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.
During this last month, much of the attention of Migszol has been focused on raising awareness on the show trial of Ahmed H., a Syrian man accused of “terrorism” by the Hungarian state because of happenings at the Hungarian-Serbian border in September 2015. Migszol has done media-work and organized demonstrations in support of Ahmed H. There have also been public flash mobs and awareness-raising events on the referendum and the usual camp visits to Bicske. Importantly, we have also gathered a large document on information for people in Serbia on what happens at the Hungarian-Serbian border. It is now being translated to different languages, and will be up on the website soon. Last, and most important, we were happy to join the 6th march demanding rights to social housing organized by A Város Mindenkié, and we recommend everyone to read here why we think the right to social housing and social and political rights of refugees and migrants are connected.
In addition, we are very excited to participate in the running of the Open Learning Initiative (OLIve), an educational program at Central European University. The program started in November 2015, and it is already at its third semester. OLIve was initially designed as a weekend course project for registered asylum seekers and refugees in Hungary. So far, more than 80 students took part in courses ranging from English language training, career advice and CV writing, short guide to life in Hungary, academic discussions seminars, participatory video-making, IT, to academic skills and tutoring in different disciplines. From January 2017, the initiative is expanding to include a university preparatory program for individuals with refugee status in one of the European Economic Area states.
The number of people waiting at the border in front of the transit zones has decreased to around 200 people, although the number is changing every day. However, this number can be slightly misleading, because the total number of people waiting to enter Hungary and/or blocked in Serbia is continuously increasing. As a result, there are political tensions growing in Serbia - and we can only encourage national and international media to cover the situation, especially in Belgrade and Subotica. It is now estimated that there are ca. 4900 people in Serbia waiting to cross to Hungary to seek asylum, of whom ca. 4200 people are hosted in asylum centers in the different parts of the country. Correspondingly, the total number of asylum seekers in Hungary is decreasing. According to our information as well as the figures that the Hungarian Helsinki Committee received from UNHCR, the number of people in both open camps and in asylum jails has radically decreased. Although this decrease comes with immense suffering and total ignorance of Hungary’s duties under international law, the Fidesz government portrays the decreasing number of people seeking asylum as a “victory.”
Given this situation, it is understandable that people try to find other ways of entering the country. The police have caught several people entering Hungary from Romania, some doing so with makeshift canoes over the rivers. We hardly need to point out the dangers of this. People still cross the Hungarian border-fence - doing so in groups in order to remain safe from violent vigilantes. The vigilantes are still catching people, as you can see from this photo series by the infamous Mayor of the village of Ásotthalom, and we are amazed that the Hungarian government still refuses to acknowledge, let alone react to, the operation of such paralegal units at the border.
If you want to be up to date on the delusional and racist rhetoric of the government, emphasizing the “clash of civilizations” and how Hungary is, in fact, the dreamland of Europe, and sometimes its “defense line”, we highly encourage you to follow the English-language Twitter or Blog of Zoltán Kovács, the spokesperson of the Fidesz Government. Here’s the gist: last year it was all chaos, Greece was no longer counting as a European country because it had lost all control, Austria was allowing its citizens to bring cars to transport “illegals” to Western Europe, we were overwhelmed but still trying to maintain order. At the same time, with no possibility of truly knowing who enters our territory and if they are real refugees or terrorists, this is why we needed to put a limit on entries. This is the narrative of the country to be an island of order in a European sea of chaos.
“Here you have to defend yourself – some kind of European blabla won’t get you far here.”
- Orbán, September 14
Following a meeting with Bulgaria’s prime minister Boyko Borissov during which he and Orban inspected military patrols at the border, Orbán declared that Eastern Europe as a whole needs to be included in a regional logic of security and that its safety is as precious as that of Western Europe. Moreover, the defence of the Hungarian nation cannot be ensured “at the expense of the defense of its neighbors.” Serbia’s decision to close the borders should not affect Bulgaria, and Bulgarian efforts are simultaneously helping Hungarians. As part of his plan of regional solidarity, Orban declared that EU money should assist Bulgaria’s “genuine efforts to maintain order and that “we will take care of you (Bulgaria)”, as this neighbor is not only protecting itself, but “all of us.” At times arguing that Bulgaria has been ignored by Europe in favor of other border countries more generously funded, such as Greece and Italy, he called for another distribution of EU money for border security. According to Orban’s geopolitical map of Eastern European security, the Visegrád Four group (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) should include in its regional security strategy Greece which, although at present is unable to function efficiently, should be brought in the same logic of regional solidarity. It is a militarized logic, in which national strategies must be harmonized with one’s neighbors – made of rhetorics, maps and very concrete fences patrolled by men in uniforms, their dogs, and cans of pepper spray, without which, Orbán argues, “the line of defense is broken”. What is defended here is the “Christian” and the “European” way of life. We want to raise awareness against this imagination of militarized trenches and, again and again, remind that these trenches are already real and producing disastrous effects for people either immobilized for months in numerous bottlenecks in terrible conditions or forced to flee, at the mercy of armed vigilante groups or arbitrary police violence.
Orbán’s view of Europe and Hungary does not, however, go unchallenged in the country. In a recent interview in Magyar Nemzet, historian of religion, István Perczel, summed up why Orbán’s vision is deeply flawed. And, of course, the majority of Hungarians did not bother to drag themselves to vote in the flawed referendum. In light of this, calls to expel Hungary from the European Union should be considered - the problem is Fidesz, rather than Hungarians, and we ask the people in the rest of Europe to keep this in mind.
Orbán has repeated his idea of a “defense line” in the presence of other European heads of states at the Vienna Summit on Migration on September 24th. What is needed, he announced in a separate press conference, is an “emergency scenario” which would include a response to the possibility of the failure of the Turkish-EU agreement. In addition, he repeated his pleas for more money to flow towards Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria for the “fight against illegal immigration,” backing his plan for regional security in Eastern Europe and solidarity-fencing. In an interview shortly before the referendum, Orbán also declared that without Hungary and its policies regarding its borders, Europe would have collapsed until now. Addressing EU leaders at the Vienna Summit, he suggested that an agreement with Libya’s currently “weak” government could be concluded, in order to deport and contain all the refugees that he does not want to accept in Europe. Libya formulated a short note in reaction, pleading for more solidarity with its current precarious situation and not to be burdened with the logistics of such a project.
Numerous critiques of Hungary’s strategy are lining up, one of them being an initiative of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland to start a procedure against its attempt to refuse Dublin deportations. We would like to point out to these countries, that there are several instances in which Dublin deportations to Hungary have been found to violate human rights. In response to this initiative, János Lázár, the Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, declared that “the place of solidarity is not here,” in Hungary. In a bizarre, outright racist statement, he argued that “Hundreds of thousands of migrants could come to Hungary whom we don’t know how we could live with. For about 600 years, we lived together with Gypsies, and we still couldn’t solve their problems.” We would like to suggest at least one step in addressing this, for instance, taking real measures to respond to vigilante paramilitary groups terrorizing, for many years already, Roma communities in rural Hungary. For the last year these and new vigilante groups have been extending their vocation to patrolling and capturing people along the border. Oftentimes independent reports are testifying of them being supported by local officials and sometimes cooperating with police forces.
Independent human rights advocacy groups have protested repeatedly against numerous acts of violence against migrants, recently. Independent reports are making public innumerable testimonies of police violence, arbitrary detention, humiliation of people captured along the border, and a sheer sense of despair from those who survive to tell how they have been told by policemen that “We can do anything, if you complain no one will listen to you.” This and many more testimonies of people abused, beaten, and chased by police dogs have been collected in the last Hungary Report by Amnesty International. We think we should carefully consider the diagnostic given by Amnesty International Director for Europe, John Dalhuisen: “Prime minister Orbán has replaced the rule of law with the rule of fear.”
The rest of the autumn, Migszol will direct efforts at work against the closure of the camp in Bicske, continue updating information on the Hungarian asylum system, and organize events in Budapest. As political developments in Hungary become more and more serious (e.g. the largest daily newspaper in Hungary, critical of Orbán and recently uncovering corruption cases, was suddenly shut down in recent weeks), it becomes clearer and clearer that the work for the rights of people seeking protection in Hungary is connected to the wider struggle in the society for equality, protection of the most vulnerable - homeless people, minorities, and the basic right to criticize the government. In response to János Lázár’s warning, we should think of Hungary as a place of solidarity. The Röszke Trials against people criminalized for having tried to find refuge in a democratic country, accused of terrorism for having protested against police abuse, presently detained without access to proper legal defense and a fair trial, are more than just an accident. The trials are a symptom of a systematic effort to transform dissent into crime. We are asking to start connecting the dots between unfair trials in a court of justice, the closing of dissenting media channels and the diffuse but slowly tightening presence of militarized control of the unwanted. As Amnesty declares, the rule of law is not simply undermined by acts of random disregard or violence, but by a systematic rule of fear, enforced at times by unchecked vigilante groups, at other times by the abusive power of some state institutions and the destruction of other institutions.