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Two years after Abbott stopped the boats, Hungary faced a similar crisis as 400,000 Third World migrants poured across its then-unsecured southern border in response to Angela Merkel’s unilateral welcome to Middle Eastern asylum-seekers. Hungary tried to register and accommodate the arrivals – mostly not genuine refugees, according to European Council president Donald Tusk – while their claims were considered. But they were only interested in their dreams of gold-paved streets in Germany and determinedly pressed on westwards, hurling back the bottles of water given to them by Hungarian charity workers.
As the torrent continued, Orbán ordered the construction of a border fence, with opening points where asylum-seekers could make their claims. The EU objected even though Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, as Greek defence minister in 2013, had praised a similar migrant-proof fence built by Greece on its Turkish border and another Bulgaria planned to build on the Turkish border – which Avramopoulos later used as a backdrop to announce the new European Border and Coast Guard Agency.
Orbán has made strong borders, the promotion of Christian family values, and economic dynamism his key themes. Voters rewarded him last year for the fourth time – with a thumping two-thirds parliamentary majority.
During his visit to Budapest, Abbott gave two well-attended, well-received speeches, one at the Danube Institute – a think tank founded by Quadrant international editor and adviser to Margaret Thatcher John O’Sullivan – on what Europe might learn from Australia on border security and one at the third Budapest Demographic Summit, on the need for a real ‘extinction rebellion’, against the West’s failure to produce more children. As he wrote in these pages last week, Hungary’s efforts to reverse population decline – including generous support for families with at least three children – deserve careful study.
Abbott acknowledged there’s not much Australia can teach Hungary about secure borders, but his message to wider Europe that it must and can stop the people smugglers was well-timed. In Italy, Western Europe’s first government seriously committed to stopping the boats had just fallen. After Italy’s previous Left-leaning government capitulated to the arrival of 700,000 illegal migrants, conservative Lega leader Matteo Salvini stopped the flow by banning NGO ‘rescue ships’ from docking at Italian ports. The returned Left will probably let the arrivals resume. Meanwhile illegal arrivals in Spain and Greece have again shot up and Prime Minister Boris Johnson doesn’t seem able to get a grip on people-smuggler boats arriving from France – which would be like asylum-seekers arriving on Australian beaches from New Zealand.
Disapproval of the views of Abbott and Orbán on border protection formed the basis of ABC and Guardian articles on his visit. They trotted out the usual irrational charges against the Hungarian prime minister, including that he’s ‘increasingly autocratic’. Australian Greens leader Richard di Natale absurdly took the slur even further, calling Orbán a ‘dictator.’
The Guardian ran the tired, baseless line that the Orbán government is antisemitic. The charge relates to its campaign against the pro-open-borders activism of George Soros, who is Jewish. But to claim that Budapest’s opposition to Soros is antisemitic has as much basis as claiming that criticism of the Duchess of Sussex for her eco-hypocrisy is racist. No European leader has better relations with Israel than Orbán, and Israel rejects charges he’s an anti-Semite. Orthodox Chief Rabbi of Hungary Slomó Köves agrees such claims are ‘nonsense’ and has said ‘Hungary is practically the only country today in Europe where the Jewish community is physically safe.’ Orbán has passed a Holocaust denial law, has made Holocaust education compulsory and financed an Oscar-winning film about Auschwitz.
Abbott’s visit to Budapest incidentally highlighted the lopsidedness of Australia’s diplomatic representation in Europe. The Gillard government closed our embassy in Budapest to increase funding to embassies in Africa, leaving Australia with twenty-two missions in Western Europe and only one, in Warsaw, in the booming states of what was Moscow’s east European empire. So, while Abbott was appropriately feted by High Commissioner Brandis in London, in another great European city it fell to government hosts and his Danube Institute friends to welcome a former Australian prime minister and arrange his programme.