Hating Hungary & Poland, No Matter What
It is interesting to reflect on how the two Central European countries that liberals in the West love to beat up on — Poland and Hungary, both of which are governed by national conservative parties — have become instrumental in the West’s response to the Ukraine crisis.
Poland has taken the lead in a number of ways, which is understandable as it is so much bigger. But Hungary has helped too — at no small cost to itself. This country — I write from Budapest, you’ll recall — gets 80 percent of its natural gas from Russia. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been relatively close to Vladimir Putin. But last week, the Hungarian government agreed to the EU’s plan to kick Russian banks out of the SWIFT system. In fact, Hungary — which could have protected Russia from EU sanctions — agreed to go along with Europe’s plans to punish Russia. This is going to cost Hungary a lot, most likely. But they’re doing it out of solidarity with Europe, and with Ukraine, another nation invaded, as they were in 1956, by Russians. It would probably be fair too to say that Orban, who faces re-election next month, can’t afford to be seen as hardline anti-immigrant. But though I have seen no polling, it is also likely that the Hungarian people are more willing to accept refugees from Ukraine than from the Middle East, for reasons I’ll explain below.
A couple of Polish academics have a new syndicated column out in the Anglophone world griping about how awful Poland and Hungary are. Excerpt:
While Hungary and Poland do not have the ethnic or religious fault lines faced by Ukraine, the countries’ strongmen – Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński, respectively – have been busy exploiting and deepening the ideological divides between their country’s more progressive urban populations and more conservative rural citizens. Liberal politicians and intellectuals as well as the dwindling number of independent journalists are routinely derided as traitors, foreign agents, or even animals.<
In place of the pro-Western foreign policy consensus of the post-communist decades, Orbán and Kaczyński have ratcheted up anti-Western rhetoric. In Hungary, cities are routinely plastered with billboards warning against malevolent “Brussels” imposing its will on the Hungarian nation.
It is true that here in Hungary, political rhetoric can get quite dirty. Still, American conservatives will recognize how these accusations coming from liberals work. Politicians, parents of schoolchildren, and anyone else who resists whatever new thing that progressives want to do stand accused of homophobia, racism, or some other form of “exploiting and deepening ideological divides.” This is what saying no to liberals looks like to liberals. Don’t want CRT or transgenderism taught to your kid in public school? Bigot! Don’t agree with policies Brussels wishes to impose on your unwilling nation? Shut up, you right-wing troll, and accept what’s good for you. You bigots deserve it.
Prime Minister Orban was at the Hungary-Ukraine border over the weekend, welcoming refugees. Libs cannot understand this at all. In a column about the new war refugee crisis emerging in Central Europe, the Washington Post‘s Catherine Rampell says:
In the meantime, Ukrainians will probably flood neighboring countries such as Poland, particularly since the European Union recently announced that Ukrainians would not need a visa to enter the Schengen Area. And, hearteningly, there has already been a show of solidarity from Ukraine’s border states and other European countries.
Even notoriously anti-immigrant leaders in Hungary have said they are standing by to receive Ukrainian refugees. Perhaps that’s because the Ukrainians are mostly White Christians, unlike the predominantly Muslim Syrian refugees in 2015.
Now, why would that be? Why would Hungary wish to receive “White Christians” as opposed to Syrian Muslims? These things are so very difficult to explain to a liberal. I’ll try below, but first, let this tweet from France yesterday give Rampell something of a clue. The French text explains what happens in the video: at the end of Catholic mass in Bordeaux, the priest emerged to bless the square in front of the church, and a Muslim man approached him and spat in his face:
Ce dimanche 27 février, à la sortie de la messe, devant l’église Saint Michel de Bordeaux, un musulman crache sur le prêtre qui est en train de bénir le parvis ! @FrDesouche@diocesebordeaux@SO_Bordeaux@Bordeaux@PoliceNat33pic.twitter.com/ydh7iCtUMm
— Infos Bordeaux (@InfosBordeaux) February 27, 2022
The migrants coming to Europe from Syria (and other countries, exploiting the Syrian wave) were not coming for temporary asylum, as the Ukrainians likely are. They were coming to stay, having been invited by Angela Merkel. Hungarians understandably did not want to import the same chronic problems with unassimilable Muslim immigrants as France, Germany, and other European countries have. Last summer, there was serious talk in France of civil war over all this. What many Americans simply do not understand is what an outlier US culture is in terms of ease of immigrant assimilation. Ours is a far easier culture to move into, for a variety of reasons. Europe is not like that. The traditions here are much deeper and more rigid. As much as I love France, and even if I improved my French skills to gain fluency, if I became a French citizen, I would never really fit in. People might be nice to me, but they would never see me as French, not in the same way Americans would see a French immigrant who became a naturalized US citizen. This isn’t because they’re worse people in France. It’s just that the cultural differences are profound.
Moreover, Hungary is a difficult place to assimilate to. The language is very difficult to learn. I’ve had a few conservatives from the US ask me about relocating to Hungary, and I tell them that it’s not easy. I mean, I get by in English all day, but I live in the capital, which is pretty international, and even so, if I had to live here, and deal with the kind of paperwork that is part of everyday life no matter where you live, it would be impossible without serious help from Hungarians who could translate it. Hungarian is a notoriously strange language, hard for outsiders to learn because it is unlike any other. If you come to Hungary with no real skills, and don’t know the language, you are going to be in serious trouble in terms of making a living, and just getting by. And this is not a rich country, so it doesn’t have the resources to put a bunch of unemployable refugees on the permanent dole.
But yeah, even if Hungary did have to take a certain number of Ukrainian refugees for resettlement here, why shouldn’t it prefer European Christians who share their general cultural background? Hungary is a mostly secular country in terms of churchgoing, but it’s culturally quite Christian. People from Christian backgrounds would find it much easier to live here than those who don’t have Christian backgrounds. It’s easy to understand why Hungary didn’t open its doors to Muslim asylum seekers in 2015. What is harder to understand — and what none of these liberal journalists seemed to ask — is why the oil-rich Arab Muslim states didn’t take large numbers of their fellow Arab Muslims fleeing war. To many liberals, only white people have moral agency, it seems.
Americans should understand that in 2015, when Orban took the hard line stand he did against Muslim refugees, he had the solid backing of the Hungarian people, who, in 2018, returned him to office. If he has softened his refugee line related to Ukrainian refugees, that’s because he senses that most Hungarians feel differently about these refugees, as opposed to the 2015 refugees. Orban stands for re-election next month, and has to be sensitive to what voters want. He’s a democratically elected leader, and he has to be directly accountable to the Hungarian voters in a matter of weeks. This is how things are supposed to work in a democracy.
Anyway, it would be nice if European and American liberals would take a break from kicking conservative Hungary and conservative Poland, and recognize how much those two countries are doing for the Ukraine effort, and at what cost. In the same way, now that we find ourselves in the early days of a new Cold War with Russia, it would be great if the woke American Left would quit waging its divisive culture war on dissenting Americans, recognizing that we had better find ways to emphasize what unites us.
It would also be nice if somebody would give me a pony.