We Need To Talk About Hungary

So Hungary started erecting a barbed-wire fence on the border with Slovenia as well yesterday morning. Since the Orban government was busy doing exactly that for the past few weeks on its borders with Serbia and Croatia, seemingly to stem the influx of refugees, the move shouldn’t come as a surprise. But Ljubljana was surprised and has officially yet to respond to the move.

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Shitty graphics by yours truly

According to media reports, it was the Slovenian police which first noted the Hungarian army fooling around with metal constructions at Pince border crossing. The foreign ministry was notified and – nothing. Foreign minister Karl Erjavec lamented the fact that Hungary did not notfiy Slovenia ahead of time and later said that his Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjarto told him in an informal phone call that fence is “a temporary installation”. Yeah, well, so was the Berlin wall.

Admittedly, the joke in this case is on Slovenia. The country’s intelligence services apparently failed to even predict let alone detect Hungarian moves. Even worse, three weeks ago Slovenian president Borut Pahor met Victor Orban and said that some Hungarian measures need to be taken into account. To Pahor’s credit, he did manage a between-the-lies criticism of Orban’s policies by stating that “some of his assessments left me [Pahor] speechless”. But actions speak louder than words. And one wonders just how speechless the Prez was yesterday, when he woke up to an iron curtain on his North-Eastern border. Needless to say Slovenia has yet to lodge a formal protest with the Hungarian ambassador in Ljubljana.

Now, clichés about temporary solutions having a tendency of becoming permanent aside, we really need to talk about Hungary. On an Europe-wide level. The country has now erected or is in the process of doing so, a barbed wire fence on the border with three of its seven neighbouring states. Since its borders with Romania and Ukraine are also the outer borders of the Schengen Area and the EU respectively, the only intra-EU borders which remain non-fenced one way or another are borders with Austria and Slovakia. And those two countries suspended Schengen rules on their side of the border (as did Slovenia last week, mind you), making Hungary, well, fenced-off from the rest of the world.

And that is a huge problem.

You see, the difference between this latest case of Hungarian metal works and all the preceding ones is that this is the first instance of a newly installed physical barrier between two Schengen Area members. Which sort of defies the point of a common Schengen area and raises the question of just how much Hungary can get away with in terms of breaching basic EU agreements. Because unlike other suspensions of Schengen rules, this one wasn’t announced. And even those countries that did suspend Schengen, are doing so in terms of reintroduced border-crossing check-points rather than the new Iron Curtain.

Which brings us to the next problem: in his previous post, pengovsky wrote that the barbed-wire fence, while officially meant to stem the influx of refugees is indeed a show for domestic consumption and a message to any Hungarian who wants to challenge Orban’s grip on power. Fact it that Hungarians can not cross a single neighbouring border without someone at least knowing about it. If – or, rather, when – the fence project continues, that particular somenone will be tempted to start allowing prohibiting travel. Which is why Klaxons should be ringing in Brussels. Loudly.

And if that is not enough for you, try this on for size. Days ago Hungarian parliament by a large majority passed an act increasing powers of the police and the military in responding to the refugee crisis. Those powers now include use of nonlethal firearms as well as disregarding the right of the privacy of home in search of “illegal migrants” as the official term goes.

So, now we have a fenced-off country where the police and the army have hugely increased powers and overlapping jurisdictions. Suppose in a few months or years someone comes up with an amendment to the increased powers act, replacing the term “illegal migrants” with, say, “enemies of the state”.

Worried yet?

UPDATE: According to Slovenian media Hungarian army began dismantling the fence with Budapest apparently claiming it was all a misunderstading. Riiiight….

UPDATE 2: This via Andrew MacDowall via Hugarian Spectrum. Apparently the offical term for the installation on the border was not “a fence” but “a wire obstacle”. Brilliant! 😀

The Week Schengen Again Became Just A Place In Luxembourg

“Vat is your kargo?” The German border-policeman at a check-point just hundreds of metres inland from border with Austria could have very well escaped from a high-octane H’Wood flick while his muted partner looked like he barely missed the cast of Kobra 11, die Autobahnpolizei series. It was just a few days after Germany suspended Schengen rules on its Southern border and pengovsky spent previous few hours fretting over the possibility of a lenghty Stau on the border crossing which is inclined to see bumper-to-bumper traffic on a normal day, let alone in the midst of what turned out to be a near-complete breakdown of free movement rules within the EU in the wake of the refugee crisis.

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Rear-view mirror image of German border-checkpoint

But staying true to their Teutonic reputation, the procedure took less than five minutes. It was brutally efficient. Traffic was squeezed into a single lane with the first crew visually scanning incoming vehicles, another crew pulled over those selected (such as pengovsky, unshaven, driving a white cargo van), the third team then directed us to one of several two-men teams performing the actual check, in our case the Dolph Lundgren lookalike and his Danny Devito-esque sidekick. And, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, it was all over before you can say Schengen Agreement. Polite, efficient, not painful at all (provided you’re not trafficking refugees, I presume).

And yet, there it was. An intra-EU border, manned in full force. There is a generation of young people to whom a border between, say Austria and Germany or (albeit to a lesser extent) between Slovenia and Austria is but an abstract concept. Abolition of border checks and free movement of people has, as far and reality on the ground is concerned, probably the most important factor in development of a common, transnational, European identity. That and the introduction of Euro. And we all know how well *that* particular clustefurck was handled. In fact, the Schengen cascade effect was a real-life demonstration of what would happen in case of a “controlled Grexit”. A shitstorm of biblical proportions.

The visceral Visegrad Four

But, as shocking as it was, Germany should not be riled on account of closing its border with Austria. Yes, the historical parallels are not pretty and you can be excused for thinking this is what happened just before the Anschluss (nevermind the fact that just before Anschluss refugees were running the other way and, well… brush up on your history, dammit!) Also, yes, the move primarily fucks over the refugees who have already made it all this way just to be denied overcoming the last hurdle. But no, this is not a takeover of power by Bavarian hardliners in Berlin. Still, the Schengen Agreement is on life support as of last week. But rather than Germany the Visegrad Four are to blame for the predicament.

Germany got plenty of bad press over its handling of the Greek Crisis and rightly so, even though the Fabulous Duo Tsipras/Varoufakis performed quite admirably in fucking up the situation (OT and re last night’s elections Greece: Tsipras apparently did grow up in the course of the last nine months). It was therefore a bit of a poetic justice when Berlin invoked European solidarity in handling the refugee influx but was rebuffed harshly by Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland (which, admittedly is slowly caving in) and Hungary. But what should have been an instructive “we told you so” moment for Germany turned out to be a complete and utter perversion of European ideas and ideals by member states who seem to the think European Union is an a la carte restaurant where they can pick and choose some commitments and eschew others.

Because while German move to temporarily revoke Schengen is a policy move aimed at forcing other member states to either accept the quota system for handling refugees or start actively and generously participating in the relief effort on their own, Slovak suspension of Schengen rules (followed by non-Visegrad members Austria and the Nethelands) and mulled by Czech Republic and Poland is a misguided geopolitical move aimed at preventing the stream of refugees to spill over their border. As if it is not their problem.

Refugees for domestic consumption

That several Eastern European government responded to the refugee crisis in a borderline racist manner would make a good case study for psychoanalysts. Probably somewhere along the lines of inferiority complex meeting pre-modern politics meeting tribalism garnished with a splash of endemic fascism.

And elections. Croatia, for example, stopped processing refugees within two days of the wave spilling over the Croatian-Serbian border. True, the numbers are staggering and the country was apparently ill prepared to tackle the humanitarian crisis that was clearly coming their way. Slovenia, too, was slow to pull its collective head out of its collective ass, but the way Croatian system broke down was epic. Or, rather, disastrous. And once that went South and the refugees continued to go North, the government of Zoran Milanović simply threw their hands up and stopped registering newcomers. saying the refugees should go wherever they please. Which turned out to be Austria and Germany in most cases.

While Slovenian officialdom widely criticised Croatia for more or less simply passing the bucket to Slovenia, no-one mentioned that reasons go beyond the mere inability of Croatian services to handle the influx. You see, the centre-left government of Zoran Milanović is fighting an uphill re-election battle, where he is not shy of flirting with the right-wing agenda in attempts to win the centre vote. In doing this, he will join the long-and-distingusihed line of politicos who failed doing exactly that, but hey – when you’re out of ideas, anything will do. At any rate, the last thing Milanović (who tried to bluff his way though the humanitarian nightmare by saying that in allowing free passage Croatia “forced Slovenia and Hungary to tackle the problem, too”) needs three or four months before elections are thousands of refugees from Middle East and Africa. The HDZ-led opposition would in all likelihood start accusing him of “destroying the Croatian way of life, threatening security and Christian identity”. And if that sounds a lot like Victor Orban, you’re not far off. He and Karamarko of Croatian HDZ are more or less of the same flock.

Speaking of Orban, his barb-wire politics seems to be getting some unwarranted admiration around the EU, reports FT’s Peter Spiegel. The problem with this is twofold. First, the fact that barb-wire and paramilitaries patrolling it are quite unnecessary for an effective control of Schengen border, as demonstrated by Slovenian authorities which have done more or less the same by using much softer tactics. Even the lone scuffle that escalated into a cop using pepper-spray on a group of people turned out to have been at least in part provoked by an anarchist group which gets nervous every time it sees a robocop.

The Slovenian authorities were slow to react (the National Security Council only met on Friday afternoon, when the first refugees were already arriving at the border) but the responsible services got their shit together over the weekend and started registering refugees, busing them to shelters all over the country and providing basic medical care and sustenance. Slowly, to be sure, as hundreds of people were forced to wait on the Croatian side of several border crossings (and, at the same time, on the other side of the Schengen border), but over the course of the weekend the first wave was dealt with and – most importantly – the operative command of the situation was given to the Civil Protection and Disaster Relief, a higly efficient and flexible part of national security system aimed at providing disaster relief and which can be activated locally, regionally or nationally, depending on the emergency. Civil Protection usually coordinates all civilian services and voluntary organisations in any given situation and can enlist the support of the police or the army if need be. With these guys in control of the situation, chances of a fuck-up were brought down to the best possible minimum.

Random acts of kindness

And to add a bit of local colour: Twitter and Facebook trolls notwithstanding, the response to refugee influx throughout Slovenia has been fantastic. The police, while stretched to limits at certain points of border, gave their best and there was at least one heartwarming story of a family that got separated at the border but was reunited further inland, not to mention the countless individuals acts of help, be it in providing food and water for both refugees *and* the police, soft toys for children or even spontaneously picking people up and driving them to Austria, as carried out and written up by journo colleague AleÅ¡ Lednik (Slovenian only, I’m afraid)

Hauptbahnhof Graz. Yalla

Point being that the refugee crisis can be managed. Serbia has borne the brunt of it for the past few months. Parts of Italy and Greece are the main entry points for years on end. And here we have certain EU member states making a ruckus about a quota system for a few hundred thousand refugees which – had all things been equal – shouldn’t even begin to upset the normal balance of things in a union with five hundred million citizens (that’s, 500.000.000, five with eight zeroes)

In light of this, the only possible conclusion conclusion is that Orban’s fence (and other non-metal but similar policy initiatives) is a show for domestic consumption. The speed at which the fence was put up is breathtaking and reminiscent of the speed the Italian Fascist occupation regime put up barbed-wire fence around Ljubljana in 1942. And if that is the way Orban “defends” his country from a fictional enemy from without imagine what he is willing to do to keep “the enemy from within” at bay. Yes, the fence is a message. But not a message to refugees. It is a message to any Hungarian who dares challenge his authority.

And this is the real test the EU is now facing. Not migrant quotas per se, but whether the Union and its biggest players will allow small-time fascisms to proliferate while they pick and choose which parts of the European integration they adhere to and which they ignore (until next time).

Cameron ante portas

Even more importantly, the knee-jerk suspension of Schengen rules, especially if it spreads and continues for a while, will gravely harm the EU itself. What is to stop, say, David Cameron from demanding even more opt-outs and special treatments when tries to renegotiate the UK’s membership in the EU next year? And once he achieves that, what will stop other member states from following his example?

Multiculturalism: A Teutonic Shift

German Kanzlerin Angela Merkel created a lot of hoopla Sunday last when she said at a party meeting that “attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have utterly failed” (BBC) abd went on to add that “those who want to take part in German society must not only obey German laws but also master German language” (Deutche Welle).


Die Kanzlerin (source)

This goes to the very heart of what can, for the lack of a better expression, be described as “post-war values” (keep your shirt on, we’ll get there). That nationalism is on the rise is, of course, hardly news. That public’s disillusionment with mainstream politics is invariably giving rise to extremists of all sorts is plainly visible (the latest examples being Austria, Sweden and The Netherlands). Wherever this starts happening, mainstream parties almost without exception start mimicking those hard-liners who are “stealing their electorate”, using their rhetoric, imitating their rituals and trying to re-establish themselves as points of reference for their wayward voters.

Same old story

This is not new. We’ve seen it time and again and the political menstrual cycle (where parties promise to bleed to the last drop of voters’ blood) is replete with such attempts all over the world, democratic or not. What is new is the fact that this phenomenon has transcended the normal constraints of a political arena and has taken on wider sociological and cultural connotations.

What we are seeing today is parties trying to stay in power not by adjusting their political platforms, but by adjusting their values to accommodate voters which have defected to the extreme poles of either left or right. As a result relatively small groups of fringe voters are increasingly starting to dictate the debate on scores of issues at the expense of those voters who are (from parties’ points of view) “already in the bag”.

Thus we have a triple fuck-up: moderates are disillusioned and increasingly refuse to take part in the democratic processes, thus leaving room for hard-liners. Their importance is amplified even more by mainstream factors – not just political parties, but also opinion leaders, media, and so on – trying to regain legitimacy with hard-liners by “talking the talk and walking the walk”. But what almost invariably happens is that the above mainstream factors loose out on both ends, since moderates will not see them as representing their morals and/or ethics, whereas hard-liners will only see it as proof that they’ve been right all along and will stick with their original leaders.

Ze Germans

So, what Angie M. said the other day is not just your ordinary “hey-I’m-one-of-you” act. It represents a marked shift of proclaimed values vis-a-vis the outer world. The fact that the fields in which this change of values has taken place are 19th century classics (language and ethnicity) makes it all the more worrying. I don’t want to go into a rant on how 19th century romantic notions of national supremacy paved the way for Europe to be raped twice over, but alarm bells are ringing. Especially since this is Germany we’re talking about. No offence, but both World Wars had a lot to do with Germany trying to forcefully “take its rightful place on the world stage”.

What is even more worrying is that Merkel did not say this at a congregation of some Lederhosen-clad old farts munching over an inhumane amount of beer, but to a congress of young party activists (Junge Union) who are always plenty eager to prove themselves in the eyes of the leadership, usually by ways of defending party positions with extreme prejudice and over-zealously executing party politics. I for one would hate to see Junge Union becoming Jugend Union, if you catch my meaning.

An added bonus, so to speak, is the timing of Merkel’s statements. Only weeks after Thilo Sarrazin, member of the board of the Bundesbank published a book where, among other things, claimed that “all Jews share the same gene” and that “Muslim immigrants across Europe were not willing or capable of integrating into western societies.” (HufPo). Sarrazin was forced to resign from his post (and is laughing all the way to the bank as his book became a bestseller) and condemned by top German officials, including Merkel. And yet, she found occasion to say basically the same thing only six weeks later.

So, what of Multi-kulti?

Pengovsky is out of his comfort zone here, as I have never lived in Germany, but I imagine patterns are the same all over this part of the world. The usual game-play is that other cultures are fine as long as they don’t bother the established order. Doubly so if the term “other culture” comes to imply “other religion” as is mostly the case in predominantly Christian- or even Catholic-conditioned Europe. Whenever the concentration of people with “other culture” reaches critical mass, the majority starts having “problems”. These problems are of course nothing but a veiled form of sense of superiority, chauvinism and even racism. Since European nations practically butchered themselves to death in the 20th century and somehow realised that they do indeed all bleed red, a new enemy was found. Or rather, an old one was rediscovered. Islam. With Turks comprising most of Germany’s four million immigrants (5% of total population), it really isn’t such a long walk, no?

But what Merkel describes as death of multiculturalism, is in fact its victory. Members of other cultures have (in this case in Germany) grown so strong, that they became impossible to ignore. Sure, until now these cultures existed parallel to one another and never really integrated, but – if you don’t mind my saying so – this is as much the immigrants’ fault as it is of the German state.

Merkel said that the bulk of these people came to Germany in 60s and 70s and then never left, contrary to Germans’ expectations. Duh? Seriously? You expected that? A woman from East Germany who (let’s be nice and fuzzy here) had to endure Communist propaganda and hardship in order to earn a living and was – due to her belief in a better life and freedom of man – heavily involved in democratic movement in a country with one of the most ruthless regimes of the entire Eastern Bloc is now feigning ignorance as to why immigrant workers came to Germany? C’mon!

Immigrants came in search of a better life (or at least in search of a better pay). Apparently they got it. Or at least got something close enough. And they brought their culture with them. I won’t go into all that All Different All Equal crap, but fact of the matter is that immigrants’ culture now is a part of Germany. It is a part of their cultural production, it is a part of their economy, of their sports, of their politics even.

The perils of a short-lived victory

Multiculturalism succeeded as it put Germany where it is today. A country and a society which can stand on its own two feet and throw its weight around a bit. It’s just that other cultures didn’t go sit quietly in a corner somewhere and remained respectful, but are questioning the world around them as they bloody well should. With this an until then commonly-accepted set of taboos is coming down and is making some people nervous.

But as reactionary forces do what they’re best at – react – there is a clear and present danger of a real defeat of multiculturalism. And with that of Europe as we know is. As this German debate is implicitly aimed against Islam, it may take on the form of a wider lash-out against Muslims in Germany and across Europe. But the continent (and Germany in particular) has a sad history of starting with a specific religion and then pointing their finger on a map of Europe and saying “I sink ve should go zhere.

Fearmongering the Slovenian way

What’s the connection between the economic engine of Europe and a sorry excuse for a nation of two million, you ask? Why, the youth organisation of Nova Slovenija (NSi), of course. The youngsters from this ChristDem party were proud to take part in the gathering of their German brethren in Potsdam and upon returning to home soil issued a scorching press release saying that what Merkel said for Germany goes for Slovenia as well. Only more so.

Because if Germany has problems with cultural co-existence, in Slovenia the nation and the country are at peril if immigrants will continue to refuse to integrate fully. This kind of multiculturation (not my word!) must be stopped immediately, sayeth the NSi.

Obviously, this kind of death-to-all-things-not-Slovenian writing is aimed primarily against immigrants from former Yugoslav republics. That they are mostly of Muslim faith is probably not a coincidence. Ditto for the fact that NSi is a Christian Democratic party. Fearmongering, you see. They refuse to speak Slovene. They will take our jobs. They will take our women. “They” being loosely identified as Muslims. Yesterday it was the Croats. Tomorrow it’ll be the Chinese. Or maybe just Slovenian socialists. There’s always someone you can blame for your own incompetence and inability to provide solutions for mounting problems.

Not all is lost

But there are a few rather humorous points in all of this, which show these fearmongers (at home and across the border) for what they really are: small-testicled windbags.

As a rule, defenders of all things Slovenian have a problem with Slovene grammar and syntax. NSi’s press release is no different. Words that don’t exist (multiculturation), wrong punctuation, incorrect syntax and extremely poor style all point to the fact that these people would probably bankrupt a even gold-mine let alone come to power by means of sparking mass hysteria and bigotry. At least they got the dual form right this time. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other, more capable people waiting in the wings.

Oh, and Thilo Sarrazin’s surname is probably derived from the word “Saracen“, which was a common descriptor of Muslims during the Crusades. A late Austrian psychiatrist would probably go: “I sink hez got issuez…

P.S.: Some people are probably truly offended by now, if they even managed to read the whole text. To you I apologise. I tend to exaggerate to make a point. I also do not think all Germans are either xenophobic, racist or anti-Muslim. In fact, I think most are definitely not. But those who are, are becoming more and more mainstream. So for fuck’s sake, get off your sane German asses and really reclaim the space invaded by extremist loonies. And yes, this goes for Slovenia as well.

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