly to the state sector. What else needs to be said?

Maybe this is our historical fate. We hate each other and we have to live with that fact. At the beginning of the 2000s I asked a very respected figure of the national intelligentsia whether the system change couldn’t have been done better. We stood at the 0 km mark, with all its problems and possibilities, but within just ten years’ time many already feel that this isn’t the horse we wanted. Even then it looked as if everything went wrong already. His answer was “no.” This is who we are, forever pulling apart and hating each other and those who are better off. 

I am not a social psychologist. However, speaking on the basis of historical experience, the Hungarians are, in fact, not a cohesive society. I don’t want to say we are unique in this respect and that this is only characteristic of our national spirit, and that there aren’t other examples of this phenomenon. This wouldn’t be such a big problem. The problem is that in the developed world nobody deliberately conditions society to hate or to incite against various supposed or actual enemies. Among those sitting in the current government nobody looks a little further. Let’s take the current migrant question. If I conduct a campaign of hate now, does anyone know what the consequence of this might be in the future? It’s certain that in time the subject of our hatred changes, but the hatred remains. I am not saying that there isn’t a migration problem. There is and it isn’t small. We must deal with this issue. However, the situation should not be blown out of proportion and least of all should it be the subject of a hate campaign. The inconceivable xenophobic mood is due to this. For the sake of illustration. One million people from the Middle East and Africa arrived in Europe with its population of 510 million. That is 0.2 percent of the population of Europe. If we cannot absorb and integrate this, then there are big problems. Of this, less than 1,300 would have come to Hungary, a country whose survival for the past 1200 years has been due to repeated spontaneous immigration or deliberate settlement projects throughout the 18th century.

The problem of the refugees must be handled, but many countries, Hungary included, say the problems must be remedied where they originate . . . 

I completely agree with this, and the European Union even developed a plan for this. As I see it, even if the plan works, and the member states uniformly support the recommendations and the actions, even then there could be serious disagreements because the migration pressure will not go away. There will not be a perfect solution. But it is exactly for this reason that cooperation is so important. Joint thinking and action weaken or undermine unilateral steps. And inciting hatred within the population means awakening the basest of human-animal instincts.

January 22, 2018

Orbán’s struggle will continue, but there might be a new enemy: Martin Schulz

Viktor Orbán has never been fond of answering questions. When accosted by journalists at home, he either says nothing or comes up with some flippant answer. Until recently, however, he was quite ready to talk to journalists while abroad. He has always been willing to give long interviews, mostly to German papers, and to hold press conferences after European Council summits. On these occasions he normally bragged about the important role he played during the negotiations, often claiming that he “vetoed” certain otherwise unanimous decisions. But on the last two occasions, he skipped his customary appearance before the journalists altogether.

This was the case this time as well, but the Hungarian prime minister, perhaps imitating Donald Trump, decided to communicate directly with “his people.” The only difference is that he uses Facebook instead of Twitter, which is a great deal less popular in Hungary than in the United States. Short videos are available on Orbán’s Facebook page, with English subtitles provided.

Yesterday I summarized his messages, but since then three more Orbán announcements were posted. The first was recorded right after the working dinner of the prime ministers/chancellors at which the question of migration was discussed. He described the meeting as a “political hand-to-hand combat” in which “the Poles, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Slovenes, and we managed to defend our positions.” The military theme is even more obvious in the Hungarian original, in which he used the word “hadállás,” which signifies a military position. No one argued against the necessity of secure borders, he continued, but “the great and strong ones want to bring the migrants into Europe and distribute them on a compulsory basis.” In his final video, he thanked those who had expressed their opposition to placing migrants in Hungary, which helped him “to repel the assaults that nearly managed to violate the sovereignty of Hungary again.”

Orbán’s description of the meeting conjures up a noisy, passionate verbal fight between two antagonistic sides, but other participants called the discussion dispassionate and calm. No charge against the military flanks at all. If I interpret the majority view on the matter of distribution of refugees correctly, the best the Visegrád Four can hope for is a slight modification, not an abrogation of the decision that had been accepted by the European Council earlier. It is possible that “qualified majority rule” will suffice for approval, which would mean defeat for the Visegrád Four’s position.

Viktor Orbán might not like to expound in front of local journalists, but János Lázár, his chief-of-staff, is quite happy to go on for a couple of hours every week to entertain the troops. Lázár is known for his brashness and his hyperbole. He might be amusing at times, but a few hours after these meetings one usually learns that what Lázár claimed was simply untrue or at best misleading. The Budapest correspondent for the Associated Press, who speaks Hungarian, is usually on hand for these Thursday afternoon press conferences. He immediately sent out the news that János Lázár and László Surján, the former vice-president of the European Parliament, had compared Martin Schulz, former president of the European Parliament and currently head of the German Social Democratic party, to Adolf Hitler. It didn’t take more than an hour for me to be able read this juicy story on ABC’s news site.

What happened that prompted this outrageous comparison? On December 7 Schulz wrote the following message on Twitter: “I want a new constitutional treaty to establish the United States of Europe. A Europe that is no threat to its member states, but a beneficial addition. A convention shall draft this treaty in close cooperation with the civil society and the people. Its results will then be submitted to all member states. Any state that won’t ratify this treaty will automatically leave the EU.” This tweet was discovered a week later by two members of the Hungarian Christian Democratic Party–Péter Harrach, the whip of the KDNP parliamentary delegation, and László Surján, who, as far as I know, by now plays no official political role. Péter Harrach, who is anything but flamboyant, compared Schulz to Ferenc Gyurcsány. Both men are “lots of talk without substantial achievement.” Surján said that Schulz’s voice “reminded him of Adolf Hitler,” which he “found unacceptable.” The two held a press conference to announce their disapproval of Schulz and his United States of Europe.

It seems that Lázár especially liked Surján’s comment and decided to use the comparison at his press conference a few hours later. He added a few extra words. He not only heard “Hitler’s voice” but claimed that “the last time Hungary received such an ultimatum was from Adolf Hitler.” Of course, such a comparison is ridiculous, and we must assume that the sudden interest in Schulz is not independent from the likelihood that a grand coalition will be formed in Germany and that Schulz will be part of the cabinet in some important position. Schulz is known to be a very harsh critic of Viktor Orbán. Perhaps after Soros the new devil will be Schulz and his plans for a United States of Europe.

December 15, 2017

Was Orbán’s bout with the EU a “points victory”? We will see tomorrow

Viktor Orbán, along with the other prime ministers of the European Union’s member states, is in Brussels at the moment, where among other things they are supposed to come to an understanding on the thorny issue of migration. The goal is naturally unity, a common understanding, a situation in which all member states share in the solution to the problems currently facing the European Union.

The greatest obstacle to reaching this goal is the refusal of three of the four Visegrád countries to accept one single refugee in case the need arises. These countries are the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. The fourth country, Slovakia, would take a very limited number of asylum seekers.

The Visegrád Four countries have jointly come up with a plan of their own. Those countries that already have a number of immigrants from countries outside of the Union should accept most of the refugees while the Central Europeans would redeem their non-compliance with cash contributions. They came out with a figure today. They would pay 35 million euros in assistance to Italy. Hungary’s contribution would be nine million euros. This offer has not found too many enthusiastic supporters. In fact, most of the influential political leaders of the larger states deemed the Visegrád Four’s solution to be unacceptable.

The deep division within the EU became all too visible even before the opening of the summit. In October Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, introduced the idea of sending around a so-called Leaders’ Agenda prior to the summits. Its alleged purpose was to set out topics to be informally discussed. This time the topic was “Migration: way forward on the external and the internal dimension.” It is hard to tell what Tusk meant by this mysterious title, and I’m not surprised that some of Tusk’s critics considered the document badly written. The short letter was full of commonplace notions, like “secure external borders.” But what was strange and new in the document was that Tusk decided that “only Member States are able to tackle the migration crisis effectively” and that the European Commission’s approach to the migration crisis “has turned out to be ineffective.”

Eszter Zalan of Euobserver wrote that Tusk’s note on migration prompted “institutional hysteria” in Brussels. Eventually, the text had to be changed after serious concerns were raised at the meeting of EU foreign ministers on December 11. This was considered by some to be a “humiliating climb-down.” The revised note called for the EU institutions to work together. EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos called Tusk’s note “anti-European,” which might have been an overstatement, but even the official comments coming from the European Commission took umbrage at Tusk’s singular action. Its spokesman conveyed the Commission’s disagreement with Tusk’s criticism of its work.

It was not just the members of the European Council who were critical of Tusk’s move but also the political leaders of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and even Greece, which has had to manage large numbers of refugees and migrants. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, for example, called Tusk’s comments “aimless, ill-timed, and pointless.” Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose reproofs are usually quite subdued, was openly critical, insisting that “solidarity for the management of borders” is not enough; responsibilities must be shared within the Union as well. Italy might have been pleased with the financial offer but nonetheless reiterated that “we will continue to insist that a commitment on the relocation of refugees is needed.”

The leaders of the Visegrád Four must have been elated when they received Tusk’s note, but the changes that had to be made should have signaled to them that they couldn’t expect an imminent victory for their position. Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó declared that Tusk had “spoken the truth” on mandatory quotas. He went even further in his criticism of the European Commission. “Some Brussels bureaucrats continue to organize and promote illegal migration, and Donald Tusk is now being attacked in a vile and sanctimonious manner by those who have been representing for years now the obviously misguided migration policy of the European Commission.”

The other side considered Tusk’s initiative to be an encroachment on the prerogatives of the European Council. As one unnamed EU diplomat said, “The European Council is not a legislative body.” In his opinion, Tusk couldn’t possibly mean to bypass the normal procedures of the European Union. Moreover, Tusk’s opinions bore a suspicious resemblance to the general argument put forth by the Visegrád Four, which could be a result of his national attachments.

Photo: Stephanie LeCocq / MTI-EPA

Viktor Orbán left Budapest in a combative mood with a backpack on his shoulder which, according to him, contained 2.3 million Hungarians’ rejection of the Soros Plan, which in Orbán’s domestic parlance means the plan of the European Commission. (I should add that no official results of the national consultation have yet been disclosed.) Today he seems to be flying high because his Facebook page is full of videos with English subtitles from Brussels, announcing all of the things he has been accomplishing.

Before the summit the Visegrád Four prime ministers, whose ranks included two new members, Andrej Babiš of the Czech Republic and Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland, met Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy. Juncker was especially open to the gesture of the four prime ministers and called the offer a sign of solidarity. Orbán was elated and declared that he was “deeply thankful to [Juncker], who was a good partner.” According to Andrew Byrne, Financial Times correspondent for Hungary, Romania, and the West Balkans, Orbán was overtaken by Juncker’s kindness. It’s no wonder that Orbán on one of his videos announced that “after the first bout we are doing well. It looks like a points victory today.”

We will see how the rest of the summit shapes up. After all, Tusk had to retreat, and there is a crucial dinner meeting tonight and another day of negotiations tomorrow.

December 14, 2017

Hungarians’ changing priorities; shifts in the left-of-center media

Changing opinions on political issues 

Yesterday I saw a Hír TV news segment that I found intriguing. A woman reporter with a cameraman behind her stopped passersby wanting to know what the “man in the street” thinks about current affairs. This is the umpteenth time that I have encountered such an exercise. The result was always disappointing. Eight or nine people out of ten simply refused to answer any of the questions while the other(s) proclaimed their loyalty to Viktor Orbán, who has created a wonderful, prosperous country. To my great surprise this encounter turned out differently. Everybody was willing to speak, and there was only one woman out of about ten who was enthusiastic about Viktor Orbán on account of his defense of the country against the “migrants.”

The reporter wanted to know what people think are the most urgent tasks and problems Hungarians face today. The answers were practically uniform: healthcare and education. A couple of people mentioned low wages and inflation, especially food prices. When people didn’t cite migration as a problem, the journalist asked them about the topic. With the exception of one person, they all claimed that the danger of migration is not in the forefront of their concerns. There are no migrants in Hungary, and migrants show little inclination to settle there anyway.

One of those dissatisfied citizens

At first I thought I may simply have seen an atypical, or skewed, news segment. But then, a few hours later, I found an article in 24.hu reporting that “Hungarians worry more about poverty and healthcare than migration.” It summarized the findings of two international organizations, Eurobarometer and the conservative International Republican Institute. Both indicated that migration is not uppermost in Hungarians’ minds. The International Republican Institute’s findings are especially interesting because the respondents were not faced with a set of prepared options. Here poverty and the lack of social equality (28%) were people’s main concerns, followed by corruption (15%), unemployment (13%), healthcare (12%), and “migration” (4%).

But in that case, why did the Orbán government launch a new campaign against the “Soros Plan”? Knowing the careful political calculations of Fidesz, we must assume that the questions in the new “national consultation” will be slanted in such a way that it will speak to the concerns of the majority of Hungarians. There are signs that in the present Fidesz vocabulary the “Soros Plan” is actually just another name for the European Union. In this case, the main thrust of this new campaign will again be anti-EU. But it has to be structured so that it doesn’t cause the kind of adverse reaction that the “Stop Brussels” campaign did.

Changes in the left-of center media

Those of you who are able to watch Hungarian-language television must be aware of the slow transformation of ATV, which until about two years ago was the only independent TV station. At that time Lajos Simicska, Viktor Orbán’s old high school friend and the financial brain behind Fidesz, turned against Orbán, allegedly because of his pro-Russian orientation. This put an end to the pro-government stance of Simicska’s Magyar Nemzet and Hír TV. At about the same time, major changes began to be introduced at ATV, which is owned by the fundamentalist Assembly of Faith. It is hard to tell whether these changes were made in order to boost viewership or for political reasons, but there are fewer programs for people who are interested in political news. Reporters were hired from TV2, a commercial station that caters to a different audience from the one that ATV had attracted earlier. Also, two important reporters, Olga Kálmán and Antónia Mészáros, left the station. Kálmán joined Hír TV and Mészáros left the profession altogether. In addition, several reporters simply disappeared from the screen. The new crew was, at least in my opinion, not worth watching.

The final straw was the replacement of Kálmán and Mészáros with Zsuzsa Demcsák, who began her career as a fashion model but later spent years at TV2, a commercial station recently bought by Andy Vajna, most likely as a proxy for the Hungarian government. After the change of ownership, reporters started leaving TV2, including Demcsák in April. ATV jumped at what the management considered to be an opportunity and hired her. The arrangement was that Demcsák and Egon Rónai would rotate being anchor of “Egyenes beszéd” on a weekly basis. Demcsák’s first week on the job was dreadful. The woman was simply out of her depth. The following week she showed off her incompetence on ATV Start, an early morning political program. Then came Friday morning when she was, I’m afraid, quite drunk while interviewing Tibor Szanyi, MSZP’s European parliamentary member. She was suspended, awaiting the results of an internal investigation, but I’m almost certain that we are not going to see her on ATV again.

On the other hand, Hír TV came out with several new programs. This morning I watched two of them. The first was “Elmúlt 8 év” (The past eight years) with Györgyi Szöllősi, who is a good reporter. The other was “180 fok” (180 degrees) with Sándor Csintalan, a somewhat controversial character who started off as an MSZP politician and at one point was in the Fidesz camp. He is now a committed foe of Orbán. The program is in part a call-in show and and in part a series of interviews. The first guests were Miklós Haraszti, who is no stranger to the readers of Hungarian Spectrum, and the head of Iránytű (Compass), a polling company allegedly close to Jobbik. I encountered Iránytű’s director before and found his views moderate and balanced. And I loved the screen behind Csintalan, showing an idyllic countryside with a charming peasant house when suddenly Orbán’s infamous choo-choo train goes across. The train appears every five minutes or so. I laughed every time. I think I will also check out another new program called “Magyar Exodus,” which will be mostly filmed abroad, with Hungarian emigrants.

Unfortunately, these two cable channels reach very few people, but their existence is still vitally important. One can only hope that ATV will find its bearings soon because otherwise it can close up shop.

September 17, 2017

The Orbán government and its American media supporters

While researching media reactions to Jean-Claude Juncker’s state of the union address, I came across Breitbart News‘s take on the speech, which was illustrated with a photo of Juncker in the company of George Soros. Breitbart, as well as other alt-right publications, are riding high on Soros-bashing. What does Soros have to do with Juncker’s vision for the future of Europe? Nothing. The article otherwise was sprinkled with Nigel Farage quotations. In general, Breitbart News is fascinated with both George Soros and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán.

I also visited Fox News, where I found an elevating article on the same subject titled “EU power grab: A hunk of Junck” by John Moody, executive editor and executive VP of Fox News. This opinion piece is also peppered with Nigel Farage comments, but Moody also devotes considerable space to Viktor Orbán, who called immigration “poison” and a “Trojan horse for terrorism.” Orbán is Moody’s man, someone who “will not bend” no matter how much he is being threatened by the European Union. “Sounds like a tough-talking populist candidate who bucked the political system in the United States last year. Whatever became of him?” he asks mournfully.

If some of the mainstream English-language newspapers spent as much time on Hungary as Breitbart News does, the world would be a great deal better informed about Hungarian reality. Alt-right publications are indiscriminate supporters of the Orbán regime. Here are a few headlines: “Hungary looks to ‘sweep away’ Soros-linked organizations,” “Hungary: Left-wing EU Soros puppets are attacking us for opposing mass immigration,” “Hungarian PM: We won’t let ‘Europe’s kingmaker’ Soros have the last laugh,” just to mention a few. Many of these articles were written by Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D., the Vatican analyst for CBS, who left the priesthood in 2012 after fathering a child. Two days ago he published an article in which he rejoiced over the fact that “Hungary takes NY Times to school on Europe’s migrant crisis.” He is referring to an article Zoltán Kovács wrote as an answer to a New York Times editorial titled “Hungary is making Europe’s migrant crisis worse,” which appeared on September 8.

Kovács’s answer, which appeared on his official website, was subsequently reprinted in several English-language government publications. Williams located it on abouthungary.hu, and he found Kovács’s answer to the “sanctimonious op-ed rife with errors and misconceptions regarding Europe’s migrant crisis and Hungary’s role in protecting Europe’s borders” to be brilliant.

I took a good look at The New York Times editorial and couldn’t find all the errors and misconceptions Williams was talking about. The editorial bemoans the fact that Hungary, which opened its borders in 1989 because it was guided “by generally accepted international principles of human rights and humanitarian considerations” now behaves very differently. The country now refuses to allow refugees even to enter the country, despite the verdict of the European Court of Justice that found Hungary and Slovakia’s refusal illegal. “It is particularly sad to see countries that so poignantly celebrated the lifting of the Iron Curtain now argue, as Hungary does, that being asked to take in a small number of Muslim immigrants is somehow a violation of European laws and values.”

Zoltán Kovács’s response was titled “The New York Times editors really still don’t get it.” Why did Kovács insert the word “still”? Because Kovács already wrote a letter to The New York Times: “Dear New York Times Editors: You just don’t get it, do you?,” which Breitbart News faithfully reported on at the time. His objections to the Times’s editorial are numerous. He questions the assertion that East European countries “have stubbornly blocked entry to refugees.” He objects to the description of Viktor Orbán as a “hard-liner,” and he bristles at calling Orbán’s demand for EU reimbursement of half of the cost of the fence Hungary built to keep the refuges out “arrogant.” The overarching problem with the editorial, Kovács asserts, is that the editors simply don’t understand the European migrant situation. As he puts it, “Admittedly, it’s not easy to grasp this ‘indisputably difficult problem’ from the comforts of Midtown Manhattan.” However, Kovács is ready to share “some basic facts”–for example, that “Hungary is securing an external border of the 510 million-strong European community,” which is “a meaningful demonstration of [Hungary’s] solidarity.” He objects to the editorial’s references to international law and European values that “appeal to the ‘limousine liberal’ readership of the Times” because there is no international law, no European treaty that gives Brussels the authority to decide on immigration. Kovács closes his response with these ringing words: “As the government responsible for the safety and security of Hungarian citizens—as well as the citizens of Europe—we will not apologize for continuing to assert our right to make our own decisions on immigration and to keep Europe’s borders strong.”

Although Kovács thoroughly dissected the text, he ignored the editorial’s reference to “Hungary’s callousness.” Perhaps he decided to ignore the affront since the treatment of refugees in Hungary is widely known to be glaringly inhumane. Unfortunately, it is not only officials who treat them abominably; ordinary citizens also often show them no mercy. Perhaps you recall Index‘s report on an Iranian-Afghan couple with their three children and a fourth on its way. I told their story in a post titled “Life in the Hungarian transit zones” about a month ago. In this particular instance the husband didn’t get any rations because he had gone through Hungary once on his way to rescue his family in Macedonia. The sequel to their story was just published, which is every bit as heart-wrenching.

The Iranian-Afghan couple at the EU-financed refugee camp

After months of imprisonment in the transit zone came a surprising development: the family received asylum. They could go to a refugee camp in Hungary and be safe but outside of the transit zone they continued to receive harsh treatment. One has the distinct feeling that this behavior is intended to encourage even those who receive asylum to move on. For example, throughout the long trip the officers didn’t allow the couple to have baby formula on hand. As a result, the ten-month-old baby cried bitterly for hours. The husband was forbidden to accompany his wife to the gynecologist, although she doesn’t speak any English. They asked for an interpreter; their request was denied. As for the behavior of ordinary Hungarians, the poor man had another bad experience. He and one of his children, who had cut his hand, were taken to the hospital in Győr (18 km away), but they had to take the bus back to the camp. He gave the driver 5 euros since he had no forints. The driver took the money but wouldn’t allow them on the bus. It took them three hours to walk back to the camp.

Two days after he told his story to the reporter, the family was already in Germany. He is certain that he will not be deported back to Hungary because “people abroad know how Hungarians treat the refugees. The European Court of Justice decided in our favor twice. I have the decisions on my phone. If I tell them what treatment we received here, they will not send us back.” And, indeed, Germany hasn’t sent any refugees back to Hungary since April 11. Defending the borders of Europe is one thing, cruelty is another.

September 15, 2017

Viktor Orbán on solidarity and financial assistance

In happier times Hungary wasn’t a prolific source of sensational news items for the international press. With the appearance of Viktor Orbán on the political scene in 2010, however, hardly a day goes by without some juicy story about what the Hungarian prime minister is up to. The avalanche of news items on Hungary at the moment is more impressive than usual. There are two reasons for this sudden interest in the country, and both are related to the “migrant issue.”

First, Viktor Orbán surprised Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, with a letter in which he demanded a hefty contribution to the fence he unilaterally decided to build along the Serbian-Hungarian border in order to prevent refugees and migrants from using Hungary as a transit route toward Western Europe. Second, the European Court of Justice just dismissed complaints by Slovakia and Hungary about EU migration policy. This is considered to be an important victory for the European Union and a blow to Viktor Orbán and his allies in Eastern Europe.

Today let’s tackle the controversy that has developed since August 31 over the issue of the cost of the fence and Orbán’s monetary demands. I will stick closely to the texts of the letters exchanged between Juncker and Orbán. All three letters are available in their entirety.

“I am contacting you regarding the protection of the external borders of the European Union and European solidarity,” begins Viktor Orbán’s initial letter to Juncker. As far as he is concerned, “Hungary followed the Schengen rules requiring the protection of the external borders” all along, and by that act Hungary “is protecting not only itself, but the whole of Europe against the flood of illegal migrants.” Orbán claims that the cost and maintenance of the fence is 270 billion forints or €883,000,000, half of which should be paid by the European Union. He closed his letter by saying that “we agree that solidarity is an important principle of the European community. When Hungary had to protect the common external borders, we started with immediate action and not a request for help. I hope that, in the spirit of European solidarity, we can rightly expect that the European Commission, acting on behalf of Member States, will reimburse half of our extraordinary border protection expenses in the foreseeable future.”

It was unlikely that Orbán seriously expected a positive answer from the European Commission. In a sense, he gave himself away in that last paragraph when he admitted that Hungary “started with immediate action and not [with] a request for help.” It was the sovereign decision of the Hungarian government to go ahead and build a fence along the country’s southern border. As for the cost, both opposition politicians and journalists in Hungary are in total darkness when it comes to the real cost of the fence. Most suspect that the figures are greatly inflated.

Hungarian media commentators were certain from the very first moments after the announcement of the demand that the European Commission would not be impressed by Orbán’s arguments. It took only a few hours after the Hungarian government made the content of the letter public for the Commission’s spokesman to announce that the European Union is not “financing the construction of fences or barriers at the external borders.” As for Orbán’s appeal to European solidarity, the spokesman noted that “solidarity is a two-way street, and all member states should be ready to contribute. This is not some sort of à la carte menu where you pick one dish.” The spokesman then summarized all the benefits Hungary received, for example “over €93 million in funding for Hungary, both from the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and the Internal Security Fund. It also awarded Hungary an additional €6 million in emergency funds.” He reminded his audience that in 2015 Hungary refused to be labeled a front-line state and rejected becoming a beneficiary country, like Greece and Italy. Instead, it opted to build a fence.

After this announcement on September 1, there could be little doubt that Jean-Claude Juncker’s reply to Viktor Orbán would be a firm rejection of the Hungarian prime minister’s specious reasoning. The tone of the letter, however, was polite and expressed an openness for cooperation if there is a willingness on the other side. First, he reminded Orbán of the events of 2015 when Hungary was greatly affected by the refugee crisis and the European Union proposed that an emergency relocation scheme would apply to Hungary, similarly to Italy and Greece. Hungary rejected this offer of “concrete solidarity, declining the possibility to benefit from relocation of up to 54,000 persons and decided to return nearly 4 million euros of EU funds pre-paid by the Commission.” Shortly after that, Hungary “challenged the validity of the Council decisions on relocation before the Court of Justice.”

Then came a list of all sorts of benefits Hungary received from the European Union in connection with the refugee crisis. The last item on the list was “another form of European solidarity [which is] represented by the EU’s regional funds. Hungary is the 8th largest beneficiary of the European Structural and Investment Funds in the period 2014-2020 with an allocation of 25 billion euros. This represents more than 3% of Hungary’s GDP annually, the highest of any Member State.”

Finally, Juncker “welcome[d] the call in [Orbán’s] letter for more Europe in the area of migration and border management.” He also assured him that he is “committed to working together with Hungary towards a more efficient and fairer European migration and asylum policy based on responsibility and solidarity.”

Yes, it was a polite letter, although it contained a fair description of the European Union’s objections to Viktor Orbán’s interpretation of solidarity. And there was one sentence in this fairly lengthy letter that must have sent Orbán into a rage, as we will see from his answer. That was Juncker’s reference to Hungary’s being the eighth largest beneficiary of the European Structural and Investment Funds. So, let’s turn to that crucial part of Viktor Orbán’s answer to Jean-Claude Juncker.

I would like to inform you that we are confounded by the part of your letter that creates a link between the question of immigration and cohesion funds. Such a relationship does not exist and is not permitted by the current EU acquis. According to the view of the Hungarian government, a significant part of the resources provided by Cohesion Funds landed at the companies of net contributor countries. The economies of major EU member states have thus greatly benefited from the use of cohesion funds, as they have benefited from opening the markets of new member states.

Viktor Orbán delivered a speech this morning in which he rejected the widely-held view that Hungary’s economic growth derives largely from the funds received from the European Union. I don’t have the complete text and therefore have to rely on MTI’s summary, but his argument was that Hungary’s yearly budget is 18,000 billion forints while the EU subsidies amount to only 1,000-1,500 forints. What Hungary has achieved in the last few years is “our success.” However, according to Péter Mihályi, a professor of economics, Orbán’s figures are wrong. Between 2006 and 2015, Hungary received 2,400 billion euros. During the same period the Hungarian economy grew by only 4.6%. Without the EU funds that figure would have been -1.8%.

Another topic that irritates Orbán is the European Union’s interpretation of solidarity. He didn’t elaborate on it, but he claims that Juncker’s “interpretation of solidarity is not in accordance with European Union legislation.” More critically, “it is not in accordance with Hungarian historic traditions either.” This difference in interpretation is explained by the fact that “in contrast some of the major member states of the EU, Hungary has no colonial past.” These countries, because of their colonial past, have become immigrant countries, but Hungary is not an immigrant country and does not want to become one. “The interpretation of the principle of solidarity described in your letter is in essence the transformation of Hungary into an immigrant country, against the will of the Hungarian citizens. In my view, this is not solidarity, this is violence.” Finally, Orbán said that he is “stunned and puzzled” that the European Commission refuses to provide funds for the fence. At the end he repeated his demand for half of the €883 million euros which, according to him, is the cost of the building and maintaining the 175 km fence.

Just a footnote to Viktor Orbán’s interpretation of solidarity. Last night, Zsolt Bayer, the anti-Semitic journalist of extreme political views, wrote an opinion piece for Magyar Idők that appeared in the early morning edition of the paper. He also argues that Hungary cannot be compared to countries that are situated in the West. Half of Western Europe countries, for certain periods of time, were colonial powers. These countries occupied large parts of the world where “they destroyed the culture and civilization they found. They killed the inhabitants; they carried away their treasures and raw materials. Those who survived were made slaves. This is the glorious history of the West. That’s how it became rich. That is how it became strong. It is from these treasures that they built their democracy. It is from this position that they began to look down on the people of Eastern and Central Europe who have never had any colonies. The people of those colonial empires are now going to their former slave owners and submitting a bill.”

So, the West is responsible in a way for the migration of the former slaves. They deserve what they get. And as for the financial assistance coming from the West, it is no sign of generosity because in the end all that money ends up in the pockets of western multinational companies. So, politicians of Western European countries have nothing to complain about. At least this is what Viktor Orbán thinks.

September 7, 2017

Hungary is unique after all: Pew research on terrorism and refugees

A couple of days ago the Pew Research Center published a survey taken between February 16 and May 8 in 38 countries, asking about the respondents’ sense of threats to national security. People were supposed to rank eight things they consider to be truly threatening as far as their well-being is concerned. Heading the list were “Islamic militant group known as ISIS” (62%) and “global climate change” (61%). Cyber attacks (51%), condition of the global economy (51%), large number of refugees (39%), U.S. power and influence (35%), Russia’s power and influence (31%), and China’s power and influence (31%) followed in that order.

The 38 countries surveyed are widely scattered, and naturally their concerns vary according to their particular geographic and cultural settings. For example, South American countries found “global climate change” a greater problem than ISIS. In European countries the large number of refugees was obviously a greater concern than, let’s say, in Vietnam or Chile. But in all countries, including European ones, the fear of terrorism was greater than alarm over the refugees. There was one exception, not just among European countries but on all four continents: Hungary. Hungarians dread refugees (66%) more than they worry about terrorism (64%). To compare Hungary to some of its fellow EU members, here are some figures. In France, which had its share of terrorist attacks, people rightfully consider terrorism a very serious threat (88%), but only 39% think that the large number of refugees is something one has to seriously worry about. In Germany there is even less anxiety about the refugees despite their large influx (28%), while 79% believe ISIS to be a serious menace. Even in Poland, a country whose population receives similar messages from the government as do Hungarians, the fear of terrorism is slightly higher (66%) than concern about refugees (60%).

The only explanation I have for this phenomenon is the success of the massive brainwashing by the incessant government propaganda against the “migrants” that has been going on for more than two years. The official of the Hungarian Fencing Association who, while visiting Leipzig, saw marauding refugees all over the place was most likely under the influence of this propaganda campaign. All he heard about the German situation at home programmed him to see a country under siege by invading Africans and Middle Easterners.

His case calls to mind an article I read yesterday in The Guardian about the Norwegian anti-immigrant group Fedrelandet viktigst (Fatherland First), which mistook a photograph of six empty bus seats for a group of women wearing burqas. When the group posted the photo on Facebook, racist commenters went wild. One of the more telling comments was: “I thought it would be like this in the year 2050, but it is happening NOW.”

Those frightening burqas

Of course, the Hungarian anti-refugee propaganda is promulgated not only on huge billboards but also in the government media, which by now means almost all print newspapers, especially the regional papers. I think it is enough to point out, as an illustration of the seriousness of the situation, that Lőrinc Mészáros alone owns 200 regional papers, all of which spout the same pro-government propaganda. And these regional papers are still read by large numbers of people.

The flagship of the government media is Magyar Idők, in which I found a typical article by Gábor Czakó, a writer whom the Orbán government found worthy of the Kossuth Prize, the highest prize a Hungarian writer can receive, in 2011. I must admit that I have never read anything by this man, but his name sounded familiar. After a bit of research I found the occasion on which I encountered Czakó’s name. In 2012, in a television conversation, Czakó extolled the habit of men physically punishing their wives and children. He told a family story in which a fisherman, who came home only every two weeks, found that his wife in his absence didn’t do any housework. He finally became tired of the situation and beat her. The beating did miracles. She became, at least for the next two weeks, a perfect wife. As he put it, “she practically begged for the beating.” Czakó, the father of seven, also explained that his beating of his boys was always done with due preparation “because if you lose your head you will beat him until blood flows.”

So, now that you know something about the author, let’s see what wise thoughts he has on the present refugee crisis. According to Czakó, these refugees are part of an army of conquerors who came to wage war “against us and our civilization of thousands of years.” They are colonizers whose aim is to make slaves of the inhabitants of Europe. They came to destroy the nations of the continent. The liquidation of nations is a necessary element of the Islamic conquest, which rests on religious foundations. With the destruction of nations comes “the loss of love, culture, family, and the values of the common past.” Czakó’s projected new world will be devoid of friendship, loyalty, perseverance, self-sacrifice, and bravery. Truth will also disappear. The conspirators behind this invasion are “creating a babelic world without truth.” This image of the Armageddon that will be created by the refugees is meant to be terrify Hungarians, to poison their souls and stupefy their minds.

This is the kind of vision Hungarians have been confronted with day in and day out. And with time the claims of the mortal danger to European civilization become increasingly forceful and harrowing. It’s no wonder that in the Pew Research Institute’s study Hungary stands alone, with an obviously warped sense of reality.

August 3, 2017