Hungarians’ fear of the economic crisis

I guess nobody who knows anything about Hungary and Hungarians will be terribly surprised to hear that according to an opinion poll conducted by TÁRKI and the Central European Opinion Research Group in the four so-called Visegrád countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary), the fear of the consequences of the current economic crisis is greatest among Hungarians. In all four countries the majority of the population agrees that there are already palpable effects of the world economic crisis, but it is only in Hungary that a majority means 93 percent of the population! In Poland, it is 57%. It is also interesting that 70% of Hungarians claim that the crisis has touched them and their families personally. Twenty-five percent admitted that they haven't noticed any change in their economic situation, but they are certain they will feel negative effects of the crisis in the future. Only six percent cheerfully announced that they will not be affected. In contrast 25% of the Poles, 12.5% of the Slovaks, and about 20% of the Czechs are optimistic that the crisis will not touch them personally.

Well, one knows simply by looking at statistics that 70% of the country's population hasn't been economically affected by the crisis. Moreover, people who have visited the country lately claim that there is very little outward sign of economic distress. Yet Hungarians already feel deprived, and the austerity program is still nowhere. Why is this? I don't believe that the only explanation is that Hungarians just pessimistic by nature. I'm convinced that politicians, economists, and the media are largely responsible for this doomsday atmosphere. If one hears from morning to night that the end of the world is at hand, eventually one believes it. And Hungarian politicians, economists, and members of the media do everything in their power to spread the bad news. And if there is no bad news they create some. Everybody knows that predicting the future is a risky business especially in the present economic situation. Therefore, how can one of the vice presidents of the Hungarian National Bank say with incredible certainty that this crisis in Hungary will be deeper and last longer than anyone has predicted until now?  With such pronouncements she can do damage to the economic prospects of the country whose interests she is supposed to defend. Not to mention the damage to the mood of her countrymen. A lot of people watch Napkelte every morning.

(By the way, a team of Goldman Sachs strategists recommended on April 8 that investors in European stocks should increasingly favor manufacturing, technology, and other industries that rely on economic growth as the global recession eases. "Recent data make us more confident the worst in the economic cycle is past, and we further move towards cyclicals from defensives." Admittedly, prognostication in the stock market is no better than it is anywhere else. A famous line from Warren Buffett reads: "We have long felt that the only value of stock forecasters is to make the fortune tellers look good.")

But back to Hungary. The chorus of pessimistic economists has been relentless. They started their lament well before the actual crisis hit the United States and from there spread to Europe, including Hungary. The terrible predictions about the high deficit and the convergence program began more than two years ago. Economists warned the government that if this or that is not done, the whole country will go to the dogs. At least three different "packages" were prepared, one sounding worse than the next. In the meantime Fidesz politicians kept repeating that the country is already bankrupt though the population doesn't know it yet. Under these circumstances it's not surprising that Hungarians, pessimistic by nature, are convinced that life is bad and will only get worse.

Let's contrast the Hungarian scene with the American politicians' way of handling the crisis. At the time of Barack Obama's inauguration there was incredible euphoria and a false sense on the part of many that everything would be fine practically overnight. At that point both Obama and his team had to dampen expectations. They kept talking about the difficulties, the size and depth of the crisis. They warned that the crisis and its effects might last a long time. They kept repeating that they will try everything in their power to stimulate the economy but it might take years before the stimulus package has its full effect. After a few weeks (and a fair amount of criticism that they were too negative) they changed tactics. Now they are giving out optimistic signals–"green shoots" and all. Obama tells people to go out and buy stocks, the Fed chairman makes optimistic predictions, and economic players are following suit. And the result? Spectacular. In the middle of January only 15% of Americans felt that the country was moving in the right direction. Today it's 39%. Optimism is growing and without optimism there really is no bright future. Self-fulfilling prophecy. We know all about it.


  1. i do think also that politics and media made the crisis look much worse. but because of a really high percentage of families having mortgages in eur and chf (not like in cz, sk, pl) people really feel the crisis better. a lot of them has no saved money, so their credit is a risky game.
    but generally i do agree that there is a bigger problem in hungary than economy. the society is going in a pretty bad direction. for me as a young hungarian who lived in other european countries it is shocking to see how much people are getting radicalised. not the riots are the problem on the streets, they are just several 100 people. but that people with degree start to talk about that the country’s situation is just bad because of gipsies are not working (because they just can’t) and jews and foreigner companies are robbing the national wealth. and you find a lot of such people working by multinational companies and public service offices. if hungary will look like a nationalistic, intolerant, anti-globalisation country then there’ll be a big problem. with this war in politics no smart government decisions can be made in the coming years…
    to be honest, i’m thinking to leave the country again.

  2. Peter: “i do agree that there is a bigger problem in hungary than economy.”
    You pointed out the worst problem the country is facing. Where these old ghosts are coming from to haunt Hungary? Were they awakened because of Fidesz’s propaganda? Some people think so.

  3. It is hard to guess what is the reason of these frightening social and political processes. I personally think that Fidesz, and specially Orbán is telling what people do wanna hear. Maybe that lies on the not fully honest history self picture of Hungarians specially Hungary’s role in WWII and the forced “hungarization” of minorities. I feel like most of Hungarians feels like that our country is just an innocent victim of history. And if we are victims someone must be blamed for it. And to blame Jewish people is kind of old habit in Europe.
    And if you see in every 10th Hungarian car a Big-Hungary sticker you have to think that a lot of people don’t really know history that clearly…
    Fidesz is really interesting because their strategy is to collect everyone against “the old communists”. so the party has more faces: Orbán and Kövér are telling all the time about nationalistic, dreamy bullshit. Unfortunately a lot of normal politicians left Fidesz because of this. The Viennese liberal der Standard is calling Fidesz in the recent years right-populist – sadly they are right.
    For me Orbán is almost the same as Fico: they are both populist and don’t care about the longer effects of their everyday position fights. I guess in Europe nobody takes them serious.
    I’ve read an interesting paper on CEE societies some years ago which pointed out that in PL and HU the society is really sceptical with every government due to the fact that they’ve been governed by foreigners in the recent hundred years. So to trick the gov. was something patriotic and it looks like it is still in the national characteristic. Maybe that’s why people are offensive with minorities also.
    To change people’s mind is not easy, and if one party (Fidesz) is lieing every time regarding the most basic economical facts it is impossible – it is easier to believe that the state could help everyone, only the evil government (socialist-for them communists, liberals-for them Jews) does not want to help them.

  4. Right, blame it all on the media and the economists instead of the Socialist government in power during the past 7 (SEVEN) years.
    “They started their lament well before the actual crisis hit the United States and from there spread to Europe, including Hungary. The terrible predictions about the high deficit and the convergence program began more than two years ago.”
    And they were right about many, many things.
    Go back and read the newspapers from late 2005: Veres and Gyurcsany saying we still have a good chance of adopting the euro in 2010.
    I thought the 2006 Fidesz campaign motto that Hungarians were worse off than 4 years earlier was a lot of bunk, because the cheap Swiss franc loans and large pay raises in the state sector meant many people were actually much better off than in 2002.
    But now? Only tax dodgers and a few other privileged thousands are better off.
    “Well, one knows simply by looking at statistics that 70% of the country’s population hasn’t been economically affected by the crisis.”
    Which statistics are those? The MSZP’s?
    Have you been to Hungary lately?
    Both in Budapest and in the countryside, things are getting worse, not improving.
    From unemployment to huge increases in utility bills, there’s hardly anyone not feeling the pinch.
    Sure the shopping malls are full, but is anyone buying anything or just strolling around?
    A friend of mine who works in a store at the West End says sales are much lower than in the past year or two.
    That’s not pessimism, that’s reality.
    Naturally, there are always exceptions, really clever, sly or just plain corrupt folks who thrive even during a deep crisis.
    But that’s not the majority, or even close, of the population.
    Hungarians do have a tendency to not be satisfied with anything and lament their status no matter how relatively good.
    But in the past 7 years, most of our neighboring countries have passed us by, we’re is still 4-5 years away from joining the euro zone (unless they change the rules) and while Bajnai promises pain, the planned cutbacks don’t really tackle the structural problems.
    So people are basically going to feel pain for just a temporary solution for keeping to the promised budget deficit, but will have to suffer again further down the road when someone finally decides to introduce real reforms.
    Also I don’t think you can really treat economic and social problems as if they were two isolated issues.
    People look for scapegoats especially when things are not going well.
    If you can improve the economy and get people back to work, many social problems tend to dissolve.
    The rise of Jobbik is not because Hungary all of a sudden woke up one morning and started feeling more anti-Semitic or anti-Roma.
    It’s because people are poorer, more disillusioned and easier to influence by populist or racist rhetoric.
    While there certainly may be some truth to the self-fulfilling prophecy about things going badly because many people said they would, the other side of the coin is just as bad _ pretending that hole in the boat is just a minor leak, letting people keep on partying while the ship slowly (or quickly) sinks.
    Not sure which one I prefer.
    And the truth is, I don’t need the government, the opposition or the experts to tell me how well or badly things are going.
    One look at my bank account will suffice.

  5. “And if you see in every 10th Hungarian car a Big-Hungary sticker you have to think that a lot of people don’t really know history that clearly…”
    True. I wish the govt would look at history teaching here a bit closer. I suspect the history teaching profession is full of loonies.
    Driving around with a “Big Hungary” sticker is like putting a wreath on the back of your car. It’s not a call to action, more a sad reminder and an excuse to wallow in the mire. Because we all know, that revision simply ain’t gonna happen.
    Imagine the Garda going off to fight in the Tatras – all those sweaty fat faces struggling to run up hills, weighed down by their bulging bellies and fat sweaty bottoms! (Actually you may not like to think of it too much)

  6. Agree with “Stuck” … Hungary’s economic and social problems are very real, rather than perceived, and for those many thousands who get paid in white envelopes at the end of every month or week, the future is very uncertain indeed.

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