OPINION | Refugees and the Image of Europe by Imre Bártfai
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OPINION | Refugees and the Image of Europe by Imre Bártfai

By Imre Bártfai

You want to wake up. To free yourself of the image of Europa. But it is not possible" 
Lars von Trier, 'Europa'

Since Italy’s Mare Nostrum program has been replaced with the EU’s less expensive Triton, less sea space has been covered by fleets which monitor immigrant ships. As a result much more people drown and we are helplessly watching it. Also it is shameful that greedy hands deal with the hope of a better future: refugees pay typically something between 200$ and 1000$ only to risk death in sea-wrecks. [1]

I think it is understandable that we European fear for our own way of living. But already this observation is dubious, because me being an Eastern European I belong to typically that group in Europe who itself is the subject of fear. People in Western Europe fear us a bit less than the peoples from ’alien’ cultures, but the popular feeling that we take their jobs is prevalent, even if not universally at the same rate in every Western country. Because European populace is aging, and the economy needs workforce[2], in many Western countries immigration is a necessity, against all odds. This does not hinder politicians in using the most ancient tradition of politics: fear mongering.[3]

Border countries like Italy or Hungary fear that the masses of refugees will live on their expense, while other EU counties look over their shoulders, the extremists of Greece incite people against foreigners, the German Pegida-movement express fear from the Islamization of Germany, the Dutch Geert Wilders and others do the same.Lastly, Nigel Farage visited a factory in Essex, England where he met an immigrant worker who was unable to reply to him in English.[4] With the numerous Polish and Eastern-European immigrants being present in Great Britain, as well as the others, such occasions always create tenseful debates. (Mr. Farage handled the situation with dignity though, as he did not use it for his political agenda.) 

We are afraid. Afraid of people taking what little we have (or what much we have) endangering our way of living, our culture, our safety. Seymour Martin Lipset determined one cause for the spreading of a special kind of right-extremism, the McCarthysm of the 50’s, in the middle class fear of losing status, after having won it, in the New Deal-period and in the after war economic boost.[5] The (once) worker masses of Western-Europe acquired their welfare states and their citizen-lifestyle after the Second World War. As the globalizing capitalist expansion frequently outsources jobs to the East, or business owners try to hire the cheapest available workforce, common people are afraid that foreigners will take their places. Many people fear the loss of identity too: their ancestors lived mostly in villages, in more or less homogenized cultures, and now they must face a bunch of foreign influences, like customs, religions, and even skin tones. Sometimes a provocative form of political correctness and political agendas hurt people’s sentiment too, as in the case of a British town, where a local politician demanded the removal of the English flag, because it “reminds Muslim people to the Crusades”, even though representatives of the local Muslim community contradicted this idea.[6]. "In actual fact we are normal people" - said Rizwan Ahmed, preventing more fear from immigrants, who seek to destroy and take over local culture. Immigrants are not the Borgs of Star Trek, and people can and will defend their culture.

Many of these fears are as real as the American terror at the sight of a seemingly unstoppable Japanese economic expansion. The Japanese neither rule the US, nor the Europe. Side effects of Globalization is a serious problem though: we must maintain our economies and our social-welfare standards. Competition is of the highest necessity, but when it creates greater inequality and political turmoil, it is undesirable in its current form. The answer must lay in the idea of industrial democracy, the furthering of communication between business and social interests beyond borders. 

I, think the following major causes should be put into the focus of global attention regarding immigration:

  • Crisis centers like civil war-torn countries, economically or democratically failed states
  • Demographic booms which upset political and economical stability
  • Sudden shifts in cultural or political balance which may cause series of crisis in later stage. 

In the future, Europe should not forget that in our globalized world there is no more ‘outer space’, almost everything in the world can influence our daily life like "Butterfly Effect". Terrorism knows no bound; civil wars create refugees with an undeniable political instability. However, our actions are both less and more when we western people usually find a way on the subjects of our desire based on profit, power or sometimes even our favorite ideas.

We can only protect our life standards, principles, freedom and dignity if we act in a responsible manner. We are proud of our spiritual achievements in liberty: the very word of ‘humanitas’ has been created in the Roman times, the ancestor of modern democracy has been conceived in the ancient Athens, and the religious developments in Middle Ages contributed to the separation of church and state. Either we elevate ourselves along with others to our traditions and ideals or forget the very image of Europe.

If the international community finds no common ground in stabilizing the crisis areas, like most of the Africa, and if there actions cannot follow their will, we are doomed for sure and for eternity. Then only increasingly authoritarian, mean-spirited measures will be able to hinder masses of economic and political refugees to besiege ‘Fortress Europe’. Such measures naturally requires a kind government institutions made up of those kind of people who are suitable for such work, i.e., anti-democratic works. Our fortress will defend us at the cost of our freedom and humanity.

We can’t close our eyes and our borders when we are approached by a dangerous world. We can’t stand helplessly as people, like we, are trying to grasp some oxygen, in agony, before they would sink down under in the wrathful seas, with the image of Europe, land of promise and freedom, before their darkening eyes.


[1] http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2015/04/economist-explains-20?fsrc=scn/fb/wl/tr/st/migrationacrossmediterraneanexplains
[2]According to a study conducted by The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, migrants from so-called A8 countries (the eight countries that joined the EU in 2004) made a positive contribution to the country’s public finances in each fiscal year since their EU accession”http://www.economist.com/blogs/easternapproaches/2013/01/eu-and-immigration
[3] Recently, the Hungarian governement launched a ’national consultation’ which asks from the people whether they would agree to force refugees to work for their sustenance, or whether they would instantly deport illegal immigrants. Many such, if less official actions of fearmongering exist.( http://hu.budapestbeacon.com/kiemelt-cikkek/milyen-kenyszermunkara-akarja-kenyszeriteni-a-megeroszakolt-afgan-kisgyereket-visszakerdez-a-helsinki-bizottsag-a-kormanytol/)
[4] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/nigel-farage/11532814/Nigel-Farages-awkward-meeting-with-immigrant-who-doesnt-speak-much-English.html
[5] Seymour M. Lipset-Earl Raab: The Politics of Unreason, Harper Torchbook, New York, 1973, pp. 209-248.
[6] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2324999/Rural-council-stops-flying-flag-St-George-claiming-offensive-Muslims-links-Crusades.html