An anti-immigrant campaign launched by the Hungarian government also sends a message to immigrants who have been living here for years or even decades, working and raising children in the country. Most of them speak Hungarian perfectly. Many of them have Hungarian spouses or partners. For them Hungary could become a much worse place if the anti-immigrant campaign achieves its objective.
Many thousands of people are living in Budapest and in Hungary who were not born here, their mother tongue is not Hungarian, but for some reason they have decided to settle in the country to start a new life. Over the ten or twenty or more years they have spent in Hungary they founded their families and opened shops. They do not believe Hungarians are prejudiced or xenophobic by default. Yet they fear that if the present politically generated hysteria lasts, it will make the country unbearable for them.
Mohamed owns a Yemeni take-away restaurant. He has been living in Hungary for 26 years. Originally, he came here to study. He is raising two children together with his Hungarian wife in Budapest’s 8th district. He thinks Budapest is a very inclusive city, and whatever the results of the recent “National Consultation” may be, he does not think that Hungarians would ever become xenophobic. At the same time they can be influenced easily, he says, so in the long run the recent hate campaign can have a bad effect on them. He preferred us not to reveal his identity, as he is afraid of mistreatment on behalf of authorities as a possible outcome of an on-the-record interview.
Where did you come from?
I am from Yemen.
How long have you been living in Hungary?
I came here 26 years ago.
I came to study. I attended university here and following my graduation I settled down. I also have a family, my children are 12 and 13 years old.
What did you study?
I would prefer not to specify. I graduated at ELTE University and I attended it with a scholarship. There was some sort of bilateral treaty between Yemen and Hungary at the time in 1989.
And how come you chose to stay?
As I said, I came to have a family here. My wife is Hungarian, and the four of us live here in the 8th district.
What is your occupation?
I work here, in this restaurant.
I presume that you are already familiar with the anti-immigrant billboards. The country is full of them, warning newcomers that they are not allowed to take jobs away from Hungarians, they have to abide the law and respect our culture. What do you think about this?
I do not think the whole case should be exaggerated as it only amplifies tensions between people. If I understood it well, the Hungarian constitution declares that the country has to welcome those who are persecuted because of their ethnicity or religion in their country of origin. They have to take them, like it or not.
Yes, but this is not entirely about refugees. According to them for example, you should go home.
Well, it is true that the environment that the government creates now is pretty negative. I would probably be still okay with the fact that they want to protect Hungarian workplaces – but in this way, when we push everyone out, and put every immigrant in the same basket, this is just not right. The mayor of Debrecen, Lajos Kósa, makes quite extreme statements, for example that it cannot be decided who is a terrorist and who is not. Words like these are not supposed to leave a politician’s mouth. Even if he thinks this, he should refrain from uttering them in public. Because with this, he is influencing public opinion.
Maybe this is his whole point all along. But do you feel any consequences of this personally?
Those who know me will not change their thinking, nor would they believe anything sinister about me. They do not believe in what the partial results of the “National Consultation” suggest either, namely that 90 percent of those surveyed do not want any immigrants here.
Why do you think they do not believe this?
They say that it is because the questions posed are manipulative.
What can you feel about this artificial surge in tensions in Budapest?
This is an inclusive city. You cannot feel on the streets that they look at you as somebody stigmatized. As long as people behave normally on streets and abide by the law I do not think that Hungarians would think badly of foreigners.
So you are saying you think that the anti-immigrant campaign is unsuccessful?
Well, it can have an effect in the long run if it continues like this. People are easily manipulated here.
As an entrepreneur, you are your own boss. What about those who are more vulnerable?
I am in an easier position because I have lived here for a long, long time. I do not have issues like refugee status, papers, residence permit. Others are more exposed because they have to take care of these things.
Do your children experience anything in school from this?
They attend a Hungarian school, with Hungarian children. But no atrocities have happened against them.
And against you?
Only a long time ago because my skin is a little darker.
If you were a university student at ELTE today – so let’s presume that we are jumping 26 years back in time – and you would have to decide whether to stay here, or go, how would you decide?
They say nothing beats home. I would go back. But my life did not turn out that way. I have two children here. I cannot leave them here. I met my wife at university, so I stayed for her sake, too. Well, we helped Hungarians with the “have more children” thing! (Laughs) Well, at least this is Viktor Orban’s policy. So he should not talk nonsense!