by Dan Talmo, at WOMEX conference in Budapest, Hungary
Hungary has been in the news lately. The Middle East refugee crisis is sparking quite a bit of controversy in this crossroads of east meets west. The Hungarian government has taken a hard line stance against the refugees, erecting boarder fences with Serbia and Croatia and implementing other tough laws against citizens aiding refugees. While a large influx in refugees may strain the system of a small country like Hungary, erecting fences smacks of xenophobia. It is ironic that Hungary was the first country to tear down fences in May of 1989 when it opened its border with Austria, allowing thousands of East Germans to pass freely to Austria and on to West Germany. The Berlin wall fell six months later.
WOMEX is an international conference dedicated to an expanded understanding of other cultures through music and folk traditions. WOMEX and its ancillary bodies have issued statements concerning the refugee situation. An excerpt reads:
“…We heavily disagree with state actions at the Hungarian and other European state’s borders and beyond. It is not necessary that people in need suffer or even die at borders and we condemn all violence against refugees as well as actions that prolong this suffering. We call upon the Hungarian government the European Union and all its member states to prevent such mistreatment of people and to take actions to welcome them and help them. We offer our cross-cultural projects as another view to encourage welcoming more refugees and let foreign cultures into your lives as an enriching element – the notion that foreign cultures or religions are a threat is the wrong way!…”
The full text can be read at:
I’ve had the chance to interview a number of Hungarian musicians about the refugee crisis. Without any attributable quotes, I have compiled a composite of their viewpoints as they were fairly similar to each other. The people I spoke with are involved in folk music and are generally welcoming to foreign people and cultures, and express sincere concern for the health and safety of the refugees. While they criticize the government for the hard line attitude and some of the new policies, they were in favor of measures that restrict the number of refugees across the borders. With Hungary as a new EU member, they feel that there is an obligation to the Union to follow the policies for new arrivals of non-EU citizens. They are not against the arrival of refugees, but that they should arrive at certain locations and be asked about their needs and intents, with a common EU policy of where in the EU they would ultimately resettle.