Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a crowd in Budapest on Tuesday that “ethnic homogeneity” is key for economic success, and that “too much mixing causes problems.” The remarks were part of Orban’s speech at the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, where he promoted the nation’s economic growth and reiterated the government’s opposition to immigration. Although Orban makes frequent use of ethnonationalist and anti-immigrant rhetoric, Wednesday’s remarks are some of the most extreme from the prime minister. In the past, he has called migration a “poison” for Hungary and talked about the need to “keep Europe Christian” amid the region’s refugee crisis. In mid-February, Hungary began construction of a second barbed wire border fence to deter migrants along its southern border with Serbia, adding to the controversial barrier it put up in 2015.
If you believe the tendency towards aggressive ethnocentrism is something exclusive to America, you’re sadly mistaken. In fact, what this country is experiencing is a relatively low-grade version of what’s happening in other parts of the world. We’d do well to heed the lessons to be learned from what’s happening elsewhere. Then again, we’re Americans; we don’t draw lessons from the experience of other nations. We forge ahead and make our own mistakes.
Take Hungary, for instance. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has made the case that “ethnic homogeneity” is the key to Hungary’s economic success. The historical irony of his words shouldn’t be lost on anyone; Hungary was a member of the Axis during WWII until almost the bitter end, only declaring war on Nazi Germany on December 31, 1944. Until then, the Hungarian government took a virulently nationalist tone, even attempting to annex ethnic Hungarian enclaves in neighboring countries.
There’s always been a very strident, ethnically nationalistic undercurrent to Hungarian politics, as is true in much of Eastern Europe. Neighboring Serbia’s “only where there are only Serbs will Serbs be safe” (Samo sloga Srbina spasava– literally, “Only unity saves the Serbs”) philosophy fed the break-up of Yugoslavia and the resulting wars.
I’ll spare my reader the history lesson; I realize it may be of interest only to myself. What I will say is that Hungary should serve as a cautionary tale…and not just because it’s hardly the only country in Europe with a strong strain of ethnonationalism in play. Norway, Sweden, Germany, Serbia…I could go one, but you get the point, right?
Whether we care to admit it or not, America isn’t immune to the viral nature of ethnic hatred. It’s spread throughout humanity since Man discovered he could walk upright without dragging his knuckles. What should be of concern to good and decent Americans is that we now have a President who preaches “America First” while clearly unaware of the historical baggage that phrase represents.
From where I sit, the question seems clear. Are we going to allow hatred and divisiveness to poison America? We don’t have to, but we need to have the strength to stand up to a tyrant. President Trump believes “divide and conquer” is his path to power. It got him elected, and he’s unlikely to veer from a strategy which has been successful. That he feels far more comfortable with the trappings of fascism than the messy contentiousness of democracy should scare us. Then again, Donald Trump is President because America is a country where 19.5% constitutes a majority.
Nice work, America.