The Pope emphasized the importance of the common good and humility on Monday during his visit to Slovakia, referring to the country’s communist past. His speech aimed to oppose the increased nationalistic attitude and hatred towards immigrants that are currently on the rise across Eastern Europe. Pope Francis gave a similar speech on Sunday during his visit to Hungary, where he called to avoid selfish and defensive behaviour to combat extremist anti-immigrant sentiments.
“In these lands, until just a few decades ago, a single thought system (communism) stifled freedom. Today another single thought system is emptying freedom of meaning, reducing progress to profit and rights only to individual needs,” Pope Francis said. Part of his speech also addressed Slovak President Zuzana Caputova and other officials who were present in the gardens during his visit. “Fraternity is necessary for the increasingly pressing process of (European) integration,” the Pope added. His clear position on the integration of recent Mulism immigrants is characterized by, as he describes it, European solutions that involve criticism of the isolationism within Eastern European countries in their approaches. Meanwhile, Pope Francis highlighted that he is “still alive,” as he was going through his first trip right after undergoing intestinal surgery earlier in July.
Given that Slovakia is about 65% Catholic, Pope Francis is in a good position to bring the values of tolerance and integration to the currently very inward-looking country. It is not clear enough whether the response to his speech will change the stance of some people on immigration or if it would, on the contrary, spark more rage towards the so-called “brainwashed” Catholic Church that some claim prefers people of other religions over its believers.
Pope Francis’s visit reinforced the traditional family model in Hungary, according to the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, who has been an avid supporter and “saviour” of Christian values in Hungary against Western liberalism and politics of inclusion. Even though during Friday’s meeting with the Pope they did not discuss their different positions on immigration, Orban has made it obvious that he resorted to strict isolationism. “Give all rights back to the nation-state,” Orban told the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia earlier this month.
The rise of nationalism and anti-immigration voices has been the most common response to the crisis in Eastern Europe. Countries such as Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, and Poland are amongst those who have the toughest response to the European Union’s (EU) proposed policies. These four countries make up the Visegrad Group that has a common resistance to the EU efforts to redistribute several refugees to these countries. The flow of immigrants and asylum seekers has increased in Europe in the early 2010s and was stimulated by the war in Syria when millions of Syrian refugees were in extreme danger.
The welcoming programs in the EU countries that resettled the most refugees, such as Germany, have been consistently improving and are on the way to becoming more accepting. However, much criticism came from the traditionally conservative political parties whose response to the humanitarian crisis could be considered inhumane, selfish, and non-progressive. The Pope’s call for becoming more “grounded and open, rooted and considerate” certainly carries an enormous propagandistic message. However, this message calls for humanity in people and thus should not be taken negatively by the conservative forces in Eastern European countries.
It is crucial to continue to advance advocacy for tolerance, solidarity, and the promotion of correct integration policies in regards to the immigration crisis in Europe. There should be more political and social actors, especially from the Visegrad Group countries, who could serve as mediators between the Muslim immigrants and the countries’ citizens to promote cultural integration and understanding on both sides.
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