Where there’s a will there’s a wall. It’s recently been reported that Hungary has been building a 175km fence across its southern border to keep out asylum seekers, notably from Syria and Afghanistan. The amount of people claiming asylum this year has already overtaken the 43,000 figure from 2014 and is miles ahead of 2,150 from 2012. Hungary is one of the gateways into Europe from Asia Minor, along with Greece and the Balkans, so it makes sense that the influx has come to their borders first.
Leaving aside the highly divisive argument between those who want open borders and humanitarianism versus the “national protectionists”, what is more interesting is the development on how this fence is being constructed. It is reported that around 500 people on jobseeker’s allowance are being forced to help build this structure, at risk of losing their benefits. Whilst Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, and his Fidesz party are not exactly known for being the most liberal bunch, this development casts a dark cloud back to the statism that the former communist satellite had to endure during the reign of the Soviet Union.
Collectivist rhetoric is tricksy, and the “State represents the public good and the will of the people” argument has been used to justify a vast amount of atrocities through history. Perhaps the old ways of European collectivism are alive and well in Hungary after all, and they’re trying to rebuild their own Berlin Wall out of some weird sense of nostalgia. I’m not saying that Hungary is the new Fascist Italy, but it is certainly a worrying direction to be going in when you have the State deciding that the people are its plaything for the latest fancy project. Civilised, western states recognise that welfare is there for the most vulnerable and is, at least in theory, designed to ensure that people do not fall into poverty and can regain back their freedom to pursue the good life.
I’m sure you could come up with an argument along the lines of “This project is necessary to ensure Hungarian interests, and therefore the State is acting in alignment with its people”, but this seems a step far removed from the common defence. It effectively amounts to conscription and blackmail, where the individual and their goals are supplanted by those of the state. It is not an institutional arrangement based on a (anarchists look away now) generalised acceptance like the Police force or the army, but rather an arbitrary interference based on a whim.
It says a lot that the Hungarian State feels like it has a pen of cheap labour whom it is supposed to be protecting, and can use them to lead from the front. The welfare system is supposed to be designed to aid the individual and their goals, not to have them eating out of the state’s hand as it quietly strokes them and whispers sweet nothings into their ear.
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