THE NEW UTOPIA AND THE MIGRANTS

Utopia is always an important country, always one of the great powers.

English columnist Frank Johnson

Other things being equal, the editors of Hungarian Review would prefer to be dealing with topics other than migration. We have dealt with it in earlier issues in some detail, and the world offers many other things on which clever writers might write clever things. Some of these other topics are duly covered throughout this issue – for instance, Donald Morse’s account of a trip to Ceauşescu’s totalitarian Rumania, still powerful and shocking twenty-six years after the dictator’s fall. But the fact that a massive and continuing flow of Middle Eastern and African migrants into Europe is imposing a many-sided crisis on the Continent imposes on us an intellectual duty to offer a many-sided commentary upon it. Accordingly, in this issue we cover migration past and present, into Europe and from Europe, in prose and poetry, in a series of historical reflections, personal accounts, literary essays and political commentaries. Not all our authors agree with each other; it would be a false consensus if they did. But in disagreeing, they raise important questions and reveal important truths not only about migration itself but also about the institutions that have governed it at different periods.

In the first article of a two-part series Tibor Frank outlines the various migrations that have shaped Hungarian history and demography from the medieval period to the present. Over-simplifying his account greatly, the migrations themselves were driven in the Middle Ages by the Mongol push from the East and the Ottoman push from the South. However, Hungarian kings also invited specific groups to settle in the country, in order to contribute to the economy, the crafts and culture – Italians, French, Germans and Jews. From the late 17th century, an imperial Habsburg policy was pursued of encouraging the settlement of those migrant groups that would strengthen the Empire either militarily or economically at different periods. By and large the policy was a success externally, at least until 1914 when it provoked disaster. But whenever the Empire weakened, ethnic minorities tended to be vulnerable to prejudice or violence from the inside. Migration beyond a relatively small size requires strong political institutions that offer economic and personal security to both natives and newcomers. Weak bodies, whether national or international, cannot provide this.

Otto Hieronymi, in the second part of his study of humanitarian institutions in a globalised age, discusses the global rules and institutions established to govern migration flows in the modern world, especially in the post-1945 world. Those rules impose absolute obligations on states to admit some classes of migrants, namely refugees fleeing from war and persecution, while leaving them free to accept or refuse others, usually called “economic migrants”. Those rules were drawn up, however, at a time when the extensive migration flows of 1945 were seen as a once-for-all effect of war and when the remaining problem of refugees and “displaced persons” in Europe was a strictly limited one. (Hungarian Fifty-Sixers were viewed similarly and even more sympathetically.) As we have documented in earlier issues, both crises were solved by international cooperation relatively easily in 1958 and in 1960 (World Refugee Year).

The rules that governed these agreements, however, were not designed to deal with an “invasion” of more than one million migrants in a single year flowing from a potential “pool” of billions of people. Numbers make a difference. If a nation is to be drastically altered culturally, religiously, economically, ethnically, politically, it cannot be so as a side-effect of an outdated rule in a refugee treaty whose effects no one foresaw at the time the treaty was signed. That being so, in the present crisis those obligations will either be changed or ignored.

How might they be changed? With what justification? And what considerations should shape any new rules?

Consider, first, one unavoidable effect of current treaty law on refugees, at least as interpreted by the German government. This is the criminal rioting that took place in Cologne and several other German cities on New Year’s night. Rioting is perhaps too modest a term for what occurred. According to the latest version of events put out by the police, organised groups of up to 1000 men jostled and attacked revellers in Cologne that night; they made serious sexual assaults on women revellers, raping one woman, tearing clothes off others, and grossly grabbing at more; most of these groups were composed of men of “North African and Arab appearance”; some of them, when questioned, had their asylum documents with them; neither the authorities nor the news media reported these events for four days until news of them began to seep out through social media; the police initially lied about what had happened and later remained silent in order not to arouse people’s anxieties over Berlin’s “welcome policy” towards migrants; Cologne’s woman Mayor has since given other local women the anti- feminist advice that they should travel in groups and stay several feet away from men to avoid sexual harassment; and, finally, federal ministers have stated firmly that it would be a “misuse” of debate to suggest that these attacks had anything to do with the million migrants recently invited to Germany by Chancellor Merkel.

Ministers should perhaps have thought a little before making that last point (and on other occasions too.) It is, of course, a fundamentally illiberal and anti- democratic argument. But it also points to an embarrassing dilemma for the German government. Either the misogynistic rioters included a significant number of recently-arrived migrants or they did not. If they did, then the migration fed directly into the riots; if they did not, then the rioters were people of North African and Arab appearance who had previously been law-abiding but who now felt able and entitled to assault local women in public without much fear of the consequences.

What changed them? What gave them that confidence? And what ideas and intentions had they been nursing quietly before they felt strong enough to express and act upon them? The obvious answer is that those rioters who had been living in Germany for some years, maybe even having been born there, have been emboldened by the arrival of many others of similar origin, faith or “appearance” and the potential arrival of many more. Some new arrivals express gratitude to their hosts; some show arrogance and make demands on them; all apparently sense that they cannot be stopped or denied entry by nervous authorities. And to use a cant term usually employed with approval, the rioters were “empowered” by that.

Which brings us to the point raised by György Granasztói in his essay on violence, terrorism, and mass migration. Drawing on the work of the late René Girard, Granasztói raises the question of “intention” which in this context means asking: what do the migrants want? Intention is almost never raised directly in debates on migration, yet it is obviously a crucial matter. It can change the character of a migration almost out of recognition. The Fifty-Sixers who arrived in countries as far afield as Australia and Canada as well as Western Europe were inspired by gratitude to their hosts and the desire to be loyal and productive citizens in return for sanctuary. They were hugely popular everywhere as a result. The Hungarians and Slovaks who arrived at Ellis Island in the late 19th century, as described in the article and poems of Tony Reevy, went on to dig coal and forge steel for the building of the mighty US economy. Though often in a hard way, they earned the respect of their neighbours and assimilated into a new American identity as a result. If any of these migrants had arrived with the intention of forcing the host countries to adopt Hungarian customs or to wage war on the Habsburg Empire or communist Hungary, they would have been bitterly resented as the cause of new social conflicts. They would certainly have been less welcome.

Intention also qualifies whatever rules we have previously agreed to govern policy on migration, including refugee asylum. An obligation to admit refugees fleeing from war and persecution cannot reasonably be cited to justify welcoming migrants who are simply seeking Western living standards, nor those doing so without any serious intention of contributing to those standards, still less those who try to impose their own values and culture on the societies that welcome them. Above all, there can be no obligation to admit even bona fide refugees who want to conquer the natives rather than join them.

So what do the migrants want? It is fairly clear that, in Granasztói’s words, they want to partake of our prosperity, the advantages of our Western technical superiority, our system of social care. But many also want to take our world in a more philosophical sense and make it a world in which their values and their identity would be the prevailing ones. And in the course of taking what we have, they want to give us something in return that we don’t want, namely their customs, their religion, their political justifications for violence, their subordination of women.

Now, that is certainly not true of all Middle Eastern migrants or of all migrants. Some in all these categories are undoubtedly people seeking refuge from intolerable realities and grateful to those offering it. But it is true of many migrants, not all of whom can be identified at first sight, notably the young fit men from nowhere with no passports or false ones: the terrorists who are a minority of the jihadists, who in turn are a minority of the rioters, who in turn are a minority of the migrants, but numerous and threatening all the same. And it is all but certainly true of the rioters in Cologne.

These groups demonstrated in the crudest possible way that among the things they wanted to take were “our” women and as a result our pride if we failed to protect them. Our own society finds such logic hard to follow: in what sense are modern independent women anyone else’s property? But by the logic of the societies and religion from which the rioters and most migrants come, women are either behind the veil and thus the property of the family or on the street and thus the property of anyone. And the rioters were imposing their logic, values and identity on us on the significant date of New Year’s Day. They were helpfully signifying their intentions in advance.

Governments have proved singularly inept at picking up their messages. As we have seen, they first avoided the news, then repressed it, and finally misunderstood it in the most determined way. So their intentions must also be examined. And those intentions have become both clear and mysterious. In the aftermath of the attacks, the independent Mayor of Cologne suggested that German women should learn how to cope with such attacks, a Social Democrat regional minister said that the rightwing conversations on social media were “at least as awful as the acts of those assaulting the women”, and Chancellor Merkel told her political allies in the Christian Social Union that she would not impose a cap on the number of entering migrants in the next year. As American Interest magazine commented,

So in the wake of a high-profile, mass attack on women by refugees, an in- dependent Mayor, an SPD regional minister, and a CDU Chancellor have all come out in ways that seem to be at least as concerned – at least – with pro- tecting liberal pieties as addressing popular concerns. It’s the backlash, not the actual attacks, that seems to most worry some of these centrist politicians. And this is precisely the recipe for getting people to look to Orbán-style populism. After all, if even terrorist attacks such as Paris and incidents against women, committed on a large scale, in Cologne cannot get the centrists to focus on popular concerns about immigration, a German voter might wonder, what- ever will? Whereas the populists, whatever else might be said about them, do.


The mystery here is why the German elites, media as well as federal and regional governments, embrace so obstinately policies that anger their voters, threaten serious social problems, alienate other European governments, and as János Brenner observes from the standpoint of a Hungarian living in Germany, lead to media denunciations of Hungary (which are at least as xenophobic as rightwing populist criticisms of the rioters) on the apparent grounds that Hungary agrees with majority German opinion.

There is a clue to this mystery, however, namely that the European bureaucrats, UN and international bodies, NGOs and European governments of the Left are the main supporters of Mrs Merkel’s policy in and out of Germany. Nor is that inconsistent with the ideological transformation of the German political elite on left and right. As Adam Garfinkle, editor of American Interest and no admirer of Prime Minister Orbán, discovered during a visit to Germany last fall.

The Left’s normative seizure of Germany is truly amazing. Even the Chancellor, who by German standards is far from a raving leftist, appears to firmly believe that everyone must be a multiculturalist for moral reasons, and that all people who want to preserve the ethno-linguistic integrity of their communities – whether in Germany or in Hungary, Poland and elsewhere – are acting out of base motives. … That is not racism in Europe any more than nervousness about immigrants is racism here in the United States. Wanting one’s own community to be a certain way is not aggressively or actively prejudicial against others, any more than declining to give money to a beggar on a city street is morally equivalent to hitting him in the head with a crowbar. It is simply preferring the constituency of a high-social trust society, from which, social science suggests, many good things come: widespread security, prosperity, and a propensity toward generosity being prominent among them.
 

A powerful underlying stratum of this Left consensus is the rejection of the nation- state not only in its international aspects, where it will supposedly be absorbed over time by supra-national institutions, but also domestically where the national community will be inevitably divided between different sub-national bodies from ethnic migrants to regional identities to culturally defined ones. Migration plays a necessary part in this beneficial erosion of national integrity and identity and is therefore to be welcomed from motives not only of compassion but also of national re-ordering. To resist this virtuous and unavoidable process at best is foolish, at worst raises suspicion of racism, xenophobia, and in the current crisis, Islamophobia.

Chancellor Merkel and those who think like her almost certainly imagined this process as a gradual, peaceful, culturally enriching and socially accepting one. Apparently, however, they did little serious thinking about how to integrate large numbers of people from pre-modern backgrounds, with low-level or economically irrelevant skills, with strongly-formed cultural identities, and inspired by political ideas that clash with almost any imaginable German consensus. They certainly did not imagine that migrants might pose any kind of a threat. After all, they would be supplicants and beneficiaries who could hardly envisage creating a Germany in their own image. Nor did they consider that ordinary Germans might resist the official kind of transformation of their country. Now all these various calculations look mistaken and those who criticised them earlier look prescient. Mrs Merkel is still doubling down on her now twin policies of welcoming immigrants and suppressing the protests of Germans.

But it is early days and Utopia never falls without a fight.

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