How Hungary took the first step to build a united Europe, and then, took a step back

Thinking about the European Union, there were some thoughts, most of them idealistic, in my head: no borders, no trouble travelling, and stability, just to mention some of them.  However, looking at the latest news, I am not so sure about the no borders, no trouble, and stability part anymore.  When reading the headlines of newspapers today, it feels like traveling in time: Russia is still (or again) not our best friend (and actually never was). Putin was talking about Russia’s nuclear weapons and how useful they are or can be. Probably both. And now Hungary announced to establish a fence on its border to Serbia. Sounds familiar? Maybe.

But let’s start from the beginning: On Wednesday, Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijártó stated that the Hungarian government is planning to establish a 175km long and about 4m high fence on the Hungarian-Serbian border to protect Hungary, the Hungarian people, and also the European Union, against illegal immigrants.


And of course, the government led by Viktor Orban poses understandable arguments:  In 2014, 43.000 immigrants were coming to Hungary, in 2015 in only six months there are already 57.000, more 60.000 to be expected by the end of the year. Too many people, too much pressure for Hungary. Also, as Bulgaria has a fence on their border to Turkey (and even planning to enlarge it) and Spanish enclaves in Morocco are surrounded by fences, it is internationally tolerated to protect your country by “building borders”. Even between a European Union member state, like Hungary, and a soon-to-be European Union member state, like Serbia.  Especially, as the border is not build to hinder “real” asylum seekers from coming, but rather economic refugees from entering and exploiting the member states, as Szijártó puts it. As we are talking about the Hungarian right-wing government which also wanted to bring back death penalty and systematically cuts back basic human rights, the announcement of putting up a fence doesn’t seem to be that bad, does it?

Well, let me tell you why it actually is that bad: Hungary is a gate to Europe, thousands of immigrants come here to be safe and hope for a better life. Most of them don’t even want to stay in Hungary, but rather use it to continue their travel to other countries in Europe. Also, the right for asylum seeking could be violated by putting up a barrier like this, claims Kitty McKinsey of the regional U.N. Refugee Agency. In addition, the official arguments for erecting a fence might be questionable, especially as the government led by Orban is well-known for its opposition to foreigners, latest since his newly launched campaign against immigrants.


Also Hungary wants to pass a law which allows the government to decide themselves which country is classified as a safe country of origin – as most of Hungary’s immigrants are from Serbia, Albania and Kosovo it’s quite obvious which countries they want to stop entering their beloved territory.

Why else the establishing of a fence in Hungary is such a big deal? Let’s jump back in time: More than 25 years ago, in the Summer of 1989, Hungary was the first country of the former Soviet Union to abolish the Iron Curtain and to open the borders between the East and the West. Hungary was the front-runner by setting an example for other former Soviet states and took one of the first steps that lead to the fall of the Iron Curtain and to a really united Europe.  And now Hungary, the country that was actively engaging against the hallmark of the Cold War in 1989, wants to close its border by erecting a fence, a reminder of the Iron Curtain and a time where a whole united Europe was not yet to be thought of. It’s a symbolic act. And instead of taking a step forward, it seems like the European Union takes steps backwards.


Illegal Immigration is the most severe problem of the European Union nowadays, and a lot of member states are either being left alone with the flood and responsibility of thousands of refugees and immigrants or get them send back, justified with the Dublin regulation, by other member states, thus they are “stuck” with the problem. The refugee crisis puts a threat to Schengen and to travelling without borders as we know it, at least that’s how de Mazierè, the German Interior Minister, puts it. And Hungary is by far not the first country questioning the non-existence of borders between the European Union member states. But with their action they put a massive sign, like they did with the abolishing of the Iron Curtain in 1989, but this time in an entirely different direction.

Building walls, or in this case a fence, is not what the European Union stands for. So, we have to question the stability and the concept of the EU and hope for the best. Or tell the European Commission and Parliament, the national governments and everyone else that is willing to listen that their actual plan of, well, let’s just say it, discussing various options without an actual outcome, is not working. There have to be plans and solutions now, so a right-wing government like the Hungarian one can’t use the weakness of the European Union against it to further its racism against foreigners and minorities.

Sina Laubenstein

Graduate of Democracy 2015, soon-to-be MA student of Global Politics and Societal Change at Malmö University

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