In a response to the Charlie Hebdo killings, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán recently did a television speech in which he made some rather far-reaching statements on immigration in Europe which caused consternation among some – even though he probably also earned the approval of others. Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology staff member Pál Nyiri is a member of Menedék, the ‘Hungarian Association for Migrants’, which released a press statement on Orbán’s speech. We publish the statement here in its entirety.
Budapest, 12 January 2015
Menedék – Hungarian Association for Migrants deems Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s views concerning immigration in the wake of the Paris massacre, expressed on Sunday, 11 January in the news broadcast of Hungarian public service television channel M1 and elsewhere, unfounded and unworthy of a responsible state leader.
We agree with the Hungarian Prime Minister that “immigration and the cultural concerns it raises need a much more open, honest and straightforward discussion than what we have seen so far.” It is precisely one of the basic goals of our Association. We have worked to create an open, fact- based and responsible dialogue on the topic in Hungary and in Europe for nearly two decades.
We firmly oppose, however, alongside with the European Commission and Europe’s political leaders, the PM’s view that “economic immigration is a bad thing in Europe, it shouldn’t be viewed as if it had any use, because it only brings trouble and peril to the European man, so immigration must be stopped, this is the Hungarian position.” Even David Cameron acknowledged the benefits of immigration in his recent West Midlands speech. It reflects a grave misjudgement and lack of political wisdom to reiterate anti-immigration stock phrases on the day of remembrance of the victims of last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris, spreading the misconception that immigration is in any way to blame for the dread of terrorism, and curtailing, or even banning immigration is the way to get rid of the terrorism.
What would it imply for Mustapha Ourrad, Charlie Hebdo’s copy editor killed in the attack last Wednesday? Or for Ahmed Merabet, the policeman who rushed to the scene to engage in a gunfight with the attackers and was brutally slain? Or for Clarissa Jean-Philippe, the policewoman shot the day after the attack on the editorial office? Or for Yoav Hattab and Francois-Michel Saada who were murdered at the kosher supermarket? Or for Lassana Bathily who risked his life to hide a group of shoppers from the attackers? They are all either immigrants or children of immigrant parents. There are millions of Europeans who immigrated from a different country or from another continent and became well-integrated and esteemed members of their local communities. Neither themselves, nor the members of their families, their colleagues, schoolmates or neighbours think they came to bring trouble and peril to the “European man.” And especially not the leaders of the countries in which they live. We feel we need to add the obvious: As there is no “American man” or “African man,” talking about “the European man” makes no sense at all. We belong to different groups, and certain predicates can be predicated of us. Being European is one of these. Being a democrat or an autocrat is another.
PM Orbán’s anti-immigration rhetoric is an insult to the Hungarian nation, for it says of many of our forebears and contemporaries—nearly a million people who went abroad for a time, shorter or longer, in the hope of a better life in the last half-century—that they have done wrong.
It is not immigration that must be stopped, but violence, fanaticism, ignorance, mass poverty and ethnicity-based social exclusion—the predicament of many young people who come from immigrant families or are themselves immigrants. We are certain that if one is to fight social disintegration, radicalism and terrorism, stigmatization and exclusion of those who come to European countries to work, do business, and start a family, are among the last things one should do. Strengthening the economy, the education system, employment and social policies are the means that give a real leverage on the problem. We have to make an effort that allows enlightened and democratic ideals to reach the socially disadvantaged youth. These are the questions about which we would like to enter a discussion “much more open, honest and straightforward than what we have seen so far.”