Reading Time: 5 minutes

Europe is an interesting place at the moment, to say the least. We have Brexit at the top left, rising populism in the middle with Marie le Pen, as well as a rebuttal of Geert Wilders the other day, and in the bottom right we have a huge humanitarian challenge regarding the corridor of refugees and asylum seekers escaping the terrors of war in the Middle East. At the heart of this corridor is Hungary, a country (given my readership) that you have probably thought little of in your life. But this EU country is bucking the trend of decades of social liberalism championed by the EU. As reports:

The world’s leading refugee agencies and human rights groups have condemned it. But Hungary’s government is determined to start keeping asylum-seekers in detention in metal shipping containers.

Fending off what the government calls an “invasion,” the authorities will take all asylum-seekers apprehended throughout Hungary to camps surrounded by barbed wire on the southern border. The migrants are to wait there while their asylum claim is reviewed — which can take many months.

The measure applies to men, women and children over 14.

Cécile Pouilly, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, said the move “will have a terrible physical and psychological impact on women, children and men who have already greatly suffered.”

Approved by parliament on March 7, this is the latest anti-migrant measure to come from the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. He’s a proponent of “illiberal democracy.” He’s also one of Europe’s only leaders to endorse US President Donald Trump during his campaign for the White House. Other tactics include “smart fences” and “border hunters.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends a swearing-in ceremony of border hunter recruits in Budapest, Hungary, on March 7.

Orban has said he’s trying to protect Christian Europe from potentially dangerous minorities, especially Muslims.

“Migration is the Trojan wooden horse of terrorism,” Hungary’s prime minister said recently. “The people that come to us don’t want to live according to our culture and customs but according to their own — at European standards of living.”

Those remarks came during a swearing-in ceremony for so-called border hunters — civilians who receive six months training before being issued a pistol, batons, handcuffs and pepper spray to patrol Hungary’s borders looking for refugees.

Hungary, a European Union member, has defied EU rules on processing and resettling the record numbers of asylum-seekers who since 2015 have fled to Europe escaping war and poverty.

Hungary shares its southern border with Serbia and Croatia — marking the frontier of the EU’s free travel zone across 26 countries known the Schengen area, so it’s been a key migrant crossing point. The country sits right in the middle of the migrants’ Balkan route, leading from Turkey to northern Europe, through which more than a million people fled in 2015, primarily from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hungary has already constructed a wire fence along its southern border and used tear gas and water cannons to their own ends. If the refugees agree to be sent back to neighbouring Serbia, where most of them come from on their exodus, then they can forgo their incarceration. Serbia is itself caught in the middle as it is an EU candidate nation that want in, but appears to be being used as a buffer by Hungary, at least.

The above article details some of the brutality inflicted upon these migrant by the Hungarian army.

The irony is that some sixty years ago, hundreds of thousands of Hungarians fled their country on foot for their own survival. As Reuters points out:

Sixty years ago, Soviet tanks crushed an anti-communist uprising in Budapest, sending 200,000 Hungarians – men women and children – fleeing across the border into Austrian refugee camps, then onwards into a welcoming Western world.

They quickly found new homes, beneficiaries of the most efficient relocation campaign the world had ever seen. Today, memories of that welcome brim with irony in a land that spurns a new generation of refugees fleeing fighting, abandoning their homes, as Hungarians themselves did before them.

Refugees are moved quickly from Hungarian soil to Austria, many landing in Traiskirchen, a small town south of Vienna. Here, thousands of Hungarians had once found refuge in an ornate old military barracks. Like their Hungarian forerunners, the migrants, mostly from the Middle East, await an onward journey.

Viktor Orban –

The Hungarian Prime Minister, Orban, is an interesting figure, rising to be a prominent European right-winger. The Washington Post has reported:

It is ironic that the man who wants to save Europe’s Christian identity used to have no Christian identity himself. “Once an atheist, he now upholds religion as the nation’s backbone,” Hungary expert Charles Gati observed in an op-edlast year. Hungary used to belong the Soviet bloc before the fall of the Berlin Wall: Its communist regime tried to restrict all religious tendencies and to create an atheistic society. So, like many of his countrymen, Orban was educated as an atheist.

In many countries, such as the Czech Republic, the effects of these efforts are still predominant: 75 percent of Czechs are atheists, one of the highest ratios in the world, according to a survey of 65 countries conducted by Gallup International and the WI Network of Market Research. Hungary was not included in the study, but the country’s census data from 2011 show that more than half the population consider themselves Christian — although that number has declined between 2001 and 2011.

Orban has long used Hungary’s Christian past to foster support for his government and to create a feeling of unity among his backers. Amid slightly growing numbers of atheists in the country, a new financing system has allowed church-owned schools to proliferate since 2011. “I am led by the firm conviction that only on the basis of these traditions — these national, Christian and European traditions — can a strong and successful Hungary be built,” the prime minister was quoted as saying last year.

Moreover, since 2012, the country’s constitution has officially recognized “the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood.” The constitution’s wording leaves no doubt that Muslims and people with other religious beliefs are tolerated, but not necessarily welcome, in Hungary. According to a report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, atheists face severe discrimination in Hungary. But that has not damaged Orban’s domestic reputation, as Gati, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, explained in a Washington Post op-ed:

“Untrusted and unpopular as Orbán is in Western chancelleries, he is a much-admired, even revered, hero to many Hungarians, especially outside the country’s larger cities. One secret of his success is his nationalist rhetoric; he understands his countrymen’s need to overcome their perceived sense of victimization and humiliation at the hands of foreigners. Even though Hungary depends on the E.U. for infrastructure investments, he has campaigned vigorously against the E.U.’s ‘colonial’ mentality.”

The interplay between once-atheistic regimes and nationalism, and indeed cosying up to religion to help foster nationalistic ideals, is a fascinating sociological scenario, and one that has played out with Putin in Russia.

And so these issues continue. The world is a very challenging place when there is war and oppression on massive scales. I don’t offer any solutions, just shedding some light for my worldly readers who might be unaware.

Avatar photo

Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...