You may recall György Matolcsy’s infamous CNN interview in which he extolled the economic achievements of the Orbán government, which adopted his “unorthodox” policies. Matolcsy’s English is somewhat halting and while he was madly looking for words to describe the glorious Hungarian situation, he stumbled upon the phrase “fairy tale.” Well, the description of Hungary as a country that lives in circumstances resembling a fairy tale has been a standing joke in Budapest ever since.
Earlier this year Matolcsy promised the arrival of an earthly paradise within a year, but two weeks ago the date changed dramatically. This time he promised real change by 2030. But it doesn’t matter what he promises, Hungarians don’t believe him. And they are leaving the country in great numbers. According to government estimates, currently at least 300,000 Hungarians are working in western Europe and the United Kingdom. I heard just this morning from a member of parliament that there might be as many as 100,000 Hungarians living in Great Britain alone.
Doctors, nurses, and computer scientists find jobs easily. In fact, the shortage of health professionals in Great Britain and in western Europe prompts hospitals to recruit in Hungary. But ordinary folks also pick up and start a new life abroad. Originally they may plan to stay for only a couple of years, either to make some money or to learn the language well, but in the end they stay for good. Often they manage to make careers for themselves, often they get married to locals. These people will never return to Hungary.
Although Viktor Orbán is convinced that his government with its nationalistic fervor is defending Hungary and Hungarians from the evil attacks of the outside world, it seems that more and more people want to leave the country of fairy tales and live with Hungary’s alleged “enemies.” According to Tárki, a well-known pollster, since 2010 the number of people who are planning to emigrate or simply move abroad in search of work has grown one and a half times. More and more people want to leave the Eden that is shaping up in Hungary where the “numbers are too good”—at least according to András Giró-Szász, the government spokesman—and therefore the IMF may not even be interested in giving the country any money.
HVG in late July began a series of portraits of “successful” Hungarians in Great Britain. The people they interviewed live in London or in Brighton. From an interview with a former English teacher we learn that in Brighton there are so many Hungarians that she now has a job with the municipal government helping immigrant Hungarian children adjust to the English-language curriculum. She planned to go to England for a year or two to improve her English skills but instead got married to an Englishman and now has two children. She finds that her fellow countrymen know practically nothing about the country they decided to settle in. Most of them look down on the natives and think that they are smarter than the Brits. Our former English teacher finds this difficult to understand, but I’m more sympathetic to these people’s plight. This “superiority complex” is actually a defense mechanism to cope with their present subordinate positions in society.
Another young man at the very beginning toiled 90 hours a week on a farm for £120, but then he moved to London and worked in several bicycle shops where over the years he learned a lot about both the mechanical and the business sides of the trade. Today he owns a bicycle shop called Cycle Lab. He even has a few employees, but he doesn’t hire Hungarians because “the Hungarian mentality doesn’t work here. Here people work much harder. If necessary they work six days a week and every Sunday. The English accept this, the Hungarians don’t.” And he talked at length about the simpler tax system, honesty, and investing money and time into good material. According to him, people in Great Britain don’t expect instant riches. They appreciate quality.
Another man who had been a sous chef in Hungary had enough of badly equipped kitchens behind glitzy exteriors and left for better working conditions. Today he runs the kitchen and is also in charge of the menu in a well known hotel.
But perhaps the most interesting story is that of a young woman who has been living in London for the last eleven years. When she came to Britain on a student visa she was still a college student who hadn’t manage to pass her German examination and thus couldn’t finish up her studies for another two years. So, she decided to spend those two years doing something useful. She became an au pair and, when her time on that job ran out, she worked in a pub. After many odd jobs, including cleaning houses, she was hired by the London Underground where they trained her as a driver. The pay was good: over £40,000 in addition to free transportation for two members of the family, which means another £2,000. In addition, employees get eight weeks of vacation. By now she is a “duty train staff manager” at one of the stations of the Victoria Line Seven Sisters. She owns her own house and since that interview was conducted she became a British citizen.
None of these people is thinking about going back to Hungary. And not necessarily because of money. They prefer the attitude of the English. Our Underground duty train staff manager claims that she needed no “connections” to get her job. The chef also said that he got his job because he was considered to be a good worker. He needed no friend or relative to help him. And this is what they hated in Hungary. They feel that what they achieved is due solely to their own accomplishments. And that is a good feeling.