Has liberalism gone missing in East Central Europe, or has it always been absent?

fenceThe refugee crisis highlights that it is time to reassess the contribution of East Central Europe’s mainstream parties of ‘liberals’ who are better at winning elections than at being liberal. James Dawson and Seán Hanley, experts in Central and East European politics at UCL, investigate.

Images from Hungary showing security forces turning tear gas and water cannon on refugees from behind a newly fortified border will come as little surprise to many observers of East Central Europe.

The government of Victor Orbán has systematically exploited the refugee crisis to ramp up a long-standing rhetoric of nationalist intolerance and consolidate its grip on power by passing a raft of emergency powers, further eroding Hungary’s once robust legal checks and balances. Such actions have drawn a storm of international opprobrium – including harsh criticism from the governments of Austria, Croatia and Serbia, all of which have taken a more humane and pragmatic approach to managing the influx of refugees. Continue reading

A Syrian tragedy turning into a European tragedy

grass-fence-border-propertyGëzim Krasniqi, Fellow at UCL’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies, traces the shifting routes chosen by refugees from Syria—and how the EU’s lack of a coordinated policy has been turning the Syrian tragedy into a European one. It has left the Balkan states with a refugee crisis impossible to master.

The current mass movement of refugees and migrants to Europe crossing several state borders, including the borders of the ‘EU fortress’, is unparalleled in the continent’s modern history. Far from taking a unified stance on the ensuing crisis, countries in the European Union have acted in what has turned out to be a selfish and rather irresponsible manner, with few exceptions. Moreover, the growing refugee and migrant influx has led to a series of diplomatic disputes between EU member states. All this has only made the crisis worse, with consequences both for transit and destination countries as well as for the refugees and migrants themselves. Beyond the mere humanitarian dimension of the situation, the current flow of refugees and migrants raises a number of important issues. Continue reading

Politics, nation and identity in the midst of Hungary’s refugee crisis

industry-rails-train-pathErin Marie Saltman, senior researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, discusses the current refugee crisis, and explores the politics of Hungary’s response to it.  

 


Hungarian political discourse has taken a dark turn as the refugee crisis has been enveloped with fear of a nation losing its identity.

The current crisis that now dominates headlines has shown images of Syrian refugees quarantined within Hungarian train stations, protesting for the right to safely pursue new lives in Europe as asylum seekers. Yet even before the current crisis now affecting Hungary, despite being a country with a relatively low influx and outflux of migrants, the topic of immigration has become increasingly salient with strong political divides.

Thousands of refugees have been sleeping for several days in train stations, many refused transportation onward – despite many being ticket holders. A large group of refugees have even begun to walk the 110 miles to Austria in desperation. The current situation is unquestionably severe. 160,000 migrants are estimated as having entered Hungary this year, mainly en route to various other destinations. Migrants have held demonstrations in Budapest, welcomed by heavy police presence, asking that they be allowed to leave on trains bound westward, where they hope for a more amenable situation. Continue reading

A Europe obsessed by its borders: The political meaning of senseless migration policies

fenceIn recent weeks, Europe’s borders, and the individuals trying to cross them, have rarely been out of the news. Whilst EU member states are struggling to reach agreement on how to deal with the crisis, thousands are moving across Europe in search of asylum. Denis Duez, Director of the European Studies Institute at the Université Saint-Louis in Brussels, reflects on how political borders are created, and points to fundamental flaws in a migration policy that operates chiefly through border controls.

This is a revised version of an article that appeared in French in La Revue Nouvelle, June-July 2014

In his autobiography published in 1942, Stefan Zweig wrote that ‘perhaps nothing more graphically illustrates the monstrous relapse the world suffered after the First World War than the restriction on personal freedom of movement and civil rights. Before 1914, [there were] no permits, no visas, nothing to give you trouble; the borders that today […] are a tangled fence of red tape were then nothing but symbolic lines on the map, and you crossed them as unthinkingly as you can cross the meridian in Greenwich’ (Zweig, The World of Yesterday (trans. Anthea Bell) p.436). Continue reading