Many on the Right these days are fascinated by Vladimir Putin, but if one wants to look for a politician who is actually doing something that benefits Europe in a tangible way, one need look no further than Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán. Orbán’s actions against illegal immigration in recent weeks have almost made me inclined – emphasis on almost – to forgive him for his banning of the conference that my company, Arktos, had planned to hold alongside the National Policy Institute nearly a year ago (something that he personally ordered).
It was quite a surprise for me when the “migrant crisis” in Hungary, a country which seldom gets any attention at all, became the focal point of the global media’s attention earlier this month. Naturally, however, the media was full of images and stories of the “heartbreaking” plight of immigrants, who, after all, are only trying to break the EU’s laws. I notice that it seems to have dropped off the American news sites. The American media, I’ve noticed, love to package stories that reach their climax and resolution over the course of a week, or two at most, and their coverage of Hungary followed their usual formula: the poor, helpless migrants got to Hungary (problem); the cruel Hungarians wouldn’t let them pass on to Germany, so we got to see images of the “brutality” of the Hungarian police who were handling them (climax); but it’s ok, it had a happy ending, and when Orbán finally caved to the outcries of the rest of the world (in the media’s eyes) we were treated to Hallmark-style images of happy immigrants crossing the border to the cheers of the obviously much more enlightened Austrian locals (resolution and reassurance). It was nauseating. But once the story reached its prewritten conclusion, there was no more need to cover it, and Hungary has been again relegated to the back pages, if it is discussed at all.
The consequences of this have been tangible for me. For months I’ve been getting e-mails from friends in America and in other parts of Europe who ask me how things are going here, having apparently been led to believe by the media that Budapest, if not all of Hungary, had been plunged into turmoil and chaos, and that the streets of the city were teeming with hordes of immigrants. As I’ve been living here for over a year now, I can safely say that Budapest was never at any point different than usual, unless one happened to pass through Keleti railway station, which is the main international train terminal of Budapest (the Budapest subway also has a stop there), and which is where most of the immigrants were gathered in the hope of getting trains to the rest of the EU. It was rare to spot people who appeared to be part of the flood in the rest of the city, however, apart from the area surrounding Keleti. None of them are looking to stay in Hungary, after all; unlike in Western Europe, there are no jobs or social services for them here. Hungary is simply a way station.
Many Americans seem unaware of how the EU’s Schengen zone works: in terms of residency, the EU functions as one big country now, and once one is in a Schengen country as a non-EU citizen, no further passport checks are required to travel between Schengen countries, which has now become as simple as travelling between states in the US. Only six EU countries have not signed on to Schengen as of yet: the United Kingdom, Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania, and Croatia. Four non-EU countries have also joined Schengen: Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Iceland.
Therefore the immigrants are looking to enter the EU at its weakest points, of which Hungary used to be one, since they know that once they do so, it’s a simple matter to pass on to Germany, Sweden, or such places where the pickings are much yummier than in entry points such as Hungary.
Most of the immigrants are coming through Greece, which is part of Schengen, and Greece has been refusing to make any attempt to register them or prevent them from crossing their border into Macedonia, which is not part of the EU or Schengen. Macedonia allows them to pass into Serbia, which is not part of the EU and Schengen either. And Serbia has likewise been making no attempt to prevent them from passing through, and in fact has been helping the immigrants to get to the Hungarian border, no doubt in order to get them out of their own territory as quickly as possible.
Once the immigrants get into Hungary, they are back in Schengen, and it is a simple matter to travel overland to wherever they want to go in Western Europe. They take domestic trains to Keleti from the Serbian border, and then from there they can book trains to go out of the country.
I passed through Keleti yesterday, and while there was still a well-stocked “Migrant Aid Center” open, it appeared to be empty, and I only saw one immigrant family camped out where there used to be hundreds. I did pass a group of bearded men in turbans and pajamas in the nearby street who glared at me – I assume they were probably part of the recent flood, but it seems that the vast majority of those who made it in before Hungary closed the border are already on their way.
The scene was very different only two weeks ago, when thousands of immigrants filled the entire lower part of the station, which had been turned into a makeshift camp. Keleti station is just down the street from where I live, and I often pass through it when I use the subway, so I had occasion to do so a number of times during the height of the crisis. The smell, I have to say, was quite unpleasant and overpowering, and I noticed with a bit of trepidation that the police were wearing masks – the rest of us weren’t so lucky, however. There was quite a large police presence and of course there were television crews camped out in various parts of the plaza. Otherwise the situation wasn’t very dramatic, although I was never there during one of the clashes with the police.
I won’t go over the details of what happened, as I assume most are already familiar with it. It made me feel glad to be in Hungary when I saw Orbán make his stand, however, as are the vast majority of Hungarians; with one exception, I haven’t encountered any Hungarians who had anything but praise for their government’s actions in response to the crisis. I’m aware that some on the international Right were disappointed that, ultimately, the immigrants were allowed to proceed on to Austria. This was indeed unfortunate, but unsurprising, as once the immigrants had made it into Hungary, continuing to hold them here would have presented the Hungarian authorities with an unprecedented refugee crisis and would have placed them in an extremely awkward situation, considering that Germany was practically begging to take them in.
I don’t think Orbán had any illusions that he could single-handedly solve the European immigration crisis, particularly given that the guardians of the EU in Western Europe were against him. He had many good reasons to do what he did regardless, however. First and foremost, I believe, is that he wanted to show those who are trying to infiltrate Europe that Hungary is going to be a problem for them, and that they ought to seek entrance elsewhere. Second, he was trying to point out the idiocy of the EU’s immigration policies, something he has frequently attacked in his public statements for being “stupid” and “insane” (his own words). Last, but not least, he was trying to bolster the popularity of his party, the Center-Right Fidesz, which he succeeded in doing.
Fidesz handily won a clear victory in last year’s national elections, but since then their support has been steadily dropping as a result of some unpopular decisions and general frustration with the lack of economic progress for the low-income segments of the country. Jobbik, even further to the Right than Fidesz, has been picking up the slack, increasing its own popular support and succeeded in ending Fidesz’s supermajority in the Hungarian parliament by defeating them in a local by-election in February. Making a stand over the immigration crisis has managed to put the ball back in Orbán’s court.
Although Hungary has now dropped from the headlines, developments since the end of the standoff two weeks ago have been much more interesting. On Monday, Hungary completed construction of the razor wire fence along its Serbian border and stationed 4,300 soldiers to support the police along its length, which was done to assist with the enforcement of Hungary’s new migration laws, which came into effect on Tuesday.
Under the new laws, when refugees apply for asylum in Hungary, if the application (which is in Hungarian) is rejected, the applicant will be sent back to Serbia, and will be banned from the Schengen zone for one year, which means that during this period the immigrant will be unable to reapply for entrance into any other Schengen country. And given that Serbia has been designated as a “safe” country by the Hungarian authorities, no applications for asylum for people coming from Serbia will be approved.
Those who break through the fence and come into Hungary illegally will be prosecuted with a prison term of up to three years; those who damage the fence will be imprisoned for up to five years. In both cases, violators will be slapped with a lifetime ban from the Schengen zone. This presents quite a predicament for immigrants who continue to try to come through Hungary, since Serbia has been deploying its own military to prevent the immigrants from returning, meaning that they basically have nowhere to go. Hungary is no longer an inviting prospect for them.
As many had anticipated, this new situation led to none of the immigrants being let through, and their frustration led to violence on September 16. Apparently, these immigrants feel that Europe should please help them – or else. Serbian police did nothing while crowds of them stormed and attempted to break through the border and attack the Hungarian police, many of whom were reportedly injured in the ensuing fighting. The Hungarian forces used tear gas and water cannons to defend the border, although the attackers still managed to temporarily breach the fence (they were driven back) and cause a great deal of damage.
While Hungary’s actions to preserve the ethnic and cultural integrity, not to mention security, of Europe are praiseworthy, we should not allow this situation to divert our attention from the actual causes of the crisis. While mass immigration from the Global South is nothing new in Europe, the numbers of them this year certainly are, and it is clear that this is to a large degree the consequence of the reprehensible American and NATO policies which have left large swathes of the Middle East and Africa in a shambles, and which led directly to the rise of ISIS. It has also not been lost on Hungarians that apparently many of these immigrants were given the money to get to Europe by American NGOs, as has been reported in the Hungarian media, and which many Hungarians believe is part of a deliberate and ongoing attempt by the United States to undermine Europe by encouraging mass immigration.
Therefore, the true blame for the crisis lies not with people of particular ethnic groups or with Islam, as many on the Right are wont to claim, but rather falls squarely on the shoulders of the United States and its cronies in Europe. This is not to mention the fact that the primary culprit of mass immigration is international capitalism, which I won’t go into here, as Alain de Benoist has already fully explicated this in his essay, “Immigration: The Reserve Army of Capital,” which was included in the recent Arktos publication, On the Brink of the Abyss.
That being said, it seems unlikely that all of these immigrants are actual refugees. While some undoubtedly are, it’s certain that many others from these regions are seeking to exploit the situation in order to find a way to Europe and the subsidized better lives they have been told they deserve by Western liberals. And the attitude of the immigrants has certainly been a curious one. I have heard that some of them have begun a hunger strike at the Serbian border, and even during the crisis at Keleti there were scenes of immigrants throwing food and water on the ground in some sort of bizarre protest. Apparently, even when help is offered, it is still insufficient if it doesn’t meet their expectations of the quality of life they envision enjoying in Europe. They can hardly be blamed for this, given that for years Western European politicians have been welcoming them with open arms, offering them all manner of social benefits and assuring them that they are only getting what is their essential right. It would be very curious for me to see what loving reception refugees from, say, the war-torn regions of Ukraine might get if they tried to take asylum in an Arab or African country.
Hungary is the only European country which is making a stand against the suicidal liberal policies of Europe as a whole. Unlike Jobbik, however, Fidesz is not opposed to Hungary’s membership in the EU. Nevertheless, under Orbán and Fidesz, Hungary has consistently tested the limits of how far to the Right it can go without being kicked out altogether. Here is not the place for a thorough overview of Fidesz’s achievements, but its opposition to EU immigration policy is only one aspect of its relevance.
When Orbán first came to power, he created the Media Council, which all Hungarian news agencies are required to register with. It legally requires all Hungarian media to present a “balanced” take on the news which has “relevance to the citizens of Hungary” and which “respects human dignity.” For those of us from the West, it’s clear that Orbán wanted to prevent the sort of monopoly that the extreme Left has held on our own mainstream media sources for quite some time.
Under Orbán, Hungary has also taken steps to limit and monitor the activities of foreign NGOs operating in Hungary, and in 2013, it paid off its debt to the IMF early in order to get out from under its thumb, taking such moves as levying special taxes on multinational corporations to protect domestic businesses.
For the first time since the fateful Treaty of Trianon of 1920, which deprived Hungary of nearly three quarters of its territory and has left generations of ethnic Hungarians stranded outside its borders, Fidesz has enabled Hungarians living in other countries to take Hungarian citizenship and to vote in the national elections (an idea originally put forward by Jobbik).
Fidesz cancelled the oversized pensions that the retired politicians of the former Communist Party of Hungary were receiving and distributed the money among ordinary pensioners (another Jobbik proposal).
Hungary has also legally defined marriage as being between one man and one woman.
And in a now-infamous speech he gave in Transylvania in July 2014, Orbán decried the failure of liberalism, as demonstrated by the 2008 financial crisis, and called for Hungary to style itself as an “illiberal democracy,” citing China, Turkey, and Russia as political models.
Of particular ire to the US and the EU has been Orbán’s closeness, both politically and personally, with Vladimir Putin. Many have speculated that Orbán sees Putin as his role model, and indeed, there is a great deal of similarity between their styles of politics. Hungary is friendlier with Russia at the present time than any other EU country – although this isn’t a matter of affection, since close relations with Russia make good economic sense for Hungary.
This closeness particularly agitated Washington last year, during the height of the Ukraine crisis, causing the US ambassador in November to encourage the protesters at the event which the media dubbed the “Hungarian Maidan” – allegedly a populist uprising against the “anti-democratic” policies of Orbán’s government, as was reported in the Western media at the time, but which was actually nothing more than a few hundred Communists making a lot of noise and waving banners near the parliament, as I saw for myself. It fizzled after a few weeks. And in December, John McCain denounced Orbán personally on the floor of the Senate, condemning him as a “neo-fascist dictator” and deploring Hungary for “getting in bed with Vladimir Putin.” Any leader of a small country who can get on the American political establishment’s nerves to this degree must be doing something right.
Orbán and his party deserve praise for these accomplishments, although at the same time it should be noted that Hungary as a nation is uniquely suited toward politics of this sort. As was demonstrated in last year’s elections, outside of Budapest, Leftist parties hold very little appeal for the Hungarian populace, as Fidesz and Jobbik combined took 65% of the national vote. Hungary is an inherently conservative country. The “long march through the institutions” by radical Leftists hasn’t yet taken place to establish their hegemony in Hungary, although it remains to be seen if the Hungarian government really has the strength or the will to do what it takes to counter this much more insidious threat, or if it is destined to eventually end up like Western Europe. Only time will tell.
I do not mean to overly glorify Orbán or Fidesz. Like Putin, Orbán and his party are liberal (in the broad sense) politicians, which means they are nothing more than pragmatists and populists – they are not ideologically committed to the ideals of the true Right or any other program, as was clearly demonstrated by their action against our conference last year. Their statements and their actions will vary according to whichever way the political winds are blowing, and I have no doubt that they would sell anyone down the river if it was to their advantage to do so. My hope remains that if Jobbik manages to continue the rising trend of its popularity and come to power eventually, assuming that they do not give in too much to the temptation to moderate and soften their message to the point of becoming just another mildly “conservative” party, they would prove themselves a more radical and serious force of the Right.
Nevertheless, for the moment at least, Orbán’s actions are very much in line with a genuinely pro-European strategy, and he has done this continent a great service, and for that he deserves our praise.