Immigration has become a major issue in Central Europe since 2015, whereas since the fall of Communism the primary social issue in this region had been emigration . But a lot has changed since the famous “migrant crisis” along the Balkan route — and the faces you see in the streets of Warsaw, Budapest, Prague, and Bratislava are changing, too.
Over a few weeks in the summer of 2015, a veritable migratory route was set up stretching from Turkey and Greece to Hungary, the guardian of the Schengen Zone’s southeastern border. This overland route was organized by networks of smugglers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Before long, almost 10,000 people a day were entering the Schengen area illegally. Overwhelmed by trying to apply the Schengen rules to the letter, Hungary called for help from the European Union — which then denounced Hungary’s xenophobic attitude. Viktor Orbán took a radical step: Within two months he built a border fence, which has since been guarded by the police and the army, with the help of the other countries of the Visegrád Group.
The operation was an immediate success. Illegal immigrants who still tried their luck were systematically sent back to Serbia, and those already in Hungary were transported en masse to the Austrian border one evening in September 2015. The Austrian Chancellor at the time, Werner Faymann, had been criticizing Hungary’s management of the situation, comparing it to Nazi Germany’s methods. He attacked Hungary for not allowing the illegal immigrants to continue their journey westwards. Thus, Hungary ended up bringing them to him.
Since then, the issue of immigration, particularly illegal immigration, has become a permanent political topic in Central Europe. As the countries of the former Eastern bloc began to achieve living standards that were attractive to those from outside our continent who are seeking a “better life,” all the political parties had to take a stand on the subject. With around 90% of the population hostile to immigration from outside Europe, even the progressive and Europeanist parties had to declare themselves at least minimally in favor of border controls.
Which brings us to another facet of the problem, and a far more complex one: legal immigration. Opposition in Berlin and Brussels to the management of the massive influx of illegal immigrants in 2015 led the Central European countries to win the first round of a tug of war. Opposition to redistribution quotas has remained a bone of contention to this day, even if we hear less about it than in 2016. It is also a tool in particular for blackmailing Poland and Hungary, who continue to oppose such quotas head-on, even if it means seeing the funds owed to them by the EU continue to be illegally withheld by the European Commission.
It has to be said that neither the Law and Justice party (PiS) in Poland, which faces a difficult election in less than six months’ time, nor Fidesz, which preserved its domination of the Hungarian political arena by getting tough on immigration in 2015, can give up the issue of illegal immigrants. Be that as it may, the pressure exerted by the European institutions on Poland and Hungary over legal immigration continues to grow, and the EU’s two enfants terribles have been forced to relent.
This is because Warsaw and Budapest are being squeezed via illegal blackmail by the European institutions, which are in fact a façade for the German economic machine, which is taking its revenge for the illiberal rebellion of 2015. With billions of euros to these two countries suspended against a backdrop of inflation, the energy crisis ,and a particularly difficult post-COVID recovery, the non-disbursement of NextGen funds is a terribly effective instrument of interference. And at the helm are some miserable histrionics of European politics who are obsessed with sickly immigrationism, such as the German Green MEP Daniel Freund.
In both Poland and Hungary, two countries with both low demographics and low wages who are suffering as a result of structural emigration towards the west, which deprives them of a large part of their workforce, permanent economic growth has automatically brought about a new phenomenon: labor immigration. Although this is indeed a new phenomenon since the fall of Communism, it also existed in the past, especially in Hungary, when these two countries were major regional powers..
Naturally, Ukrainians top the list of legal immigrants who have come to work. As they are culturally, morally, and ethnically fairly close to the natives , especially in Poland, the problems posed by their immigration remain minor. Moreover, throughout Central Europe there is a tradition of living side-by-side with other ethnic groups in the region. Thus, it doesn’t seem shocking that Ukrainian communities are forming here and there, or that some neighborhoods are becoming Ukrainianized.
On the other hand, there has been an explosion in the number of visas issued by Poland and Hungary to countries such as Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, and South Korea. Increasing numbers of Arabs and Africans can also be seen in the city centers of the Central European capitals.
While it would be a shameless exaggeration to speak of the “Great Replacement” or “migratory submersion,” there is simply one change that marks a turning point: the countries of Central Europe have become attractive to non-Europeans who are in search of greater material comfort.
This phenomenon is inevitably the result of the draught generated by the labor shortage and a dynamic economy. Yet, we must also take into account pressure from the EU, which has a clear immigrationist agenda. So it seems that the governments of Poland and Hungary have chosen the lesser evil, by choosing to select their immigrants.
Poland issued almost one million residence permits to non-EU citizens in 2021, which is three times as many as France issued during the same year. Hungary, which issued 20,000 permits in 2015, issued 58,000 in 2021. In both cases, Ukrainians received the majority of permits. But the number of non-Europeans has also soared. We likewise know, although the figures are very hard to come by — and you can guess why — that a large proportion of those legal immigrants use Poland and Hungary as gateways to other EU countries.
But let’s not blame Poland and Hungary; it’s EU law that allows this to happen, that same EU which is madly and illegally blackmailing the two countries into accepting more immigrants. Thus, failing to prevent all immigration, Budapest and Warsaw are trying to select as many countries of origin and profiles as possible, doing their best to ensure that such immigration is only for work. The problem is that here, too, EU law imposes family reunification and its related procedures — or rather, often the absence of procedures — for remaining on European soil despite the expiry of a permit, paving the way for greater immigration in the future, including in Central Europe.
In the meantime, precarious industries, such as taxi and delivery services, stand as a stark image of things to come. In less than three years, the vast majority of drivers and deliverymen in Warsaw and Budapest no longer have European features. Several rapes by drivers-for-hire have already taken place in Poland. Same causes, same effects. Central Europe is opening a new chapter in its history in which nothing has yet been written — but this battle will be more difficult than the one against illegal immigration.
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