In a recent Economist article examining whether Ukrainian refugees will stay in Poland, the author grumbles: “Literature classes deal overwhelmingly with Polish writers. History classes concentrate on Poland’s struggles with Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary.… Ukraine, a nation that long lacked a formal state, gets ‘lost between Poland and Russia.’” The article concludes, “Poland’s current government … has welcomed Ukrainians wholeheartedly, but embracing multiculturalism may be a stretch.”
It is the height of globalist arrogance and presumption that one could examine the catastrophic ongoing war in Ukraine, and Poland’s response to it, and exude such hubris. By any definition, the European Union states bordering Ukraine — Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia — have passed with flying colors the test of human compassion this year.
I saw it while living and researching in Budapest, during which time Hungarians flocked to the city’s Keleti station with donations purchased with their hard-earned money. The supply of donations was so vast that motorized carts ferried them around the station. Throngs of people stood waiting for international trains that were likely to carry fleeing Ukrainians. Signs in Ukrainian and Russian, marked with Ukrainian flags, offered directions. Doctors, legal advocates, and — perhaps most importantly — those offering a place to live advertised their assistance. The raw humanity of those sights was unforgettable.
This level of humanitarianism wasn’t just a temporary phenomenon following the initial shock of the war. Once the government and aid organizations had time to adapt, the center of these activities shifted to a large warehouse near the national soccer stadium.
Nor was this human outpouring limited to Hungary. During my multiple travels in Poland and Slovakia, I noticed, at train stations, hotels, and other venues, similar signs directing Ukrainians to the resources they might need. (This was the case even in places like Olsztyn, a Polish city far from the Ukrainian border and unlikely to receive many refugees.) Cyrillic letters were omnipresent, as were, for whatever they might accomplish, Ukrainian flags.
Official numbers from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees confirm the scale of the outpouring I witnessed. Poland has recorded over 6.2 million crossings onto its territory since the crisis began. The corresponding figures are 1.42 million for Hungary, 1.25 million for Romania, and over 798,000 for Slovakia. (Note that available data on granting of temporary protection and crossings back to Ukraine vary by country.)
These nations on the EU’s eastern flank have provided safety, liberty, food, clothing, shelter, transportation — you name it. What, then, is the problem for critics like our friend at the Economist?
I submit that, for some, this is not about people in need but about remaking society. In other words, zealots of the secular religion of multiculturalism intend to enforce their doctrine on all. They attempt to blur the definitions of “humanitarianism” and “multiculturalism.” In this case, we can clearly observe how these frontline nations are delivering on the imperative former, which has no necessary connection to the discretionary latter.
From a migratory law perspective, the Dublin Regulation stipulates that the first EU member state in which a migrant’s fingerprints are stored, or in which an asylum claim is lodged, must manage the individual’s asylum process. This, clearly, the frontline countries have done. (Note that they were not initial entry points in 2014–2016.) The Court of Justice of the EU upheld this regulation in 2017.
Nonetheless, before February had even passed to March this year, observers were accusing Central European nations of showing preferential treatment toward the Ukrainians, in comparison to previous waves of migrants, because the former are white and Christian. Never mind the Dublin Regulation; or the fact that 65 to 70 percent of migrants in 2015 were men (mostly young) while the opposite has been true during this episode — women and children are fleeing the war, and Ukrainian men are rushing to the front; or that a Belarusian dictator imported human pawns to Minsk and dropped them on the Polish and Lithuanian borders in a political maneuver.
Moreover, prior to the war, Ukrainians already were permitted to enter EU territory without a visa, unlike the vast majority of those who arrived in Europe during 2014–2016, or anyone attempting to arrive via Belarusian soil. Despite all these relevant factors, and the fresh outbreak of war, multiculturalists sermonized in every corner of the media landscape.
In the realm of those who have already arrived, according to Article 34 of the UN 1951 Refugee Convention, the receiving country “shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees.” Thus, rather than calling for “multiculturalism,” the convention insists on the opposite. Any Ukrainians who stay permanently are entitled to become fully absorbed in the host country.
During large swathes of the preceding centuries, the peoples of Central Europe fought to preserve their identities, despite conflagrations originating from all directions. Sometimes their countries were erased from the maps. Thus, their languages and flags, their literatures and histories, are particularly sacred. It is not for outsiders of any nation or station in life to force a different arrangement on them.
Michael O’Shea is a visiting fellow at the Danube Institute. He is an alumnus of the Hungary Foundation and Mathias Corvinus Collegium’s Budapest Fellowship Program. His articles have appeared in Newsweek, the Federalist, Washington Examiner, European Conservative, Hungarian Conservative, and Visegrád Post.