István Pogány, Emeritus Professor at the University of Warwick, argues that the real threat to Europe does not come from an increasing number of migrants travelling into the continent, but rather from the anti-multiculturalism rhetoric of some of its political leaders, and in particular Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
As European leaders grapple with the unprecedented influx of asylum seekers, Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, has repeatedly expressed his belief that the mostly Middle Eastern and predominantly Muslim refugees represent a grave threat to Europe. Orbán has argued that the ‘migrants’ (he refuses to acknowledge that most of them may be genuine refugees) represent a culture and a set of values that are irreconcilable with the core principles of European civilisation: a Christian heritage, belief in the rule of law, fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and gender equality.
Orbán has repeatedly portrayed Muslims in crude, monolithic terms, making little or no allowance for the enormous variations in Muslim and Middle Eastern identities or the possibility that the overwhelming majority of Muslim refugees will gradually integrate, to varying degrees, within their host communities. Instead, Hungary’s Prime Minister has worked tirelessly to create a terrifying ‘bogey man’ out of the hapless asylum seekers.
It would be easy to expose the muddled thinking, historical ignorance and theological illiteracy that lie behind Orbán’s fear-mongering rhetoric. His conception of Christianity – which he has expounded in recent speeches – is little more than a prescription for mean-spiritedness and narrow-minded nationalism, leaving little, if any, scope for genuine compassion or charity towards members of other faiths or to those who fall outside the strictly-defined boundaries of the ’nation’. In the Gospel, according to Orbán, the Good Samaritan expends his wealth and moral concern almost exclusively on his family, his local community and his nation or ethnic group.
Orbán’s thesis that multiculturalism is doomed to failure and that different cultural or religious communities cannot co-exist is based on little more than ignorance and prejudice. It ignores a wealth of scholarship and empirical evidence and flies in the face of Europe’s – and especially Hungary’s – own history.
Until World War One, Hungary was a richly multicultural society with large and often dynamic minorities, some of whom played a crucial role, in the latter half of the 19th century, in transforming Hungary from a semi-feudal, backward and mostly agrarian society into a modern polity with an expanding manufacturing base, a vibrant intellectual and cultural life, an often exemplary educational system and a politically literate middle class.
The real threat to Europe lies not so much in the influx of unprecedented numbers of asylum seekers – although the practical difficulties of coping with this phenomenon should not be underestimated – as in the potential impact of ‘Orbánism’ and of similarly poisonous ideologies. Hungary’s Prime Minister, with his populist, chauvinistic and deeply reactionary political agenda – so reminiscent of the febrile politics of inter-war Central and Eastern Europe – represents a significant and growing danger to the European project and to the liberal, cosmopolitan values that underpin it.
István Pogány is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Warwick.
Note: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and not of the UCL European Institute, nor of UCL.
This post first appeared on Social Europe.