Tag Archives: Sebastian Kurz

Viktor Orbán will take another stab at solving the refugee crisis

Although not much can be read in the media outside of Hungary about a conference that will take place tomorrow in Vienna, the Orbán government has high hopes for it. Attending the conference will be German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, in addition to the prime ministers of Balkan states along the migrant route. Although in Bratislava Orbán intimated that he had something to do with convening the gathering and accordingly portfolio.hu reported from Bratislava that “Orbán convoked a new summit” at which “he will try to change Brussels’ suicidal and naïve immigration policy,” in fact, as his wont, Orbán took credit for something someone else did. It was actually Chancellor Kern who proposed the extraordinary mini-summit.

He may not have come up with the idea for the conference, but Orbán thinks he can effect its outcome. The Orbán government holds cabinet meetings every Thursday, after which János Lázár, his chief-of-staff, meets the press. Viktor Orbán apparently chairs these meetings very efficiently and it almost never happens that they run overtime. This time it did. Lázár was half an hour late. The topic was tomorrow’s “mini-summit” in Vienna. Orbán is obviously preparing for the occasion with more than usual care.

A day before the cabinet meeting Orbán gave a lengthy interview to Origo, the popular news site that was acquired recently by a loyal oligarch of the Fidesz camp. A large chunk of the interview was devoted to convincing Hungarians that the referendum is a national issue that has nothing to do with party politics. Linked to this question was a general discussion of his ideas on solving the refugee crisis. I think it’s fair to assume that Orbán’s remarks during the interview give us an inkling of the kind of position he will take at the Viennese gathering.

He said that Hungary’s reaction to the arrival of the migrants was correct from the very beginning when the country confined the migrants to refugee camps. But the European Commission and the European Court of Justice made the wrong decision when “they decided that the Hungarian treatment of the refugees was illegal.” This is actually what other countries should have done but didn’t. Now countries like France and Germany have to scatter their migrants all over the countryside instead of locating them in a few large camps under lock and key.

The migrants, Orbán continued, should have been prevented from entering the European Union in the first place. The fault lies with Germany which made the decision to welcome the migrants, and now “German politicians tell us to solve their problems.” Surely, the dispersion of migrants all over the European Union is “an inhumane proposal” because unless “one ties the person to a tree,” he “will return to Germany anyway.”

So, what is the solution? Orbán takes the position that “those who came [to the European Union] illegally must be rounded up and removed. Not to other countries but outside of the European Union. The question is where. Here comes our Schengen 2.0 action plan which stipulates that large refugee camps be built guarded by armed security forces and financed by the European Union. Anyone who came here illegally must be returned to [these camps]. From there they can apply for entry and if there is a country ready to receive them they can come. Until then they have to stay in that big camp outside of the European Union. That can be on an island or perhaps somewhere in North Africa, but the security and accommodations of this camp must be guaranteed by the European Union in its own interest.”

Viktor Orbán's solution

Viktor Orbán’s solution

In the interview Orbán stuck to this simplistic and totally impractical solution even when the rather subservient editor-in-chief of origo.hu brought up the difficulty of moving millions of people already in the Union to what are basically “internment camps” under armed guard. Orbán’s retort was that the only reason countries with large numbers of newly arrived migrants have been unable to deport them is because “there is no unified governmental will.” If there were such will in all countries, “this morally and humanly difficult task could be accomplished. But if we don’t expel them from the Union they will stay. Once they stay the request will come to take over some of the refugees” and “thus the trouble will be shared by all.” In brief, countries with large numbers of refugees–Germany, Sweden, France, and Austria–should expel them. Otherwise the whole continent is doomed.

After the Bratislava summit many people were surprised to hear that Orbán, despite results that met some of his demands, was dissatisfied with the summit’s outcome. Commentators, including me, almost uniformly interpreted Orbán’s harsh words as a message to the Hungarian public poised to vote on a referendum on compulsory quotas. Sure, we all said, he couldn’t go home and tell his loyalists that the Bratislava summit was a great success from his point of view. But looking at what Orbán’s “solution” to the refugee crisis is, I think his disappointment was genuine. Now he hopes that something can be achieved tomorrow in Vienna. After all, Merkel will have to face politicians who more or less share Orbán’s views on the refugee crisis. Perhaps further pressure can modify Merkel’s views, because Germany is the key to solving the crisis to Orbán’s satisfaction.

I’m curious what kind of package Orbán has prepared for this meeting and how far he will be able push Merkel who, in Orbán’s eyes, is responsible for the whole mess. Although the Austrians at the moment take a rather harsh position on the endless flow of refugees and would like to stop them from entering the European Union in the first place, I don’t think they would be ready to expel all the newly arrived refugees and gather them in a camp outside the EU under the watchful eye of armed guards.

September 23, 2016

Jean Asselborn calls for the expulsion of Orbán’s Hungary from the EU

Only a few hours have gone by since Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn gave an interview to Die Welt in which he called for the temporary or permanent expulsion of Hungary from the European Union. But the number of articles on the story is already in the hundreds, in the Hungarian as well as the international media. Asselborn argued that Hungary’s leaving was “the only way to preserve the cohesion and values of the European Union.” The EU shouldn’t tolerate such misconduct as “the treatment of the refugees, the massive violation of the freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary.” Asselborn would like to see a change of EU rules that would allow “the suspension of membership of an EU country without unanimity.”

Asselborn is especially appalled by the treatment of those fleeing war, who “are being treated almost worse than wild animals.” In his opinion, “Hungary is not far away from introducing a firing order against the refugees.” Once he finished with the sins of the Hungarian government, he turned to the person of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, whom he made responsible for the perception that, although in words the EU is supposed to be the defender of basic human values, it tolerates the existence of a regime represented by Orbán.

The letter Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó sent from Moldavia was, as Index pointed out, anything but politically correct. “We already knew that Jean Asselborn is not someone who should be taken seriously. He lives only a few kilometers from Brussels and it shows. He is patronizing, arrogant, and frustrated…. As a run-of-the-mill nihilist he tirelessly works on the ruination of European security and culture.” The description of EU politicians as the “nihilists of Brussels” is of very recent coinage. Viktor Orbán used it yesterday in his speech at the opening of the new session of the parliament. The image apparently comes from Aleksandr Dugin, the Russian political scientist whose views have been described as fascist.

Jean Asselborn and Péter Szijjártó, September 21, 2015 / MTI Photo Márton Kovács

Jean Asselborn and Péter Szijjártó, September 21, 2015 / MTI / Photo Márton Kovács

The very first person who came to the defense of Orbán was Jiří Ovčáček, the spokesman of Miloš Zeman, the notoriously anti-EU and pro-Russian president of the Czech Republic. Zeman’s support only further emphasizes how far out of the European mainstream Viktor Orbán is with his views.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steimeier tried to calm the situation. He pointed out that “there is no agreed position” within the Union on the treatment of Hungary, but he added that he “can understand, looking at Hungary, that some people in Europe are getting impatient.” Steimeier is a social democrat who most likely shares Asselborn’s feelings toward Viktor Orbán and his regime but is far more diplomatic.

Soon enough, however, German politicians on the right began to line up behind Orbán. The first of these was Manfred Weber, head of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament. Although occasionally Weber has been mildly critical of the Hungarian prime minister, this time he defended him quite vigorously, pointing out that “Hungary has always carried out all the decisions” of the European Union. On the other hand, he severely criticized the Polish government for its attempt to undermine the rule of law in Poland. An indefensible position, I must say, considering that in the last six and a half years Viktor Orbán has completely destroyed Hungarian democracy and has introduced an autocratic system without any semblance of the rule of law. Weber’s lopsided view is undoubtedly due to the fact that the Polish PiS members don’t sit in his EPP caucus.

The German Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) naturally supports Orbán’s Hungary. The party’s deputy chairman called Asselborn’s demand “grotesque” and added that Orbán should be awarded the Charlemagne Prize. This suggestion is especially amusing in light of the fact that the last two recipients of the prize were Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, and Pope Francis. Orbán at the moment is accusing Schulz of conspiring with socialist Hungarian mayors to smuggle migrants into the country, and we know what the general opinion is in Fidesz circles of the pope who doesn’t understand Europe and is a naïve socialist.

Soon enough Austrian politicians also spoke up in defense of Orbán. Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz considered Asselborn’s statement “unacceptable,” but as I read MTI’s summary of his statement he mostly objected to the fact that Asselborn criticized Orbán and his policies in public and expressed his belief that the topic may come up in Bratislava at the end of this week at the meeting of the European Council. The other Austrian who spoke on the issue in favor of Orbán was Hans-Christian Strache, the chairman of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party.

Too little time has gone by since the appearance of the Asselborn interview for foreign policy analysts to assess the significance of Asselborn’s harsh criticism of Orbán, with the exception of a partisan pro-Orbán piece written by Bálint Ablonczy of Válasz.

Asselborn’s dislike of Orbán is legendary, and this is not the first time that he has openly and harshly criticized the Hungarian prime minister. In 2010 he was one of the first critics of the media law, which he claimed “directly threatens democracy.” In 2012 he raised his voice against the introduction of a new constitution and called Hungary “a blot on the European Union.” In 2015 he suggested placing Orbán in diplomatic quarantine.

Asselborn, who has been in politics ever since the age of eighteen, has been foreign minister since 2004. He is also a close friend Jean-Claude Juncker. Of course, the question is how many people share his view of Orbán in Brussels and elsewhere. According to Hungarian opposition EP members, the anti-Orbán voices are growing, but this might just be wishful thinking.

Although no serious commentary on the Asselborn interview has yet been published, an “open letter from a potential refugee” appeared in Kolozsvári Szalonna, which is as intriguing a site as its name, which means Kolozsvár (Cluj) bacon. It was published both in Hungarian and in English. In it, the author, who calls himself István Kósi, explains to Asselborn how the Hungarian public is misled and how it has become “radicalized, fanaticized,” which can be compared only to the 1940s. The far-right shift then “led to gruesome consequences, so you probably understand why many of us are so worried this time.” He concludes the letter with these words: “Let’s throw them out of the EU, out of Europe in general, and out of the planet.” The author describes himself “as a citizen of the European Union and Hungary, potential refugee in the near future—unless something is being done by those capable of effectively doing anything at all.”

I believe that a lot of people share this sentiment, but only an iconoclastic site like Kolozsvári Szalonna will actually publish something that openly supports Asselborn’s suggestion. I’m curiously waiting to see how the opposition party leaders react and how they indicate that they are in favor of some kind of censure without going as far as Asselborn.

September 13, 2016

Viktor Orbán did not attend the Balkan Summit

Although most commentators are critical of the European Union’s handling of the flood of refugees, today I’m more optimistic that a viable solution will be found, which might not be to the liking of Viktor Orbán. I came to this conclusion after reading summaries of speeches at the second West Balkan Summit, held today in Vienna. These summits were originally designed to prepare the ground for the eventual EU membership of six so-called West Balkan states–Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, but today’s gathering was completely overshadowed by the migration crisis.

It was perhaps for that reason that HVG wanted to find out from the prime minister’s office why Viktor Orbán didn’t attend the summit. The prime minister’s office rightly pointed out that Hungary is not a Balkan country, and therefore “the question of the prime minister’s attending the summit hasn’t come up at all.” Subsequently, KlubRádió interpreted the information from the prime minister’s office in a way that implied that the invitation came but was turned down. The headline read: “Orbán didn’t go to the conference on migration” (Orbán nem ment el a menekültügyi konferenciára). We don’t know for sure whether Orbán was invited to the meeting or not, but I suspect that he was because, in addition to EU officials (Federica Mogherini, responsible for foreign affairs, Maroš Šefčovič, president of the Energy Union, and Johannes Hahn, in charge of enlargement negotiations), the German delegation (headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier), and the delegation of the host country of Austria (headed by Chancellor Werner Faymann and Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz), all the countries that have been most affected by the refugee crisis were present: Greece, Italy, Macedonia, and Serbia. Only Hungary was missing.

Chancellor Werner Feymann, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Denis Zvizdić

Werner Faymann, Angela Merkel, and Denis Zvizdić of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Why am I optimistic after reading reports on the summit? First of all, because the reports show that European politicians have started thinking about finding a common solution to the problem. Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian foreign minister, put forth one plan that would create “safe havens” in the migrants’ home countries and elsewhere where those seeking asylum would be under UN protection. Here the refugees would be processed and, once cleared, would be given safe passage to Europe. All 28 countries would have to take their share of the new immigrants. Although I see quite a few problems with these “safe havens” as envisaged by Kurz, this suggestion could be a beginning to a comprehensive handling of the crisis.

Prior to the conference, Kurz told the media that Austria currently has more refugees than Italy and Greece together. If other EU countries refuse to cooperate, Austria will have to tighten its borders to restrict free passage to and from Austria. Although Hungary and Bulgaria refused to accept any refugees under the quota system, it looks now as if the European Commission has returned to the idea. In fact, Commissioner Johannes Hahn told reporters that “we’re going to have a quota settlement approach, and in light of recent developments, I believe all 28 member states are now ready to accept and approve that.” Does this mean that Viktor Orbán behind the scenes changed his mind and that all his saber rattling is for home consumption only? It looks that way.

Chancellor Faymann had just finished telling the other European leaders that there was an urgent need to do something about human traffickers when the news came that at least 20 refugees but perhaps as many as 50 had been found dead in a truck just a few miles away.

The story as it is unfolding is complicated. The truck itself belonged at one point to a meat processing plant, Hyza, located close to Žilina/Zsolna in northern Slovakia. It was one of 21 trucks the company sold to somebody in Slovakia who then resold it to a Hungarian company in Budapest called MasterMobilKer Kft., established in 2011 but by now defunct. The first story, told by János Lázár himself, that the temporary license plate on the truck was issued to a Romanian citizen turned out to be false. Apparently, the man who went to the Hungarian equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicles was a Hungarian who lives on a ranch near Kecskemét. The truck, however, began its journey in Budapest and crossed the Austro-Hungarian border sometime between Wednesday at 9 p.m. and Thursday at 6 a.m. Yet when the truck was found on the roadside this morning the bodies were already in an advanced stage of decomposition with bloody fluids dripping from the truck. Although the temperature has been very high, I find it difficult to believe that the people in that truck had been traveling for only for a few hours.

While Angela Merkel was “shaken by the awful news,” which “reminds us that we in Europe need to tackle the problem quickly and find a solution in the spirit of solidarity,” Fidesz’s reaction was accusatory. According to the party’s official statement, “this shocking event shows that the migrant policies of the European Union have failed.”

What would the official Hungarian solution be? It sounds simple enough: the borders must be properly defended and crossings should occur at designated places under the watchful eyes of the authorities. In this way such tragedies could be avoided. The problem is that it doesn’t matter whether the refugees come through designated “gates” of some sort or over the fence as long as they can fall prey to unscrupulous smugglers, who in this case, it seems, happened to be Hungarians. In fact, I heard György Kakuk, the author of El Camino de Balkan, say in one of his interviews that the smugglers he encountered in crossing the Serb-Hungarian border came from Hungary. Building fences will only increase the number of enterprising smugglers. Thus, the Hungarian government is, wittingly or unwittingly, encouraging men like the one(s) who is/are responsible for the horrendous crime discovered today. It would be time to sit down with others and come up with a better solution than the one the Hungarians devised on their own.