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Migration debate rolls on

August 3rd, 2015

Weeklies and dailies ponder the moral and practical implications of the government’s migration policies and the Left’s stance. In the increasingly desperate ideological battle, both sides deploy heavy moral artillery.

The government uses “forced public work” to hastily erect a fence on Hungary’s southern border that will not keep migrants out, András Jámbor comments in Kettős Mérce on the government’s plan to recruit unemployed Hungarians as public workers to help complete the construction of the 175 kilometre long fence along the Serbian border by the end of this month. Those unemployed persons who refuse to participate in public work are denied unemployment benefits. Jámbor finds it abhorrent that the government uses poor Hungarians to complete its fence project which, according to Jámbor, serves only “political PR purposes”.

Népszabadság in a front page editorial contends that the erection of the fence is a waste of money. The leading left-wing daily recalls that the government allocated an additional 22 billion in Forints to the initially budgeted 6.5 billion to complete the project, which, according to Népszabadság, will be ineffective in stopping migrants. Népszabadság suspects that the government will use the money to offer lucrative contracts for entrepreneurs in the Fidesz hinterland. (An unspecified portion of the 22 billion will be devoted to building two new reception centres for migrants.)

Writing in the same daily, Endre Aczél fears that the fence may prove to be not only ineffective, but downright counterproductive. Since the announcement of the plan, the volume of illegal migrants crossing the Serbian border has dramatically increased, since many want to come to Hungary before the fence is erected. As western countries are increasingly reluctant to accommodate masses of new migrants, they will be trapped in Hungary, Aczél predicts. Serbia, despite the existing treaties with Hungary, may not want to readmit those undocumented migrants who came to Hungary from Serbia. As Serbia does not bother much with any documenting procedures for illegal migrants, Hungary will have a hard time to prove who came from Serbia, Aczél remarks. In conclusion, he thinks that Hungary’s harsh anti-immigration policies serve the interests of Germany first and foremost, since they will slow down the flow of migrants heading there.

In a third opinion piece in Népszabadság, Károly Lencsés suspects that Hungary will violate the Geneva Convention by automatically returning undocumented migrants to Serbia. The left-wing columnist thinks that the Hungarian law (in effect from August 1) may be challenged by the EU Court, since it offers a window of only a few days to those who intend to appeal against practically automatic deportations to third countries declared safe by the new law.

In Heti Válasz, András Sztankóczy also doubts that the fence will help to curb the flow of migrants. The conservative columnist finds it unlikely that the fence will significantly reduce the number of illegal border crossings as hoped by the government. Citing western European examples, Sztankóczy claims that a fence will not in itself deter migrants – to do so, constant patrolling would be necessary, which would be hard to maintain along Hungary’s 175 kilometre long border with Serbia. He adds that the role of traffickers may also increase as Hungary will deport all migrants arriving from safe countries including Serbia. To make matters even worse, those deported back to Serbia may try again and again to enter Hungary, Sztankóczy continues. And those who decide to circumvent the fence on the Serbian border and move to Romania or Croatia will also end up in Hungary after a short detour. He also believes that Hungary’s strict immigration laws will only help Germany to keep migrants out – and to boost the Fidesz government’s popularity.

Moral dilemmas of border control

Magyar Narancs in a front page editorial accuses the government of vilifying migrants. The left-liberal weekly contends that the government depicts migrants as a threat to security, welfare and civilization as well as a health hazard. Magyar Narancs claims that through its anti-immigrant rhetoric and laws, the Orbán government sides with those who want to defend the country from immigration – not even shrinking from the use of force (see BudaPost July 23).

The government is playing on the mob’s knee-jerk aggression and hatred, Imre Para-Kovács comments in Heti Világgazdaság. The liberal pundit thinks that the government wants to direct Hungarian’s hate towards easily identifiable migrants by suggesting that Hungarians will be better off if they chase migrants away from the country. “Migrants are perfect targets, the only problem is that even if they are chased away or murdered we cannot take their homes and steal their silver – since they do not have any,” Para-Kovács concludes.

In an essay in Élet és Irodalom, Júlia Lévai accuses the government of “waging a fascist defence war against demonized migrants”. The liberal journalist speculates that the government leaves migrants in the streets without help so that it can claim that migrants are dirty, uncivilized and dangerous. The more migration is criminalized, the more migrants will decide to avoid the Hungarian authorities and stay in the streets rather than in shelters, which “further strengthens racism” and makes even harsher anti-immigrant policies possible, Lévai maintains. She continues by claiming that in the government’s vision, “migrants are not human beings and so they can be hunted down at the border like animals”. Lévai adds that the government violates not only Christian principles, but also basic humanitarian norms. In conclusion, Lévai bluntly claims that “Hungary is a barbaric country”.

Magyar Demokrata editor-in-chief András Bencsik on the other hand, accuses the left of following a “Bolshevik mentality”. Instead of facing reality, the Left wants to apply its unrealistic normative principles and shape reality according to its own tastes and ideology, the pro-government commentator remarks. Bencsik believes that PM Orbán is defending a European civilization threatened by migration. He continues by fantasizing that Hungary and other anti-immigrant Central European states may soon become “the only refuge of indigenous North Europeans” who will have to leave their own countries as more and more immigrants settle down there.

Writing in the same weekly, Ádám Pozsonyi condemns the Left and liberals for what he sees as “pampering migrants”. The conservative writer known for his provocative style believes that Left-wingers still do not see or acknowledge the grave social threats contained within mass migration, which can only be prevented through harsh measures. In an aside, Pozsonyi suggests that it would be more appropriate to call migrants ‘intruders’. He finds it peculiar that liberals are concerned so much about private material property, while at the same time fail to lift even a finger if collective assets, including national culture, religion and national history are at stake.

Magyar Hírlap’s Alexandra Knopf thinks that nation states have to deal with immigration as the European Union has failed to come up with a common framework. If mass migration is not stopped, Europe will have to give up its basic values including tolerance. “We can take it for granted that there will be no gay pride walks or equal rights if Europe is flooded by migrants,” the conservative analyst claims. Thus PM Orbán is defending liberal values too, by restricting immigration, Knopf concludes.


Discursive strategies and solidarity

The Left uses universal morality as a trump-card, Zoltán Balázs comments in Magyar Narancs on left-wing migration discourse. The liberal conservative philosopher thinks that the Left downplays the importance of national belonging by supposing that Hungarians have the same duties towards migrants as their own families and co-nationals. Balázs suggests that temporary shelter should be provided for refugees, but dismisses left-liberal ideas according to which migrants should have an unconditional right to settle down for good. In a liberal society based on consent, people should have a say on whether and to what extent they are willing to shoulder the burden of helping migrants, Balázs notes.

In Heti Válasz, András Zsuppán accuses Népszabadság of distorting reality by suggesting that the plight of migrants is similar to that of Jews persecuted by Nazis during World War Two. Népszabadság published an article about activists in Budapest who provide migrants with temporary shelters. In the report, Népszabadság quoted the activists who labelled the apartments used as temporary shelters as “safe houses” – a term used to denote buildings providing diplomatic protection for persecuted Jews in Budapest in 1944 under the Arrow Cross rule. Zsuppán believes that it is completely absurd to suggest that the situation of today’s migrants is similar to that of Jews under Nazi rule. Such exaggeration and false parallels make any reasonable dispute over the issue impossible, Zsuppán suggests, adding that Népszabadság’s controversial terminology was condemned even by the leader of the pro-migrant activists.

Népszabadság suggests that migrants need to be protected from Hungarians rather than from the violence they escaped from, Ottó Gajdics adds in Napi Gazdaság. The pro-government columnist calls this “propagandistic” suggestion malign – and outright false, as the Hungarian population does provide help to migrants in need. In an aside Gajdics notes that the parallel may also be highly insulting for those Jews who were indeed persecuted during World War Two, since it relativizes their suffering.

The Left likes to accuse the government of xenophobia, but it has no idea whatsoever what to do with mass migration, András Stumpf comments in Mandiner on a pro-migrant demonstration organized by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. The conservative columnist suggests that the government is not against foreigners as such, it simply realizes that Hungary cannot handle tens of thousands of newcomers. Nonetheless, Hungarians have provided immense help to immigrants through different organizations including several Christian charities, Stumpf notes, adding that left-liberals are not the only ones to express solidarity with migrants. He agrees that it is a moral duty for Hungarians to help refugees, but dismisses the idea that tens of thousands of migrants should or could be given the chance to settle down in Hungary.

Only the ignorant believe that there are easy solutions at hand to tackle the ever growing problems related to immigration, Gábor Miklós warns in Népszabadság against simplistic ideas. The left-wing columnist thinks that it would be morally controversial to maintain a ‘fortress Europe’ and deny help to those in need. But, on the other hand, it is also unrealistic to assume that the flow of migrants could be stopped through intervention in their homelands. On the contrary, previous Western military involvement has only worsened the situation, Miklós claims. In conclusion, Miklós fears that instead of a reasonable dispute, simplistic and brutal solutions will prevail in the debate over migration.

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