Game of Borders

The summer camp at Tusnad resort has become, for many years, Viktor Orban’s ‘Romanian’ tribune. His challenging declarations, launched in the middle of each summer in the Szekler region, are already part of a political strategy on the verge of banality. The Romanian media immediately quotes them and treats them almost as war declarations, while, outside the border, they are promoted as praiseworthy gestures of political courage. Sometimes, Romanian authorities do not miss the opportunity to protest, so that they would not be accused of excessive passiveness. But, on both sides, there is nothing more than words. Instead, the thing that should have stirred our interest in Viktor Orban’s speech, this year, was something completely different. Something that has more to do with borders than with an obsolete revisionist rhetoric. In the middle of building an anti-immigration wall at the border with Serbia, the Hungarian Prime Minister once again justified his options.

Hungarians are the first to have benefited of a relaxation of borders, once they integrated in the EU. It is not just that Romania-based Hungarians can travel to Hungary really easily but it is also very easy for them to move there – which, let us not forget, has caused demographic issues in Transylvania, as the percentage of Hungarians is in permanent decrease. The facts that contributed decisively to this situations were also the facilities granted by Viktor Orban’s previous terms as Prime Minister to Hungarian ethnics living outside Hungary’s borders. Moreover, plenty of Hungarians, just like other nationalities of European states previously crushed by Communist regimes have migrated, on their turn, to the West.

At the same time, Hungary itself has become the target of migration from Asia. All of these migration-related phenomena concern, one way or the other, the European Union in its entirety. Some of the state are confronted with more serious issues than others, as European laws force states to assume asylum requests depending on the route of access available to immigrants and border states are unavoidably more exposed.

It is the case, quite dramatic actually, of Italy, which is the most accessible by sea from Africa. But an even bigger flow comes from Asia, through the Balkans and Hungary is indeed in the front line. There is massive hypocrisy at the level of the EU regarding immigrants, as many states are trying to avoid the responsibility of solidarity with most exposed partners. There are plenty of European politicians that suggest tough measures destined to restrict and combat illegal immigration; yet, relatively few of them are actually in a position of power. Among the exceptions, there is Viktor Orban.

The issue is actually a deeper one. Caught in the game of its own humanistic rhetoric, Europe does not really know how to react when faced with a massive wave of immigrants. Yet, as it was seen in the case of Hungary, the issue is not migration by itself, but ethnicity and implicit impact on cultural identity. It is beyond any doubt that many right-wing movements have preserved, although in an alleviated or merely masked form, a xenophobic and even racist propaganda.

In the context of massive immigration from outside Europe, these attitudes were provided new momentum. Many Europeans are not just afraid of the concrete issues of a huge number of foreigners that somehow need to be integrated, but they are also worried about the evolution of the European civilisation. No matter how much they believe in its superiority, they actually worry about its capacity to assimilate this mosaic of Asian and African ethnics. If there are states founded through an official politics of immigration – and the USA is the most successful of them – European states are faced with a new form of challenge. They have partially counted on a controlled level of immigration, according with their postwar economical boom, but, at the time being, the situation is different. Unable, at the time being, to deal with the project of a future identity, the EU do not benefit of criteria they could use in order to try and channel the massive immigration. And, unavoidably, to make a selections. Now, there are no generally accepted criteria to decide, in the limit of possibility, whom to accept and whom to refuse.

Viktor Orban brought up the classical arguments against immigration: unemployment, criminality, terrorism. These issues, with fluctuating evolutions, cannot be denied. But such rhetoric combines these social matters with issues connected to cultural identities. Let us think of an example. In Sicily, in the context of the probably imminent elections for a new President of the region, one of the most circulated names was that of a right-wing candidate. It was just that the respective candidate, an Italian ethnic, got converted to Islam, and started discussing the Arab past of the island. Thus, controversy was stirred by the perspective that the island would be led by a Muslim who belonged to the right wing that was, usually, against Muslims.

A few days ago, Western media ran news coverage of an “official” transport of refugees transiting Hungary. I was an armour plated rail car, that reminded some people of the tragic racism of past periods. In Italy, the inhabitants of various localities tried to prevent the accommodation of these immigrants in their city, even by use of violence. We cannot ignore therefore that there is civil and political opposition against the present solutions regarding these massive waves of immigrants. Yet, are there better solutions that could be possible? Globalisation made borders relative, but, besides benefits / that are not experienced by anyone; plenty of people are harmed, too – specific imbalances have appeared, as well. Some people, such as Viktor Orban, are taking advantage of this situation to relaunch their conservative politics that already shows signs of exhaustion otherwise. But the political and cultural idealization of the immigrant is not a responsible political path either. And “human rights” are not an acceptable criterion for the future of the EU. Europe does not lack values – it has accumulated too many of them, actually, but it has to make a choice in order to be efficient. The lack of borders is not just geographic matter, it is a cultural and moral one.


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