Refugee crisis brings out best and worst in Hungarians

August 7, 2015


The following exchange took place this morning on Hungary’s leading FM radio station, Class FM, between Morning Show hosts Balázs Sebestyén (left) and György Nógrádi, and “Anna” (right), an actress who frequently goes on the show to complain about things that upset her.

When the subject turned to the thousands of Syrian, Pakistani, and Afghan refugees camped out at various train stations and parks in Budapest,  the show departed radically from its “light” format. In short, Sebestyén taught Anna a lesson in the golden rule she will never forget!

The original conversation can be heard in Hungarian here.

(Playful banter)

Balázs Sebestyén: You seem to be in a good mood.

Anna: I only appear to be.  I’m actually not in such a good mood.

BS: What’s the matter?

Anna: Have you visited the vicinity of any of the train stations in Budapest recently?

BS: No, but I’ve heard about what is happening there.  Do I hear correctly that we are turning to a serious theme?   Do you want to talk a bit about the refugees?

Anna: Yes.  I was going in the direction of the Nyugati (Western) train station the other day.  There is a place that makes good chimney cakes and I thought I would take some home to my daughter.  But then I decided not to buy them because I didn’t go there.  What was going on in the train station was shocking.  And Nyugati is nothing.  If you go to the John Paul II square, or if you go to the area of Keleti (Eastern) station, it is really beyond belief the kind of conditions you encounter.   As someone who lives in this city, I reject this.  . . . It’s filthy.  I heard that it was necessary to disinfect Budapest public transportation vehicles because people used them who were diseased.  Certain laws within the context of the Geneva convention say that the same people can come to Hungary without examination because they are migrants.


BS: Those who are granted (asylum) are examined.

Anna: But I suppose it’s a slow process because there are a lot of them.

BS: Yes.

Anna: The capital city is practically full (of migrants).

BS: I don’t understand your position because there are two side to this.  On the one hand, you can lash out at the people responsible for this, or you can hate the migrants themselves.  I hope you are talking about the former, but I also understand (if not) because there are a lot of people in this country . . . actually, I cannot understand or accept this, or rather I find it easier to accept this than to understand it because I’m a tolerant sort of fellow . . .

Anna: But why?

BS: Who are you angry at?  At them because they’re here?  Or the conditions that they cause?  Because I think it is very important to distinguish between the two, because the two are not the same thing.  Are you upset over the condition their being here causes . . .

Anna:Both. I’m angry both at the conditions and the fact that they’re here

BS: Because they cause the conditions.

Anna: Yes, because they cause the conditions. I’ll give you an example.  If you say that you understand them because of your developed ego and once again we’re dealing on a humanistic  . . .

BS: We need to discuss this.  I is a serious subject and I’m happy to tell you what I think.  So you’re angry at the refugees?  You don’t like the refugees?

Anna: No.

BS: Are you angry at them?

Anna: Yes, I’m angry at them.  Because I think that in this country where we live with some difficulty, countries with much stronger economies are having a hard time dealing with the problem.  Look at Great Britain or Germany where, in 2014, 11 million refugees registered themselves.  They are pushing them back to eastern Europe after selecting out the more talented ones with higher qualifications, and 95 percent of them are coming back to Europe.   . . . Let’s say someone with a scary face crawls through your window and sits down in your living room.  And tells you or Viki to take care of him.  You’ve got two small children to take care of, but now you’ve got three . . .

BS: I absolutely do not understand what you are talking about.

Anna: Taking them in. They’re here in your living room.  You have to take care of them.

BS: Are you thinking of a case when someone breaks into my apartment?

Anna: You have to take care of them.  They are three in your living room.

BS: You are really confusing matters.   Are you saying you are afraid of them?  Or are you saying that I as a citizen of Hungary have to take care of them?

Anna: You have to take care of them, you have to enroll their children in school . . .

Gyögy Nógradi: Isn’t that paid for with EU money?

Anna: EU money, EU money, EU money! You have to build schools, there is no economic benefit.  That’s what a lot of people are saying.  There here, you have to educate them.  It’s going to be a long time before they reach they point where they can work a job in Hungary.

BS: But don’t they want to move on?

Anna: But they can be returned to Hungary.

GyN: But they can be deported to Serbia.

Anna: Where they enter the EU is where they remain.

BS: I can respond very irately to those, including yourself, who try to incite against refugees with such a destructive attitude.  I think that you are confusing things and that you don’t understand what this is fundamentally all about or how it came to pass.

Anna: I think I understand.  How are we to support these under qualified people?

BS: You have to avoid them in the square.  Listen Anna . . .

Anna: Both of us.  Where will they work?  What are they going to live from?  I support them with my taxes.   It is possible to return refugees to the point in the EU where they first entered.  They make it to Germany, and they are returned to us.

BS: What do you say they are under qualified?  How do you know who they are?  How do you know there aren’t doctors among them?

Anna: They’ll end up in other countries.

BS: How do you know there aren’t engineers among them?  Because there are doctors and engineers among them.  We are not talking about under qualified people.  What you’re saying . . . I think it’s terrible what you are thinking this way.

Anna: But why is is terrible?  It’s not terrible in the least bit.

BS: Listen, we know where they are coming from.  These people are fleeing civil wars.

Anna: From Syria, Afghanistan

BS: We know what is happening in Syria.  We know what Islamic State is doing in doing in Syria.   We know what is happening in Afghanistan.  We know who to thank for this.  These people travel many thousands of kilometers on foot.   They were persecuted, beaten, raped.  Children are coming without their parents.  We don’t have to think about whether we like them or not.  Our only task as human beings is to try and help these people in a nonüjudgmental manner. Because that is a normal European attitude.

Anna: Aha

BS: As for what each country does with this in their domestic politics, let’s not get mixed up in that, because this card has already been played in partisan politics.  It was played in the past.  They’re playing it now.  Let’s try to completely separate the two things.  I don’t want to get political and I’m not going to get political.

Anna: But this is politics. It cannot be avoided.

BS: But it is possible to separate the two from one another.  Either you believe in what the government communicates on this subject or you don’t because there is sympathy in you, there is empathy in you, and you want to help.

Anna: But how can you help them?  Muslim women do not accept water from men.  They are trying to distribute water at Nyugati but the muslim women won’t accept the water from men because their religion does not permit it.

BS: How are the numerous civil initiatives helping them?  We’ve heard positive developments over the past day or two  about (facilities) they are building in Budapest and what (Budapest head mayor István) Taros said, I think this direction is very good.  Let’s try to treat these people as human beings by handing out food, or water, or civils showing them how to travel across Hungary.  Don’t forget that it is only because of misleading communication that you think 95 percent of these people want to remain here.  These people want to move on.  They enter the country.  They don’t know which station they have to go to.

Anna: But where do they want to go?

BS: Sweden, Germany,  It’s not true that these people want to settle here.  These people don’t want anything other than to move on as quickly as possible.   They sleep in the rain.  They sleep out in the open.  There are children who are playing with adults at the Nyugati station because both parents died.   Responding to hatred with hatred is outrageous.

Anna: I’m not responding with hatred.  These are facts.

BS: That this is a common European problem, I can understand.  That we cannot solve this problem, that I can also understand.

Anna: There are 65 million refugees in the world at this very point in time!

BS: You are mixing two things up.  One is that this country cannot solve the problem.

Anna: No, it can’t.

BS: That certain countries are trying to solve this problem in the wrong way, that is a question of partisan politics.  Let’s not talk politics.  Let’s talk about our responsibility as human beings.  And what is that?  Regardless of what the government does or what it communicates, human dignity requires that we give them water and try to help.  Not buy gas pistols, or beat a Szeged girl because we think her boyfriend is a refugee.  We also know that 99 percent of these refugees don’t bother anyone.  The horror stories that are circulating are part of the disinformation.

Anna: I didn’t say that they are harming people.

GyN: They don’t harm Hungarians.  If there were any atrocities it was between one another.

Anna: (Sarcastically) I didn’t realize that they were nothing but gentle persons, forgive me!  We are talking about a huge group of deeply unqualified people.

BS: Is a deeply unqualified person less of a person then those of us who happen to be living in flats, living normal lives, and aren’t at war, and aren’t being raped, and they aren’t killing us?

GyN: There are also unqualified Hungarians.

Anna: Yes, but this is our country and they are here.  You said for example in the case of the living room, they enter your home.  Then you should assume their customs.  They use your bathtub as a toilet.  Afterward you say we don’t use our bathtub as a toilet.  Or you’re watching the Federer match and they switch the channel to . . .

BS: One, they don’t enter our homes.  Two, they sleep on the ground.  Three, they want to move on.  I think you are really confusing matters.  You mustn’t confuse matters so.

Anna: Who says they intend to move on in the hope of a better life?  Yes, many will continue on to Germany,  In Sweden, there is a huge amount of crime caused by immigrants, in whose vicinity there is 99 percent more crime.

BS: Anna, the fact that this is a common European problem and that we need to respond to it collectively in an empathetic and human manner will will not solve the problem.  Hungary cannot solve the problem regardless of how well or badly its government communicates the situation.  It is the responsibility of politics to find a solution.  As an ordinary person, you should think about what would happen if you were to find yourself in a similar situation.  What if you had to sleep in train stations?  What if nobody spoke your language?  What if you had one child, and that child is standing alone in the train station because it has neither a mother nor a father.

Anna: I cannot debate moral questions with you.

BS: What about 1956?

Anna: That’s completely different.

BS: How so?  In 1956 they took in 200,000 people fleeing Hungary.  4 million after the Balkans war . . .

Anna: But they left for political reasons.  These migrants have left for economic reasons in the hope of a better life.

BS: Are you saying that in Syria where there is ISIS and in Afghanistan, the reason they are leaving is . . .

Anna: These are economic refugees.

BS: No, they aren’t.  These people have nowhere to return to.  95 percent of the people arriving to us are not economic migrants.

Anna: Then why aren’t those countries with stronger economies helping?  For example, the United States, which caused this whole situation in the region?  Why doesn’t it go there, put Syria in order?  Why doesn’t Saudi Arabia take these people in?  After all, they’re muslims.

BS: You are right about our not being able to solve the problem.  They are responsible for 64 million refugees.

Anna: But they’re here and we have to solve the situation.

BS: This is our task.  You cannot answer violence with violence.  We can answer with solitarity and humanism.   If you go and press three bottles of mineral water into their hands . . .

Anna: I’m not going to press bottles of mineral water into their hands.  I’m not going anywhere near Nyugati station.

BS: But that is not the good solution.

Anna: I’m sorry.  That’s how I see it.

BS: Even just two days ago before civil society starting helping them, these people—2,000, 4,000, 6000 of them—were wandering around the country.  They don’t know where they are supposed to go.   Nobody was helping them.   From this point of view, this country again gets an “A”.  You know why?   Because whatever happens, the country has proven that humanity remains within us.  It’s one think what the politicians communicate in Austria, Germany, Great Britain.  It’s another thing that there is solidarity in us.  They give them water.  They help them.  They provide for them.  They take food to them.  Children are given toys.  We mustn’t respond in any other way.  The politicians or the EU will solve the problem, although it is very difficult . . .

Anna: How many are going to leave the country and how many are going to remain here that we have to take care of?

BS: That’s a political question.  You cannot say that you hate them because we are talking about people who are in trouble.

Anna: I don’t hate them, I just dislike the conditions in the vicinities of the train stations.  As somebody who lives in the city, I have the right to see things this way.

BS: We are talking about women!  We are talking about children!

Anna: I understand what you’re saying.

BS: There are children in the Nyugati station.  We cannot say to them “you have to leave”.  It’s terrible that groups are forming to assault them.  A person hears this and . . .

Anna: Well, that’s the other side.

BS: You cannot respond to this with hatred.  I don’t understand you.

Anna: I am not responding with hatred.  We are in living in city of two million.  At this moment this is a huge problem in Europe.  A terrible problem.

BS: Terrible!  You’re right.

Anna: And the EU is not even prepared for this.  And the EU has handled this badly.  And we aren’t going to be able to solve the problem. What’s happening?  What do you need to do?  You need to say that I will do what I can as a human being.

GyN: But will such an attitude bring about a solution?

BS: It won’t solve the problem.

Anna: That’s the point!

(Everyone talking at once).

BS: But at least some families will be happier because they were able to bathe.

Anna: But these are moral questions.  What is the solution? If they are here, they have to be educated, because they are uneducated.  What do you do with them?

GyN: They don’t want to assimilate.  They don’t even want to live here.

BS: We need to help a helping hand to them, at least on the level of giving them something to drink and to eat.  That’s our responsibility.

Anna: But that’s happening in the country.  They give them something to drink and eat.

BS: If you found yourself in such a situation together with your child, and you were sleeping somewhere in Germany in a train station in the rain, what would you expect?  Tell me.

Anna: I’m sure I would also be glad if you helped me.

BS: Then what are you taking about?

Anna: Of course, I would be happy.  But I’m not . . .

BS: You’re lying there in the rain with your child.  There are three children next to you who are asking everyone “Where’s my mother?  Where’s my father?” because they were shot in the war.

Anna: But why did they leave?

BS: Are you saying someone should come over and kick them?  Or to get hold of a gas pistol?  Or say to them “I’m not giving you anything, go away because you are dirty and smelly!”

Anna: Obviously, they are going to help them.

BS: What’s happening now, is that we can only collectively help as civil society as a way of assisting politics, which, thank God, is starting to work better.  What do you expect?  Tell me.

Anna: Obviously, everybody would expect that kind of assistance, but I say that even that case what is happening here is shocking.

BS: The most important thing I want to you understand is that your goal is not to find a solution.  Because you cannot solve the problem because you are not in such a position.   Our duty as people, as civilians, is to help.  We need to communicate that we are not afraid of them, that we want to help them, and that we have to solve this problem together.  We have no other task.  Do you understand my point?

Anna: Of course, I understand.  How wouldn’t I understand your point?

BS: I cannot answer any of the questions you raise that need to be solved.  As a civilian you cannot respond with hate.

Anna: I am not responding with hate.  I am reacting to what is happening around us where we live.  What you are harping on are moral questions.  In the long run, I want to hear solutions.  Because a significant number of them will remain here.  It will be necessary to build schools for them.  They want to work.  They want to be happy.  But I can barely able to be happy here.  I am not prejudiced.  But first I would like to be happy because this is my home.  I am home here in this country.  Perhaps you don’t like what I’m saying, but that is what I think.

BS: There is somebody waiting on the other line who would like to respond to what you’re saying.  Zsuzsa, hello.  Have you been listening to us?

Zsuzsanna Zsohár: Yes, in secret.

BS: You work for Migration Aid, a civil organization, don’t you?

ZsZs: This is an organization without an organization that operates without money.

BS: What do you do? And who have you been able to help?

ZsZs: We are in the railway stations, at Nyugati, Keleti, and Deli, in Debrecen, Cegléd.

BS: You are dealing with these people on a daily basis.  You know them better than anyone else.  Who are these people?

ZsZs: They are the same as the people you would meet in a small Hungarian city.  Masons, doctors, teachers, mothers, grandmothers, although most of the people coming this way are under the age of 40. . . . They are coming from the east, from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan.  They are mostly young people, families.  They are refugees.  I’m certain that the child whose torso is full of shrapnel is not leaving for economic reasons.

BS: So he came from a war zone?

ZsZs: Yes. A lot of the people have war wounds. . . . MigSzol is working in Szeged.  We are working mostly in Budapest.  We have a Facebook page where people can find out what the refugees need.  They need food, underwear (new, not used), and socks.  So if you decide you want to help, we are waiting for you at 32 Árány János street after 3 pm.