Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban ventured into dangerous terrain recently when he made the racially-charged argument that Europeans should not become “peoples of mixed race.”
Speaking to members of Romania’s Hungarian minority in Transylvania, he lambasted the “flood” of non-European migrants being “forced” on Hungary and assured his listeners he sought to prevent it from becoming a “mixed race” country.
Given his illiberal views on immigration, refugees and multiculturalism, Orban’s incendiary comments were not all that surprising.
In 2015, when about one million Muslim refugees poured into Germany, he said that Muslims threaten Europe’s Christian identity. Two years later, he ordered the construction of a border fence to keep out Muslim migrants.
Orban, of course, raised no objections when torrents of Ukrainian Christians streamed into Hungary after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24. In fact, he welcomed them.
Countries have a right to defend their borders and select the type of immigrants they need or desire. This is not unusual or wrong. But a red line is crossed when the leader of a nation openly acknowledges that his immigration/refugee policy is strictly determined by racial and religious considerations.
During the 1930s and 1940s, European Jewish refugees fleeing fascist tyranny were often the victims of such callous policies. When applying for entry visas to other countries, they were often rejected. Stranded in Europe, they perished in the Holocaust.
In his own fashion, Orban turned the clock back when he railed against the concepts of fair immigration and multiculturalism, a litmus test of tolerance. From this perspective, Hungary has an incredibly poor record.
Lest it be forgotten, Hungary was the first country in Europe after World War I to impose an official cap on Jewish student enrollment at universities. In the late 1930s, Hungary enacted antisemitic laws restricting the rights of its Jewish citizens. And during the German occupation of Hungary from 1944 to 1945, Hungarian fascist regimes willingly cooperated with the Nazis in the deportation of several hundred thousand Jews to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Poland.
To no one’s surprise, Orban’s unsettling speech has created a backlash. One of his advisors, a Jewish woman named Zsuzsa Hegedüs whose parents were Holocaust survivors, resigned. She said it contradicted her “basic values” and compared it to “a pure Nazi text worthy of (Joseph) Goebbels,” the propaganda minister in Adolf Hitler’s nationalist socialist regime.
Deborah Lipstadt, the US State Department’s monitor on antisemitism, condemned it as well. In a tweet, she wrote, “Deeply alarmed by the Hungarian prime minister’s use of rhetoric that clearly evokes Nazi racial ideology.”
Robert Frölich, the chief rabbi of Hungary, characterized Orban’s comments as “a violation of human dignity and morals.”
In response to the uproar, Orban said his government “follows a zero-tolerance policy on both antisemitism and racism.” On July 28, he defended his remarks yet again, claiming they represent a “cultural standpoint.” He added, “It happens sometimes that I speak in a way that can be misunderstood.”
Orban has not been “misunderstood.” The philosophy he enunciated in Romania reeks of racism and resurrects the ghosts of Nazi Germany. Surely Hungary does not want to be associated with such ghastly memories.