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.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Maybe you didn’t even notice it, but apparently your suggestion that oppression has made Hungarians wary of invaders is what you are after (oppression) by claiming to follow “progressive ideas”. Perhaps you would need to lose your freedom to get to appreciate it.
    Is it wrong that “they treasure their culture, their language and most importantly their history”? Is it not plain sanity “attempting to stay safe”? Why do you think Germans, who only 3 years ago welcomed “refugees” with candies at Munich train station, now want to reverse the foolishness of trying to integrate migrants holding opposite values?
    Keep up being intellectually curious.
    Cheers.

  2. “It’s hard to wrap my head around”

    It’s hard for us, as Americans, to wrap our heads around the anti-immigration views of *numerous* EU nations. This is partially due to the U.S. being a nation of immigrants. We are a melting pot of cultures, though it may be difficult to discern since many of us are a few generations removed from our family’s arrival. Our social fabric is very diverse and has changed more rapidly than our European counterparts for at least the last 100 years. We have the founding principles in common, so it’s expected that newer arrivals accept these principles and live in harmony with our Western democracy. This is why conservatives are hesitant to accept Syrian refugees in mass numbers: they have been forced to leave a country with a culture that is in many ways counter to our Western values, so assimilation is more difficult. That’s not to say it can’t be done (there’s an area in San Antonio with many Syrian refugees living normal lives), but it’s certainly the basis of policy disagreements. The right tends to think that the culture shock impedes assimilation, which affects an immigrant’s ability to become a productive member of society. That’s to say nothing about the additional strain this may put on our welfare system. Again, there is much policy disagreement and discussion to be had, though my views are in no way unique to others on the right, especially since “what it means to be American” seems to be a hotbed a disagreement between classical conservatives and progressive democrats.

    On the other hand, many European countries are more ethnically and racially homogenous than the U.S. These cultures and traditions span many generations. Assimilating to these cultures is much more involved than the U.S., and the native citizens are now grappling with issues that were baked into the American pie. A rise in Nationalism isn’t surprising, especially in a nation like Hungary that holds their common culture a bit tighter to their chests. Influxes of immigrants, especially from very different cultures, will necessarily catalyze a social change that many people don’t want. It’s hard to put ourselves into those shoes since we lack to context to fully empathize.

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