THE TENSION CONTINUES
This is part two of my blog post recapping the insane political changes that have occurred in Hungary since my arrival in the fall of 2015. There has been palpable tension ever since I moved to Budapest – in the way people interact with me, the media campaigns that aim to instill fear in the hearts of citizens in regards to refugees and migrants, and the desire of the prime minister to make Hungary an “illiberal state.” Every day something new happens and honestly the situation changes so rapidly that I forget to write most of it down, but here I am recapping it for y’all (and for myself) because this is too important to forget.
The political situation in Hungary, currently under the control of the Fidesz party, is tense – especially for refugees. Refugees had been coming through Hungary for many years, but this migration movement was not visible to the wider public until after the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, France. After this time, the government took a hard line on refugees and capitalized on the nations fear to enact harsh laws to keep refugees out. In a matter of just two years, so much has happened.
After building a fence along the Hungarian-Serbian border, conducting a National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism, radically changing the legal process for refugees and migrants, closing permanent refugee camps in favor of make-shift tent cities, and then having such egregious human rights violations that other European states stop sending asylum seekers back to Hungary, then came the…
Referendum against the EU resettlement quota
When the EU began discussing a refugee relocation quota for countries in the Union, Hungary rejected it and the government spent upwards of 50 million USD in a public referendum asking citizens if they, “want the European union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the national assembly?” This measure failed due to low voter turnout, but the government still played it off as a success and has since challenged the European Union Court about these relocation quotas. Leadership in Hungary has also changed the constitution many times to reflect their desire to protect what they see as “Christian Europe.” This move is part of a wider narrative around Hungarian constitutional identity and symbolic politics.
Next national consultation about Brussels and the EU
Following its vote about the EU resettlement quota, the Hungarian government began yet another national consultation on the same theme, this time with the slogan, “Let’s stop Brussles!” which cost well over 5 million USD. The entire city was filled with propaganda about the dangers of the EU (truly, it was everywhere – trams, metro stops, billboards), though some cheeky activists added another phrase onto the end so that it read, “Let’s stop Brussles – so we can catch up!” The campaign wasn’t solely focused on the resettlement quotas, it also aimed to scare average Hungarian citizens about what the government saw as the EU meddling in the Hungarian economy and it’s energy supplies, but refugees and migrants were still a part of this consultation.
Catchy media campaign by the Jobbik party
Over the last two months or so, the Jobbik party (the neo-nazi’s) have begun a communications campaign against the ruling Fidesz party (Who is still conservative, but not as loudly nazi-esque as the Jobbik party. Fidesz will usually rework the Jobbik talking points so they sound more palatable and then present them a month later as their own.) and as much as I hate to admit it, it’s a damn good campaign. I just wish that another political party was the one running the ads. Their message highlights the corruption in the Fidesz party and presents Jobbik as a party for the people, a robin hood of sorts.
Transit zone conditions
Given that there is a huge fence along the Hungarian-Serbian border and there are no longer any permanent refugee camps in the entire country, the Hungarian government had to come up with a solution to the growing number of people gathering on the edge of Serbia, seeking passage to Hungary. They have used shipping containers to create a “transit zone” and holding center and they don’t let anyone in to see it. Some NGO’s are allowed to go and bring food and supplies to the people being held there, but none are allowed to post photos or talk about the conditions on the ground. Groups who do, get their permission to visit the transit zone revoked and are then not able to transport supplies to the people stuck there. An NPR reporter visited the area a few months ago and was allowed to look around what she said was a show-room type place. The authorities proudly showed her a playground, but it was brand new and had never been played on. They took her to a recreation room, but the ping pong paddles sitting on the board were still in their plastic coverings. It was all an act, hiding what actually happens.
The RCH’s immediate aid organization, Hungarian Reformed Church Aid, has been given access to go into the transit zone with volunteers to play with the children who are detained there and have nothing to do. The only catch is that government does not want these volunteers to photograph the area or speak about the experience after they leave. One organization who brought volunteers a few weeks ago got in trouble because their people photographed the conditions there and published them on Facebook for the world to see – they are now not allowed back. The HRCA offered to take Kalunba people down to the transit zone to volunteer, but we have declined because we cannot go and be silent. None of us will be pawns in this government’s game. These people are human beings who deserve dignity and justice, and we will not be quiet in the face of these human rights violations.
Crackdown on NGO’s and “foreign agents”
The Hungarian government recently passed a law that it says will increase transparency among organizations receiving foreign monetary support. Critics (and myself) see it as an attempt by Fidesz to stifle political dissent and punish those organizations that work for democratic and social justice causes. CEU, an American university founded by George Soros (a Hungarian living in the US who is magnificently rich and spends much of his money furthering democratic causes in former-Soviet-controlled countries), has also been affected by this ruling and protests against the government calling for academic freedom lasted for weeks. Civic groups who receive more than $26,200 per year from foreign donors must register with the courts and include in their publications that they are foreign-funded. This registration system seeks to control and instill fear in these groups, which the government views as “foreign agents” working against Hungarian interests – especially by supporting and aiding refugees and asylum-seekers.
Talks of another fence on the Romanian border
Hungary is currently considering building yet another fence, this time along it’s border with Romania. Discussions have been swirling for months, but recently they have become more tangible. The government says that the fence is necessary to protect Hungary and the EU because it sees the EU as weak and not taking proper steps to protect “Christian Europe.” Many are against the fence, however, due to Hungary and Romania’s close ties – they think that such a step would hurt relations with the neighbor that is currently home to thousands of ethnic Hungarians, separated from their homeland after the Treaty of Trianon.
Some days it seems like the insanity will never end.. It’s a lot to keep track of, living here in Budapest, so if you have any questions please leave them in the comments or get in touch with me and I’ll do my best to answer them or give you more details!
Doing this work in Hungary is a constant challenge. As always, prayers, good vibes, encouraging words, and anything else you want to send my way are appreciated!