The Hungarian government has scheduled a referendum for October on the following question: ‘Do you want the European Union to have the authority to mandate the relocation of non-Hungarian citizens to Hungary?’
Unsurprisingly, many Western observers are content to see this referendum as yet more proof of prime minister Viktor Orbán’s xenophobia, and the Hungarian people’s inability to be civilised members of the ‘European family’. It’s an easy position to take, but it’s underwritten by arguably the last acceptable form of racism among the liberal-left: the denigration of Eastern Europeans. Indeed, it is this all-too-palpable anti-eastern sentiment on the part of the EU’s leaders that drives many Hungarians to support Orbán.
Still, the referendum addresses a question of crucial importance: where does the sovereignty of the Hungarian nation end and that of the EU begin?…
…There are many aspects of national life that the EU does not believe are in its jurisdiction. So if it does not think it should set the level of unemployment benefit for Hungarian citizens, then why should it be able to decide who can claim that benefit by relocating people within Hungary?
Despite the urgency of the question of borders, it is something we seldom talk about on the so-called left. Yet border controls, if constructed humanely, are not contrary to the rights of refugees. They guarantee people’s safety and their entitlement to the support of the welfare state. The Hungarian government may have built a fence in a matter of weeks, and it may now be calling a referendum on the issue of Hungarian sovereignty, but its interest in borders is opportunistic. It spent years cutting border-control costs, and has little real interest in human rights or good governance.
Borders are moral. They are the basis of the welfare state and representative democracy. Denying some people entry should not be based on security grounds; it should be based on the democratic will of the people, and their right to make decisions about how many people the nation allows entry to. In order to counter the poisonous idea that every person born outside Europe is a potential terrorist, we need to be able to face up to a truth: the human right for a person to live wherever they wish is non-existent.