Hungary: Orbán cynically takes advantage of refugee crisis to suppress democratic rights

Currently Hungary is in the limelight, hardly a news report anywhere in the world goes by without images of thousands of refugees entering the country, trying to board trains out of the country, suffering ill treatment at the hands of the Hungarian authorities. Contrastingly, there are also pictures of volunteers helping or trying to help desperate families camping out in railways stations, walking on the sides of motorways or along railway lines.

Undoubtedly, the numbers of refugees that have chosen to use the West Balkan route into Europe represent a real challenge to all the countries they cross. Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary have never had to cope with the numbers on the move like they are having to do now. While in the past Hungary mostly dealt with Kosovars and Albanians in tens and occasionally hundreds, this year tens of thousands arrived and the vast majority of those who needed transit en route to the wealthier states of the EU come from Afghanistan, Iraq and especially Syria.

Some countries, especially Greece, Macedonia and Serbia took a pragmatic approach and decided to provide free or reasonably priced transport across their territories, making sure that nobody spent more time than necessary in their country. And while even these states had the occasional unexplained bottleneck, about face and/or discrimination, these problems were usually overcome, especially thanks to an unprecedented mass show of solidarity by workers and ordinary people, and most migrants managed to move on quickly and without too much trouble.

Orbán’s anti immigration scare campaign

Unfortunately, you cannot say the same about Hungary in the present crisis. Way back in January, Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary, used the Charlie Hebdo tragedy to highlight the danger of Muslim fundamentalism and started a publicly financed hate campaign against migrants – and immigrants (legal or illegal) – on the grounds of their religion, insisting that they are threatening “Christian Europe”, and establishing a subtle connection between illegal immigrants and terrorists.

Millions of Hungarian tax payers’ forints were spent on a poster campaign and news items on state owned radio and television, which joined in the campaign fuelling the already latent fear that had always existed in a layer of the Hungarian population against foreigners, whose religion, culture, way of life or views were different from their own.

Some critics of the Orbán government didn’t realise the enormity of the government’s plans and believed this campaign was just to curry favour with extreme right-wing voters to deplete Jobbik’s voter base. Undoubtedly, that was and still is one of its aims, but saner, more farsighted elements on the left feel that this was not the only purpose. Orbán and his followers do not want any immigrants going through Hungary, even though they know that very few, if any, want to stay. Especially since Angela Merkel announced that Germany would accept any number of Syrian refugees, all of them just want to cross the country quickly and easily to get to where they are headed.

Suspension of democratic rights

Reading those websites that are reporting on the events at the Serbian border, at Budapest’s three major railway stations, or along anywhere in the country where the refugees are either moving or have been moved to, one gets an idea that other than a very small number of volunteers, who are helping as best they can, the Hungarian state had first abandoned the refugees or actively and deliberately aggravated as many of them as it could. Quite early on it decided to erect a fence along the Serbian border. At the time of writing only a triple layer of razor wire loose fence has been finished. The proper, rigid fence is nowhere near completion, thus most people can get through, albeit some acquire really nasty injuries which have been mentioned by doctors when interviewed about their experiences.

A couple of weeks ago 71 refugees were found dead in a truck in Austria. It is now known that all 71 got into that truck at Keleti Railway Station in Budapest as they could not stand the humiliation and inhuman conditions they were forced to endure there. They are in fact victims not only of the people traffickers who, having got into difficulties, abandoned them in an airtight locked vehicle, but of the Hungarian authorities whose inhuman treatment had driven them to such a choice. The real culprits who are directly responsible for these deaths, other than the warmongers who created the fighting the refugees are escaping from and those that do the actual fighting in their homeland, are the Hungarian authorities who have been putting one obstacle in front of the refugees after another in every way they could, so that those that could afford it often turned to people traffickers in desperation. I call that a war crime, just as much as mass murder by ISIS or criminal greed and negligence by people traffickers.

Many wonder what motivates the Hungarian government to treat thousands of men, women and children in such a cruel, inhuman way? The reasons propounded on the street, in Budapest pubs, in the papers, on the internet sites and Facebook pages are manifold. Orbán is reputedly a schizophrenic with homophobic, anti-Semitic and dictatorial tendencies, which may well all be true. Listening to his pronouncements one can’t help but wonder where he is coming from. One thing is sure; he is viewed by many as a corrupt politician whose party (FIDESZ) and movement have managed to establish in the last 5 years what some call a “mafia state”.

Corruption has always been a feature of political life in Hungary. But never before have we seen corruption elevated to the one dominating philosophy of a party and political movement. The practices of government departments, ministries, the National Tax Office and others are part of one almighty machine that is aimed at enriching all those near the PM’s office and on the other side of the coin, ruining any and all who are not part of or challenge the ruling group. One classical example of this is what appears to be the National Tax Office running a protection racket, when approaching foreign firms for “donations”, and stating that regular tax inspections are the result of non-compliance.

So, Orbán and his followers love money and love power. They see the refugees as a burden and will do anything to stop them coming. A few days ago in Brussels Orbán clearly announced that the EU needs to tell them (those escaping from war, violence, famine and extreme poverty) to stop coming. Only today he instructed Chancellor Merkel to announce that refugees are no longer welcome in Germany. One can only wonder about the man’s intellectual powers, if he believes that she would do such a thing, or if she did, that would stop the refugees coming.

However, what is the main effect and purpose of Orbán’s cynical campaign? By exploiting and aggravating the refugee crisis Orbán is effectively introducing a mood of fear and curtailing democratic rights of ordinary Hungarians who are now subject to unrestricted and arbitrary interference by security forces. By doing so, Orbán is also trying to steer towards xenophobic and anti-immigration moods the growing discontent, which could eventually manifest itself in open opposition to his government.

The most recent development was the passing into law in the Hungarian Parliament (to come into effect from 15th September) of the use of the army and paramilitary border police, in conjunction with the border fence and camps along the border, to shut Hungary tight against the refugee onslaught. On top of this they have effectively suspended Habeas Corpus by giving any official body the right of entry without a warrant to any dwelling to search for refugees and the arrest and possible imprisonment of anyone who assists, hides, feeds or shelters them. This was achieved, by the way, with the help of Jobbik votes in parliament, as FIDESZ no longer has a two thirds majority. Many called this the vision of the future, when after the next election a FIDESZ/Jobbik coalition would effectively finish off the abolition of democracy in Hungary and introduce rule by decree.

A group from among the “liberal” intelligentsia, whose left wing is now either non-existent or have left the country, recently sent an open letter to Angela Merkel. The letter was sent before Germany declared that any Syrian refugee was welcome in Germany (approximately 800,000) and its tone was pleading with her to rescue the refugees from the grip of the Orbán government.

A summary of and excerpts from the letter:

“42 Hungarian artists, writers, journalists, actors, engineers, university students and lecturers, scientists, sociologists, psychiatrists, teachers, poets and intellectuals of all kinds sent an open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel to ask her to accept the refugees now arriving in Hungary into Germany. In this letter they expressed their concern for the welfare and safety of those who due to the bankruptcy of the EU refugee policy and the increasingly brutal policy of the Hungarian government are stuck like hostages in Hungary without a hope of reaching their destinations. They are forced to live on floors in railway stations, without help, without information, fearing the future. They felt that those who 25 years ago were the ones, who took the first bricks out of the Berlin Wall, now are forced to feel ashamed and humiliated in light of their own government’s actions.

“The signatories described how the Hungarian government spent the last 6 months waging a fierce anti-immigrant campaign, aimed at whipping up the xenophobic hysteria which stands in direct opposition to the basic values of European decency. Their purpose is to surround the refugees by razor wire and rejection, to criminalise them and provide the foundation upon which they can look justified in expelling them from Hungary, thus currying favour with the extreme right electorate.

“One final step was taken by the Hungarian government last Friday when with the help of the extreme right wing Jobbik MP’s votes they put on the statute book a law which with effect from 15th September enables the use of paramilitary police and the Army on the borders and against not only the refugees, but against anyone who helps them. Habeas Corpus is suspended and any police or Army personnel can from then enter without warrant any premises searching for refugees. Those who give succour to illegal immigrants can be arrested and become liable to several years in jail. This is a serious step towards autocracy and the complete abolition of the rights of the individual and of democracy… They behaved over several months as if the European People’s Party declared the caliphate of xenophobia and introduced the sharia law of intolerance and national self-interest.

“Ordinary Hungarian people stood against this campaign of hatred and proved its honour by joining in civil movements which began to care for the refugees on a spontaneous basis. They offered their meagre income and their free time to alleviate the misery that had befallen thousands of men, women and children camping out in railway stations. These volunteers shared all they had with the refugees, they provided translators, information, organised playgroups for traumatised children, looked after the sick and injured, the latter often caused by the razor wired fence, while the government ignored them and provided not a cent of support or assistance.

“We know from our daily personal experience that in these conditions no refugee can expect an honest judgement on their request for asylum or integration from the Hungarian government. … While the EU tries to put into effect its policy we cannot trust these thousands to a bureaucracy that is working slowly, inefficiently and with a view to finding an excuse for rejecting all applications and sending all asylum seekers back to Serbia…”

The naiveté of these liberal intellectuals is breath-taking. As if someone like Angela Merkel would respond to a pleading letter like this from 42 intellectuals if and when the interests of the class she represents are contrary to them.

Allowing refugees through: just a temporary relief

However, as we now know, events moved on very fast once there was an initiative from Austria to run a convoy of vehicles rescuing the refugees from Hungary and transporting them to Austria for travelling onwards to Germany. The pressure of this initiative was felt in Germany, where the Chancellor then made her statement about accepting any Syrian refugees and this even had an effect in Hungary itself. The government, having allowed 3,200 refugees onto a train that did take them to Germany, subsequently closed the station and halted the departure of further trains. When trains resumed operation the refugees were conned into believing that they were going to Germany. In reality the train stopped near one of the holding camps, where the police took them off the train and transported them to the camp. This was the incident everybody in the world saw on television screens and computer monitors and which brought home to all the brutality of the Orbán regime.

Once the Austrian convoy’s plans were known by everybody, two big groups of refugees, mostly young people, but families as well, started walking towards Austria in the hope of meeting the convoy coming the other way. Amazingly, this has actually happened and suddenly the Orbán government has found 100 buses to take all remaining refugees to the Austrian border. Pressure of a movement by only 600 well-meaning Austrians could achieve what nothing and nobody could in the previous weeks, including the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Hungary who declared (and this statement will remain in infamy forever) that his church can’t help the refugees in Hungary as the law would make them out to be people traffickers if they did so.

In the last few days the Austrians’ effort seemed to have been successful, all stations have emptied, although the camps are still bulging. But nobody on any side of this conflict says that this is a long-term solution. There are thousands, tens of thousands and potentially hundreds of thousands of refugees that are already on their way moving towards Europe. The volunteers in Hungary are at the end of their tether. Some of them have hardly slept in weeks or months and their donations and other sources of funding are drying up. The Hungarian government has hardened its stance and it will not be long after 15th September that the first shots may be fired on the border or anywhere else in the atmosphere that now rules Hungary.

Finally, the responsibility lies with the EU that has no coherence, which is in such crisis on all fronts with such conflicting interests of the bourgeoisies of its constituent states that a real, long lasting solution is beyond its capabilities. The dominant bourgeois power in Europe is Germany. She can blow hot and cold whenever she chooses, as Angela Merkel has done many times in the last few months. One minute Germany will take 800,000 Syrians, next Hungary is instructed to strictly adhere to Dublin III and thus Orbán has a point when he blames the chaos on the EU.

The thousands of refugees are not the only victims of the crisis in Europe, be it financial, political, economic or military. Ordinary people, especially those in Hungary whose government is now clearly preparing for a bonapartist turn, have everything to gain from combining with the workers of the surrounding countries and those immigrants on its territory to declare a fight not only against the xenophobia and dictatorial measures of the Orbán regime, but for a truly free and democratic Europe, where workers, by hand or by brain, wherever they come from are welcome.

Take industry, transport, education, etc. out of the hands of the bourgeois! A genuinely free flow of people throughout Europe and beyond is not possible on a capitalist basis. Only a socialist Europe based on the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange and run under workers’ democracy can allow such freedoms. Worker’s democracy is the highest form of democracy, it is the only organisation of society that is based on no exploitation, no curtailing of freedom and which will ensure peace and harmonious development in Europe and in the world on the basis of a planned economy where resources allocated according to the needs of the population and not profit.

At this moment in time the migrants are now in transit towards what they believe will be a better life. But they should also be warned that capitalism is facing a deep crisis in the coming period, and what may appear as a welcoming German ruling class can turn viciously against them. Only a Socialist Federation of Europe can guarantee the better life they seek in the long run.

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