Hungarians oppose new iron curtain on Serbian border

A poll produced for the political news weekly, Vasárnapi Hírek, on the Orbán government’s plans to erect a 175 km long fence along the border between Hungary and Serbia–in order to stop the growing wave of refugees and migrants crossing the frontier illegally–reveals some surprising results. The opinion poll was conducted by the Publicus Intézet and it shows that a clear majority of Hungarians (54%) oppose the construction of a fence, often described as a new iron curtain, along the border. As could be expected, supporters of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and the small Politics Can Be Different (LMP) green party, were most opposed to the new barrier, with 80% and 79% expressing their opposition, respectively.

What’s interesting, however, is that the fence even seems to divide voters who typically support the far-right Jobbik party. Just over half of Jobbik voters (51%) support the erection of the barrier, while 47% oppose it. The  highest level of support for the government’s plans come from within the ruling Fidesz party, where 60% agree with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his cabinet.

The poll, conducted between July 7-9, 2015, found that 54% of the Hungarian population was skeptical that the fence actually served the purpose of halting the arrival of migrants, but was simply a political tool used to deter attention from other domestic problems. The vast majority of Hungarians (67%) feel that the fence will be ineffective in stopping new migrants from crossing over into Hungary.

Amidst the backdrop of the Orbán government’s demagogic and openly xenophobic campaign against migrants, there are actually many Hungarians who have shown compassion and a sense of social justice to the large waves of refugees. By early June, over 57,000 refugees had arrived in Hungary so far this year.

A friend of mine, Balázs Szücs, who serves as a municipal councilor in Budapest’s 7th District, affiliated with Dialogue for Hungary (Párbeszéd Magyarországért – PM), donated part of his salary this month to rent portable toilets for use by migrants outside the bustling Keleti pályaudvar train station. Mr. Szücs is also a Protestant minister and donations collected from weddings that he had recently celebrated also went towards renting the two porta-potties.

Szilárd Kalmár, chair of the radical Hungarian Left Party (Balpárt), posted a photo to Facebook of a disabled homeless man in Budapest showing a young Syrian boy how to ride his scooter.

A Syrian refugee learns to ride a scooter...thanks to an random act of kindness from a Hungarian homeless man in Budapest. Photo: Szilárd Kalmár.)

A Syrian refugee learns to ride a scooter…thanks to a random act of kindness from a Hungarian homeless man in Budapest. Photo: Szilárd Kalmár.)

Mr. Kalmár himself welcomed a six-member refugee family from Afghanistan into his home this week. The family had been on the road for the past 10 months, travelling through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Serbia, before arriving in Budapest. Mr. Kalmár organized a small food and clothing drive for them using Facebook. He noted in conversations with the family (two of the children spoke English), that the mother and father treated each other as equals (thus challenging the stereotypical image of Muslim women being subjugated to Muslim men). When they arrived in Budapest, they were greeted by a volunteer at the Keleti pályaudvar railway station, who provided them with food, an opportunity to take a shower and lodging for their first night. Then later when they ended up in Győr, a man bought breakfast for the family.

There are many more instances of ordinary Hungarians seeing the growing stream of refugees in the streets, and deciding to respond with kindness, generosity and a helping hand. I wonder if some of them were so disturbed and disgusted by the government’s xenophobic billboards against refugees, that they decided to take matters into their own hands.

7 Comments

  1. When the benevolent spirit is awakened, good things happen. Awe-inspiring actions of humanity from ordinary folk. Let us all hope that these actions will gather momentum and lead to unstoppable inevitable righting of the many official wrongs. This might be the “Hey, Boo!” moment – Scout, in Nelle Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird – for the nation. Everything might change.

  2. György Lázár says:

    I agree, there are many instances when ordinary Hungarians respond with kindness, generosity and a helping hand.

    Here is my observation. It happened at the Debrecen railroad station a week ago on the Intercity train heading to Budapest. A group of about 20 tired people, several woman and children among them with tons of luggage were waiting on the platform for the train. They spoke a little English and told me that they were from Afghanistan. The train arrived, they got on, they had valid train tickets but they did not know that they need another ticket (helyjegy) for the seats. I thought that the conductor will be rude.. etc. On the contrary. He helped them find seats, and people in the car moved to have families sit together and arrange their bags. They had some money and paid the fine and I did not hear one negative comment. Nobody was “afraid” of the refugees, one of the Hungarian passengers was even playing with refugee kids. It seemed that were heading West, to Germany… the new promised land.

  3. Mr. Lazar, thank you for your comments. They have brought many memories of my summers spent in Debrecen with my beloved aunt and uncle. You have just given yet one more lovely picture of the city’s inhabitants. p.s. my apologies for the lack of proper accent placements in your name – and in mine.

  4. Budapest visitor says:

    How many Hungarians who “oppose” the fence have housed illegal migrants? This represents the real number of opponents, the others just say one thing but live another, the usual liberal double standard.

  5. Budapest visitor says:

    @ György Lázár

    Has it occurred to you that Germany does not want to receive these illegal migrants Hungary sends along so generously? According to Schengen, Hungary is responsible for protecting its borders. By sending illegal migrants to Germany, it violates this international treaty. Isn’t it morally wrong to force Germans to receive masses of peoples even if they don’t want them?

    Hungarians helping Afghans to illegaly move on to Germany “with kindness, generosity and a helping hand”, is just the kind of hypocritical do-gooder behaviour which destroys Europe and European solidarity. Why don’t they shelter them at their own houses or do have Germans have to pay for the high moral standard of these Hungarians?

    • Budapest Visitor – has it occurred to you that this particular group in Mr Lazar’s anecdote had the goal to get to Germany? It wasn’t Hungary where they wanted to stay in. Instead of the criticism, we should appreciate small random kind gestures. Give generously and, preferably, anonymously. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “You don’t have to see the entire staircase, just take the first step.”
      Richard – the mind and brain can be misguided and influenced. The heart always knows what the right thing to do is. The brain will calculate aspect ratios and ROIs. Take a chance be kind.

  6. “I wonder if some of them were so disturbed and disgusted by the government’s xenophobic billboards against refugees, that they decided to take matters into their own hands.”

    “crosses in the ballpark”. Who can tell? At this moment all I can see that this nation, which is under total emotional manipulation for long years, is in the state of total emotional and mental confusion. Hungarians have never been good at clear logical thinking and long-term planning, neither can they see further than the end of their nose. (Some could and they left the country in haste) They live for the moment. Hungarians have always been guided by passion and hastily made decisions.

    When it comes to understanding their actions and motives I don’t even try to understand, rather try to figure out where it will end. But Hungarians have always been hearty people. They always find someone to love even when they hate the whole world. In the country where I live people feel and love with their mind, with their brain. Hungarians think with their heart.
    Not good. Won’t pay off. The can help if they want but not with the heart. Love with the warm heart, help with the cold brain.

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