Hungary: Refugees and the Orban government crisis

Capitalism is an endless ’state of emergency’

Refugees fear Hungary. Whoever enters EU territory and applies for asylum (which is part of the Dublin III Agreement) has to fear the worst: refugees are kept in cages and far from medical treatment, judicial support or sufficient nutrition. They say they are beaten and robbed by the police. This has been the case for several years now yet Dublin III refers to Hungary as a "secure third state" for refugees. The situation in the refugee camps in Italy, Spain or Greece is a catastrophic. as well. Hungary is not the exception but part of the EU’s refugee-policy.

What is happening now is even worse though. Along the border between Serbia and Hungary (the outer EU borders) refugees are detained. They are kept without a roof over their heads, without sanitary arrangements and without food. The only thing supplied by the Hungarian state are policemen with dogs, who by sheer force try to keep the refugees from moving on.

Whatever is supplied in terms of food, medication, tents etc, comes from voluteers and NGOs, whose work is sometimes made harder by the state security forces. The horror of the camps of dicatorships along the north African coast is replicated inside EU borders. Whoever fled the hell of the Syrian-Iraqi civil war, the violence of the Taliban, the military in Afghanistan and Pakistan or the conflicts in Africa are now prey to the hell of the EU border regime.

Getting worse

Since September 15, Hungary has been in a state of emergency. The leader of the right wing Fidesz party, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, announced it in order to "protect the borders". He announced harsh measures: the military is be deployed to the borders adn violence against refugees stepped up. The military is even looking for new recruits. A fence is being built on the border with Serbia. On the borders of Romania and Croatia, two EU member states, Orban plans "transit zones" i.e. strips of land that do not belong to any nation state. It is only a question of time until another fence is put up there. In these transit zones and in another one along the Serbian border, refugees will be detained. These are practically law-free zones. There are no words for the horrors that will likely take place in these zones.

So what is the EU doing? When Orban returned from an EU summit on the refugee crisis in Brussels, he declared that Schulz & Co do not like his measures but that they see no alternative. For Orban this is not a refugee crisis, it is an invasion of immigrants into the wealth of Europe. He concludes that the new arrivals are not content to stay in camps in Italy, Greece and Hungary, but want to continue their journey to the wealthier European states.

Under pressure from the neo-fascist Jobbik opposition, Orban goes all-out spreading fear about refugees. They would not only spread diseases, he claims, but also an Islamic threat. They could "occupy Hungary – something that has happened before in Hungarian history – or they could introduce communism", he said in an interview. He connects his agitation against immigrants with agitation against Roma people: Hungary could not accomodate any more refugees, because they already have to deal with Roma people, Orban claims.

Orban an anti-capitalist?

Orban’s propaganda is based upon the idea of the "besieged fortress" Hungary. His election and re-election is down to an appeal based on racism and his nationalist resistance to the EU and the Troika. In 2008 the former government (social democrats) accepted the first bail out/austerity package in the course of the international financial crisis. Hungary had been hit hard by the crisis. The price to pay was the dictatorship of the Troika (EU, ECB and IMF), which, as it did in other countries, went for smashing the already weak social state. Orban got elected using strong rhetoric against the Troika and the widely hated social democrats. He did kick out the Troika, but only to put its policies into practise himself. But he did it with some skill: He attacked the banks and big business, as well, apart from making job cuts in the public sector, raising taxes etc. He was very careful to only hit foreign capital, especially in the banking sector (e.g. Austrian banks dominate the banking sector with a market share of 60%). Hungary was the only country in Europe to introduce a tax on financial transactions. It also forced the banks to change their policies (which led to more than 100,000 evictions) to their disadvantage. Although his ultimate goal is to save capitalism, Orban likes to portray himself as a fighter against banks and big business.

Foreign capital has started to retreat from Hungary. This benefits the Hungarian bourgeoisie which is rallying around Fidesz. Fidesz is now in charge of handing out public contracts and jobs. Corruption is playing a big role and everybody is aware of that. But the opposition parties are unfit to do something about it, since they have their own scandals and the justice system is on Orban‘s side. Eventually Orban is simply going to carry on with the politics of his predecessors.

As long as Hungary meets its credit repayments, the EU and the IMF accepts Oban’s measures. When they attack Orban for his policies they only help boost his propoganda about the besieged fortress hungary. To some, this propaganda sounds like a big conspiracy to weaken Hungary, in general. Anti-semitic undertones are not accident.

Who supports the government?

Ultimately, Orban’s power is based on three pillars: the establishment of authoritarian rule, playing off various imperialist powers at international level against each other and, in particular, the recent inability of the opposition to build a real alternative and organize effective resistance.

In the pro-capitalist media there is much about the restriction of the freedom of the press in Hungary. Add to that the constitutional and electoral reforms, as well as attacks on public spheres, such as in the cultural field, and Fidèsz holds all positions of power. Most crucially, however, is the struggle of the government against the unions and the rights of the workers’ movement: Each strike must first be approved by a Fidèsz-loyal court, which basically is never the case. The already severely restricted workers’ rights are extremely difficult to defend which has led to the arbitrariness of employers. Various forms of employment undermine the already extremely low minimum wage. Union fees are theoretically paid by the employer in Hungary, however few workers risk asking the the bosses to put it into practice. As a result, trade unions are losing members, especially since they have already completely lost their rights in the civil service and the security industry. With the state of emergency used in connection with the refugee crisis, things will probably get worse for workers in Hungary. Some laws are particularly suitable to erode rights: Until recently the military could have not been used within Hungary, but due to a new constitutional amendment it can be deployed within the country now. It is quite possible that soldiers will be used against social movements in the future, particularly as the police, which experiences salary and pension cuts, is becoming a more unreliable partner of the government. Laws against assisting refugees are deliberately formulated in a way that even sharing a water bottle with a refugee can lead to years of imprisonment. This opens the door for more repression against all forms of organizing resistance.

When Orban comes under criticism for breaking EU laws by introducing anti-democratic legislation or (which is much worse for the ruling class) by excluding the capitalists of other EU members from the Hungarian market, he always responds with a threat to Brussels: "We are not without an alternative". Orban seeks support from non-EU powers in order to be less reliant on the major EU nations. Thus Hungary has infrastructure loans from China, nuclear technology from Russia and lately increasingly close cooperation with Turkey, put the ruling elites in the EU under pressure to make an effort in keeping Hungary in their sphere of influence. All proceedings against Hungary are therefore terminated and millions of euros are granted for agricultural and other subsidies. International conflicts between the main powers helps Orban to carry out this balancing act. However this will not last forever; the Hungarian government remains unstable with regards to foreign affairs.

The refugee crisis reveals Orban’s true value for the EU. Merkel, regarded as the "mother of refugees", could not be more hypocritical: She is one of the main architects of the EU border regime, where the border-states are assigned the role of the guards of the EU. Despite the outrage over Hungarians, as found in various Austrian and German media, we need to keep in mind that Orban and his counterparts, who are in charge of border-states, are acting as executors of Dublin III. The brief period in which Merkel opened the borders was not aimed at abolishing Dublin III but to save it from collapsing. The closure of the German-Austrian border confirmed so. The repression against refugees in Hungary will deter them from coming to Europe but only those who are economically "utilizable" shall be let in. So Orban sending the military to the border is a clear EU-policy.

The most important reason why the house of cards named Orban has not collapsed yet is the lack of an alternative to him. Even now, when the refugee crisis shows the government’s inability (one million euros for a border fence, a humanitarian disaster extending to Budapest city center etc), with the defense minister and several state secretaries forced to resign, the government is still leading in the election polls. Fidesz loses support almost exclusively to non-voters and to the neo-fascist Jobbik oppostion party. Jobbik organizes militias against refugees and their supporters. They claimed to have organized 60,000. "Jobbik acts where Fidesz only talks" were the thoughts of about 19% of the voters. The anti-Semitic remarks of the Orbán government were interpreted by Jobbik as a "conspiracy of the foreign-hearted", meaning "the Jews". Fidesz baits Roma, while Jobbik organises violent, pogrom-like actions.

Approximately 40% of the electorate did not vote in the last elections. This is largely due to the lack of a real alternative. Egütt (Together), a left-project with support from some sections of the Hungarian unions, degenerated by the time of the election and became an electoral alliance under the leadership of a former prime minister, Gordon Bajnai. He was responsible for bringing the Troika to Hungary. His "election promises" were to do the same thing again. In the 2014 elections, the Hungarians therefore had the freedom to decide between cuts and the dismantling of democracy by either Orban or by the Troika. Many Hungarians therefore decided not to vote. The second largest group went with Orban and Fidesz, followed by those who voted for the far right Jobbik.

What to do?

The catastrophic situation facing refugees and the growing misery of Hungarians demands a solution. It is entirely logical that a part of the solution is to get rid of the government. But how and what then?

Orban is the representative of the Hungarian bourgeoisie. His job is to protect them – both from becoming completely dependent on other capitalist powers, and from being overthrown by the Hungarian workers and youth. We need to revive and rebuild the workers’ movement in Hungary. The unions, not counting their verbal protests, accepted all the cuts and all the attacks on democratic rights. CWI literature in Hungary calls for a 24 hour general strike to organize mass resistance and to help unite the workers’ movement. It would not take much to topple this very unstable government because there are few forces that resolutely support it and it is becoming increasingly isolated at an international level.

What it takes is a movement that is willing to oppose all austerity, to fight for real gains for the working class and for democratic rights and to break with capitalism. Greece shows that the Troika is no alternative to Orban – actually there is no alternative under capitalism. To keep the capitalist economic system going, Orban is trying to repay all debts to international banks that were taken on by Hungary’s bourgeois governments since the 1990s. This means aggravating the existing misery even further. Other politicians are trying to do the same thing but believe that to achieve an "economic boom" Hungary must become a colony of Germany, Austria and the strong economies in the EU.

But Hungary needs a socialist economy, which is not oriented towards the profit-interests of the capitalists, whether Hungarian or foreign, but towards the needs of the vast majority of society. This can only be achieved if the workers themselves decide democratically how the economy should be run.

A new workers’ party is needed in Hungary to formulate a programme and to organize mass opposition. The foundation of such a party could begin around a 24 general strike, when the demands from the initiatives around issues like refugees rights, freedom of the press, internet control, resistance to evictions would be absorbed. The interests of the refugees are already being pitted against the interests of the local population. However, many problems such as an affordable apartments, a job etc. are common problems for all of us – for refugees and locals. Rather than being played off against each other, we need to build a common struggle. This includes the approximately 200,000 Roma, most of whom make up the poorest segment of the population.

The bourgeois governments are unable to eliminate the reasons that causes refugees to flee. To eliminate these, it would be necessary, for example, to stop weapons exports, to punish capitalists who buy oil from the ISIS, to prevent companies from plundering African resources and brutally exploiting the workers and much more. In short, the governments would have to turn against precisely those capitalists whose interests they have always been representing. Capitalism means war and misery; capitalism is the cause for millions fleeing war-zones and terrible poverty.