“Today it is not easy being Hungarian” — Protest in Röszke

April 16, 2017

“It is unconscionable that a state would treat people and children this way.” – MigSzol activist

Around 100 people gathered in the center of the southern Hungarian border town of Röszke yesterday to protest the government’s treatment of asylum-seekers.  The demonstration was organized by the Facebook group Migrant Solidarity (MigSzol).

The protest opened with the following speech delivered in Hungarian by Röszke parish priest Tamás Liszkai, an outspoken critic of the government’s anti-migrant policies:

Yesterday Christianity commemorated the death on the cross of Jesus of Nazareth.  And regardless of whether or not one is a believer, the trial and sentence of Jesus contains a very important lesson for humanity.  Jesus was not accused of a real crime.  Even the Roman administrator asked what he had done wrong.  In order to sentence him anyway, they needed to brand him an enemy — to portray him as a political enemy for the community to hate whose death they would wish so that it would not be in the governor’s interest to set  him free.

Today is Good Saturday, the day of the silence when Jesus had already been buried and the people quieted down.  I did not agree to speak in order to express an opinion about the government, the laws or politics.  But I would just like to say that if a society gives up not only its rights but everything that is the source of its rights and security, the ability to exercise its rights, and control over political power, that society will be weak, vulnerable and used in decisions taken for arcane reasons to use against those it does not know.  The advancement and teaching of social intelligence, social morality and social conscience is the task of society, not its political leaders.  Concepts such as solidarity, mercy, generosity, tolerance, kindliness, forgiveness are not political concepts.  It is not for politicians to teach society real societal values.  Society must ensure for itself the good examples and the strength to instill them in order for them to exist and form a community, and for society to have a healthy, mature and responsible community in which politics serves society.

More and more we find ourselves lacking what social theorists call subsidiarity, where grass-roots organizations instill social mores and a social conscience in world and church communities, movements, organizations, local governments and, perhaps before everything else, families, capable of becoming an effective force. Because this is not the responsibility of politics.  Political powers have their own well-understood self-interests, but they are always only partly in the interests of society.  In any event, society must decide how much power and influence to give it.

You have devoted this Good Saturday to being here near the border instead of spending the long weekend with your families or participating in other programs, in order to try to instill social conscience.  Because there are universal questions affecting people’s fate about which all of society must decide and not politics in the name of society.

We know that it would be far easier and more comfortable if asylum-seekers weren’t here on our border.  But they are here.   And society cannot allow itself to ignore them, or turn its attention away from them.  The political leadership, perhaps with good intention, simply wants to help society not to have to deal with that which is unpleasant or uncomfortable, because politics can protect society from the difficult questions.  But the price of this is that society accepts less and less responsibility for things that are its responsibility.  And such a society is increasingly short-tempered, prejudiced and aggressive as history will attest.  And in weighing it, it finds it missing.

I respect you for wanting to show society that it is not possible to abrogate one’s own responsibilities and obligations.  Commonsense and wisdom is required in the migration question.  And the society that transfers responsibility for this in its entirety to politics passes judgement on itself.  Speaking out against this is worthy of respect.

Theater director and civil activist Árpád Schilling told the crowd that asylum-seekers in Fót near Budapest had been returned to the transit zone where they were forced to live in containers while their asylum applications are processed, despite the fact that they had been “learning Hungarian and assimilating.”  He called the action “inhumane” and  apologized to the victims for  the “violence and humiliation suffered at the hands of the Hungarian government.”  He also apologized to those migrants who were separated from their families, having been sentenced to prison.

“Today it is not easy to be Hungarian,” said Schilling, saying they had Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to thank for the current situation.

“He is the one who created this situation, who wrote the laws and pushed them through.  It is thanks to him that the horrible institution of the ‘border hunter’ was created,” said the activist, noting that its ranks were mainly filled with unemployed youth who don’t know any better.

He condemned Hungarian President János Áder, parliamentary Speaker László Köver and chief prosecutor Péter Polt for their role, as well as the border guards and policemen involved in the day-to-day abuse and humiliation of asylum-seekers.

“It is never too late to confront ourselves and to change opinion,” said Schilling, adding that “I am confident that Hungarian society will confront this and either contain it or change it.”

He accused Orbán of standing “not on the side of the nation but on the side of violence.”

“Despite that, we cannot be violent.  We cannot fight violence with violence,” Schilling said, assuring the crowd that ultimately peaceful protest would “bring an end to this terrible situation.”

Following his speech organizers distributed banners and signs for protesters to carry during their march to the transit zone near the border crossing where Hungarian police violently clashed with asylum-seekers last year.

“This is unacceptable and nauseating for anyone with any moral compass,”  said one of the organizers, recalling that in March President Áder signed a law making it possible to transfer all asylum-seekers to the transit zone to await the outcome of their applications.  “It is unconscionable that a state would treat people and children this way.”

Hungary’s official wire service MTI reported that, according to György Bakondi, the prime minister’s domestic security advisor, the demonstrators were people from the “Soros-funded organization”. Bakondi said about 70 percent of the 85 people gathered in the main square, including Serbians, Italians, Germans and Spaniards, had been bused in, and the aim of the demonstration was “to dismantle the border, eliminate the defenses and allow everyone into the territory of the European Union without restriction.” MTI also quoted Bakondi as saying police would maintain the protection of the border under all circumstances.