Tag Archives: Sweden

Zsolt Bayer, a Fidesz hack, on the immigration crisis

It’s been a long time since I wrote about Zsolt Bayer, a notorious columnist for Magyar Hírlap, a pro-Fidesz publication of the more radical sort. One could say that tabloid journalists like Bayer are a dime a dozen, but he is no ordinary scribbler. He holds the #5 membership card of Fidesz. (László Kövér, president of the Hungarian parliament, is the proud owner of #1, ahead of Viktor Orbán.) Bayer might be a vulgar, hate-filled hack, but he is still closely associated with the top political leadership of Fidesz. If Viktor Orbán wanted to shut him up, it wouldn’t take more than a quick telephone call. But clearly he doesn’t want to. In fact, just lately Bayer had some very distinguished guests on his new program, “Deep Magyar,” on Echo TV, a companion to Magyar Hírlap, starting with Viktor Orbán himself and followed by László Kövér. So, Zsolt Bayer is still an important man in Fidesz and a much-needed one. He is the one who is supposed to keep the radical wing of the party happy.

Zsolt Bayer is always handy to have around, but this time, when the Orbán government decided to reap political benefits from people’s fear of the thousands of refugees who are moving across Hungary, he has been a godsend. He can whip up hatred like nobody else. And nowadays, in addition to his weekly column in Magyar Hírlap, he also started a blog, where those who are not satisfied with one dose of Bayer hate-speech can always find more of the same.

Of course, Bayer is in his element at the moment. It’s the perfect stage for a man whose hate-filled words fire up those under the spell of Viktor Orbán. And, indeed, Bayer of late has turned his attention to the refugee issue. His latest piece titled “Is it unavoidable?” begins with the situation on the island of Kos, which is one of the first stops for arrivals from Turkey.

The state of affairs on Kos, according to Zsolt Bayer, is desperate. Seven thousand “intruders” have arrived. “The tourists have escaped and the hotels are empty, the population is angry and desperate. The horde doesn’t know anything about this. They are just pouring in. But on Tuesday it began….” The “horde” began a demonstration. “‘We want papers! We want to eat!’ they kept screaming,” and they sat down in the middle of a highway. The Greek authorities tried to shepherd “the beasts” into a stadium because “everything else on Kos was already filled with the beasts.” In the stadium a fight broke out and the police had to use billy clubs. Thursday the horde attacked the police. Giorgios Kynthsis, mayor of Kos, said that ” the situation is out of control…. Blood will be shed.”

Now let’s now turn to western descriptions of what happened on the Island of Kos. First of all, Bayer’s description of Kos as a tourist paradise now empty of well-off European visitors is false. “Sunbathers tan on the beach, metres from where migrants camp on the street. Tourists queue for €20 ferry rides to the Turkish shore–a journey that a nearby refugee will have paid 50 times more to complete in reverse.” The hotels are full.

Yes, it is true that there were two occasions when fights broke out among the Syrian and Afghan refugees who have been on Kos for months, waiting for a piece of paper that will allow them to move off the island. Athens, which has had a lot on its plate in addition to the refugee crisis, simply neglected to lighten Kos’s burden. According to the UN Refugee Agency, “conditions for migrants on Kos and other islands are shameful.” They don’t have adequate housing. A Syrian banker told a journalist from The Guardian that he, along with 2,000 of his fellow countrymen, was sandwiched in on a sandy beach for over a day without a drop of water or food. They didn’t even provide open public facilities for them. Apparently, Mayor Giorgios Kynthsis “agreed with the suggestion that no refugee should be given even a bottle of water.” The head of Greece’s reception system claims that “on the island of Kos we don’t have the cooperation of the mayor at all. He thought that if he doesn’t facilitate our operation, the people would go away.” Perhaps this background would make the revolt of “the beasts” more understandable.

 Migrants crammed into stadium as they await registration procedure on Tuesday. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images

Migrants crammed into a stadium as they await the registration procedure on Tuesday. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images

By today, the mayor of Kos was described by Reuters in an entirely different light: “overcome by emotion, the mayor of Kos handed out water, milk and food to hundreds of Syrian migrants on Friday as a huge passenger ship docked on the Greek island to serve as a floating reception center and dormitory.” I suspect that earlier Kynthsis wanted to call attention to the untenable situation on the island in an effort to prompt Athens to do something in a hurry.

Bayer himself mentions the arrival of the passenger ship because the Greek government “at last got its senses back, but the question now is whether it will be brave enough to deploy the riot police and a battleship. If they do, the Greeks will make history. If they dare to employ the troopers and if necessary the army and at last rid Kos of these hordes, then at last something will begin. But only then…. We will write history only if they send them home packing and eliminate them from the middle of Europe. Once and for all.”

I’ve concentrated on Bayer’s version of what was happening on the island of Kos. But at least half of his article deals with atrocities committed this week in two European countries by non-Europeans. During a police raid in the resort town of Salou in Catalonia, a Senegalese man jumped out of a third-floor window. This set off angry clashes between the police and about 200 people, “many of them believed to be members of the African community.” Here comes Bayer. “The Senegalese was a criminal. They wanted to arrest him. Instead he jumped. So what? It was his decision. He jumped and died. That’s all.” The Spanish authorities “should have handled the situation right then and there. All of them should be cleared out from Spain. They can go home.”

Then he moves on to Sweden where in an IKEA store two men from a nearby refugee center stabbed two people to death. Bayer describes the men as being cooperative with the police and adds that it would have been better if they had resisted arrest because then “the police could have shot them as one does a mad dog.” Now the Swedes have two murderers from Eritrea and two dead white Swedes. “Surely, the exchange was worth it. Long live liberalism! Long live human rights! Except when we talk about the rights of the European, white, Christian race.” Here Bayer uses the word “rassz,” which is practically never used in modern Hungarian in this sense.

Bayer’s conclusion is that Europe must be defended. “It must be freed from this horror. If necessary with arms in hand. If everything remains the same, there will be bloodshed. These hordes believe that only the blood of Europeans can be shed.”

Bayer’s racist rant is dreadful but, let’s face it, the only difference between Bayer and the members of the Hungarian government is that he can freely express his desire for a white, Christian Europe while Viktor Orbán can only hint at such a goal. And if that is not possible, at least the prime minister can try to prevent the “hordes” from the Middle East and Africa from entering Hungary.

Fact checking Viktor Orbán’s latest speech

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

Image and icons by Amy Crone / Voice of San Diego

Image and icons by Amy Crone / Voice of San Diego

Converting Catholic churches in France into mosques

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

Immigrant crime in Italy and the Scandinavian countries

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

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

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

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

Definition of rape in Sweden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ferenc Kumin’s encounter with Ágnes Heller

Ágnes Heller, the well-known Hungarian philosopher, is once again in the news. This time on account of a brief appearance in a Swedish television documentary on the state of Hungarian culture and politics, with particular emphasis on the extreme right.

Do you remember the case of the liberal philosophers whom the newly elected (and neither liberal nor philosophical) Orbán government accused of embezzlement? That was in January 2011 when the official inquisitor, Gyula Budai, entrusted with “uncovering mass corruption” on the part of politicians and, it seems, philosophers as well, began his investigation. Budai’s efforts bore no fruit. Of about 140 cases only a handful actually made it to court, and most of those ended either in acquittal or in a light, suspended sentence on questionable grounds. Eventually Budai’s position was eliminated and he was moved to the Ministry of Agriculture where his greatest concern is the price of watermelons.

It took a year before the philosophers, including Ágnes Heller, were cleared of any wrongdoing but not before news of their harassment spread far and wide. After all, Ágnes Heller is a very well-known person and her friends and admirers are influential people. Viktor Orbán and his underlings should have known better than to pick a fight with her. She is both pugnacious and scary smart. Moreover, she doesn’t give a hoot about government threats. If she wasn’t silenced by the Kádár regime when she was officially accused of treasonous activities and forced into exile, she certainly will not be frightened by threats coming from an assistant undersecretary entrusted with  “foreign communication,” better described as worldwide propaganda extolling the virtues of the Orbán government and defending it against malevolent attacks.

I’m talking about Ferenc Kumin who as far as I know is still working on his Ph.D. dissertation in political science. I don’t know how he finds time for his studies given his crowded schedule, which also includes a lot of traveling. Only a week or so ago he was in Washington trying to convince Jewish organizations that the Hungarian government’s support of the Jewish community is exemplary. I understand they were not moved. When he is at home he tracks every word uttered by foreign politicians or written by journalists he finds politically objectionable. In addition, he busies himself with writing an English-language blog and, unlike some, he takes his writing seriously. How much of it is written by him and how much is drafted in some Washington PR firm, I’m not sure.

Kumin’s position is new. He is one of those undersecretaries and assistant undersecretaries who are attached to the Prime Minister’s office and who have usurped the Foreign Ministry’s traditional role. I just read an M.A. thesis by Lili E. Bayer (Hungary’s Turn to the East, Oxford, 2013) on Viktor Orbán’s “Eastern opening” in which the author found that only 8.75% of bilateral meetings were led by officials of the Foreign Ministry as opposed to 36.25% by the Prime Minister’s Office!

Every summer Hungarian ambassadors from all over the world go home for a meeting organized by the Foreign Ministry and attended by the prime minister, who delivers a speech. During the very first such gathering in 2010, Viktor Orbán strongly urged all the ambassadors to raise their voices every time they noticed any attack on Hungary in the country’s press.

Some of the ambassadors, especially the political appointees, took this advice seriously, perhaps not realizing that such an ambassadorial reaction, either oral or written, is unbecoming the official representative of a foreign country. I suspect that the old-timers in the foreign ministry were not too eager to follow Orbán’s ukase. Among those who took Orbán’s advice to heart were the ambassadors to Vienna and London. They have been very active and as a result, I’m sure, have made themselves singularly unpopular in the countries to which they are accredited. Now it seems that the newly appointed ambassador to Sweden, Lilla Makkay, who is actually a foreign ministry veteran, has joined them and subsequently received the treatment she deserved.

The occasion for the interference by Ferenc Kumin and Lilla Makkay was a half-hour program on the Swedish public television station about Hungary. The Hungarian government considered it to be one-sided because there were a lot of references to the growth of the Hungarian extreme right. Makkay called Kristofer Lundström, the man responsible for the series in which this particular documentary was broadcast, and complained. Moreover, she was annoyed that she hadn’t been consulted before the broadcast of the film. She invited him for a friendly chat at the embassy, I guess in order to enlighten him about the true state of affairs in Hungary.

Officials of Swedish Television (SvT) found the Hungarian reaction peculiar. They looked upon Makkay’s telephone call as “putting pressure” on them. Earlier, before the collapse of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, it was customary for reporters wanting visas to go behind the Iron Curtain to receive “invitations” by ambassadors. But by now western journalists are simply not accustomed to such heavy handed and undiplomatic reactions. Alas, it was not without reason that Lajos Bokros in his October 23 speech called Fidesz politicians “neo-communists.”

Magyar Nemzet, whose reporters supported the Hungarian government’s efforts to influence the independent Swedish Television, most likely found the Swedish ambassador’s answer incomprehensible: she sent them to SvT if they have any questions or observations. The article that reported on the case called it a shirking of responsibility. Obviously, for them, the true independence of Swedish TV is unfathomable.

Meanwhile Ferenc Kumin decided to get involved in the affair. On his Facebook page–because Kumin is also active there–he wrote an impertinent letter to the highly respected philosopher twice his age. Kumin described Ágnes Heller as a prominent philosopher who, “with a background in Marxist thinking … as her Wikipedia biography points out, has clear political sympathies and antipathies.” Thus Kumin “reached out to Dr. Heller to ask her to join [him] in protesting the Swedish documentary and to clarify some of her statements, which [he] felt were factually incorrect or distorting in the way they depict Hungary.” Moreover, he suggested that Heller quote the current government slogan: “Hungary is doing better!”

Ssource Hír24.hu / Photo Márton Neményi

Source Hír24.hu / Photo Márton Neményi

Ágnes Heller wrote back. Here is gist of the letter she sent to Kumin. She first thanked him for making her 40 years younger than she is because it was at that time that she was called to account by the Kádár regime for signing a petition alongside counterrevolutionaries. (Here Heller is referring to the  Charta 77 in which about 100 prominent people protested the crushing of the Prague Spring. She was one of the signatories and, if I recall correctly, the only one from behind the Iron Curtain.) She continued: she can give Kumin the same answer she gave to the authorities then. Everywhere, on every forum, she expresses her own views regardless of who is asking her, be it Swedish TV or the Hungarian Kossuth Rádió, that is, if the Kossuth Rádió would ever ask her for an interview. She certainly didn’t quote the slogan “Hungary is doing better” because she doesn’t think that it is true. Finally, she asked Kumin whether he really considers the programs of MTV or MR balanced. What’s going on in those programs is the talk of parrots. She suggested to Kumin: “forget what you hear and occasionally consider that other people’s opinion can differ from yours.”

Yesterday she followed up with an amusing interview on ATV. It is always a pleasure to listen to her. She is delightfully forthright. During the interview she responded to the government’s latest suggestion of jail sentences for investigative reporters who publish audio tapes or videos which turn out to be fakes: “Well, that’s something.” She then stopped for a bit and continued: “this is the last nail in the coffin of the freedom of the press.” I wish there were more brave men and women like Ágnes Heller. Admittedly, she is untouchable. They can ignore her but they can’t silence her, no matter how much they would like to.