Migrant clashes leave Hungary bitterly divided

By Nick Thorpe
BBC News, Roszke, Hungarian border

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media captionJames Reynolds described the chaos as Hungarian police clashed with migrants

"War on all fronts," thunders the headline in the conservative daily newspaper, Magyar Nemzet - a reference to both the battles between desperate refugees and Hungarian riot police, and to Hungary's deepening diplomatic isolation.

Csaba Lukacs, the paper's leader writer, depicts a Hungary under attack from young, stone-throwing Muslim men: "Hungary's border was besieged by those who think they have the basic human right to march across Europe without documents."

Many in Hungary agree with these sentiments.

In Roszke on the Serbian border, through which tens of thousands of refugees have walked in recent months, little remains of the refugee camp constructed last weekend - just in time to help the last of the migrants.

A few white humanitarian tents, 34 portable toilets, and some people sifting through the rubbish for anything of value.

image captionSome of the crops and greenhouses near the border have been badly damaged by the influx of migrants
image captionA Hungarian man scavenges for clothes abandoned by fleeing refugees
image captionPepper farmer Zoltan Varga believes the police acted properly but questions the decision to shut the border

But in the cornfields and sunflower fields nearby, there are knapsacks, clothes, children's toys and human excrement in every row. Many patches where people slept or hid, or fled pursuing policemen, have been flattened.

"I'm so glad this is all over," local farmer Zoltan Varga told me, as he inspected his red peppers.

Some of the crop was trampled underfoot, he said, as people ran through the fields. Some migrants slept in his greenhouses and caused damage there.

He had watched Wednesday's police intervention at the Roszke road crossing on television.

"The police acted correctly," he said. But he also felt sorry for the families with children. "If they had to come, why couldn't we lay on trains to take them across the country?"

Hungarian police 'had little choice'

The clashes at the Roszke-Horgos border crossing divide pro-government and opposition newspapers.

Magyar Idok, a paper launched recently by the ruling Fidesz party, argues the "determination and aggressiveness" of the migrants left Hungarian police with little choice but to use water cannon.

Centre-right Magyar Nemzet says "the Hungarian border was besieged by those who think that it's their basic human right to march throughout Europe without papers."

But centre-left Nepszabadsag reacts sarcastically that "the strong Hungarian nation can breathe freely. We no longer have anything to worry about".

And a commentator in centre-left Nepszava remarks: "We can now get on with our everyday Hungarian lives surrounded by barbed wire and shunned by migrants, neighbours, brothers, pals, close friends and investors."

The government has been anxiously watching public opinion polls, and commissioning its own private ones, for any sign of an improvement in their popularity, which sank drastically last October.

An important factor in its handling of the crisis has been the loss of a million supporters, and a surge in the popularity of the radical nationalist Jobbik party, which shares Fidesz's anti-migrant rhetoric.

image copyrightReuters
image captionMr Orban has been widely criticised outside Hungary but remains popular at home

The latest poll by the pro-government Szazadveg think tank gave them some comfort, suggesting that the popularity of Fidesz grew from 43% in June to 48% in September.

But those figures are challenged by Professor Gabor Toka, a public opinion specialist at the Central European University in Budapest.

"I haven't seen any evidence that would support the claim that the government's handling of the refugee crisis has increased its popularity," he told the BBC, pointing to the results of five separate pollsters since January.

From the opposition side, liberal weekly Magyar Narancs depicted Prime Minister Viktor Orban with a curly, Hitler-style moustache made of coils of barbed wire - prompting a small demonstration outside its offices by Orban loyalists.

The dispute has further polarised an already deeply-divided society.

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