4 Sep 2015

Refugee crisis: Hungary’s problem with xenophobia

Facing criticism for erecting a razor-wire fence and forcibly moving people to camps, prime minister Viktor Orban says he is defending Europe’s “Christian identity”.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has defended his country’s response to the refugee crisis – including his governments decision to erect a razor-wire fence, writes Rachel Anderson.

Mr Orban said the fence, erected on Hungary’s southern border with Serbia was essential to defending the Schengen zone’s external borders and would not accept that the emergency was a refugee crisis, but said it was one of mass migration instead.

Mr Orban said a quota system would serve as an “invitation” and the “moral human thing” to do is to make it clear refugees should not come to Europe.

Controversially, he specifically said Muslim refugees should not come to Hungary. Speaking in Brussels he said: “I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country.”

However very few refugees want to remain in Hungary, with most stating they hope to travel to Germany. Although Germany is taking the most asylum applications, in the first three months of 2015 Hungary had the most new asylum applications per capita by some distance.

Hungary received nearly 33,000 new asylum applications, up from 2,735 a year ago – though most of these were Kosovars rather than from Syria.

In June, Hungary suspended its adherence to the Dublin regulation, which says refugees must claim asylum in the first country they reach.

Why isn’t Hungary letting refugees through?

Mr Orban says he is defending Europe’s “Christian identity,” but there are complex factors at play.

On Friday he said: “Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity…is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.”

The history of the region during the Ottoman Empire combined with regional political struggles means Hungary often sees itself as a “protector of the West.”

Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian?

There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders Prime minister Viktor Orban

On asylum applications from Muslims, Mr Orban said: “We do not like the consequences” – citing Ottoman rule during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Hungarian political commentator Tamás Lánczi claims Hungary “protected not only the land of our ancestors but also an entire civilisation.”

He says that as a result of “territorial claims” and attempts to “force another culture” on the country Hungary has always “reacted more sensitively to challenges – to use this politically correct word – coming from alien cultures than most European peoples.”

Right-wing peacocking

The ruling Fidesz party is a right-wing nationalist party held to account in parliament by the far-right Jobbik party who came second in last year’s election.

The government recently sent out a survey to citizens asking whether they think that refugees should be deported, locked up or sentenced to forced labor during their stay in Hungary.

A Council of Europe report in June looking at Hungary raised concerns over the “hatred and vitriol that Jews, homosexuals, Roma, migrants and other groups encounter.”

Jobbik describes its fundamental purpose as “protecting Hungarian values and interests” and regularly makes vitriolic references to gypsies and Jews. It has in the past had open links vigilante nationalist militias that target gypsy communities.

Whilst support for the ruling Fidesz-Christian Democrat alliance remained practically unchanged over the past three months, support for radical nationalist Jobbik is falling, according to the NézÅ?pont Institute.

However xenophobic views are still widely held. The latest survey into anti-semitism in Hungary showed 23% of Fidesz voters are “strongly antisemitic,” with an additional 14% being classified as “mild anti-Semites.” In the case of Jobbik, 54% of the party’s base is “strongly antisemitic and 15% harbours a “mild” prejudice against the Jewish population.

Traditionally the far-right in Hungary has focused racism towards Jews and gypsies, but the dramatic attempts by the Hungarian government to “deter” migrants is in keeping with the countries tendency towards protectionism – and puts on a show to far-right voters intent on rejecting change.

Channel 4 News travelled to Budapest in 2013 when the party’s popularity started to take hold.

At a training session for the Magyar Nemzeti Garda (Hungarian National Guard) militia, its leader Joseph said: “We have a domestic problem that is the gypsy criminality and an external problem that is the Jew expansion.”

When asked about the past suffering of Hungarian Jews, he replied: “If we want to remember victims, in my mind the holocaust is not the biggest tragedy. This has nothing to do with me. It doesn’t interest me. I don’t deny it, I’m just not interested.”

Less than a century after Hungarian Jews were shot and their bodies dumped in the Danube by the Arrow Guard, fascist groups now openly wear the Arrow Guard logo, and statues of Hungarian nazi-Collaborator Miklós Horthy have been re-erected in parts of the country.