Ottomans with Christian slaves depicted in a 1608 engraving published in Salomon Schweigger's account of a 1578 journey. via Wikimedia Commons
Hungary is not the most popular country in the corridors of power in Brussels. Its Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, is a staunch opponent of immigration from the Middle East and Africa. He claims that Europe should be “safe, fair, civic, Christian and free” and reclaim its former grandeur.
Like President Trump, Orban advocates building walls to keep migrants out of Hungary. Unlike President Trump, he has already built one along his country’s border with Croatia and Serbia. And like President Trump, he has asked the European Union to pay half the cost. Orban has also refused to take in any asylum seekers and has rejected mandatory quotas.
Unsurprisingly, Hungary is being bitterly criticised for failing to show solidarity with other EU member states.
“Solidarity is a two-way street and all member states should be ready to contribute. This is not some sort of a la carte menu where you pick one dish, for example border management, while refusing another dish, like compliance with relocation decisions,” EU spokesman Alexander Winterstein said earlier this year. The EU is actually seeking to discipline Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic for breaking ranks on the issue of migration.
Admittedly, when viewed through the prism of Western media, Hungary’s stubbornness sounds harsh. But before passing judgement, it’s important to take into account the historical experience of Hungary. The narratives of colonisation migration are read very differently in Eastern and Western Europe.
Westerners have been brought up to feel guilty about their great empires when they ruled the Middle East, Africa, Asia, North and South America and Australia. They even are taught to feel guilty about the Crusades, which were a very belated counter-attack against the encroaching civilisation from the Arabian Peninsula.
Eastern Europeans not only did not rule anyone, they were colonised by Muslim empires. First by the Seljuks, then by the Ottoman Empire and the Crimean Tatars, all of whom were Muslims and all of whom were brutal. And that has not been forgotten. And there was something else.
Let us do a thought experiment. I will write a word. You, Dear Reader, say what comes to your mind first.
Now, what did you think of? Did your (Western) mind conjure up images of Black people chained together, being put on a stinking ship and taken to the Americas? Probably.
But I’ll bet you didn’t see in your mind’s eye the millions of Central and Eastern Europeans who were forced to walk from Vienna, Zagreb, Pressburg, Buda, Belgrade, Iasi, Sofia, Lvov, Odessa and Athens to slave markets in Kiev, the Crimea or Istanbul. It’s just not a reality to Western people. But it is to those who live east of Vienna. It’s the reason the Balkan nations are so small.
People remember the jizya, or “head tax”, which if not paid, resulted in beheading. People in the Eastern part of Europe remember the kharadj tax, a land tax, labour taxes, taxes on travelling, salt, marriage, basically everything. There was the “child tax” or devshirme, which took Christian children to train them as warriors to fight against their own people. The list goes on.
The memory of this cruel system is found in everyday language. I have been assured by Serbs, Croatians and Greeks that their languages reflect this, but I do not speak these languages. However, after only 150 years of Ottoman occupation (500 years in some other cases!) one of the former colonised languages, Hungarian, which I do speak, still reflects the occupation in its vocabulary. Some examples of the impact of Islamic imperialism on the Hungarian language include:
“Basáskodik”: ”He’s abusing his power” (from ”Basha/Pasha); ”harácsol”: ”he’s fleecing them/us” (from kharaj, a tax); ”pribék”: ”executioner, torturer” (Slavic origin). The last originally referred to people who ”went over to the enemy” (Muslim Turkish Empire) and were therefore seen as the lowest of the low. ”
There are also expressions that bring to mind the Ottoman oppression, some of which are:
”Több is veszett Mohácsnál”: ”It’s no use crying over spilt milk”. Literally: ”More (than whatever the problem is) was lost at Mohács”, a decisive battle in 1526, when Hungary lost its independence, much of its population, its art, science and ended up as a poverty-stricken backwater by 1700.
Can you name the first country to introduce the Rennaissance north of the Alps? No? It was Hungary. Don’t worry, that too was lost at Mohács!
”Még csak most Jön a fekete leves”: ”The worst is still to come”. (Literally, ”The black soup is still to come!”) In 1540, Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent invited the Hungarian nobles to a feast, and informed them that the coffee (black soup) was still to come. In violation of the truce, he arrested them and deported them to Istanbul and elsewhere.
And the expression that refers to the worst practice of Ottoman Islam: If one is discussing how well s/he speaks a language, if they understand a bit, but don’t speak it well, they might say: ”De azért nem tudnak eladni”: ”They can’t sell me as a slave.” (Literally: ”But they can’t sell me.”
Of course, to many Hungarians today these are matters of the past, but once pointed out, they “get it” far quicker than Westerners do.
A Soviet tank attempts to clear a road barricade in Budapest, during the Hungarian Revolution of October 1956. By CIA – via Wikipedia
And having experienced both Islam and Communism, they know what it means to be persecuted just because they are Christians. Hungary has even created a department for persecuted Christians.
Then there is also the legacy of Nazism and Communism. Many countries in Central Europe were occupied by the Nazis for years, some only for months. All were occupied by Communists as well. The two systems are basically the same. Both tell you lies. And you have to repeat the lies, and the whole society goes around (publicly) repeating the lies, but privately denying them, often by the use of humour.
Echoes of totalitarianism (which is all-encompassing compared with mere authoritarianism) are now widespread in the West. One term, which comes straight from the founder of Communism, Vladimir Illich Ulyanov, code-named “Lenin”, is “political correctness”.
The West has fallen for PC language, because it was touted as a form of kindness. People were to use PC language to respect Blacks, for instance. And women. And gays, and LGBTQ folks. And so on. (Although why plain Christian charity couldn’t cover it, I don’t know!) In the former Eastern Bloc, anything called by the Leninist term is looked at with suspicion. And rightly so. Another reason countries in the Eastern part of the EU are not in a rush to welcome endless numbers of migrants is that it is PC to do so. In Communist times, it used to be PC to say: “NATO is the biggest threat to world peace!” So much for its credibility!
A key point that is often missed by critics is this: The former Warsaw Pact nations hoped to join the European Union. They did not, while looking over the Iron Curtain, so to speak, yearn to join the African Union or ASEAN. They did hope to one day be part of a successful, modern European Union.
To summarise: People in the eastern half of Europe have never had vast maritime empires, hence no “white guilt”. They have had a history of Islamic rule, so are not in a hurry to repeat the experience. They have had more recent experience of war on their territory than the West, because of anti-Communist uprisings, some of which devastated entire cities, so they are not in a hurry to import potential terrorists. A simple comparison of terrorist incidents in 2017 in Britain (5) and France (8) compared to Hungary and Poland (both 0) makes it clear. And, unlike the West, they have decades of resisting Nazi and Communist tyranny. As a result, they are more prepared to stand up and be counted and more prepared to do what they see is the best for their countries.
So it seems that after all, Hungary and its neighbours, so often lambasted by the West, may have had it right all along, and doing what they can do safeguard Western values and recognising that “The West” and “Christianity” are inseparable, is a workable path. The EU’s anti-Christian leaders are in the wrong and the sooner Western Europeans catch on, the better for Europe as a whole.
Christopher Szabo is a freelance journalist based in Pretoria, South Africa.