Last weekend Hungarian MEP Gyorgy Schöpflin tweeted that the country should post pig heads at the border to discourage Muslims from entering. Schöpflin told DW's Jo Harper that his tweet "was a fact and a hypothetical."
Over the weekend, Hungarian MEP Gyorgy Schöpflin clashed on social media with a human rights campaigner after writing on Twitter that pig heads placed along the country's border with Serbia would make a more effective deterrent for refugees than the root vegetables fashioned to look like humans that are currently in use.
Images of the humanoid instruments of fear had earlier appeared on a Facebook page supporting Hungary's border troops with the caption:
"Instead of scarecrows, these are 'scarepeople' made from sugar beet. Seems to work, nobody cut through the fence here in four weeks."
The vegetable heads along the border with Serbia were first reported by Hungarian media last week. There has reportedly been no effort by police to remove them.
On August 19 Andrew Stroehlein, Human Rights Watch's Brussels-based European media director, posted a "Washington Post" article and photos showing the decoys.
"Refugees are fleeing war & torture, Hungary," Stroehlein wrote. "Your root vegetable heads will not deter them."
Tits for tats
On Saturday Schöpflin, a member of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's conservative Fidesz party since 2004 and previously an academic in the UK, joined in: "Might do so. Human images are haram," he said, referring to forbidden acts under Islam. "But agree, pig's head would deter more effectively."
That's when it all kicked off. Before reading, one might remind onself that the following Twittersphere chat is between two highly civilized accomplished grown men.
DW decided to ask Schöpflin about the incident and whether he could have phrased his position a little better.
DW: Was the pig heads comment meant to provoke, or make people giggle, but not really for wider public consumption, or was it a spur of the moment thought?
Gyorgy Schöpflin: 'Refugees are fleeing war & torture, Hungary. Your root vegetable heads will not deter them." My tweet was a response to this. What I replied was a fact and a hypothetical. I can only guess at how the carved face was intended.
You have been mostly derided for this remark. You said he never made any proposal to put up pigs' heads, telling Reuters that the comment had been "a thought experiment" and that you planned no apology. Do you now regret it a bit now?
No. The experience has been instructive. It's been taken too seriously.
Being judged by the Twittocracy is a painful experience. How has your experience of it been?
Not painful for me.
Hungary has one of the toughest stances of all EU members on the recent influx of migrants and refugees, which has divided the EU. In 2015 Hungary erected a razor wire-topped fence along its southern border to stop migrants, patrolled by thousands of extra troops. What's your view on the EU's policy of mandatory settlement of migrants?
On October 2 Hungary will hold a referendum on the EU's resettlement policy. The question to be posed to voters is "Do you want the European Union to be able to prescribe the obligatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the agreement of Parliament?" How will Hungary vote?
On present reckoning (August 23), the "no"s will gain the majority.
On Monday, you told the Hungarian website mandiner.hu that "it's anthropologically intriguing how sensitive the topos is." Can you explain what you meant here?
In the European mainstream, the consumption of pork products is regarded as normal, apart from vegetarians, of course. Far Eastern cultures also eat pork. But the Muslim and Jewish dietary codes ban it. This is evidently an issue that has anthropological implications, focusing on the deeper, on the contested "taboo" significance of the pig. On the one hand, many of us in Europe eat pork, but on the other there is the use of the name of the pig in a negative way. Hence, or so I would guess - and it's no more than a guess - for many Europeans the pig symbolizes something contradictory. People may not be conscious of this, but may have a deeper, opaque awareness of it.
With a total of 136 votes in May, Schöpflin's Fidesz and the right-wing Jobbik voted in favor of holding the October 2 referendum on refugee quotas, while five independent opposition MPs voted against. Out of protest, the Hungarian Socialist Party and the green Politics Can Be Different party did not participate in the vote.
Fidesz's main challenge will be to ensure that over 50 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the plebiscite in order to render it valid and "binding."
The Council of the European Union has allocated 120,000 refugees to EU member states, and Hungary would receive 1,294. The referendum will have no impact on whether the country takes in this number. Justice Minister Laszlo Trocsanyi has admitted that the referendum is more of a symbolic vote on feared future attempts by the European Union to "colonize" Hungary with non-Hungarians.
In the interest of full disclosure, Schöpflin advised the author's PhD thesis at the London School of Economics in the years 1994-96.