On October 2nd 2016, the Hungarian people were asked to vote on whether they would like to accept what has come to be known as the EU quota system for resettling refugees from other EU countries to Hungary. The question, already indicating the “correct” answer, drove most of the opposition as well as a large number of various groups and NGOs to call for a boycott of the referendum (see here and here for the Migszol position on it). The idea behind the boycott was to invalidate the outcome of the referendum. For this, more than half of the Hungarian electorate had to abstain from participating in the vote. In the end, 60% of the Hungarians either chose to boycott, invalidate or abstain from the vote.
The call for boycotting the referendum seemed to have succeeded. The opposition declared the blasting defeat of Viktor Orban. For the first time, the Fidesz government failed with a referendum that they initiated. Yet, Orban shed a different light on the results of the vote. He simply ignored the question of the validity of the vote and claimed that the vast majority that had voted had decided against the EU quotas. He claimed that the 98 percent of the people that had cast a ‘no’ vote, supplied him with the clear mandate to take legal steps to protect the country. He dug out a proposal that was previously made by Jobbik and announced the government’s intention to change the constitution — yet again.
60% Hungarian electorate ignores the racist referendum, but situation at the border remains catastrophic
September was characterized by intense and fierce debates on the stakes, meaning and results of the referendum on the 2nd of October. These debates, vibrant and justified, have also overshadowed the violent push backs at the Hungarian-Serbian border and the show trial of Ahmed H., a Syrian man accused of terrorism.
While tensions run high in Serbia, more and more people are opting to avoid Hungary and cross to Romania instead. In this situation, it is hardly surprising that the open camps in Hungary are functioning well below their capacity (see our latest report from Bicske, destined to be closed in December, in here). Even though there are fewer and fewer people seeking protection, Hungarians have been able to enjoy an ever more omnipresent and pervasive amount of propaganda funded by the taxpayers in Hungary. Hungarians have recently found in their mailboxes flyers informing them that many European capitals and cities are divided between livable areas and no-go zones into which it is too dangerous to enter because of crime coming from immigrants. Many diplomatic bodies have already strongly reacted against such flyers, denying the existence of such “no-go zones,” demanding a response from the Hungarian Foreign Minister. Lazar seems unmoved by such reactions, travelling through the country prior to the elections, telling stories about his travel impressions in Germany, where he concluded that Turkish migrant children “have no intention to learn German.”
Another chilling attempt to create a fake enemy is the the recent high-quality propaganda video on Viktor Orbán’s personal webpage, complete with fake blood and images of “dead” Hungarian people during a “counter-terrorism drill”. We can only be astounded by the sick violent fantasizing of Viktor Orbán and his government. Set as a response to a potential terrorist attack in the public space, it shows a bunch of angry men dressed in Robocop suits and frowning at imaginary enemies, while Orban enters the scene with a preoccupied look, dressed up for the occasion, giving stern handshakes to his men about to enter this imaginary battle. If it weren’t another serious stage in this government’s securitization of people’s movement across borders, it would be a spectacle of absurd comedy seeing these unnecessarily angry men chasing imaginary enemies. As it is, this mock anti-terrorist attack is part of a larger and more lethal spectacle of insecurity, in line with the ongoing militarization of the borders, patrolled by soldiers and policemen. And the government is planning to recruit even more people for border policing! Added to this is the day in day out security rhetoric of many government representatives naming in one breath migration and terrorist threats in Europe, or Fidesz’ recent declarations on the role of Hungary as the last frontier to European (Christian) civilization. In this context, the military drill in a Budapest metro station is a security move that further crystallizes the attempt to criminalize asylum and protection demands from people on the move.
Contrary to what many people in western Europe might think, Hungary is not full of supporters of Viktor Orbán or Jobbik, and there are tons of exciting things going on. First of all, on October 2nd, 60% of the Hungarian electorate ignored the propaganda machine of Fidesz and did not bother to even show up at the racist referendum. The referendum result, therefore, is invalid - although Orbán already said on the night of the elections that he would look into changing the constitution, despite its invalidity, to nevertheless transform the law as planned if the referendum were valid.
On 15 September 2015, the Hungarian government closed its border with Serbia and made crossing into Hungary illegal under criminal law. Hundreds of people got stuck at the Röszke–Horgos border crossing without legal information or support. The situation got increasingly tense until a protest started and escalated into police excessively using tear gas and protesters throwing stones.
Ahmad H. reached the border while accompanying his parents along the Balkan route towards Western Europe. He participated in the protest against the border closure by acting, along with several others and with the aid of a megaphone, as a channel of communication between the police and the crowd. Together with ten other people he was randomly singled out and arrested in the police operation. The ten others were found guilty in a previous trial for “participation in a mass riot” and “border violation” and sentenced to 1-3 years of imprisonment, although the material showed that they were not actively participating in the protest.
Ahmad H. is accused of “terrorism and other crimes” and faces potentially life long imprisonment. The previous trial hearings have shown that the biased questions and selection of testimonies by the court aim at establishing Ahmad H. as a leader of the protest, although the court lacks the evidence.
Report from the trial, September 23rd
Here we are once again in front of the Szeged court with a lot more police presence than last time, thanks to the fact that in front of the building a small group are holding a solidarity demonstration. But inside we receive the same welcome as before, nobody asks to see any ID but we enter through a security gate and put our bags through an X-ray. We head up to the now familiar corridor where once again we’re directed to a side-corridor, during which from behind the locked iron door the stocky masked guards lead out Ahmed, cuffed at ankles and wrists. Upon looking at him it’s almost unbelievable that only three months have passed since we saw him last. Perhaps I’m just imagining that he seems much older than before. Later in the courtroom I notice that his voice also seems to have changed, it’s now hoarser and more timid.
We take our seats. The judge and the prosecutor arrive, but the lawyer it would seem, for whatever reason, hasn’t found it important to turn up at their client’s hearing. Instead they’ve sent their young as yet unqualified colleague. The proceedings begin. I guess I have to take back my comment from the previous hearing in which I said certain details were “boring”, because this hearing surpasses the last beyond belief. The judge announces at the beginning that she will read off the witnesses’ statements, pausing in between for the sake of the interpreter, but the reading could best be described as ‘rattling off’, which is no surprise, given that the texts themselves are insignificant, startlingly similar and completely uninstructive. A large part of the material is the statements of police and standby police ordered in from other parts of the country. Also included now are the statements of the eight accused who were sentenced in the first Röszke trial. To a small degree their statements cast a different light on the events of 16 September, but not much information surfaces regarding Ahmed’s role in the disturbances. After the statements the judge asks the accused whether or not he would like to add anything to what has been said, or whether or not he would like to request individual hearings of the witnesses, to each of which the answer is “no”.
This article was originally published in OpenDemocracy and in LeftEast on the 2nd of October.
"Our first major interview on openDemocracy was on the ‘Post-Fascism’ thesis recently expounded by the Hungarian philosopher in the year 2000. Here, Tamás regretfully revisits concept and reality. LeftEast interview. Serbo-Croat.
The Hungarian government failed to achieve a referendum result on Sunday. While voters overwhelmingly supported opposing any mandatory European Union quotas for accepting relocated asylum seekers, the ballot was invalid due to low voter turnout.
The struggle of people facing housing poverty in Hungary and the struggle of migrants and refugees in Hungary must be understood as the same fight - it is the same fight against poverty, against discrimination, against violent policies - it is the same fight for a tolerant, more inclusive Hungarian society.
Join AVM’s March for Housing Rights, on October 8th !
The lack of support for refugees and the risk of homelessness
The issue of homelessness has been one of the core concerns since the beginning of Migszol as a group. Migszol grew out of protests by a group of Afghani refugees in 2012 who were demonstrating against the threat of becoming homeless after having to leave the Bicske refugee camp. The Hungarian state back then and until now has consistently failed in its duties, under international law and basic moral decency, to provide adequate social assistance to refugees in Hungarian society. The lack of social services and money to help people start a life in Hungary, after they received their legal status of refugee in Hungary led to extremely precarious living conditions. The sad reality is that, for years now, many refugees in Hungary have been at risk of being homeless and for many refugees this has been one of the main reasons why they saw themselves forced to move on to another country.
When last visiting the camp in Bicske, we found it remarkable that there were no blue propaganda posters in the city, and we are only left to wonder why that was the case. Maybe because people in Bicske have lived with the refugee camp for two decades, and better than anybody in the country they know that the government propaganda is divisive, hateful and useless?
Talking with children is always astounding - there was a bit of a lost in translation moment when we met and discovered that this group of four small boys could talk in Farsi, Turkish, and German. It is crazy to imagine there is a whole generation of such multilingual children.
We spoke with ca. 10 men staying in the camp. Many of them described how they had come to the camp in the recent weeks after being released from the prisons in Kiskunhalas and Bekescsaba. They all said that the camp is a good place, now - they all have their own rooms, the food is good, and they get weekly allowance money. They said they can sleep in peace in the camp. Given this positive feedback (and we would like to extend our gratitude to the person managing the camp), we are only left to wonder, why does the government so vehemently try to close the camp? Indeed, we spoke also about the closure of the camp, since many people had heard rumours of it. The news of the planned closure of Bicske understandably created a feeling of fear and insecurity - what will happen to the people staying in the camp, we were asked.
Out of sight, out of mind? Violence continues on the anniversary of the Hungarian-Serbian border closure - Migszol Update August 5th -September 5th
This is a Migszol update from 5 August to 5 September. The month has been characterized by increasingly ruthless violence at the Serbian-Hungarian border, ever-growing aggressive propaganda against migrants of all kinds now that the national referendum is drawing closer, and the heated international relations between European states because of the insecure EU-Turkey deal.
Before we begin, it is important to notice that a year ago we were living through a very significant time. It is the anniversary time of what we learnt to call “the migration crisis in Hungary” in 2015.
Last week the politics of migration in Hungary reached another - particularly classy- high. Root vegetables carved as strawmen, also known as “bird-scarers”, were put up at the Southern border of Hungary to scare off the ones who are on the run to save their lives. György Schöpflin, a Member of the European Parliament for Fidesz, responded to the international criticisms regarding this innovative protection of national sovereignty by saying that placing pig heads at the border instead would actually do a better job deterring the Muslims entering the country. As we do not want to inspire Mr. Schöpflin or the government itself any further by criticizing these ground-breaking technologies of border control, we want to further discuss the costs and benefits of each option, and ask for your opinion as well, as this is what democracy requires.
Should Hungary use root vegetables or pig heads to defend its borders? As the sovereign citizens of this country, you can go and cast your vote on 2nd of October, and have your say on the issue.
So, should it be option 1 - root vegetables?
First of all, root vegetables constitute a significant option as they are widely used in the national cuisine of Hungary: Vadas maria and Goulash, just to name a few of the traditional dishes, use root vegetables as ingredients, satisfying culinary pride and national sensations. Secondly, root vegetables are abundant in Hungary, which decreases the amount of investment that needs to be made in order to strengthen the border controls. Plus, carving the border-guarding-root-vegetables can be introduced as an activity for the school children, which is a win-win situation: children of this country will grow up knowing that they took part in these novel efforts, and, well, the carving will get done. As root vegetables are available throughout the year there will also not be any shortage of border materials.
One August Sunday afternoon, we arrive in the park and immediately are in the middle of a protest. One would think it is a joyful celebration: music plays, people are having drinks and food, talking, but the topic is quite serious: this is “The park is for everyone” solidarity event during which volunteers and refugees try to raise awareness about what is going on in the city: that asylum-seekers are being forced out of public areas and are pushed into camps and to register. We are in Belgrade, in a park often referred to as ‘Info park’, named after an NGO which is active here. It is situated on the side of the road next to the railway station and - similar to II János Pál square / John Paul the Second square - served for a long time as a transfer point for many refugees for a few nights before continuing their journey, much like the “Afghani park” on the other side of the road as well. The situation on the Hungarian border, however, became increasingly dramatic and serious. As an employee of the Infopark put it: last summer, the atmosphere at night was actually quite happy, people played music and had fun. They knew they were supposed to spend only a few days here, which made them optimistic and full of hope. However, most of the people who are currently here have been here for months now, many already tried leaving and continuing their journey but all attempts failed and no one has any idea what lies ahead. People do not have any reasons to be happy and enjoy the music anymore.
The catastrophic consequences of the 8km law and violence at the Hungarian-Serbian border - Migszol update July 4th - August 4th
This is a Migszol update on the general asylum situation in Hungary between 4th July - 4th August 2016. For information for people seeking asylum, please see the information provided by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee in here.
The 8km law and violence on the border
The 8km law, that we wrote about earlier, took effect on the 5th of July. According to the legislation, anyone who is caught within 8m on the Hungarian side of the border fence may be “escorted” back to the Serbian side of the fence. This legalizes the pushbacks of people to the Serbian side and severely restricts people’s right to seek asylum. In practice, those caught and pushed back are not given a chance to ask for asylum, which is contrary to international law. We find it cruelly ironic that at the same time the Fidesz government claims that the border fence is working, the Hungarian authorities are cutting holes to this fence in order to push people back to the Serbian side. The results of the law have been catastrophic: the number of people waiting at the transit zone to apply for asylum at the border has doubled. There is no legal help available, civilian volunteers and activists have limited access, and the living conditions are abysmal, as this video from Migszol Szeged also shows.
This blog is ran by members of Migszol, it features our analyses and reflections on asylum questions in Hungary in more depth. If you would like to write a guest piece, drop us a line!