July 17, 2015

The Fort of Hungary

AFP/Scanpix
A picture is taken on July 18, 2015 shows the first completed elements of the 150 meter-long metal fence at the Hungarian-Serbian border nearby Morahalom village. Defense Minister Csaba Hende said that 900 people would work simultaneously to install the fence which is planned to be 4 meters (13 feet) high along the 175-kilometer (109-mile) border between Hungary and Serbia.
A picture is taken on July 18, 2015 shows the first completed elements of the 150 meter-long metal fence at the Hungarian-Serbian border nearby Morahalom village. Defense Minister Csaba Hende said that 900 people would work simultaneously to install the fence which is planned to be 4 meters (13 feet) high along the 175-kilometer (109-mile) border between Hungary and Serbia.

This week, Hungary started building a wall on its border with Serbia to better fight illegal immigration. The four-metre wall is to be built on the 175-kilometre border at eight locations which are the most popular among immigrants according to the Hungarian government.

Before we start discussing the ethical and historical aspects of the decision of Hungary, it must be said that Hungary has not invented the problem of immigration. This year, 80,000 immigrants have arrived in Hungary, although many of them have moved on to Germany or Sweden. But last year, about 43,000 immigrants arrived in Hungary, thus, the growth has almost doubled within half a year. The immigrants are mostly from countries torn by war: Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

Last year, the European Union celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The symbolic end to the Cold War arrived on 9 November 1989, when people rushed over the wall which had divided Berlin for more than a quarter of a century. However, the fact that there were leaks in the Berlin Wall even before that is not so widely known. Namely, Hungary had opened its borders in the late spring of 1989 so that East Germans could reach West Germany through Austria. The decision of Hungary to open the border to the Western world actually made the fall of the Berlin Wall inevitable.

But now, Hungary is a country that erects new walls in Europe. In 25 years, the situation in Europe has changed drastically. We might even say that only 10 years ago, when the European Union enlarged greatly, the idea of walls would have been inappropriate. But already then, the world lived in the shadow of the outcome of 9/11 and the Iraq War of 2003. By 2015, the mostly failed revolutions in the Arab countries and the expansion of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant also have to be considered. The number of refugees has multiplied in a couple of years.

The difference from 1989 naturally also derives from the fact that East Germans went to their fellow Germans in the West and integrated successfully. Despite its difficulties, the reunification of the Germanies, did not cause so much tension as do Muslim communities in Western society. Also, the later resettlement from East Europe to West Europe has been a less painful process.

In some ways, Hungary’s decision to erect a wall seems to work against the country’s policy up till now. Hungary has actively supported the Hungarians who live outside the country’s borders. As we know, Hungary lost two thirds of its territory after World War I and 3.3 million Hungarians found that they were living outside of Hungary. About a quarter of a million Hungarians live in Serbia and there is no doubt that the wall to be built and the probably more strict border control also makes it more difficult for Hungarians in Serbia to communicate with Hungary. But it seems that the risk of immigrants outweighs other aspects.

First and foremost, Hungary’s decision to erect a wall means that solidarity is fading away in Europe. Countries individually deal with problems that could definitely be better addressed on the European level. The Hungarian wall does not stop the flow of immigrants to Europe but will affect adversely the already negative reputation of Budapest. It is also worth remembering that after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 was crushed by Soviet tanks, Europe received hundreds of thousands of Hungarian refugees. 20,000 of them reached Yugoslavia, a part of which is now current Serbia. The history is repeating itself, but upside down and as a farce.

The text was aired on the European news of Retro FM on 17 July 2015.

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