Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán has claimed “Christianity is Europe’s last hope” in his latest escalation of populist rhetoric ahead of April’s elections. Mr Orban warned that “dark clouds are gathering” as he accused politicians in Brussels, Berlin and Paris of facilitating “the decline of Christian culture and the advance of Islam”.

Speaking at the 20th annual state of the nation, he also outlined government plans to oppose United Nations and European Union efforts to make migration acceptable to the world and continue his fight against what he believes is an “Islamisation” of Europe. He also claimed with mass immigration, especially from Africa, “our worst nightmares can come true. The West falls as it fails to see Europe being overrun.” (The Independent)

Nothing new

Mr. Orban is not the only person in Europe to have such views yet he is the most vocal head of state on this issue and openly calls for what many people in our continent are thinking about. Immigration is a very challenging subject that has polarised European societies for decades. It is a phenomenon that alters the fabric or the continent’s population and that for many, together with all the challenges and changes it brings, poses a threat to our traditions, culture, ethnicity, race, religion and in fact, everything we’ve known until now.

Understandably, many have become sceptical and combined with badly adopted economic policies and financial troubles, immigrants have once again become scapegoats. It is true that immigration poses certain challenges and requires proper handling that should be reflected in each country’s relative policies. Many Western European nations have made some mistakes in such legislation, plus often failed to integrate their migrant population to a certain degree. But countries like Hungary have the advantage of learning from their failures and instead of opposing immigration altogether, they could embrace it correctly.

In addition, it is odd that politicians like Orban are more concerned about the “darkening” of Europe but not for its “greying” population decline. Most experts agree that our continent and especially its eastern regions, will experience a substantial population drop over the next few decades.

So perhaps instead of using populism to incite hatred towards migrant communities and exploiting public fears on the issue for electoral gains, it would be better to come up with solutions to turn immigration into a win-win situation.

Defying nationalism give you a headacheNot just Hungary but Europe as a continent, should begin to create functioning immigration policies together with family planning that will include further gender equality roles. For this, we could get inspiration from a non-EU state such as Iceland.

In this small Nordic nation, equal rights start at home. Men and women are entitled to three months parental leave each per child, plus an additional three months to share between them. That is something that could be adopted by most EU states to help European couples starting out and keeping families with ease.

A focus on the East

Another point we could work on is the East-West divide on economic and social terms. The old EU states are more advanced on these spheres, causing an influx of migrants from the new members towards their western counterparts.

That only increases xenophobia in Western Europe in my opinion, resulting in negative outcomes such as Brexit. But it also contributes to a brain-drain and a population decline in the Eastern part of the continent.

In 2000, Latvia’s population stood at 2.38 million. At the start of this year, it was 1.95 million. No other country has had a more precipitous drop — 18.2 percent according to U.N. statistics. Most other Eastern European nations face similar challenges and population decline.

The EU needs to close the economic disparities in the block and start investing in the East in order to keep its population there and thriving. Thus, harmonizing the eurozone’s economies is crucial for the future.

But not only that. People do not flee the new EU states solely for economic reasons, but social too. And by having a very conservative political elite, like that in Hungary or Poland, is actually counterproductive for the region’s economic and social catch-up with the rest of the continent.

Thus populist leaders such as Orban, might not be the best choice to deal with Hungary’s problems in the long term. Besides, it is funny to hear such rhetoric from a country that is located in a region that has been a crossroad and a melting pot of peoples and civilizations for centuries.

Europe has a rich variety of cultures because of immigration. Hungary, in particular, is a mixture of cultures, as well as peoples. Its language is not even Indo-European in that it belongs to the Finno-Ugric and Uralic linguistic family, meaning it originated further afield in Eurasia, rather than in Central Europe.

Each European nation is comprised of numerous ethnic and cultural elements. What would Ireland and Britain be without their Viking heritage? Or Spain and Portugal without their Germanic or Arabic one? Italy without its Greek heritage in the south of the country, or Greece without its Jewish influence from the populations expelled from Spain?

Colour blind

Recently a team of researchers in Britain, made a shocking discovery. The bones of the oldest near-complete human skeleton ever found in Britain, named as the “Cheddar Man,” had its DNA tested, taken from bone powder by drilling a hole through the skull. It showed there was a 76 percent chance that Cheddar Man was of ‘dark to black’ skin tone and having blue eyes.

Although the findings cannot be 100 percent accurate, it throws a light on human immigration in the European continent. For millennia, different groups from different regions, found their way into Europe. Recorded migrations come from the Middle East, Africa and Eurasia, all taking place at different times and in waves.

It is almost certain that not all of them belonged to the same race or ethnic group, or even to the same species. It has been known for a while that all populations outside of Africa, have a small percentage of Neaderthal DNA that has been acquired by modern humans while interbreeding with our cousins.

So to be so frightened by immigration while all humans are a product of it, ethnologically or culturally is absurd. It is not like we are going to open the borders and “allow everybody in,” as many nationalists fear. That would be disastrous both socially and economically.

Yet if we manage to implement the appropriate policies that will allow the right number and type of immigrants that we need, plus laws that will help European couples across the continent to have families and equal living standards, then immigration could provide solutions for the future.

We should not give in to fear, racism or xenophobia. Europeans have migrated to the four corners of the world over the centuries, altering and shaping it as they went along. In the future, we should also help to influence a more integrated and interconnected world by establishing open societies, inclusive and equal for all its inhabitants.

Eliminating global inequality would take the pressure off Europe’s societies to accept more migrants in. But in order for this to be achieved, it will need the reformation of most trade deals that our continent has conducted, especially with its former colonial subjects.

That could be the legacy that our generation of Europeans will leave to the world. It is definitely better than a chauvinist, xenophobic and nationalistic one. We have tried this before with disastrous consequences but perhaps it is time to change our priorities for the future.

Christos Mouzeviris
Christos Mouzeviris is a Greek journalist and photographer based in Dublin. Christos is a pro-European federalist.

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