Hungary Noémi Kiss

Noémi Kiss
Photo: Valuska Gábor

What does the term refugee mean to you?

I can take flight from many bad situations – I suppose our lives are full of such moments where I feel oppressed (this can be private, even intimate). Often, it is invisible. A moment, a feeling – insidious. I cannot defend myself, for example, in a violent marriage. And it can happen in war. There where one would think that pressure would be obvious. But it is not. The sun rises and settles again. The day has a rhythm – and yet nothing is the same anymore, there is war, I am dying. I can be dead anytime. It is obvious, it is much more than that, and terrible and nevertheless hard to believe. Man flees from war. All wars are brutal for the soul. And each marriage where there is violence, where I feel under pressure, is a war against the soul. Flight for political reasons is of course justified. In a patriarchal society, war is twice as bad for women.

Is flight from poverty less legitimate than flight from war or political oppression?

Yes. The question creates polarization. War and poverty are closely related. There can also be a war raging inside – people suffer from dictatorships. I have lived in poverty, as well as my family – one can survive a lot with little money. One rarely survives a real war waged with weapons. There is hopeless poverty – and there is hope in poverty. Depending on how one perceives it. Poverty has several faces, even religious ones – it cannot be condemned, even as a type of modesty, faith, hope. But for me, war in any form must be condemned. It is one last round of a feudalistic and patriarchal world. Always directed against people.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

This is justified but it does not bring about a solution for the problem itself. Entire villages, family fathers, young men are fleeing westward – what’s the result then? What will become of Lebanon? Eritrea?  Burkina Faso? Albania? Croatia? Hungary? Poland? When the work force disappears? Where children and grandparents have to remain by themselves? Where young married couples leave children behind and take care of strangers – and their own people remain in the village. Children without mothers – this is Eastern Europe today, this is Ukraine, Moldavia, Albania. Individually, this is justified. There’s no policy for the future in Europe and in the world. But fleeing – and what then? Dark sides of the soul; for me, to leave a home due to distress and force is very problematic.

When does one cease to be a refugee?

When one has arrived – never. When the trauma was big, the second, third generations will continue carrying this story in themselves. Saxons from Siebenbürgen, Romanians, refugees from former Yugoslavia – are they happy? Better not to ask them. And neither the Syrian refugees – all is politically controlled, nobody gets involved in biographies.

Is there a natural right to asylum?

Of course.

If yes: is this right unconditional, or can it be forfeited?

No. Every asylum seeker has his own biography. But one cannot examine it. And it leads to problems.

Do you think that the number of refugees a society can absorb is limited?

Although it sounds good, the question has not been posed well. Can one really? No. It is bad, because unlimited is not possible. Theoretically, today one can implement a very humane policy with this. But unlimited numbers of refugees will not be accepted. Reality overwrites such a slogan. And with a question that is posed in such a wrong way, one talks little about real problems and the fate of people.

If yes: where do you draw the line, and why?

There should be no limits – but they are already there in Europe. Where they just had disappeared. New borders, completely new ideas about borders. Limit, exclude, delineate - fences are erected – it shall not, cannot remain without borders any more. Stigmatization, xenophobia, desired borders – those are the new ideas. 20 years without borders and it is over already. For me, invisible borders are often more important than visible ones. And I am all for Europe being without borders. I can only collect arguments in favor of this. But no one listens anymore – it is over. And that is sad.

Are there privileged refugees in your country, i.e. refugees that are more welcome than others? If yes: why?

Yes. Hungarian minorities from Romania, Ukraine, Vojvodina (Serbia). „Economic refugees“ such as Russians, Ukrainians, Chinese... like everywhere in Europe.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

No. Not at all. The Hungarian government tries to present a negative image of refugees. Xenophobic and inhumane. For a year or even more, refugees have been depicted on posters as enemies; today – following the Brexit – the government even runs a campaign that is clearly hostile toward the EU. And in the meantime, even Hungarians have become “economic refugees“ everywhere in Europe. Employees such as nurses, teachers, physicians, bricklayers, waiters, computer scientists, cleaning ladies, prostitutes. Most families raise their children according to the motto: „Get away from here.“ “Go abroad”. “Flee.” When it is like that, there is no future for Europe.

Would cuts in the social security system in your country be acceptable to you if they were to facilitate the absorption of more refugees?

I would be all for it. But I know that it is impossible here – in a “poor” country. The implementation of a humane policy of solidarity is possible when one can convince people. But you can’t. In Hungary, distress and poverty are very big. Today, capitalist egoism prevails here - and political egoism. As a former socialist country, efforts toward a welfare state are very few. Solidarity only exists on the private level. Today, politics are a dictation – not caring about well-being, counting on fears - such as xenophobia. And in addition, there is the new problem: Islam and terrorism in Europe. Something we know so very little about here in the east of Europe.

What are the requirements for successful integration?

- on the part of the refugees?
- on the part of the citizens of the host country?

Law, state, basic values – while I myself think that something like the emancipation of women is very important.

Do you know any refugees personally?

Yes – of course. And I also want to, it is my duty as a writer. Today, every person is a refugee. My family fled to Trianon. From Maramarossziget (today Ukraine). A part of Europe that had been very much affected by the Holocaust. I have written about Hungarian prostitutes in Switzerland. Today, women and women’s bodies migrate from East to West. We talk little about this. They, too, are fleeing – from violence, poverty, out of fear...

Do you actively support any refugees?

Of course.

How will the refugee situation in your country develop

a) over the next two years?
b) over the next two decades?

More and more refugees will be arriving in Central Europe. From the Balkans, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia. From Ukraine. Armenia, the Caucasus, Russia. I am sure. And from the countries in the Middle East.

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

I could never do that, and I don’t want to – there always must be the possibility to be able to flee from a violent situation. There has never been a world without refugees. But one could, one must strive for reducing violence and poverty.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?

Yes, my family comes from Armenia originally. In the 18th century they arrived in Siebenbürgen. And in Maramaros. They then fled to Trianon, after World War I, following the plague.

Do you think you will ever be a one?

Yes, unfortunately, I can imagine that without further ado, I am thinking about it every day – for political reasons.

How much “home” do you need?*

Only one: House, children, my closest relatives, no matter where - but if possible, if I could choose -well, then here, in Budapest or near the Danube in Kisoroszi.

*This question was taken from Max Frisch’s questionnaire concerning “heimat”.