Lessons from elsewhere.

I have had the privilege to live and work in one of the presently most vibrant and exciting cities in Europe, Budapest. It is not only now apparently “Party Central” for every Northern European waif and stray but it is also a place absolutely dripping in history, admittedly most of it melancholic.

Of course, like everywhere else there were aspects which I found difficult to cope with (more on that anon).

One of the indirect advantages of being there was that I could indulge my travel fetish for the obscure and “off-the-beaten track”. Ever since I left Belfast at the age of 18, I have wanted to visit places that you are unlikely to find in the typical travel brochure; places that even today where you are unlikely to access accommodation on Airbnb or Booking.com. For example, last year I was lucky enough to fly the 45 (!) minutes to Sarajevo, a place and people that have left a very real lasting impression on me.

Within the town itself the Muslim graveyard, Martyrs Memorial Kovaci was one of the saddest sights that I have seen on my travels- literally thousands of graves of those “lost” in the Siege ranging from the age of 2 to 90. It was a similar experience to visiting the war graves of the British soldiers in Normandy and elsewhere through Europe except the dates of death here were 1994 and 1995 not 1944 and 1945. In the four years 1992-1996, 5434 civilians (in addition 8000 *combatants* died) were, well, sacrificed on the altar of ethno-nationalism….imagine that;  in a modern European city less than 25 years ago, over 13,000 people died because collectively people suddenly realised the families  and communities they had been living beside for decades were not quite *like them* and therefore had to be  “eliminated”.

Ethno-nationalism in Central/Eastern Europe and the Balkans unfortunately didn’t die along with its thousands of victims in the embers of Sarajevo and Mostar; quite the reverse. In Austria, Slovenia, Serbia the ethno-nationalist far-right parties are prospering; in Hungary (Fidesz) and Poland (Law and Justice) they are actually now not only in government but attempting to gain control of all pillars of the state.

What does that mean in practice? In Hungary, the Prime-Minister, Viktor Orban has set himself up as the Defender of White Christian Europe. At the very basic level, he has declared war on “Muslim” “migrants” in general and those trying to access Western Europe specifically by building a huge fence along the Serbian border. Those unfortunate to find themselves in the transit zone are presently being denied food in an attempt to force them back across that border.

He has further declared his aversion to “mixed-race” relationships; Orban has also stated that “ethnic homogeneity” is vital for economic success, arguing that marriages between Hungarians and Slovaks, Serbs, or Romanians (there are large Magyar minorities in most of the neighbouring countries) are especially dangerous because they may reduce Hungarian influence in the Carpathian basin. Hungary itself, of course, contains large minorities which do not fit his description of what is a “true Hungarian”, principally the Jewish and Roma. There is an increasingly revisionist and “whitewashing” approach to Hungary’s pre-war anti-Semitic leadership (it was actually the first European country to introduce laws directly targeting the Jewish community). Prior to this year’s election, both Orban and his ally Janos Lazar directly criticised the country’s Roma population: “We have been living with them for 600 years and still not been able to integrate them”. In other words, 600 years here and still not *really* Hungarian.

Is this ethno-nationalist approach to Hungarian national identity popular? Yes, undoubtedly. He romped home in his third consecutive election victory last April. Is it beneficial for the long term wellbeing of Hungary and its people? I would argue “no”.

I will ignore the moral argument as I believe it is overwhelmingly self-apparent.

Hungary, like almost all of Europe, is in the middle of a demographic crisis. In addition an enormous proportion of the 20-40 age group are presently working in Western Europe. The hospitals, in particular are in a crisis situation. Employing only those who tick all the *Magyar* ethno-nationalist boxes is not going to solve it.

Secondly, creating a “loyalty” to a state from the largest possible “customer-base” surely makes sound economic sense? If a Jewish or Roma entrepreneur thinks he has a stake in his country’s success what kind of effect is that going to have? Conversely, if he believes the White Christian Guardians of the State hate him and his kind is that going to have any kind of impact on his dealings with that state?

Finally, Hungary is part of the global economy. It is also a part of the Schengen Zone. That means German factories producing cars in Gyor and Esztergom. It means entrepreneurs of all stripes trying their luck crossing on the non-existent borders in order to boost indirectly the host economy. Start introducing restrictions regarding which “types” of people are entitled to enjoy the benefits of that globalised economy then you will hit directly and dramatically the economy of the country.

So, in short, a “Hungary for the Hungarians” means financial loss, practical difficulties in the areas of pensions, healthcare and education and a further declining population.

This essay begins “My Union….”, how does the situation in Hungary and wider central Europe tie in with the promotion of the concept of the a *United* Kingdom.

Firstly, the benefits (as they are available for every citizen of the United Kingdom) of the Union need much more promotion. Are Northern Ireland, Wales and even the north of England in a stronger or weaker position economically because they belong to a larger whole? There is no rational economic debate to be had on that question- of course, you can argue legitimately that there is an emotional argument for leaving but those that do so, should be honest enough to admit that “standing alone” will mean standing alone in a much poorer state.

How would an “independent” Scotland fare economically after separating? Would multi-nationals be more likely to move there? What about the agricultural sector? Could a relatively generous welfare state be continued to be provided post-separation?  Would the European Union be happy to “readmit” Scotland? Maybe, but it is by no means certain and such a membership is not the panacea which many Scottish nationalists argue it is. The key is that these benefits of remaining would be available to all, regardless of ethnicity, creed, class or even of how British you feel and Unionists should inclusively promote our Union as such.

I believe that the lessons of history, certainly over the last 150 years or so, is that restricting or excluding people from feeling part of the nation where they were born or presently reside is always counterproductive. Certainly, it may deliver (extremely) short-term benefits for those espousing extremist political philosophies but no nation has ever prospered over a longer term with this kind of racist or sectarian strategy.


Paul Watterson blogged as UnionistLite, worked for many years in Eastern Europe and has recently moved to Malaysia.