Hungary under lock and key


Following — or possibly leading — a recent trend within Europe, Hungary has proven to be a very conservative country when it comes to immigration policy, among other things. Like the United States’ current president, Hungary prime minister Viktor Orbán proudly and loudly promotes his staunch anti-immigrant views, and in my limited experience here, many Hungarians happen to share those same views. Hungarians don’t just agree with Trump — many I’ve talked to have actually used the word “love,” like he’s still just a shady reality TV show host that you are allowed to love ironically. But, strangely, it’s not ironic.

Many of my professors here have explained part of the phenomenon to the American students. It’s hard to wrap my head around, but here’s my best shot at explaining it: Hungary had been under the rule of empires and unions until the end of World War I — the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire, Third Reich and the Soviet Union. Not until recently did it have the power — which is arguably no longer democratic — to allow its own people to make decisions about how they are governed.

The many unfair and unsuccessful rules of aforementioned empires left an impression on the Hungarian people. They’re wary of outsiders, threatened by those who have taken and not given in the past. Because of this, they treasure their culture, their language and most importantly their history. It’s what remains of their past, and it explains who they are today: a people attempting to stay safe. That’s what’s lead to an unwillingness to let foreigners — strangers — join their wary population.

It gets more complicated, though. Hungary’s free press is pretty limited. To what extent have the people chosen — or given no choice in — their political beliefs? Things seem pretty iffy there. It’s most likely a combination of passed down generational beliefs and a small scope of information that happens to confirm them.

Though this Hungarian version of an anti-immigration stance may appear skewed and seem unethical to me and my many progressive, liberal and left-aligned peers, it’s also a much more understandable stance to take after years of shouldering oppression.

What really baffles me is the American version of this approach: “Don’t come here and take our jobs and resources!” Note the lack of a notion of self-defense. The primary motivation here is entitlement. Entitlement to a country based on the principles of refuge and acceptance that has neither faced conquerors nor been cut off from its own people and land — except for when colonists stole from and massacred Native Americans — the way the Hungarians have time after time. Where the status quo is and where it should be is currently being questioned, slowly and painfully.

Taking a look at Hungary has been a fascinating opportunity to look at the many social layers that obscure policy. Though I’d come to terms with American conservatism in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, there is so much more to unpack than that. I look forward to spending more time and watching many of these issues unfold in after the European Union’s recent admonishment of the nation’s undemocratic practices.