“Sunday’s referendum is disingenuous and makes a mockery of democracy”

October 1, 2016

Budapest, 2016. szeptember 30. A Lásd meg az embert! címmel meghirdetett demonstráció a Kossuth téren 2016. szeptember 30-án. MTI Fotó: Koszticsák Szilárd
Photo: Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI

“People who are on their way to Europe are mainly fleeing from wars and dictatorships; they are fleeing from absolute defenselessness. What is more, the majority of these people are children! Europe, including Hungary, means the only chance and hope for them. If we refuse to help them, we will also be responsible in prolonging their suffering. We should not turn our faces away at a time when we still can steer our shared future into a different direction.

“Therefore, we reach out to every benevolent people to join us and come to Kossuth Square on 30th September, so that we can together show our empathy to those who were forced to leave their homes without their will. Send the message together that love and acceptance do not mean risk: we are not afraid! We need every humane and conscientious citizen to unite in this matter. The demonstration strengthens the voice of those who would open their doors to those who seek shelter.

The demonstration wishes to emphasize positive values: peace, human rights, freedom and solidarity. It is not the matter whether somebody is a citizen or has no documents. If someone gets into an unjust and undignified situation, our conscience tells us to help him in ways we can, so that he can regain his dignity and can steer his own fate again.”

“See the person!” (Lásd meg az embert!) Facebook group page

Several thousand people crowded into Budapest’s Kossuth square outside parliament on Friday evening to join civil activists in calling for a civilized refuge policy.  Among them were numerous opposition politicians, including Hungarian Socialist Party chairman Gyula Molnár, Together deputy chairman Péter Juhász, and independent MP Zoltán Kész.

Stage director Árpád Schilling told the crowd “it is necessary to help people in trouble,” adding that “we have been living in the captivity of fear and hared for a while.”

Gyöngyi Váradi, the mother of four small children, said: “If a person of any sex, age, persuasion or sex asks for help, we must give it to them. I am not willing to live in fear and hate people I do not know and who I’ve never met,” she said to rapturous applause.

Schilling, reading aloud a letter by Kossuth Prize-winning film director Béla Tarr, told the crowd that “Christianity does not teach us to close our hearts to the fallen and the needy.”  Calling attention to the closure of the border and police violence against refugees, he said it was necessary to show that “we are not so terrible as these peoples’ eyes read out.”

Following a performance of “What can I do for you” by János Bródy, “I would teach” (Tanítanék) movement leaders Katalin Törley, Oliver Pilz and Blanka Sulyok read aloud a number of questions relating to the refugee question.

Sulyok said: “The political hate campaign made it impossible to raise questions and hold a meaningful debate.  The ready-made answers intending to incite fear were seared into the minds of visually sensitive youth.”

Pilz said schools were the main arena for integrating young refugees, but that the government had “abandoned the practice of integration, preferring instead to segregate” be it the handicapped or gypsies.

Törley added: “The road of skepticism and questioning is more difficult than the one of ready answers.”

Appearing on behalf of the Movement for Hungary, former “nurse in black” Mária Sándor appeared with Andrea Varga to speak about health care and their commitment as nurses to protecting human life.

“Hungarian health care stands up for the fallen and next to the vulnerable,” Sándor virtually shouted. “We will always be there wherever it is necessary to speak out in the interest of protecting peoples’ lives.  I am obliged to serve every person, be they Hungarian, Syrian, Afghan, Iraqi or refugee.  I cannot ask them ‘who sent you?’.”

Béla Lakatos, the Roma mayor of Ács, told the crowd “unfortunately we (Roma) often are not considered part of the nation.  Often every one of us faces discrimination.”  He said that “thousands of gypsy children are being segregated” and Hungary’s gypsies find themselves at a significant disadvantage in the job market.  “There are many refugees standing at the gate who cannot enter and who are not given a chance by us,” he said.

After reminding the crowd that the 60th anniversary of the 1956 uprising was rapidly approaching, evangelical pastor László Donáth told the crowd that “we can only defeat evil if we do not hate. If we become the same as those who make us suffer, then we are in no way better than them”.  He praised Evangelical Brotherhood leader Gábor Iványi, saying that “he has been on the border for years taking bread, water and portable toilets.”

Speaking about the background to Sunday’s referendum, Schilling said that in September 2015 the European Council passed a decision obliging other EU member states to resettle asylum seekers from Greece and Italy, as a result of which Hungary was required to take in 1294 asylum seekers. “One asylum seeker would have come for every 7,500 Hungarians, which is not too large a number” said Schilling, adding that the mandatory settlement quota “was taken off the agenda for lack of political will.”

He said the referendum question is disingenuous and makes a mockery of democracy, as it is not clear “whose side we are to take against whom. There is no point in voting, people,” said Schilling.

“The Hungarian state should first have ensured the right conditions for the refugees inside and outside the country’s borders,” he said, pointing out that the campaign has cost “nearly HUF 10 billion, which the government financed.”  Borrowing the government’s slogan he said “Let’s not take a risk, let us avoid shame,” pointing out that after the failed 1956 revolution the West took in 200,000 Hungarian refugees.

Next to speak was a Migszol (Migrant Solidarity Group of Hungary) activist who introduced himself in Hungarian as a  refugee from the Gaza.  He said that in July and August 2014 more than 2,000 people were killed, 10,000 wounded, and 18,000 died in their homes over the course of Israeli strikes on Gaza.  He said over 100,000 people, including himself, had fled Gaza.

At that point a number of protestors could be seen leaving the demonstration.

The activist said that when he arrived to Hungary, he was warned that “one can sense antipathy to refugees.”  He said he had been granted refugee status a year earlier, but he had not received any help leaning the Hungarian language “even though this is one of the keys to integration.”

He said many confuse Islam with terrorism, even though most of the victims of terrorism are Muslims, and most terrorists do not observe their faith.”  He said the notion that Muslims do not want to integrate into Western society resembles the notion that gypsies do not want to integrate in Hungary.  The Migszol activist called on the crowd to boycott the referendum, and warned that in all likelihood the “brainwashing will continue.”

Another Migszol Arab said the government’s campaign is built on anti-Muslim sentiment.  He said that, as in the case of Judaism or Christianity, Islam is a complex thing.  “This campaign contains a lot of hate and I sense the fear relating to this … When hateful fear abounds, then society is going in a bad direction.”