Jason Kelley

“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.