“We are very committed towards the EU, but we don't want immigrants. That is an issue that is non-negotiable,” says Hungarian ambassador András Kocsis in the Statenzaal of the Law faculty. Last Saturday, he engaged in a debate with former Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs Ben Bot on the rift between Eastern and Western Europe.
Their debate is part of the Maastricht Europe Days, a three-day event that was organised last weekend by the Province of Limburg, the Maastricht city council and Maastricht University. The objective was to enable inhabitants, policy makers, academics and journalists to participate in the discussion and help think about Europe and the European Union.
Limburg journalist and writer Marcia Luyten presided over the debate that afternoon, the Hungarian ambassador gets things going. He starts off in a jovial manner: in broken Dutch he praises the “Limburgse vlaai” and ‘complains’ about his speaking time: a mere “minuut of tien”. But after talking about this, that and the other, Kocsis soon hits home hard.
He is visibly annoyed, especially with the European criticism of the Hungarian migration policy. Many EU countries feel that Hungary is not showing solidarity, because the country refuses to take on migrants. “We do not accept the opinion of the (previous) European Commission that there is only one form of solidarity. We are showing extreme solidarity with our fence in order to hold off immigrants. We have invested a tremendous amount of money and in doing so we are protecting the whole EU, including the Netherlands.”
In addition, Kocsis believes that there is a case of double standards. When Viktor Orbán has a meeting with the Russian president Vladimir Putin, ‘the West’ claims that they are hatching up wicked plans, but when Angela Merkel and Putin speak with each other, there is not a problem.
After Kocsis' “minuut of tien” – which actually turned out to be almost twenty – it’s former minister Bot's turn. Being a man with a considerable record of service, he can be expected to have a strong view about the relations between East and West. However, he doesn't give much more than “we must continue to talk to each other because we are surrounded by a ring of fire,” meaning “China, Russia, and the United States.”
A debate between Kocsis and someone like Mathieu Segers, professor of Contemporary European History and European Integration, would probably have led to an actual discussion. As an organiser, Segers sat in the front row, and apart from one remark, refrained from speaking, even when Kocsis fired one questionable story after the other at the audience. For example, Kocsis says that there is no anti-Semitism in Hungary, there are no cultural clashes, the country is politically stable, and the economy is stronger than ever before. You could just hear the audience think, ‘is that the really the case?’