Eastern Europe and the Migrants

Source: Slate Magazine, September 15

…What accounts for this hostility in the countries that Donald Rumsfeld once called “new Europe”? For one thing, Eastern Europe (I’m using the term to distinguish these countries from places like Germany and Austria although “Central Europe” is generally preferred) has relatively little experience with large-scale immigration and until recently was generally considered a source of migrants rather than a destination.

In Western Europe, the “Polish plumber” was the symbol of anxiety over migration long before it was the Syrian asylum-seeker. Given questions about refugees’ motives, Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico has suggested, in the face of most available evidence to the contrary, that the vast majority of the refugees are actually economic immigrants – many people in these countries may be wondering why they’re being lectured about taking in migrants by countries that weren’t particularly welcome to them.

One populist political candidate has even suggested there’s a global conspiracy at work for “Poles to be scattered around the world” while “diverse nationalities” come to Poland. Because of the lack of previous immigration, these countries’ populations have remained relatively homogenous.

While in France and Germany, the Muslim population is 7.5 percent and 5.8 percent respectively – the result of waves of migration going back decades – it’s below 0.1 percent in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. (It’s a whopping 0.2 percent in Slovakia.) And as Poland’s prime minister has pointed out, the country is already coping with a large number of refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine….

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7 responses to “Eastern Europe and the Migrants

  1. Countries like Hungary and Poland may also be unwelcoming to Syrian migrants because the idea of resisting “the East” is embedded in their national psyches. Poland defined itself for centuries as the “antemurale Christianitatis” –the outer bulwark of Christianity against the pagan Tatars and the Muslim Turks (not to mention the heretical Russians), while Hungarians recall bitterly that an Islamic potentate controlled much of their country as recently as the 18th century. Do memories such as these make it harder for Poles and Hungarians than for Western Europeans to behave generously towards the current refugees?

  2. henrylotin@rogers.com

    In reply to Tim: After living in the region for four years seeking to understand them, I am prompted to provide a simple answer: Yes!

  3. Thank you Tim and Henry. I wondered what had caused these countries to be so extreme in their attitude to `others’ and wondered whether it was nature or nurture.
    I would suggest that while eastern european countries were in the van in resisting eastern invasion, they were also among the class leaders when it came to anti-semitism.
    Personally I think western europe jumped too soon in welcoming into their `club’ a group of members who don’t think or act in ways that western Europe has come to regard as the norm.
    It might have removed them from Russia’s influence, but it brought with it a host of other problems that the refugee crisis now is exposing.

  4. henrylotin@rogers.com

    Mike: This deserves a far lengthier reply. While not supporting or excusing racist policies or outbursts, current reactions are coloured in both countries by a millennium of history; At times a self ruled proud peoples, conquered people,and peoples whose nations were the field/doormat for wars of other empires and torn asunder. They joined the EU not just to become more affluent, but to ensure political, cultural, and linguistic independence from a foreign power (not just military and economic). Some feel the refugee surge is another invasion. Not sure the current jitters qualifies for consideration of expulsion, nor am I sure lumping Poland & Hungary’s responses fair either. No excuse for Hungary building a new Iron Curtain. Bet this may well force the EU to better collective, co-ordinated action.

    • henrylotin, thank you for your gentle admonition, but while I speak from a lack of scholarship I have yet to be shaken in my belief that the background of these countries makes them difficult bedfellows. In part my view stems from the very history of the different countries. Democracy did not spring fully formed from the breast, but grew slowly and painfully, in a two steps forward, one step back process over centuries. Eventually, however, it took on an almost religious like following so that people, rightly or wrongly, regarded it as the necessary and valuable component of their society.
      Its acceptance was patchy In those areas where it did not happen democracy is not an entrenched and inviolable part of the psyche.
      I would cite Russia as an example. Over the past 600 years, while western countries were struggling and slowly evolving into democratic societies, Russia had a succession of autocratic, despotic kings, queens, tsars and commissars. Given that history, a Russian’s understanding of the benefits of democracy (and the understanding of the people in the neighboring countries overwhelmed by Russia) might understandably be very different from that of a western european.
      This does not mean you shun these countries. It should mean that you take great care before making decisions based on a belief that they have the same ideals and ideas that you do.

  5. henrylotin@rogers.com

    Mike. Agree with you on history and that they make “difficult bedfellows”. However, EU Membership does not mean that they share all ideals and ideas. The EC and now EU based on previous combatants signing up to a Communitaire There were many differences in the original six (and still are). Shared vision of one Europe led to harmonization of other ideals and ideals over time. EU Membership for Poland, Hungary et al, was a major step toward harmonization. Unrealistic to expect it to be precondition

    • Do not have any problems with that sentiment. There are however, some things I would regard as non negotiable and I do have a problem when the tail tries to wag the dog.