Tag Archives: Schengen borders

Mária Schmidt and Zsolt Bayer on the fate of Europe

Viktor Orbán’s court historian, Mária Schmidt, has written an article that can perhaps be described as something between a book review and an attack on Germans and Germany. The occasion for her piece was the appearance of a new book by Hans-Peter Schwarz, a conservative political scientist and historian, titled Die neue Völkerwanderung nach Europa: Über den Verlust politischer Kontrolle und moralischer Gewissheiten. Due to Schmidt’s cavalier handling of borrowed text, it is hard to tell how much of the article actually reflects the ideas of Schwarz and how much comes from Schmidt’s own view the world. My sense is that Schwarz’s book is only an excuse for Schmidt to espouse her peculiar views on the state of Europe.

In the article, which bears the title “Egg without its shell, country without borders,” Schmidt vents her anger over the elimination of borders within the European Union. For Schmidt, the removal of borders meant “the abandonment of [the countries’] defense capabilities and thus their national security which are indispensable instruments of national sovereignty.” So, she continues, “Schengen soon became popular among tourists and businessmen, and naturally among drug dealers, human traffickers, prostitutes, pimps, and, naturally, international terrorists.” In brief, it was a dangerous experiment which by now cannot be undone and which leads ever more closely toward federalism. So, if I understand her correctly, if it depended on Mária Schmidt, she would dismantle the single market that seeks to guarantee the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people throughout the European Union. Some people in Hungary claim that this is the path Viktor Orbán will argue for in the future.

Schmidt’s venom is also directed against the European Court of Human Rights, which is “the favorite organization of federalists.” In Schmidt’s opinion the ECHR is largely responsible for the European Union’s crisis, mostly because, according to the court, human rights have priority over the defense of the borders, which means that the European Union became defenseless against the invasion of outsiders. In her tirade against the court, she recounts all the decisions that went against Hungary. The court, with the effective assistance of Soros-financed NGOs, will bankrupt Hungary, which is trying its best to save Europe from the migrants.

Schmidt’s hatred of Germans and Germany has no bounds. Germany was responsible for a borderless Europe which, as we already learned, is the source of all the evil that has befallen the European Union. The Germans are unable to get rid of their feelings of guilt associated with the Third Reich and what it entailed, and therefore they “dream of a federal Europe hoping to leave Hitler behind.” But in their eagerness to build a real union “they forget that a new German-led, unified Europe was in fact Hitler’s cherished dream.” Thus, Schmidt accuses today’s German politicians of continuing Hitler’s conquest of Europe by other means. And, she adds, “as we know, the ideology of socialism began its conquest of the world in Germany and socialism both in its national and international version is deeply rooted in German thinking.”

Mária Schmidt, very deep down, must know that the Hungarian government’s treatment of the refugees is unacceptable by any moral standard. She naturally knows what world opinion is of the Orbán government’s treatment of the refugees and its anti-refugee propaganda that poisoned the souls of Hungarians. One way of minimizing this anti-social behavior is to belittle the magnanimity and compassion of others. This is exactly what Schmidt does when she writes that “in 2015 the entire German elite and public fell in love with their own goodness and generosity, with their chancellor in the lead. They enjoyed the perception that they are now on the right side of history and that they are good-hearted, generous people, helping people in need.” Of course, the German people were told that it was time to be generous, and “once the Germans are told what to do, they don’t stop until they reach the bunker.” Once they receive the so-called order “wir schaffen das,” the consequences don’t matter. “A command is a command.”

It seems that it is not only the Germans who mask their “sentimental and romantic” nature with “arrogance and cynicism,” but the Council of Europe also believes that “the most important task is to prevent humans from drowning in the sea! Thus, the priority is not to halt the surging crowds but to save humans.” Can you imagine?

Schmidt spends considerable time on misinformation being spread in the West about Hungary in general and about the Orbán government’s treatment of the refugees in particular. There is nothing new in her arguments about the manipulated media of the West except for one amusing item. Schmidt uses President Trump’s “memorable” sentence–“The fake news media is not my enemy; it is the enemy of the American people”–as an epigraph for her section on “Fake news media.” Quite a literary coup for a man who, according to Philip Roth, is “incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.” Decrying all the fake news about Hungary and bolstering her defense with Donald Trump’s attack on the media is pretty low. According to the latest Fact Checker’s ongoing database, Trump in 119 days made 586 false and misleading claims. Moreover, as Ruth Marcus says in today’s Washington Post, Schmidt’s idol “is impervious to embarrassment, no matter how blatant his falsehood.” To use the words of a liar to pass judgment on others is a peculiar way of defending one’s alleged truth.

Of course, the hero of Europe is Viktor Orbán, who stopped the flow of migrants who otherwise would have run down Europe. He saved Europe with his brave move of stopping the invaders at the Serbian-Hungarian border. The following picture appeared with the article.

This depiction of the alleged result of migration is the death of Europe as we know it. That brown foot tells it all. Schmidt is very careful, the word “white” nowhere appears in her essay, but Zsolt Bayer, another favorite of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán, is much more outspoken in his essay that appeared in Magyar Idők today. As far as he is concerned, the Europe Hungarians so fervently wanted to belong to during the Kádár regime in fact no longer exists. That Europe was the world of “white people,” but now the Western Europe of old is gone. He recalls the popular German television series Die Schwarzwaldklinik, which depicted life in the Black Forest where one could see beautifully kept lawns, clean streets, elegant cars, villas, and “white people taking care of their problems who were Europeans like us, only much richer, luckier, happier and freer but still familiar.” Hungary will not accept the demands of the European Union in the name of solidarity. The real solidarity means that “when the European white Christian people lose the battle in the defense of their own past, then we–the humiliated, the betrayed and the despised—will welcome them. However, in the meantime, we will not tolerate lecturing and empty threats. Is that clear?” I guess it is.

May 20, 2017

Viktor Orbán: Hungary is at war

Viktor Orbán is in his element. At last we are at war with ISIS. François Hollande said so, and a few hours later French planes bombed important targets in ISIS-held Raqqa in northern Syria. And since in Viktor Orbán’s interpretation it was not only France that was attacked but the whole European Union and thus also Hungary, the prime minister could triumphantly announce that Hungary is also at war. That pronouncement must have buoyed Orbán, who feels best when he imagines himself in a warlike situation.

Right after the terrorist attack in Paris Orbán cancelled a scheduled trip to Montenegro. Instead, he decided to stay at home and deliver a speech today in the Hungarian parliament that he promised would be tempered given the tragic events that took place in Paris on Friday night. Well, the speech didn’t turn out to be low-keyed. On the contrary, most commentators consider it his most brutal attack against the asylum seekers. Or, as András Jámbor of kettosmerce.hu said,”Orbán is waging war not against the terrorists but the refugees.” The speech that was posted with record speed on the prime minister’s website has practically nothing to do with the terrorist attack in Paris or its victims. After announcing that “the European Union was attacked and we are also in danger,” he immediately launched into outlining the nature of this danger. It is not that one day some tourist-filled sections of Budapest will suffer the same fate as Paris. Rather, the real danger is allowing asylum seekers into Europe.

In the speech Orbán justified his decision to close Hungary’s borders in light of the French terrorist attack and criticized the politicians of the European Union who didn’t listen to him. Instead of coming up with practical solutions, “the leaders of some countries to this day are trying to contrive ways of importing masses of immigrants” into Europe. In Brussels the politicians still insist that immigration is “a good thing” while there is more and more proof every day that it is “a bad thing.” Brussels sends “invitations to the migrants” instead of sending the honest message that life here is not at all what they expect.

What kinds of dangers does Europe face with the arrival of these asylum seekers? First, their presence increases the danger of terror attacks, “just as we learned Friday night.” Thus, way before we know much about the people who committed the crime, Orbán draws a direct correlation between the current flow of refugees and the terrorist attack in Paris. Second, this mass migration adds to “the growth of criminal activities” in countries with large immigrant populations. Statistics and opinions vary on that score, but as far as the United States is concerned, immigrants commit fewer crimes than their American-born counterparts. Studies in the United Kingdom showed that the presence of immigrants made no appreciable difference in crime statistics. However, it is true that in some other countries this is not the case. By this evening, Orbán was frightening his listeners on state television with the specter of rape that is awaiting Hungarian women if immigrants are allowed to settle in the country. Third, immigration poses a danger to “our culture, life style, customs and traditions.”

Among Orbán’s objections to immigration from war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria there is a curious item that needs further elucidation. After calling attention to the hundreds of thousands of people who arrive without identification and “without knowing what they want,” he said: “They are coming from territories where military action is going on. Such a thing has never happened before. We allow, nay transport, into Europe people from places that are at war with the European Union.” The only way I can interpret these sentences is that he considers the asylum seekers active belligerents who, instead of being given shelter, should be put into prisoner-of-war camps. Certainly a unique interpretation of the situation.

The next item he addressed was the quota system. As we know, the Hungarian government is dead against any quotas. Viktor Orbán has made that eminently clear. Critics of Orbán’s steadfast refusal to admit even one asylum seeker consider his stance dangerous because the majority of the member states might punish Hungary by excluding it from the Schengen zone, with all the adverse consequences of such a move. Orbán himself sees the danger of this possibility, but he arrives at this conclusion in a circuitous way. He argues that compulsory quotas will not “decrease the pressure of immigration” but will instead increase it. “And if it goes on much longer, this pressure will result in the end of the Schengen system and borders will be reintroduced within the Union.” So, it is not his refusal to cooperate that might lead to the breakup of the Schengen zone but the pressure the immigrants put on the member states.

Finally, Orbán announced that there is no use tinkering with the present political system of the Union. “There is a need for a new European political system.” When it came to specific suggestions, Orbán was unable to provide any practical solutions to the ills of the current setup. Yes, we must defend the borders, culture, and economic interests of the European Union. That’s all the wisdom he could offer. He certainly doesn’t seem to have any ideas about what to do with the almost one million people who are already within the European Union.

Lajos Kósa: "How many people have to die before Juncker resigns?"

Lajos Kósa: “How many people have to die before Juncker resigns?”

Some of the most outlandish comments by Viktor Orbán and Lajos Kósa, the newly elected leader of the Fidesz caucus, came during the discussion period after the speech. For example, Orbán compared dismantling nation states to Nazism. To quote him verbatim: “Yes, we need intellectual originality. This is true. But racial theory and Stalinism came from the madness of European intellectuals. Today the undoing of the nation states, which is the current mad and dangerous idea [of intellectuals], is similar to national socialism or communism.”

Kósa is known for his outrageous statements, some of which have had outsize consequences. It’s enough to remember his irresponsible words on the state of the Hungarian economy during the summer of 2010 when he managed to create a mini financial crisis in the international markets. This time he called upon all European Union leaders to resign. “How many dead people do we need for Juncker to resign,” he asked. And if that were not enough, he also suggested Greece’s expulsion from the Union. I have the feeling that in this new setup it will be Kósa who says what Orbán either can’t or doesn’t want to say.

At the moment Orbán is riding high. The question is for how long.

Richard Field: Experts discuss causes and consequences of the refugee crisis

This summary of a round table discussion appeared in the October 1 issue of Budapest Beacon. The participants are Daniel Kelemen of Rutgers University and Rafaela Dancygier and Kim Lane Scheppele, both of Princeton University. The discussion took place at Princeton on Tuesday, September 29.

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The end of the honeymoon?

Rafaela Dancygier, who studies ethnic diversity in advanced democracies, said she was puzzled by the fact that a vast majority of Germans supported the government’s decision to admit almost a million refugees so far this year and an additional 500,000 over the next four years.

Dancygier noted that this is the largest number of refugees to be taken in by Germany since the end of the Second World War, the major difference being that this time they are not ethnic German victims of ethnic cleansing, but people from the Middle-East and central Asia having no connection to Germany, culturally, linguistically or otherwise.

She said that traditionally Germans have not been all that welcoming of refugees, but according to a public opinion poll taken the previous month a vast majority of Germans supported the country taking in refugees, especially those fleeing persecution or war, in the belief that it will contribute to an “easing of the labor shortage.”  However, Dancygier is concerned the “honeymoon” of positive public opinion will end as the large inflow puts upward pressure on rents and inundates towns and cities in eastern Germany where support for right-wing, anti-immigrant parties is high.

“Refugees are a gift” for a country like Germany whose population has been shrinking and which suffers labor shortages, according to Dancygier, who notes that “Germany has been trying to get more migrants, especially highly skilled, without much success.”  However, while Syrians tend to be better educated than refugees from Afghanistan or Eritrea, “almost none of them know German.”   For this reason, she believes integrating them into the German economy will be challenging, “even at the high-skilled end.”

Where to settle the migrants?

Another problem Germany faces is where to put the refugees.  “Putting them in areas where housing is available is going to create problems,” she said. “Putting them where they are welcome will result in rents going up” and the “end of the honeymoon phase.”

“Many Germans believe the refugees should be housed in the east where there is a surplus of housing. The problem is that there are few jobs available in the east.”  Moreover, she noted that support for Germany’s far-right, anti-immigrant party is very high in the east.

The Dublin system is broken

Kim Lane Scheppele, who is the director of the Program in Law and Public Affairs at Princeton University in addition to being a professor of Sociology and International Affairs, focused on the legal aspect of Europe’s refugee crisis.

“The EU has a legal framework for virtually everything that it is going to do,” noted Scheppele, adding that “asylum law, international protection law, and law for processing applications is all EU law rather than Member State law.” She pointed out that even though asylum law is one of those areas where EU law has taken precedence over Member State law, “there are huge differences in how Member States handle crises.”

“EU law itself is broken, most specifically around the question of who is responsible for processing asylum claims,” Scheppele said.

She explained that the Dublin system requires asylum seekers to apply for asylum in the first EU state they enter, to prevent the making of multiple applications, noting that “It didn’t make sense then and it doesn’t make sense now.”

The lack of a unified system for evaluating asylum applications meant the likelihood of an application for asylum or international protection being approved depends where one applied.  She noted that Germany traditionally approves over 60 percent of asylum applications.  By contrast, “front-line” countries such as Hungary (9 percent) or Greece (4 percent) rejected far more applications than they approved.

Poor countries can’t afford to care for refugees

EU front-line Member States also happen to be among its poorest members, noted Scheppele. Under Dublin, frontline states had an obligation to register migrants and process asylum claims, as well as provide shelter, food, housing, medical care, and opportunity for employment while applications were pending.

“This is no big deal in the case of 50 people,” said Scheppele.  But it was a very big deal if all of a sudden tens or even hundreds of thousands of refugees showed up on your doorstep.

According to the professor of sociology and comparative law, Greece is no longer considered a front-line EU state because the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice ruled it is no longer capable of discharging its responsibilities to asylum seekers after having instituted austerity programs.

The result, said Scheppele, was that tens of thousands of refugees fleeing war and overcrowded refugee camps “discovered Hungary.”

Refugee ping-pong

Being a government “run by lawyers” Hungary “will always do something in law before they do it in practice,” she said.  “Whether the laws are a good idea or not is a different question.

“Seeing that it was going to be a front-line state, Hungary decided that it was going to build a fence along its 100-mile border with Serbia.” The only conceivable purpose of the fence was “to force refugees to enter the EU via Romania or Croatia, both EU Member States.”

“EU law requires front-line countries to register and fingerprint asylum seekers.  It doesn’t require Member States to treat them badly. Considering that the Dublin system was broken to begin with, Hungary could just have easily let the migrants pass through.

“What the Hungarians were extremely worried about was that the Dublin system would be one day invoked and Hungary would be stuck with all these people.  All refugees entering the EU via Hungary could, under EU law, be returned to Hungary. “

Scheppele said Hungary responded by modifying regulations governing granting asylum claims.  “According to this law at the first proceeding all judges are allowed to ask is ‘how did you get to Hungary?’.  If the answer is via a state deemed safe by Hungary, then the asylum judge is limited to saying we’re sending you back because under our law you have to be processed.”

To the extent Hungary’s modified asylum law is not compatible with EU law or that of neighboring countries, she warned it could result in “refugee ping-pong” with Germany or Austria deporting refugees whose asylum requests have been rejected back to Hungary which, in turn, deports them back to Germany or Austria.

A need for unified standards

She said standards used to process applications are also subject to EU law, and every Member State is required to determine whether the individual has a well-founded fear of persecution in the case of asylum claims, or whether the person has reason to fear violence as in the case for applications for international protection.

Observing that if “Hungary is going to violate EU law or doing something unusual, it will never be the first,” she noted that just the previous week the European Commission took the unprecedented step of filing infringement actions against 19 Member States for failing to transpose, that is, codify into domestic legislation EU directives on asylum.

Noting that “Hungary is run by extremely clever lawyers” Scheppele said the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán “correctly judged that Dublin was insane” and that “we will be in very good company if we develop our own idiosyncratic standards for granting asylum and protection until the EC makes everybody transpose the directives.”

“They can’t go after Hungary for having bizarre asylum law, they have to go after everyone,” she said, adding that “This is not going to be a speedy process” and “it is going to be a very long time before the Europeans pass the laws and begin implementing laws.”  The situation was further complicated by the fact that in Hungary’s case “several different standards are being deliberately confused.”

The Princeton professor said economic migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are distinct determinations.  “Germany has decided that people whose primary residences are in ‘safe countries’ will be presumably turned down for asylum or international protection,” including refugees presently living in the former constituent states of Yugoslavia.

A sleight of hand

In Hungary’s case, the criteria was not residency but whether the refugee had passed through a safe country on his or her way to Hungary. “It will take years to sort this out,” warned Scheppele.  “Until then Hungary will claim to be copying Germany, which they aren’t.”

However, Scheppele noted that certain EU net donor states wish to condition fiscal transfers to net recipient states on the latter meeting their legal obligations.

“Everybody forgets that the EU is already a big transfer union.  Streams of funds cohesion, agriculture, regional programs redistribute money.  The EU is finally starting to wake up to the idea that this is leverage over the poorer states.” And there is “starting to be talk of EU sanctions, which should help bring some EU Member States into line.”

Causes and consequences

Rutgers University professor of political science R. Daniel Kelemen attributed the “incredible uptick this year” in migration to deteriorating conditions in the existing refugee camps in Turkey and elsewhere.

“Just in the past few weeks there may have been a rush to get to Europe because of the twin fact of Merkel’s announcement” that Germany would accept Syrian refugees, and the pending completion of the fence along the Hungarian-Serbian border, as well as an intensification of ISIS’s campaign, said the EU expert.

Crisis, failure, move forward

He said Europe’s refugee crisis was the product of “EU policy being one of a half-built union” and that “we’re seeing the peaking of the crisis that has been mounting for eight years or so.”

“At the core of the EU crisis is the fact that they launched a common currency without other policies, such as coordination of fiscal policies and central banks that you would ordinarily need to support monetary union,” said Kelemen, who likens the EU to a “half-built ship going out to sea—as soon as there is a stormy sea, it gets into trouble.”

He said the EU’s response “has been to add necessary elements “on the fly” and this applied to EU policy on refugees as well as the eurozone crisis and the Greek debt crisis.

“A fundamental unsustainable aspect of the EU is that it has tried to maintain the Schengen system of free internal movement and open internal borders.  But they’ve left control of external borders to national governments, and left them in charge of immigration and asylum policy,” said Kelemen. “Free movement internally is incompatible with national control over borders, asylum, and immigration when there is a crisis.”

Failing forward or backward?

Would the EU fail forward, in other words would it get more control over policing? Would they strengthen common controlled borders?  Would they harmonize common control of immigrant procedures and asylum policy?  Would they set up a system of allocating refugees across the EU?

Calling the Greek and eurozone crisis “interminable” Kelemen said the dual crises had “consumed all of the EU’s political capital” and “taken the wind out of the EU’s sails, be it on backsliding on democracy in Hungary, or the refugee crisis.”

On the subject of the “fundamental incompatibility of open internal borders, Schengen and national control of internal borders, immigration and asylum,” Kelemen said one of two things is going to happen:

“Either it’s going to fail back, and Schengen will die, which is what has happened temporarily with the suspension of Schengen” or it will “fail forward.”

He said the refugee crisis will result in the hardening of the EU’s external borders, but that the question was whether they should harden the borders of the 28 Member States or just Schengen, which is a subset of the EU but which includes Norway and Switzerland.

The Rutgers professor of political science said the European Commission tolerated Hungary building a fence along the border of Serbia, but it strongly objected to Hungary laying out razor wire along the border with Slovenia.  He anticipates the EU playing a larger role in the policing of external borders, as well as playing a larger rule in the resettlement of refugees.

“They could put a lot of stimulus money into Greece, where you could build cities for Syrians,” observed Kelemen. “There could be a permanent system for redistributing refugees, like in the US.”

Political consequences 

Kelemen said the EU had got itself on the “wrong side of two big issues” in terms of populist politics by demanding fiscal discipline on the part of Member States at a time of growing unemployment and poverty, while at the same time requiring them to provide refugees with the kinds of public services and benefits they cannot afford to give their own citizens.

Agreeing with Scheppele that “Dublin is dead” and “has to be replaced,” Kelemen anticipates “greater harmonization” and “more EU control over immigration, asylum and borders.”  However, this would come at a cost.

“They are going to throw a bone to the Right by getting more aggressive on policing the external borders, but will push for more guarantees for respecting basic criteria for humane treatment and processing of claims,” speculated the expert on comparative public policy.

Scheppele agreed that EU pressure to reduce social safety nets was incompatible with moral pressure to give away things to refugees.

“Hungary had to meet draconian conditions imposed on it by the IMF in 2009 just before the refugee crisis,” as a result of which it eliminated the entire social safety net.  “It is extremely difficult to give free housing and medical care to refugees,” said Scheppele.  “It can’t do it politically.  No country could.”

On the subject of the attempts by Orbán to exploit Europe’s refugee crisis for his own political and ideological ends, Scheppele noted that even as he was tearing Europe apart with one hand by unifying right-wing parties, he was promoting EU solidarity with the other through Hungary’s proposal that each Member State contribute part of their GDP towards building refugee camps in Turkey and Lebanon.

“The EU never knows what to do with Viktor Orbán. That is precisely how he will survive,” said Scheppele.

The Brexit threat

Scheppele agreed with Kelemen that it would be good if the EU could give money to the front-line states, calling it a “virtuous circle“ that would help solve the Greek crisis by infusing money into the beleaguered country.  However, she observed that the prospect of the United Kingdom exiting the EU would prevent this from happening.

“Britain wants a smaller, slimmer EU. So long as the UK leaving the EU remains on the agenda, the EU is paralyzed from doing anything that would increase its competencies and solidarity. It’s just bad luck that a solution to these crises is blocked by Brexit [an abbreviation of “British exit”].”

Kelemen noted that the euro remains very popular, even in Greece, but he is concerned about so-called “differential integration” or “variable geometry” whereby certain Member States are allowed to opt out of certain conventions. If the UK stays it may “harden the divisions between those in the core and peripheral members.”

“Do people like Schengen enough and free movement that they’ll do whatever it takes even if it involves increased EU control over border protection?”

The “experimental” fence between Slovenia and Hungary

On September 25 Viktor Orbán, after his conversations with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and Vice-Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner, gave a press conference in which he talked at some length about the Slovenian-Hungarian border. He categorically stated that Hungary doesn’t want to build a fence between Slovenia and Hungary. The activity along the border is merely earthwork. Hungarians are clearing the ground to make it accessible to motorized vehicles. Because Slovenia is a member of the Schengen zone, nothing can be built along the border “that cannot be moved away within a day.”

What happened in reality? Contrary to the prime minister’s claim, Hungary did build a fence, although the Hungarian government would disagree with my choice of words; they described it as a wire obstacle. Moreover, it was not the kind of structure that, in Orbán’s legal code, is prohibited between two Schengen countries. It could be moved away within a day–and it was.

The decision to build the fence had already been reached about a week before Viktor Orbán denied any such intention. On Monday, September 21, Viktor Orbán delivered a speech in parliament in which he appealed for votes from the opposition to allow the domestic use of the Hungarian army given the emergency situation created by the refugee crisis. There he explained that while the police force is sufficient to defend the Serb-Hungarian border, this is not the case along the Croatian and Slovenian sections of the country’s borders. Here the presence of the army is necessary. So, I think it is safe to assume that the decision to build a fence along the Slovenian border had already been reached sometime prior to September 21. In fact, I’m pretty certain that it was reached as soon as it became clear that the Slovenian government was allowing refugees to cross into Slovenian territory from Croatia. And that was on September 18-19. It was during that weekend that Viktor Orbán most likely told Fidesz MPs who had gathered for a weekend retreat at Lake Velence about his resolve to extend the fence farther north. Indirect evidence for that scenario comes from László Vïgh, an MP from Zala County, who when asked by a reporter from a local paper what’s going on in their region said the following: “Viktor Orbán made it absolutely clear that the erection of the fence will continue as long as is necessary. Therefore, I’m certain that we will continue to build the fence along the Slovenian and if necessary even along the Austrian border.” He should have known since he was present at that meeting.

Subsequently, this government decision was confirmed many times. On September 24, a day before Viktor Orbán’s trip to Vienna, János Lázár at his usual Thursday press conference talked about the necessity of building a fence along the Slovenian border. Zoltán Kovács, on the same day, announced that work on the fence had already begun, starting in the village of Tornyiszentmiklós. And indeed MTI reported that the barbed wire and gates had been delivered and that soldiers were busily building the fence.

The Hungarian government meant business / Photo Sobotainfo

The Hungarian government meant business / Photo Sobotainfo

Slovenian polictians were stunned. Boštjan Šefic, undersecretary in the Slovenian ministry of interior, reported that during the previous night the Slovenians noticed “unusual activity” along the Hungarian border. It was before the fact that they received official notification from Budapest. Vesna Györkös Žnidar, Slovenia’s minister of interior, complained about Sándor Pintér’s lack of cooperation with her own ministry. And Karl Erjavec, the foreign minister, charged that Budapest didn’t bother to get in touch with him about Hungarian intentions.

The Hungarian side naturally told a different story. The spokesman for the Hungarian foreign ministry insisted that Péter Szijjártó had called Erjavec and explained to him that “Hungary is not building a permanent structure.” The foreign ministry spokesman also maintained that the two ministers of interior had several conversations on the subject. He claimed that Vesna Györkös Žnidar should have been aware that if refugees cross into Slovenia, Hungary will build a fence in order to defend its borders. This last statement pretty well confirms that Pintér did not specifically inform Žnidar. She was supposed to assume that such an action would be automatically implemented.

Meanwhile Slovenia got in touch with Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU commissioner for migration, home affairs, and citizenship who in turn contacted the Hungarian government. Ljubljana also alerted Johannes Hahn, commissioner in charge of European neighborhood policy and enlargement negotiations. By the morning of Friday, September 25, it became evident that building a fence between two Schengen states was a serious matter and that such a move would have grave consequences. It was at this point that Orbán, still in Vienna, tried to minimize Hungarian activities along the border as merely earthwork that had nothing to do with the fence. But pictures taken on the spot tell a different story. The picture (above) that was published on the Slovenian internet site SobotaInfo is especially telling. And MTI’s photo, taken at Tornyiszentmiklós, shows gates waiting to be moved to block the road to Slovenian territory.

Slovenija2

Panic must have set in because late at night on September 25 Sándor Pintér announced that although “as an experiment a wire obstacle (drótakadály) had been laid,” it had been removed during the afternoon. From the announcement we learn that Pintér rushed to the border to meet his counterpart, Vesna Györkös Žnidar. In the future, the announcement continued, the two of them will consult with each other about any activities along the border. The word from Brussels had to be quite forceful because the Hungarian government caved, something that doesn’t happen too often in EU-Hungarian relations.

What changed Orbán’s mind on the Dublin III Regulation?

It says a lot about the state of affairs in Hungary that the Hungarian media and hence the Hungarian public had to learn from an Austrian newspaper that the Hungarian government had repealed the Dublin III Regulation governing refugee policy within the European Union for an unspecified length of time because of “technical difficulties.”

In an “exclusive” article the Austrian Die Presse revealed late yesterday evening that “the Hungarian Ministry of Interior has informed the authorities in Vienna of its refusal to accept any refugees who have crossed through Hungary and moved on the other member states.” The same message was sent to Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Finland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, Slovakia, and Germany. Government spokesman  Zoltán Kovács, who was interviewed by Die Presse, explained that Hungary is looking after 3,000 refugees already, and “the boat is full.” The country cannot take any more refugees. The Austrian Foreign Ministry called in the Hungarian ambassador for consultation.

Brussels’s reaction to Hungary’s unilateral suspension of the Dublin agreement was immediate and surprisingly sharp. The European Commission asked for “an immediate clarification” of the nature and extent of the “technical difficulties” and expressed its dismay at Hungary’s unilateral decision on the matter. Die Presse‘s take on Viktor Orbán’s latest assault on the legal structure of the European Union was that he wanted to put pressure on the European Union before the Brussels summit scheduled for Thursday.

Hungarian journalists, who tried to find out more about the EU reaction in Brussels, learned that a unilateral move in contravention of a hard-and-fast rule such as Dublin III is unheard of. What Hungary could do if it is unable to fulfill its obligations is to ask for additional financial assistance. Mind you, it will be difficult to argue that Hungary is overburdened by refugees returned from western countries when their number over the last year was 827. One possible outcome of Viktor Orbán’s “naughtiness” will be another useless infringement procedure, although the Demokratikus Koalíció also suggested that Hungary’s refusal to cooperate might mean a loss of EU subsidies that are earmarked for the upkeep of refugees while their cases are being investigated.

That was the situation last night. This morning the ministry of interior, which is responsible for handling the refugee issue and was the one that informed a score of countries of Hungary’s decision, changed its story. What the ministry said last night was “misunderstood.” Hungary is not planning to abrogate the Dublin agreement. The government is simply asking for “a little patience.” According to EU standards, Hungary has accommodations for only 1,500 people, but 3,500-4,000 refugees are currently in the country. According to the ministry of interior, the western countries would like to send 600-700 people back to Hungary, and the government is asking for “technical patience,” whatever that means, only in their case.

In addition, this morning the cabinet held a meeting after which Péter Szijjártó, the foreign minister, gave a brief press conference during which they reiterated this latest version of Hungary’s policy on the refugee issue. Any suspension of the EU rule is out of the question. The Hungarian government will “begin consultations with the first deputy president of the EU,” Frans Timmermans.

Whatever happened between yesterday afternoon and this morning, it had to be something that made a strong impression on Viktor Orbán and his crew. Moreover, it is doubtful that the idea of “consultations” was initiated by the Hungarian government. More likely than not, Timmermans strongly urged Szijjártó & Co. to report to him on Hungary’s policy. I wish Szijjártó the best of luck in trying to explain the exact position of the government on the matter. At the moment the messages coming from various ministries are so confusing that I doubt that even top government officials know what the real situation is.

In Brussels the Hungarian government most likely will try to argue that those refugees who come to Hungary through Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia are coming from “safe”countries and therefore are not eligible for protection on the territory of Hungary. I doubt that this argument will float. Admittedly, the Dublin III agreement is unfair in the sense that certain countries, like Hungary and very soon Slovenia and Croatia, have to carry most of the burden of the overland refugee explosion. But, under the present circumstances, the best Hungary can hope for is financial and personnel assistance in dealing with the refugees.

Otherwise, the government is proceeding with its plans to build a fence along the Serbian border, which many western politicians condemn as an act that might create a chain reaction. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, speaking in the Italian senate, said that “those of us who saw the destruction of walls will have to be the ones who prevent the raising of such walls again in Europe.” Szijjártó announced that, if necessary, they will erect fences not only between Hungary and Serbia but between Hungary and other countries as well. I wonder which countries he has in mind. I wouldn’t be surprised if the government extended the fence toward the west, along certain parts of the Croatian-Hungarian border.

Great efforts are also being made to catch refugees. Thousands of policemen are already patrolling the Serbian-Hungarian border. Today a huge police raid was conducted in Szeged, apparently prompted by the complaints of some residents about refugees hiding in the city. One such helpful citizen was interviewed this morning on TV2. She is an older woman who spends her entire day along the border, searching for refugees and handing them over to the police. Today’s police raid was successful. By 4 p.m. 728 refugees had been rounded up just in the city of Szeged.

MTI / Zoltán Gergely Kelemen

MTI / Zoltán Gergely Kelemen

László Toroczkai, the infamous neo-Nazi who has been banned from Slovakia, Romania, and Serbia because of his openly irredentist views and illegal activities and who became mayor of Ásotthalom in 2013, created a “civil guard” of about 15 volunteers who patrol and alert the local police. A reporter for the Irish Times encountered Toroczkai, who said that sometimes the refugees “break into an empty farmhouse to sleep or change clothes. But occasionally the owner comes back when they’re inside–and who would be pleased to find an Afghan or African family in their home like that?” A reporter from Al Jazeera experienced first hand the prejudice of Hungarians. He described a young woman reporter, most likely from the state television station, who “speaks of [the refugees] to us as though they are vermin.”

Viktor Orbán’s policy, which was sold as defending Hungarians from dangerous strangers, resonates with about 75% of the population. And so it is not surprising that, according to the latest opinion poll, Fidesz has rebounded, turning around the downward trend in its support over the past few months. The refugee issue was a godsend to Viktor Orbán.