A Muslim Invasion of Hungary? Orban Raises Spectre of Ottomans to Solidify Iron Rule

Viktor Orban’s third successive election victory has led to warnings that this self-styled ‘illiberal democrat’ will remove Hungary from the yoke of the European Union (EU) for good, upsetting the harmony of the regional bloc in the process.

Orban is the current bad boy of European politics

Adding to his crackdown on the free press, the independence of the judiciary, and the NGOs and universities linked with George Soros, Orban has set his dictatorial course. He has even promised retribution on those who opposed and mocked him during his latest campaign.

The most notable facet of Orban’s recent rule has been his vehemently anti-migration stance, which have directly contravened the hopes of the EU in general, and Angela Merkel in particular. Border walls have sprung up and asylum seekers been turned away as Orban warns of a ‘Muslim invasion’. To him, Hungary is for Hungarians…that is, Christian Hungarians.

Asylum seekers at Hungary’s border wall

This stark message has seemingly engendered popular appeal, even more so than his Fidesz party’s efforts to boost growth and employment after years of economic stagnation. Perhaps the Hungarians remember their history. Orban is certainly doing his best to make sure that they do.

It was in the 16th century that the mighty Ottoman forces of Suleiman the Magnificent plundered into Medieval Hungary, capturing Buda in 1541 and establishing Turkish overlordship across much of the kingdom.

Siege of Estolnibelgrad by Ottoman forces in 1543

During their period of rule, the Ottomans committed the sorts of atrocities typical of distant sovereigns. Deportation and massacres significantly reduced the ethnic Hungarian population, whilst the economy of the territory was allowed to slump into ruin. Buda, a once magnificent medieval citadel, became an impoverished backwater.

Orban sees parallels between the vicious Ottoman conquest and the mass migration from the Middle East today:

We shouldn’t forget that the people who are coming here grew up in a different religion and represent a completely different culture. Most are not Christian, but Muslim…That is an important question, because Europe and European culture have Christian roots…I have to say that when it comes to living together with Muslim communities, we are the only ones who have experience because we had the possibility to go through that experience for 150 years. (Washington Post, 4th September 2015)

Likewise, Orban can see in himself, and the other members of his Visegrad Group, a Christian bulwark to Muslim invasion, comparable with the Holy Roman Empire. It was Habsburg forces, along with their Polish allies, that finally ran the Ottomans out of Hungary in the late 17th century. A victory for Christendom over the evil forces of Islam, invoking the spirit of the earlier Crusades.

The Holy League fighting to recapture Buda in 1686

Of course all of this is somewhat ridiculous. Hungary has a population in decline (30,000 a year), with many frustrated citizens emigrating in the hope of finding better life in other European states. What an influx of youthful labour could do for an economy reliant on state employment and a low-skilled workforce.

Orban, however, is both stubborn and resilient, not to mention manipulative and vindictive. Everything he does is geared towards maintaining power and moulding the Hungarian state into a compliant tool for exercising that power.

Protesters rallying against Orban’s re-election and undermining of Hungarian democracy

It is sadly ironic, for this is a man who rebelled against communist rule in the name of democracy and imbued a generation with hopes of inclusive and free politics.

By defying his former self, and ignorantly casting Muslim migrants as bloodthirsty successors to the Ottoman Turks, Orban is threatening to isolate himself. The EU will not stand for continued disobedience – however ponderous and pithy its mechanisms for meting out punishment are – nor can Hungary live without its generous subsidies. Russia and its ailing economy can hardly be expected to fill the gap this leaves.

Asylum seekers at a Hungarian camp; hardly the villainous Ottomans of the 16th century

Populism, nationalism and authoritarianism can paper over the economic and political void for only so long. For Viktor Orban the test will be to come up with a new enemy when he seeks yet another re-election in 2022.

Migrant Quota Will Only Exacerbate EU Problems: Syrian Refugees Must Take Priority

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has demanded that EU nations accept thousands more asylum seekers to help combat the unprecedented wave of migrants currently descending upon Europe. Juncker wants to impose a quota system whereby countries take on certain numbers of migrants based on their economic strength and social capacity.

Migrants protest at Budapest Station as Hungary refuses to facilitate their passage west

The sudden flood of immigrants is largely a result of the continuing civil war in Syria and the advance of the ISIS terrorist group across swathes of that country and Iraq. Thousands more are making their way from Africa in search of a better life, with the treacheries of crossing the Mediterranean now forcing many to take an overland route through the strife-torn Middle East and the economically destitute Greece.

Several countries have already seen flashpoints between immigrants and security officials, with recent stand-offs in Hungary, Macedonia and Calais occasionally ending in violence. The desperation of the migrants’ situation has also recently been demonstrated by the discovery of a truckload of dead Syrians, abandoned on the Austrian roadside during transit further west.

There has not been this sort of large-scale migration since the end of the Second World War, when millions of people across Europe were displaced by conflict and border changes. Even then, given that considerable proportions of European states’ populations had perished during the war, there was more space for accommodating these people.

In the succeeding years, thousands of migrants also made their way to Western Europe from former colonies in Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean. Whilst they were subjected to widespread racism and discrimination, the fact that these migrants fulfilled a crucial role in helping to kickstart labour-short economies meant that the ‘burden’ of their presence was at least tolerated.

West Indian immigrants arrive in England ready for a new life - 1948
West Indian immigrants arrive in England ready for a new life – 1948

Indeed, the issue today for many European populations is not one of race, ethnicity or religion. Whilst there is understandably some resentment towards third-generation homegrown jihadists in Britain and France, it is accepted that most foreign migrants are eternally grateful for the opportunities presented to them by their host countries.

Rather, in a region that is already overpopulated and still recovering from an economic crisis, it is almost impossible for countries to accommodate huge quantities of migrants in such a short time period, whilst simultaneously paying for a generous welfare state.

The lack of a coordinated response has conveniently highlighted the limitations of the EU at a time when many in Brussels seem to want the entire union to become a federation without national sovereignty.

There is no easy solution, of course, but the need to offer asylum to those displaced by the Syrian nightmare is an urgent one. This has been reflected by the pledge in recent days by several countries, including the reluctant UK, to offer succour to thousands more Syrian refugees. For these people, and others genuinely displaced by conflicts out of their control, it seems appropriate to offer asylum immediately.

Utter devastation in Homs, Syria. Nobody can live here
Utter devastation in Homs, Syria. Nobody can live here

For those merely seeking a better life, however, the EU must be resilient. Famine, political repression and limited opportunities in countries overseas are something to be concerned about without question. However, we must all look after our own first. Western countries give billions of dollars in international aid every year and whilst it is perfectly understandable that people want to seek a happier existence somewhere else, they should not be priority cases for asylum.

Unless these migrants fill a gap in the labour force then they should not be allowed entry. If they arrive illegally, they should be deported at the earliest convenience. It is not a pleasant task, and one that will not be taken lightly, but it is necessary for the economic and social well-being of Western European nations.

The post-WWII migration from the devastated warzones of Europe and the states undergoing de-colonisation was acceptable; these people either had a desperate need to be housed or/and they played a vital role in rebuilding a shattered continent.

This is not the situation we face today and the EU, and Juncker, should be wary not to impose a self-defeating quota system on its member states. Only those physically displaced by conflict should be prioritised, otherwise there is nowhere that we can draw the line.

Europe’s largest generational challenge has only just begun.