Monday, September 14, 2015

Guest Post: Eastern Europe's Crisis Of Shame

"Authored by Jan T. Gross, originally posted at Project Syndicate,
As thousands of refugees pour into Europe to escape the horrors of war, with many dying along the way, a different sort of tragedy has played out in many of the European Union’s newest member states. The states known collectively as “Eastern Europe,” including my native Poland, have revealed themselves to be intolerant, illiberal, xenophobic, and incapable of remembering the spirit of solidarity that carried them to freedom a quarter-century ago.
These are the same societies that clamored before and after the fall of communism for a “return to Europe,” proudly proclaiming that they shared its values. But what did they think Europe stands for? Since 1989 – and particularly since 2004, when they joined the EU – they have benefited from massive financial transfers in the form of European structural and cohesion funds. Today, they are unwilling to contribute anything to resolve the greatest refugee crisis facing Europe since World War II.
Indeed, before the eyes of the entire world, the government of Hungary, an EU member state, has mistreated thousands of refugees. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán sees no reason to behave otherwise: the refugees are not a European problem, he insists; they are a German problem.
Orbán is not alone in this view. Even Hungary’s Catholic bishops are following Orbán’s line, with Laszlo Kiss-Rigo, Bishop of Szeged-Csanad, saying that Muslim migrants “want to take over,” and that the Pope, who has called on every Catholic parish in Europe to take in a refugee family, “doesn’t know the situation.”
In Poland, a country of 40 million people, the government initially expressed a readiness to accept 2,000 refugees – but only Christians (Slovakia proposed a similar stipulation). Refugees are not an Eastern European problem, a Polish journalist told National Public Radio in the United States, because these countries did not participate in the decision to bomb Libya (neither did Germany).
Have Eastern Europeans no sense of shame? For centuries, their ancestors emigrated in droves, seeking relief from material hardships and political persecution. And today their leaders’ heartless behavior and callous rhetoric play to popular sentiment. Indeed, the electronic version of Poland’s largest newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, now publishes a stunning notice at the end of every article about refugees: “Because of the extraordinarily aggressive content of remarks advocating violence, contrary to the law, and calling for racial, ethnic, and religious hatred, we will not allow readers to publish comments.”


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