It’s funny, but not the least amusing.
While corruption is a tangible evil that rots our society, mocks our values and empties our coffers, our response to it is still agonizingly meek. But when thousands of people fleeing war and hopeless poverty land in Europe, Slovaks are suddenly resolute in rejecting them.
It’s an old human chestnut that the better you know someone, the harder it is to hate them. So it shouldn’t surprise us that the most ignorant vitriol against refugees is spouted by people who never laid eyes on one, and by the opportunistic prime minister they elected.
There is, unsurprisingly, a lot to be learned from the people now arriving in Hungary’s detention camps. First, the old distinction between ‘economic migrants’ who come to Europe simply for a better wage, and ‘genuine refugees’ whose lives are threatened by conflict, no longer applies. Many of the Syrians or Afghanis arriving in Hungary were wealthy enough to have paid people traffickers to get here, and left behind millions without the resources to make the journey. But relative wealth doesn’t protect you from barrel bombs, any more than it gives you a future in a country laid waste by war. It just means you can escape.
Second, the migrants I met in Györ, Budapest or Röszke were not arrogant or presumptuous; those who knew enough English to say “thank you”, did so when offered food or bedding. But like all people on the road for long periods, their suffering has turned them inwards and has concentrated their attention on the journey ahead. Even though they come from diverse backgrounds, their shared fate has given them the confidence to break police lines and march hundreds of kilometers in the cold and dark. It’s the resolution of people who have endured far more those now barring them from Europe, and which will simply not be broken by police batons, drowning at sea or suffocation in the backs of trucks. To stop them from coming, Europe must be willing to kill them.
Given that Europe is not willing to kill them, they are here to stay. Some whose claims are registered and then rejected may ultimately be repatriated. But not now, and not soon. In the meantime, they are being herded into camps that provide nothing – no welcome, no information, no sustenance, no shelter. They endure it, until they can abide it no longer. To visit those camps is to marvel at human endurance, and to despair at Europe’s indifference to their basic needs.
Europe’s traditions, which these refugees allegedly threaten, allude to a more chivalrous past. Which, while a comforting, collective thumb-suck, is nonsense. Our current generation is no less capable of generating heroes, and is arguably more in need of them now than ever.
9. Sep 2015 at 15:00 | Tom Nicholson