Hungarian MEP Schöpflin: 'Nationhood is the answer'
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was just reelected using rhetoric described as intimidating and xenophobic. Will that kind of nationalist vision decide the future of Europe? DW sat down with MEP György Schöpflin.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was just reelected to a third consecutive term on April 8th. The Organization for Security and Cooperation, the OSCE, says opposition did not really have a fair chance to compete.
An OSCE report on the election said "intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing" hindered voters' ability to make an informed choice in Hungary.
György Schöpflin, Member of European Parliament (MEP) for the country's governing right-wing Fidesz party, denied this in an interview with Michel Friedman on DW's Conflict Zone.
"It was a very fair election. I was there for the whole of the campaign. I didn't see intimidation and I wasn't just sitting in Budapest," he said. "I think the OSCE got it wrong."
After Orban's win, thousands of people hit the streets in protest, accusing Orban of taking control of state media
Schöpflin blamed Western journalists for having a bias and portraying Hungary in a one-sided way.
"I think [the OSCE] came along, as usual, with a certain set of ideas about how Hungary is, that they get from the Western media. The Western media listens only to the opposition," he said. "[Journalists] have a bias, they're not objective."
Is migration really an issue in Hungary?
A little more than 23,000 foreigners moved to Hungary in 2016. Compared to other countries, that's not a large number at all. Plus, nearly half of the foreigners who moved to Hungary in 2016 were from EU countries.
Yet, the overwhelming campaign issue in Hungary this year was migration, especially by Muslim refugees. In fact, it was such an important issue during the campaign that Bloomberg called it "a single-issue campaign."
A little more than 23,000 foreigners moved to Hungary, a country of around 13 million people, in 2016
In the interview with DW, Schöplin said it's true that there are currently not that many Muslims in Hungary but that "what the great majority of Hungarians do not want (…) is that there should be a lot of Muslims."
"We don't know exactly how many [Muslims want to settle in Hungary], but we really don't want to find out."
This sentiment was echoed by Orban in a campaign speech on March 15, in which he said that the reality is that "there are those who want to take our country from us."
Asked who exactly is trying to take away Hungary, Schöplin said:
"I think the very large number of refugees who may potentially want to settle in Hungary aided and abetted by Western liberals. (…) They want to transform the country in such a way that it's no longer recognizable to the great majority of people who live there at this time."
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told German tabloid Bild Zeitung a few months ago: "We don't see these people as Muslim refugees. We see them as Muslim invaders. (…) They crossed the border illegally. That was not a wave of refugees, but an invasion."
Schöpflin called the "flood of people" passing through Hungary in 2015 an "invasion" that was "traumatic"
Confronted with this quote, Schöpflin denied that this equates to hate speech. He did, however, admit that the quote was generalizing, but legitimizing the generalization in his next sentence.
"Everybody generalizes. You generalize. I generalize," he said. "Of course there are collectivities and we make generalized judgments about religious groups just as much as secular ones."
When asked whether he agrees with the term "invaders," Schöplin said:
"It's clearly the case that very large numbers of people arrived in Hungary without so much as [asking for permission] in 2015 and marched through the country. This was traumatic. (…) It was a flood of people who were paying no attention to what they were doing. If you want to call it invasion, you can call it invasion. You could also call it a tide. You can use all sorts of metaphors."
As a member of the European Parliament, Hungary has to abide by Article 21 of the European Charter, which states: "Any discrimination based on any ground such as (…) religion or belief (…) shall be prohibited."
Asked whether using a term like "Muslim invaders" constitutes to religious discrimination, Schöplin said:
"If you're quoting the Charter of Fundamental Rights at me. Fine. Please recall Article 1 which is about human dignity and here the human dignity of the Hungarian population is every bit as important as that of the Muslims."
'Why not put up pigs' heads?'
In 2016, Schöpflin tweeted that putting up pigs' heads on fences at the Hungarian border would deter refugees more effectively, which was vastly criticized as being degrading, racist and discriminatory.
Confronted with this quote, Schöpflin said: "Yes, I tweeted that, quite right."
He didn't think his Tweet was problematic and says it was meant as a warning.
"Look if you come to Hungary, you will find the people eat pig. People eat pork in Hungary. Beware."
When Michel Friedman told Schöpflin that this move is not just offensive for the Muslim community, but also the Jewish one, Schöpflin said it was clearly directed at Muslim refugees and that there is "very little" anti-Semitism in Hungary.
"This is the first government of Hungary which recognized that Hungary was responsible in part for the Holocaust."
Schöpflin then said his pigs head Tweet was a "thought experiment".
"Many people took it for real. So I got a whole lot of hate mail. (…) I'm a sadder and wiser person."
Are the majority of Syrian refugees actually economic migrants?
In 1950, Schöpflin's family fled Hungary's communist regime and settled in Britain when he was 11 years old.
Asked why refugees facing persecution today shouldn't have the same opportunity he enjoyed, Schöpflin said that people facing persecution are welcome in Hungary, but economic migrants aren't, which in Schöpflin's opinion includes some Syrian migrants.
"Some of the people from Syria are economic migrants," he said.
Asked whether he really thinks that the majority of Syrian refugees are not fleeing because of war and because they are persecuted, Schöpflin said:
"I'm not quite as definite about this as you are. I don't know their motivations."
Asked whether nationalism is the answer, Schöpflin said: "Nationhood is the answer."