Since Gergely Gulyás, Viktor Orbán’s new chief-of-staff, has taken over, the so-called “government info” press conferences introduced by his predecessor János Lázár are held only every second Thursday. On the last such occasion, on October 25, Gulyás announced that, according to “the information of the Hungarian and European intelligence services, approximately 70,000 refugees are heading toward Hungary along the old Balkan route, and therefore the Hungarian government has offered assistance” to Croatia and has decided to reinforce the Croatian-Hungarian border.
Prior to that day, I found only one short news item in Magyar Idők which reported that rumors were circulating among refugees stuck in Bosnia-Hercegovina that Zagreb would allow them to cross into Croatia, and from there they could proceed to Western Europe. About 100 refugees spent the night at the Bosnian-Croatian border in the hope of entry, but the Croatian ministry of interior denied the story. The paper gave official figures on the refugee situation in Bosnia. Since the beginning of the year 20,000 migrants have arrived in the country, but 13,000 were turned away. At the moment only 4,000-5,000 refugees can be found in Bosnia, some of whom are clustered in Bihać, close to the Croatian-Bosnian border. Those who manage to get into Croatia unnoticed usually go to Slovenia and from there to Trieste, Italy.
I looked high and low on the internet to find the 70,000 refugees heading toward Hungary but was unsuccessful. In fact, according to the UN Refugee Agency, only 26,548 refugees arrived in Greece in 2018. So, I suspect that Gergely Gulyás’s story of 70,000 migrants was another instance of purposeful disinformation intended to mislead Hungarians fearful of migrants. Strengthening the Croatian-Hungarian border can serve only one purpose: to keep the fear of migrants alive among the population. I’m almost certain that the overwhelming majority of Hungarians don’t have any idea where Bihać is and that they would be surprised to hear that it is 6.5 hours away by car from #Röszke.
The story of those migrants who managed to get through from Bihać to Italy, France, or Germany is vividly told by Davide Lemmi in his article “From Bosnia to Trieste, migrants’ journey across the new Balkan route” in Lifegate. The journey’s most difficult leg is the migrants’ stay in Croatia, where they are cautioned to remain in wooded areas near the Slovene border, which is far from the Hungarian-Croatian border Hungary is now reinforcing because of the alleged new migrant onslaught threatening the country.
Of course, this new “danger” requires more money for border defense. On the very same day that Gulyás announced the new danger coming from Croatia, the government approved another 24 billion forints “for the handling of the extraordinary migratory pressure” that had presented itself. Although since the fence was erected in September 2015 Hungary hasn’t had any “migratory pressure” to speak of, just in 2017 the Hungarian government spent 155.1 billion forints on border defense. Given the opacity in which the Orbán government operates, we don’t really know where these large sums of money have been and will be going.
Every time the government announces some new real or fake news, the regime’s faithful “national security experts” also show up. Georg Spöttle, a man of dubious past and dubious expertise, is always ready to claim that Hungary is in danger. Since there was a small clash between the refugees and the Croatian police 500 km away near Bihać, Spöttle predicted that “the scene will soon be repeated” along the Hungarian border. Therefore, more policemen and soldiers should be stationed there. In addition, the “weak spots” of the border fence should be reinforced with stronger fencing. It is possible that the source of Gergely Gulyás’s 70,000 migrants who are heading toward Hungary is Georg Spöttle, who told Hír TV that “at this very moment the number of migrants who are stuck in one of the Balkan countries is 60-70,000.” Where this figure comes from no one knows.
The story of the clash in which some women and children were injured was widely covered in the government media. It is typical of the low level of government journalism that one of the journalists from Magyar Hírlap mixed up the name of the alleged Iranian instigator with the name of a Bosnian town, Velika Kladuša, where a fair number of refugees can be found, something that would be really ridiculous if it weren’t so sad. Figyelő, Mária Schmidt’s daily paper, tried to make “an organized operation” out of the clash between Croatian police and about 150 refugees. Who is behind it? According to the head of the Croatian border police, the culprits are the “Serbian and Bosnian migration centers.” The article calls attention to guide books prepared for the migrants by the Soros organizations in 2015. By making a reference to the Soros organizations’ activities three years ago, the article strongly suggests that these people are still working to help the refugees stranded in Bosnia get across the border to Croatia.
While I was gathering material pertinent to this post, I couldn’t help comparing the story about the alleged 70,000 migrants heading toward Hungary to the frenzy Donald Trump has whipped up about the Honduran caravan. The caravan is still 1,500 miles from the United States border, and the refugees have an arduous journey ahead of them on foot. Yet the caravan is being described by the president as an imminent “assault on our country.” He keeps talking about criminals, gangsters, Middle Eastern terrorists in the crowd without any proof. He has hinted that the entire spectacle was funded by the Democrats, and he vows to send troops to the border while his supporters cheer. A Republican congressman insinuated that George Soros is financing the exodus. The story gets bigger and bigger with every passing moment in order to create fear and hatred–and, of course, to garner votes ahead of the mid-term elections. As we have seen in the last two days, verbal incitement can easily be translated into action, especially if it is the president who is inflaming passions. Right-wing populists like Donald Trump and Viktor Orbán are playing with fire when they unleash hatred and mislead their followers, creating an alternate reality.