“Canada will not send its refugees to Miskolc” says the Hungarian mayor

The city of Miskolc gets a lot of coverage nowadays in the Hungarian media. At the center of the often swirling controversy is the Fidesz mayor of the city, Ákos Kriza. With the 2010 municipal elections the political map of this industrial city changed radically. Until then the socialists had always been in the majority on the city council and the mayor was also a socialist. Today Fidesz councilmen are in the great  majority and they are reinforced by three Jobbik members.

How successful is the new mayor of Miskolc? I found an article from the summer of 2012 in which one of the MSZP councilmen claimed that Ákos Kriza is such a failure that Viktor Orbán himself decided that at the next election Kriza will be dropped as a mayoral candidate and instead will be promised a seat in parliament. Well, I thought, this was probably only wishful thinking on the part of the MSZP councilman. But just today I discovered in the print edition of Magyar Narancs (January 17,  pp.13-15) that the new mayor of Miskolc, imitating his party’s leader, decided not to continue projects that were already in progress and instead started everything from scratch. As a result, none of the promised projects has been completed. Moreover, Kriza seems to be promoting businesses that can be linked to Jobbik. At least this is what a local online paper (Északi Hirnök) claims.

Kriza is not exactly a common name, and I immediately began wondering whether our Kriza has anything to do with the famous János Kriza (1811-1875), the Unitarian bishop and folklorist who collected Transylvanian Hungarian folk tales. Indeed, Ákos Kriza claims to be a descendant of or at least related to János Kriza. Ákos Kriza was born in Oradea/Nagyvárad (1965) and became a physician after finishing medical school in Târgu Mureş/Marosvásárhely. He moved to Hungary shortly after graduation and has been living in Miskolc since 1990. According to his political opponents, since his election as mayor he has been favoring his old friends and acquaintances from Transylvania and from the Partium, the region around Oradea.

János Kriza was obviously not a stupid man. Among his skills, he spoke German, French, and English and had a reading knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, which he needed for his theological studies. So, I don’t know what he would think of his modern-day relative’s bungling. Ákos Kriza’s behavior shows him to be ignorant of the most basic rules of democracy and decency.

So, what happened that thrust Kriza into the limelight again? There is a new, controversial Canadian piece of legislation called “Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act” that became law on December 12, 2012. The law made immigration policies more stringent for political refugees. Up until now it took a fairly long time to decide on the eligibility of a political asylum seeker. The current Canadian government deemed this process too costly. Moreover, the Canadians consider Hungary a free country. No accounts of discrimination against the Hungarian Roma, their poverty, or even their systematic murder could move Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism. Canada will speedily expel hundreds if not thousands of Roma asylum seekers.

A few days ago the Canadian government decided to advertise the new immigration policies in the city of Miskolc because about 40% of the Hungarian Roma political asylum seekers came from there or from the city’s environs. According to the Christian Science Monitorthe Canadian government spent $13,000 on billboards as well as on television and radio ads warning about the changed immigration policies and about the likelihood of the speedy return of the asylum seekers. Kriza became enraged. He objected to the Canadian campaign in his city. Why Miskolc? The posters appeared on the streets on January 15, and Kriza immediately sent a letter to Tamara Guttman, Canada’s ambassador to Hungary. Kriza later admitted that “it was a bit strongly worded.”

kanadai plakat

Canadian poster informing Romas of the restrictions and mentioning the speedy return of those who are not eligible for political asylum

Kriza first objected to the fact that “the Canadian Embassy didn’t inform the city” of their impending campaign. Kriza also claimed that when Kenney visited Miskolc last October, the Canadian minister said nothing about “sending home [the Roma] more speedily.” Kriza claimed that “those who sought asylum have no right to return to Miskolc.” For good measure he told the ambassador that he “finds the steps taken by Canada offensive and undesirable. In addition, your course of action is unacceptable.” To the Hungarian media Kriza announced that “Canada will not send its refugees to Miskolc.” He considered the Canadian campaign “intimidation” of his city.

Immediately after Kriza’s outburst several national and local papers inquired on what basis Kriza wants to prevent the returning Roma from going back to their original houses and apartments. The next day Kriza received the Canadian ambassador’s letter, and the mercurial mayor calmed down somewhat and behaved in a  less objectionable way when he was interviewed on “Az Este,”  an evening program on MTV. However, he obviously didn’t give up his plan to get rid of the returning Roma. A couple of days after his appearance on national television Kriza announced that he will “keep the criminal elements out of Miskolc by checking whether any of the people who left for Canada also took advantage of social assistance from the city or the central government.” He claimed that he had already found five people who were ineligible and who thereby committed a crime. He got in touch with the police. He will do everything to prevent “these criminals from settling in the city. Moreover, criminals currently residing in Miskolc will be driven out by the authorities.” He even threatened returning Roma parents that the authorities would take their children away and place them under state supervision.

Today Népszava claimed that Kriza’s threats can be considered “harassment.”  The Hungarian Helsinki Commission also took notice and pointed out that Kriza’s threats and his intention to restrict the free movement of the returning Romas are in direct contravention of Hungarian and international law. In addition, NEKI (Nemzeti és Etnikai Kisebbségi Jogvédő Iroda) argued that “the words of the mayor of Miskolc actually support the merits of the requests for political asylum.”

I do hope that Kriza’s words get to Ottawa. But even if they do, the Canadians most likely will not have the “pleasure” of reading the comments from some of the peace-loving people from Miskolc. They would most likely be shocked. Perhaps then the Canadian officials would lend a more sympathetic ear to the plight of the Hungarian Roma.


  1. Getting back to accents and dialects – the reasons given above are all OK, as far as they go, but they don’t really answer my question as to why Hungarian is so uniform across the country.

    Size certainly isn’t a factor, after all there are plenty of countries as small, or smaller, than Hungary with hugely different accents and dialects (and England, on its own, isn’t that much bigger than Hungary, anyway). Also, the UK has had much better internal communications than Hungary for centuries – Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, etc have long been much ‘closer’ to London than say Debrecen and Budapest.

    Trianon also doesn’t really explain the lack of variation. For instance, had a region in England, as far away from London as Transylvania is from Budapest, been separated as radically for 100 years, the two peoples would by now barely be able to understand each other – yet Transylvanian Hungarians can easily be understood by other Hungarians.

    The ‘mix of peoples’ argument has more merit (although it doesn’t fully explain the variation in accents in regions of the UK settled by the same people), but the Hungarian population is also very much a mix of different peoples. What makes Hungary unique, though, is that the languages of all these peoples have been absorbed and ‘conquered’ by Hungarian. Many thousands of words have been borrowed in the process (there are very few original Hungarian words left in modern Hungarian), but the language itself has survived. The modern-day Hungarian is a mix of many peoples, hardly (if at all) genetically related to the original tribes, and yet they all speak the language of those original invaders – AND with hardly any variation.

    My best guess would be that it’s to do with the fact that Hungarian is phonetic – how it’s spelt is how it’s said. I’m no expert on languages, but I would guess this is relatively rare, certainly all the other languages I’m familiar with are far from phonetic). Obviously you can still have standardised phonetic spelling AND variations in pronunciation, but I would expect the variations to be much less than with non-phonetic languages – perhaps about on the level of what we find in Hungary?

    Of course, if my theory is right, the test would be to see what accents existed before written Hungarian was standardised, but as this was in the days before voice recording, I have no idea how you would do this. Another question re this theory would be to ask how the spoken language became standardised after phonetic spelling was introduced. You could never introduce phonetic spelling in the UK because the way letters are pronounced varies so tremendously, so does that mean that the variation in Hungarian pronunciation was nowhere near as extreme even BEFORE standardised spelling was introduced?

    Which, I’m afraid, leaves us still stuck with the original question – what’s so different about Hungarian/Hungary/Hungarians that makes/made the spoken language so uniform?

  2. Accents. I don’t think that the size of a country has a great deal to do with huge differences in accents. After all, the United States is quite big, yet the differences in accents are not as great as in the relatively small Great Britain.

    I can’t say anything about Paul’s theory about phonetic writing and its influence on spoken language. Maybe he is right. I really should ask a linguist friend of mine to get involved in this discussion. But one thing is sure the differences in accents in Great Britain is really astounding.

    I will never forget of arriving with an American friend of mine in Kent and finding lodgings not far from Canterbury. We jokingly said: isn’t it nice that we are in a country where we know the language perfectly not like in Germany or in France. Yet, next morning sitting in a restaurant over breakfast we didn’t understand one word from the conversation at the next table! Not a word. As it was like a foreign language.

  3. London Calling!

    Surely the number of invaders of ‘the UK’ – who have either cleared off – or stayed, has not only affected the lexicon of the English language – but also how words have been pronounced.

    Accents must have been fashioned by the ability or not to pronounce ‘micro-sounds’ of different speakers – by the different (and many!) invaders.

    I am amazed how often I think I am pronouncing a Hungarian word perfectly (!) only for my partner to disabuse me – and vice versa too!

    It is only recently that so-called ‘dyslexia’ – which arguably doesn’t exist – has been shown to be a problem of hearing the micro-sounds of a particular language – pioneered by teacher’s in New Zealand.

    That this is the case is reflected by (still) the pockets of foreign-originating surnames all around the country.

    In addition the mobility of the English people has until recently been relatively restricted adding to the many ‘isolated’ dialects to be found.

    I doubt – but don’t know – that these factors converged in a similar way to Hungary’s

    There’s nowt so queer as folk!



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