Hanging by a thread before it all collapses, part 1

Author: Nóra DIÓSZEGI-HORVÁTH Original title:  Hajszálon múlhat, mikor omlik össze
Publication: VASÁRNAPI HÍREK , Photo: MTI – Zoltán Gergely KELEMEN Date: 05/09/2015

Hanging by a thread before it all collapses

The government incites against refugees in order to further its own political interests. This has plenty of dangers and not only for Fidesz (the Hungarian governing party – trans.) . It is time for opposition parties to own their positions concerning the refugee question. We discussed the present state of internal public affairs with political scientist Zoltán Lakner.

An interview by Nóra DIÓSZEGI-HORVÁTH

Half a year ago we were stunned to watch the beginnings of the governments anti-refugee campaign. Was it possible to foresee that this is where we would end up?

One could foresee that the number of refugees would increase. And one must acknowledge that Orban’s team can analyze processes well and that they are able to draw consequences serving their purposes pretty well, too. After the assassinations in Paris the Hungarian prime minister was the only head of state in Europe to use outright the phrase ’immigrants,’ although everyone knew that the perpetrators of the attack were so-called ’immigrants’ who had actually lived in France for several generations. From then on, however, the anti-refugee campaign was built up with conscious awareness.

What I cannot quite see is whether they planned it in precise detail. By then, there were a number of issues pressing on the government for several months and it was evident that they were looking for something that might push these issues into the background. This was one of the experiments they tried out and it worked.

In February, people came from Kosovo. Now it is a different situation altogether.

In this sense, people from Kosovo suited the government’s needs better since they did indeed qualify as economic migrants. The exaggerated title fit them. Then the Kosovar people no longer came and their place was taken by refugees from Afghanistan and Syria. These were people trying to save their lives – people against whom even stronger xenophobia is harboured in this country. Most probably the government think-tank came up with the convoluted notion that the refugee question was tailor-made for the continued use of their previous rhetoric. The fact that these people were present in the country made it easy to draw them into the government’s experience-based practice of politics.

They could also exploit the fact that solidarity in Hungary is at a low. Anti-poor, anti-homeless and anti-Gypsy sentiment is already present. They suspected that it did not matter who was sitting on the street as long as the person’s skin colour was darker and his or her personal hygiene left something to be desired (where after all would he or she be able to wash up?). As long as this inconvenienced ordinary people, since they would have to make an effort to walk around them or because they were loud, one could make perfect use of all this.

Is it worth it?

Even a strict refugee policy would not justify giving up on a minimum standard of humanity. Everyone in the European Union is looking for some referential point to hold onto, but both the German Chancellor and the President of Germany visit two different refugee camps on the same day and the Prime Minister of France goes to Calais, which can be regarded as a kind of statement. All this does not even come up here.

What is more, geo-political conditions in the world are not going to change just because we are building a triple border fence. Refugees will keep on coming in spite of it.

The third problem is the suggestion of the quota system that keeps popping up such as that those entering the European Union might be distributed among the member states. Developed countries that are the main targets of this refugee wave like Germany urge this. They think that they could manage it if a division of labour takes place. Contrary to them, Orban claims that the welcome will come to an end sooner or later and all the refugees will be stuck in the border states — that is, here. This is why he refuses so rigidly to take in even our share of a symbolic number of refugees.

Could a policy like this backfire?

Well, it weakens our negotiating positions to a large extent and reveals that the Hungarian government sees political profit in escalating tension. It closes off any and all alternatives that would make it possible to find a joint European solution. At times, the government threatens people by saying that 200,000 people would be deported back here by charter flights and at other times they complain of Germany being too slack.

The real interest of the Orban regime is that scapegoating others continues to remain a possibility, that it could keep moving forward with its political campaign while it keeps on drawing on Union funds in relation to the refugees.

One must add that Orban is far from being inept. Up till now, he has always manoeuvered himself in such a way that he would keep a couple of allies on his side. It is important for Orban not to be left alone, though this only deepens the controversy seen from time to time between core-EU states on the one hand and Eastern European countries which only joined the EU later on the other.

But if this only earns us black marks within the [European] Union, what is the benefit?

What makes it a winning game-play for the government is that it has recharged its freedom fighting politics and that yet again it was able to fix Brussels as well as anyone who confronts them on the pillory. That a diplomatic fallout with Germany, France and Austria took only three days to accomplish is unprecedented. However, this show is for the inside: this performance is not for the Union but for the Hungarian society.

Okay, this show is for internal use, but I still see refugees crossing a fence that took billions to build and internally we cannot do anything with them either. Doesn’t this question the government’s competence?

The political risk for Orban is in having opened a political lane of the kind that belongs to parties further to the right rather than to his allied European People’s Party. This type of strictness, ranging from the fence to the state of emergency legislation is an extreme way of pursing politics. What is more, once these steps are taken they generate further, even harsher, steps. As of yet, batons and water canons are the only devices deployed at the border. Because of the logic behind it, the issue of ordering a firing squad to shoot must have been posed at some point,though as of yet ’only’ in the opinion of a journalist. But government measures are becoming rougher and rougher in actuality. The problem will not disappear, on the other hand a neck-to-neck contest has emerged.

I reckon Orban resorted to fence building with the intent of outdoing Jobbik. Jobbik can only demand the building of a fence, the government in contrast is physically able to realize it and this is a huge advantage in this artificially created tension. The other side of the coin, however, is that if the fence does not prevent refugees from crossing, this strengthens Jobbik again. They can say that the government is only talking and may try to bet higher again. The limit is the star-filled sky…

Will this deliver a face-slap to Fidesz?

to continue reading this interview, please follow the link to Part 2 of the interview

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