ROME – A Hungarian member of right-wing government has been blasted over his “hateful” and “disgusting” suggestion to hang severed pigs’ heads along the border to deter refugees and immigrants fleeing war.
“It is a very strange and bizarre thing to come out of the mouth of an MEP, especially one who was once a respected historian. It’s as if he thinks pork is some sort of kryptonite against Muslims,” Andrew Stroehlein, European media director for Human Rights Watch, told The Telegraph on Monday, August 22.
“To judge by the rhetoric from some Hungarian politicians, you would think this was the 16th century, with Ottoman armies invading. Their whole approach has been to demonize people who are trying to escape war and torture.”
The aggressive comment was made by Gyorgy Schopflin, a member of the Right-wing government of Viktor Orban, the prime minister.
It was made during an ill-tempered exchange on Twitter with Stroehlein who posted a tweet to criticize Hungary for using bizarre, totemic masks made out of beetroot to scare refugees trying to cross the border from neighboring Serbia.
The existence of the ghoulish vegetable heads was first reported last week by a Hungarian journalist.
It is not clear who made them but there has reportedly been no effort by Hungarian police or soldiers to take them down.
“Refugees are fleeing war & torture, Hungary. Your root vegetable heads will not deter them,” Stroehlein wrote in his tweet.
The MEP, a former academic who is a member of the governing Fidesz party, wrote back: “Might do so. Human images are haram. But agree, pig’s head would deter more effectively.”
On Twitter, the politician was accused of peddling “hate speech” and there were demands for his resignation.
He was described as “a sad old man full of hate” and his comment was branded as “disgusting”.
Describing the pigs’ remark about the pigs’ heads as “grossly offensive”, Stroehlein said it reflected a deep current of xenophobia and anti-migrant feeling within the Hungarian government.
“With the current government, the idea of putting up pigs’ heads and turnips is in many ways the least of the issues,” he said.
“Their treatment of refugees has been appalling – using violence to push people back from the border. Conditions in reception centers are inhumane. Refugees are treated like animals.”
Last year, Hungary closed its southern border with Serbia as around a million refugees and migrants, many of them from Syria, sought to travel from Turkey, through Greece and along the Balkan route to Germany and Scandinavia.
The Hungarians deployed extra police and soldiers, built a razor-wire fence and declared a state of emergency.
A Human Rights Watch report last month said that migrants and refugees at Hungary’s border with Serbia were being “summarily forced back, in some cases with cruel and violent treatment”.
Refugees had been attacked by guard dogs, squirted with pepper spray and beaten with batons and fists.
One man said he was stopped inside Hungary with a group of around 30 other migrants. “I haven’t even seen such beating in the movies. Five or six soldiers took us one by one to beat us. They tied our hands with plastic handcuffs on our backs. They beat us with everything, with fists, kicks and batons. They deliberately gave us bad injuries.”
In May the UNHCR expressed concern about asylum seekers being pushed back across the border and called on the Hungarian government to investigate.
“Hungary is breaking all the rules for asylum seekers transiting through Serbia, summarily dismissing claims and sending them back across the border,” said Lydia Gall, Human Rights Watch’s Balkans expert.
“People who cross into Hungary without permission, including women and children, have been viciously beaten and forced back across the border.”