Lesson for Europe in Face of Ukraine War: Case of Hungary and Western Double Standard

refugee-painting
Felix Nussbaum: The Refugee // Public domain

The parliamentary election in Hungary held on 3 April ended with the fourth consecutive victory of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party yet again. It has been well-known by now that Orban had significant advantage against the opposition. As an example, the election outcome is heavily affected by the government’s gerrymandering from the 2014 elections onward.

Moreover, free, independent media has slowly eroded in Hungary in the past couple of years, as Fidesz successfully took over the vast majority of media platforms, which has been effectively preventing the opposition to deliver their message and reach wider audience across the country. With only a few online independent news portals remaining, most of the elderly population in Hungary who are unfamiliar with the internet as well as those living outside the capital city, Budapest (especially those living in poverty) are the victims of the regime’s power abuse and propaganda.

However, in contrast to the openly racist and xenophobic anti-immigrant propaganda which has been a centerpiece of Fidesz’ platform ever since 2015, this time the public enemy was no longer immigrants, or the EU and George Soros who would bring millions of them into the country, but the opposition.

Around this time four years ago, the country was flooded by anti-immigrant billboards ahead of the elections, showing a mass of non-white men with a huge stop sign printed on the posters. The fact that the billboards obscured a white man and a woman in the original image already speaks for itself, not to mention that the Hungarian government was using the same racist posters unveiled by Nigel Farage (a former leader of the UK far-right Independence Party) shortly before the Brexit referendum.

For many years, the Hungarian government, together with other right-wing populist politicians in Europe, have been capitalizing on anti-immigrant sentiment. Most countries simply refused to take in non-white, non-Christian refugees who have been victims of brutal humanitarian conflicts, claiming there is no room for them.

In the Hungarian pro-government media discourse, the term ‘refugee’ basically disappeared and was replaced by ‘illegal migrants’ who would soon flood and take over the so-called ‘Christian Europe’.

Four years have passed since then, and now we are facing the biggest crises in Europe since World War II. The Ukrainian war which has already entered its second months has claimed at least 25 thousand casualties, including total of 1,563 civilian deaths (of them 130 children) as of April 5, 2022.

It has also resulted in over four million people fleeing from their country seeking refuge in neighboring countries, including Hungary, where they have been receiving a warm welcome.

The treatment of Ukrainian refugees thus appears to stand in stark contrast to that of Middle Eastern and African refugees, mostly Syrians who were, as well, the victims of war. This demonstrates that there has always been ‘room left’ for refugees, only not for non-white individuals and families.

It has also become crystal clear when the war in Europe broke out, that there is still that false, colonial thinking that war cannot happen in Europe, that war in the 21st century can only happen elsewhere, such as in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Africa.

During a live broadcast, Charlie D Agatha told CBS news “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan who has seen conflict rage for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully – city where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen”.

As a journalist from Guardian later put it, if this is how Agatha is ‘choosing his words carefully’, he shudders to even think about his less careful ones.

Western media have never been so active in following up on the events of wars in those parts of the world, yet our feed is full of coverages and live reports on the Ukraine war. War in the liberal, democratic, ‘civilized’ Europe has been seen as inconceivable, whilst it has been normalized in regions like the Middle East, Africa, or south Asia.

Additionally, whilst in the Hungarian political discourse the otherness of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from the Middle East or Africa used to be emphasized, western media highlighted how similar Ukrainians are to ‘us’ (whatever that means).

For instance, a former deputy prosecutor told the BBC that “it’s really emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blond hair being killed”.

Also, a journalist from the Telegraph wrote, “They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking. Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts, vote in free elections, and read uncensored newspapers. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations

Last here, but certainly not the last one on the list, a French TV a journalist commented, “We’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin. We’re talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives”.

Are Ukrainian refugees more deserving of protection and support than Middle Eastern refugees solely because they look like ‘us’? Because certainly, this seems to be the racist, white supremacist views expressed by these people. The double standard white people apply to victims of war when they are white or European in contrast to when they are non-white is exceedingly disturbing.

Firstly, war is war, it is not any less acceptable in Ukraine than in Syria, Afghanistan, or Africa. Secondly, when we talk about war being unique to Europe, let us go back and reflect on European history, from colonialism and slavery to World War I, World War II, not to mention that it was precisely white Europeans who were responsible for the biggest genocide in history, taking place in the ‘developed’, ‘civilized’ Europe.

Finally, it seems there is an urgent need for stating that no one is less or more deserving of sympathy, support, and protection because of their physical proximity, skin color, or any other reason. This is a lesson we must learn from, an opportunity to reflect on our past mistakes.

The twelve-year-long Syrian crisis has been the most severe humanitarian crisis of our time, yet the so-called “developed world” enormously failed to step up, and one could argue that they caused more harm than good. If we really want to be as developed, democratic and civilized as we think we are, we must prove it.


Continue exploring:

Orbán’s Victory Raises Concerns about State of Rule of Law in Hungary

European Agricultural Policy and Impact of War

Hanna Perenyi
Republikon Institute