Hungarian, Czech pro-refugee voices

Syrian refugees at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station (Pic: Mstyslav Chernov)

By Dave Sewell from Britain:

How activists in eastern Europe are resisting attempts to block out refugees

Deadly border fences are going up across eastern Europe as its governments whip up Islamophobia. Dave Sewell spoke to activists there about how the refugee crisis is spreading in the east—and what people are doing to fight back

Tue 22 Sep 2015, 15:00 BST

Twenty five years after the Iron Curtain fell, eastern European states are once again building walls to stop people fleeing westward.

But this time they are blocking African and Middle Eastern refugees fleeing wars and dictatorships. And the European Union (EU) is using regional governments as its frontline border cops.

But refugees have been forcing their way through. Thousands travelled through Croatia last week, after Hungary locked down its border with Serbia.

A new wall [at] the border. It was constructed just in time for new anti-migrant laws coming into force on Monday of last week.

Migrant Solidarity (Migszol) activist Karmen Kollar went to the newly-blocked border at Roszke, southern Hungary on Tuesday morning.

She told Socialist Worker, “Hundreds of people were stuck on the border—within hours it became thousands. People started desperately camping on the empty motorway.”

Refugees chanted, “We want the gate open.” The state responded with terror. Karmen said, “By Wednesday afternoon, people were gathering at one of the old border crossings. Then the anti-terror police turned up.

“Somehow the people had got hold of a loudspeaker and tried to negotiate with the police.

“In the end they started throwing empty bottles, and then two or three stones. I heard one of the cops say “finally”—and without warning they started pepper-spraying everyone.

Refugees in Hungary (Pic: Mstyslav Chernov)


“People tried to run, but the crowd was too dense. I saw people crying, throwing up. Some migrants pushed back, setting fire to T-shirts and throwing them at the police. The police answered with tear gas and water cannon.”

Serbian ambulance workers ended up hospitalised themselves after a tear gas grenade hit their ambulance.

The lockdown follows six months of racist scaremongering across the region. Jan Majicek, a revolutionary socialist in the Czech capital Prague, told Socialist Worker, “A refugee boat sinking in 2013 was reported as a tragedy. Now the media talk about a ‘migration crisis’.

“They talk of an ‘uncontrollable wave’ or a ‘threat to our security’. Along with Islamophobia, this created a toxic cocktail that’s helped the far right.

“The Czech, Slovak, Polish and Hungarian governments are all repressing refugees—and using this to raise military and police budgets. The most serious situation is in Hungary.”

Karmen said, “The new law is the culmination of a xenophobic campaign. The government put up billboards in spring telling migrants, ‘If you come to Hungary, don’t steal Hungarian jobs’. But they were written in Hungarian, so the aim was obviously to create hatred.

There’s opposition, but in this political atmosphere it can be hard to get a hearing.

“And the far right party Jobbik organises dangerous anti-migrant rallies—one of them forced refugees to be evacuated from Budapest’s Keleti train station.”

Hungary’s government in particular is also virulently Eurosceptic.

Both Jan and Karmen say the politicians are using the EU as an “alibi”. But Karmen added, “The problem is that there is some truth to it too.”

The EU’s Dublin Regulation says refugees have to apply for asylum in the first country they reach—and can be turned away elsewhere.

Karmen said, “These rules should be completely replaced. They are one reason the situation is so extreme.”

Both Germany and Denmark closed their borders before Croatia did. The authorities in France and Austria have tried to criminalise helping migrants—though resistance has stood its ground.

Meanwhile, Britain’s border at Calais is increasingly fortified. Cops pepper spray refugees there too.

EU politicians have criticised Hungary’s fence, but it was a condition of EU membership.


This follows a pattern already seen in Greece. The EU demanded a wall along the river Evros at its Turkey border. Hundreds of Syrian refugees held a sit-in protest there last week.

They rightly argued that this land blockade forces people onto the dangerous sea crossing. It has also given an alibi to any Greek politician who tries to use racism to shore up support.

Now EU border policies are poisoning the politics of newer eastern Europe members states in the same way. …

Jan said, “We should demand our governments open the ­borders and stop their war games. But that’s only one part of our task. The other is to fight for better jobs, wages and welfare—to undercut the Nazis and racists’ claims that refugees are the problem.”

Much of the debate about how to stop the violence at the EU’s border has revolved around the need to “share the burden”.

But this reinforces the idea that refugees are a problem—and the repressive system that tries to control them.

It’s a contradiction Karmen struggles with. “It’s a big question and I don’t know what to do about borders,” she said.

“There needs to be some control. But the more I hear from the migrants, the more I think the EU shouldn’t get to decide where they stay.

“People might enter in one country, but have family in another.

“Why should we tell someone they have to stay in Hungary if they want to go to Sweden, for example? I believe they should have this freedom of movement.”

Abandoned in Belgrade

Hungary’s new law states that Serbia is a “safe country”. That allows the government to deport anyone coming through there—or jail them for several years if they enter Hungary.

Just a few dozen metres from Roszke’s closed motorway checkpoint is one of the two remaining legal crossings. Karmen described a small, unmarked prefab building where a small group of people are allowed inside every 15 minutes.

“A Syrian man told me they’d let him in, kept him in a room for 30 minutes, then handed him some forms he couldn’t read.

“A translator told him to sign them. The forms said he had been returned to Serbia and wouldn’t be coming to Hungary.”

But Serbia is not a place where many refugees expect to find a future. British campaigner Tom Ullman went to the camp in its capital Belgrade.

Many stay at the camp because Serbia’s new laws mean refugees are kicked out of hotels after three nights. Tom said, “Over the past week refugees have had to face abrupt downpours.

“Heavy rains are followed by a flurry of activity as those without storm-worthy tents head for what shelter they can find.”

Tom said, “Sombre stories are told, and affect the mood of the camp. A ship sank the previous week, its passengers only rescued because one of them happened to have a flare.

“But for all the suffering there’s a peculiar festival spirit where strangers become friends.

“The most joyous moment came when a local organisation brought supplies to make tea and music. Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans danced to familiar songs.

“We should be thankful to welcome such people into our countries.”

Racism helps our rulers

Our rulers’ biggest lie about border controls is that they protect the working class.

Even a piece in the supposedly liberal Guardian newspaper argued that letting in refugees would “hit the UK’s working class areas hardest”.

And some trade unionists argue that immigration harms workers’ wages and conditions.

But pressure on services comes from politicians slashing funding. Bosses push down wages and conditions.

There is plenty of wealth in our society. Workers produce it—and when we stand together we have the power to reclaim it.

The racism and repression we are seeing at borders from Roszke to Calais only help our rulers divide us.

The Communist Manifesto famously ends with a call for international solidarity. “Workers of all countries unite—you have a world to win, and nothing to lose but your chains.”

David Cameron understands this. That’s why he wants to extend the border controls we are seeing in Hungary throughout the EU.

Our side must understand that we can only win if we smash them.

Czech young black stork visits Dutch nature reserve

This video is about a black stork nest in the Czech republic.

Ellen Luijks, of the ARK Natuurontwikkeling conservation organisation in the Netherlands, reports today about rare birds in Noord-Brabant province.

In the new nature reserve Kempen~Broek, last week there were four young black storks.

One of them had been ringed as a chick on 13 June 2015 in Hlasivo in the Czech republic.

September is autumn migration month for European black storks, when this species goes to Africa.

Probably, the young birds in Kempen~Broek waited until a black stork flock would fly overhead, so they could join them to the south.

Sykes’ warbler, first ever in Czech republic

This video is about a Sykes’ warbler in Finland in 2012.

From Tarsiger on Twitter today:

Yesterday’s Booted Warbler reidentified as Sykes’s Warbler, Iduna rama – the 1st for the Czech republic!

Good bee-eater news from the Netherlands

This is a bee-eater video from the Czech republic.

Vroege Vogels radio in the Netherlands reports today that never before there have been so many bee-eater nests in the Netherlands as in this year 2015. The nesting season is not finished yet.

There are especially many bee-eaters this year ‘somewhere in Limburg province’ (exact location not mentioned in order not to disturb the birds).

Black-winged stilt nests in Dutch nature reserve

This is a black-winged stilt video from the Czech republic.

Dutch conservation organisation Natuurmonumenten reports today on the Harderbroek, a nature reserve in Flevoland province.

A black-winged stilt couple nests here this year. This usually south European bird is rare in the Netherlands.

There is also a nesting colony of common terns and black-headed gulls. There, a Mediterranean gull couple (also rare in the Netherlands) nests as well.

English birds news update

This is a black-necked grebe video from the Czech republic.

From Staines reservoir in Surrey, England, on Twitter today:

Whimbrel 1, Sanderling 1, Dunlin 1, Redshank 1, Ringed Plover 15, L[ittle] R[inged] P[lover] 2, Black-necked Grebe 1

When should Tengmalm’s owls eat?

This is a video about a Tengmalm’s owl.

From the British Ornithological Union:

When should you eat?

Which is better for the reproductive success of Tengmalm’s Owls: an occasional feast or a steady availability of crumbs?

Markéta Zárybnická
Faculty of Environmental Sciences
Czech University of Life Sciences Prague
Czech Republic

2 March 2015

One could expect that the reproductive success of birds with large geographical distribution will be higher in the core of their breeding range than on its margin. Here we ask, how a nocturnal avian predator with wide Holarctic distribution – Tengmalm’s Owls Aegolius funereus – deals with contrasting ecological conditions of Northern (core of range) and Central (margin of range) Europe.

On a species level, populations occurring in different parts of the distribution range often face contrasting ecological conditions; these local conditions can modify the selective pressures affecting life-history characteristics, which in turn may lead to variation in reproductive strategies (Tieleman 2009). For example, Dark-eyed Juncos Junco hyemalis, which breed in North America across an extensive altitudinal gradient (Bears et al. 2009), provide a textbook example of within-species variation in life histories. Juncos inhabiting high elevations start to breed later and their reproductive season is constricted so that on average they are able to raise only half the number of young compared to conspecifics living at lower elevations. Lower reproductive success of the montane population is, however, balanced by higher between-year survival rates (Bears et al. 2009). Unfortunately comprehensive studies are scanty and our understanding of the variation in reproductive strategies among populations to maintain their viability is still far from satisfactory.

Birds of prey provide an especially suitable model for intraspecific comparisons as they tend to have large geographical ranges covering areas with contrasting ecological conditions, and show great variability in reproductive effort both within and between populations of the same species (Korpimäki & Hakkarainen 1991, Laaksonen et al. 2002). Moreover, they are well-explored example of huge intraspecific variation in life-history traits, as they are able to adjust their reproductive strategies across space and time according to actual food availability (Hakkarainen et al. 2003, Valkama & Korpimäki 1999). Furthermore, estimating the spatial and temporal availability of main foods of avian predators is relatively easy, making it possible to examine one of the main determinants of reproductive effort in birds (Martin 1987).

Variation in food abundance in both northern and temperate areas has a crucial impact on the reproductive strategies of avian predators, whereby seasons with high food availability lead to increases in clutch size (e.g. Lehikoinen et al. 2011) as well as current and lifetime reproductive success (e.g. Korpimäki 1992). However, at higher latitudes, voles, which comprise the dominant prey of most birds of prey, undergo regular 3-4 year cycles and great multi-annual and intra-seasonal changes of abundance (Korpimäki et al. 2005), while vole abundances tend to be relatively stable both within and between years, showing only moderate seasonal changes with low densities in the spring and higher densities in the autumn (Hanski et al. 1991). In addition, in temperate areas the diet of raptors and owls is additionally enriched with other species such as Apodemus mice (Zárybnická et al. 2013). However, studies comparing numerical and reproductive responses between geographically separated populations that also experience different prey dynamics have not been available so far.

Our primary intention was to compare the breeding density and performance of Tengmalm’s Owls in two geographically distant populations: a boreal population (in Finland) in the core area of the species’ breeding range and a temperate population (in the Czech Republic) at the southern limit of the breeding distribution range in the Western Palearctic. These study areas lie 1500 km from one another and differ substantially in prey availability: densities of main prey (voles and mice) at the temperate study site were consistently lower and more stable than prey populations at the boreal site where vole densities undergo both large inter-annual 3-year cyclic fluctuations and intra-seasonal changes in densities (Fig. 1). These differences in prey availability were closely related to variation in the breeding performance of the respective populations of Tengmalm’s Owls. In particular, owl breeding density showed greater inter-annual fluctuations in Finland where the number of breeding pairs positively correlated with main prey densities while no such relationship was observed at the Czech site. Clutch size was larger in Finland compared to the Czech site and positively correlated with main prey densities in both areas (Fig. 2).

See also here.