Mass exodus from villages in Baranya County, Hungary

Hungary is witnessing a steady flow of emigrants. Admittedly, one could counter that it is incorrect to call those who seek work abroad emigrants because “to emigrate” means “to leave one country or region to settle in another.” One could argue that these people don’t plan to live abroad for good. However, there is a very good likelihood that people who spend a number of years in another country, establish a career for themselves, make new non-Hungarian friends, perhaps even marry local men or women will not return to their country of birth. A good example of that kind of emigration was the mass exodus of Hungarian citizens, especially from the Slovak-inhabited counties of northeastern Hungary, who left for the United States in the 1880s and 1890s in order to make enough money to return home and live in relative comfort. Most of them never saw Hungary again.

We know that at least 330,000 Hungarians now work abroad. I suspect that most of these people are from larger cities and from regions adjacent to the Austrian border. But today I read a fascinating report about the poverty-stricken south of the County of Baranya which has been witnessing “emigration fever.” The population of this region is in an utterly hopeless situation. There are places where over 50% of the population are unemployed without the slightest hope of finding work. In the entire county there was only one large factory, the Finnish Elcoteq, but in 2011 the firm filed for bankruptcy and between 5,000 and 7,000 people lost their jobs. Until 2011 the lucky ones in these godforsaken villages could find work in Pécs, commuting between work and home. That opportunity is gone.

The Pécs stringer for Népszabadság visited four tiny villages, two close to Szigetvár on the west and two near Sellye, the largest town in the so-called Ormánság. I might add here that the Roma population of south Baranya is pretty high. It always was, but by now there are villages where all of the inhabitants are Roma. This is especially true of the Ormánság. Both Szigetvár and Sellye are marked on the map below.

The reporter’s journey began in Kétújfalu (pop. 667), 13 km from Szigetvár. There even the Fidesz-KDNP mayor’s son moved to Germany where he began as a dock worker but by now has a job as a computer technician. He made 110,000 forints a month as a fire fighter in Hungary; he now makes about three and a half times that amount–1,300 euros a month. The thirty-year-old English teacher in the village school packed up a couple of years ago. She became a housekeeper in the UK. A fifty-year-old locksmith has been working in Germany for the last ten years. Last summer his wife followed him. She was a cook in the school, now she works as a cleaning lady. She gives the impression of being a “secure and self-confident person,” at least this is how the mayor, who is a German-Russian-gym teacher, describes her.

The situation is very much the same in Teklafalu (pop. 343) close by. The first emigrant was a butcher who went to Germany fifteen years ago. His son decided to become a butcher as well in order to work with his father. As soon as he learned the trade he followed his father to Passau where he got a job at the firm his father is working for. The family has two daughters who are still not on their own, but once they finish school the wife is going to follow husband and son. She is ready to work in a factory. After all, in the old regime she worked in a canning factory in Szigetvár.

After the son of our butcher left, interest in emigration grew in Teklafalu. Two women in their fifties left for Germany. The son of one them headed to Italy. A young fellow just left for the Netherlands, but he is not the first one in that country from the village. A young woman left years ago and recently her father followed her; he got a job as a security guard. “He had enough of the poverty,” as his neighbor said.

County of Baranya

County of Baranya

From the Szigetvár region the reporter moved south, close to Sellye, to a village called Bogdása (pop. 295). The place has a Catholic and a Hungarian Reformed church but neither priest nor minister. They come from Sellye for services. The same exodus can be observed here. First, one fellow left for France and soon enough two more followed him. Neither man was unemployed at home; they had jobs but never made more than 120,000-150,000 a month. Now they make about five times that amount as plasterers. One of them is in Rennes and the other in Grenoble. Their sister is planning to go to Austria and would be happy to work either in a restaurant or in a hotel. Another couple moved to England where they work in a Sony plant. As their neighbors say, “they don’t even visit anymore.” Three men from the village work in a slaughterhouse in Germany while three others, also in Germany, got jobs as long distance truck drivers.

The most interesting story is from Drávafok (pop 508). Tímea  Buzás is thirty and Roma. She has been working in the United Kingdom ever since 2006 when she graduated as a midwife. At that time she applied for a job in Drávafok but lost out to someone else. She suspects that her Gypsy origin had something to do with it. So she decided to leave for Great Britain. Because she didn’t know English she first worked in a factory. Two years later when her English improved she got a job looking after elderly people. A year later she got a regular job as a nurse. Today she is head nurse in Crawley and makes 2,500 pounds a month.

In the last six years she paid off her parents’ mortgage on their house (4 million), spent 2 million fixing up their house in Drávafok, bought an apartment in Pécs for 8.5 million, and spent another 2 million fixing it up. She also generously helps others, preparing them for the journey and conditions in the UK. She apparently managed to get jobs for 72 of her acquaintances. Once they are there she helps them open bank accounts, fill out job applications, and find apartments. Out of the 500 inhabitants of Drávafok there are at least 15 people just in England.

These people, six months after arriving in the UK, are able to send home 200,000-250,000 forints a month. Not surprisingly there is great interest in moving to Great Britain in Drávafok. Tímea, who is currently spending her summer vacation at home, was approached by seven of her neighbors in just the past few days. The only impediment is that future emigrants must have some initial capital with which to start their new lives. According to Tímea one needs at least 300,000 forints. Since most of the inhabitants of Drávafok can get only 45,000 forint public works jobs it is almost impossible to scrape together such a sun. Otherwise, I suspect, there would be no way of stopping them.

Until now the Roma of Baranya County didn’t rush to leave the country seeking jobs abroad. That has changed. As one mayor in the region said, the best educated and the most ambitious are the ones who are leaving, which is a real pity.

Yes, this situation greatly resembles what was going on in the northeastern counties of Greater Hungary in the late nineteenth century. The news spread by word of mouth. One villager went to the United States to work in a factory or mine and sent home glowing reports about his good fortune. And more and more packed up until half of the villages had no adult men. This is what seems to be going on today, at least in Baranya. But now the women are also leaving.


  1. Here is a rough sketch of a proof that the Orban government has burnt 8,000 billion forints in the last 3 years.

    P0= Position of Hungary on June 30, 2010, in billions of HUF:

    +10,070 = MNB reserves
    + 2,945 = MaNyuP retirement funds (as of May 2011)
    -20,470 = gross government debt

    P3= Position of Hungary on June 30, 2013, in billions of HUF:

    +10,192 = MNB reserves
    + 311 = MaNyuP retirement funds (as of April 2013)
    -22,238 = gross government debt

    E= net receipt from EU budget in the period = [1/2*2010+2011+est. 2012+ 1/2*est. 2013]
    E= 3,855

    P0 + E – P3= 8,135 billion HUF

  2. CharlieH :
    Thomas is right – and I have witnessed so-called ‘healthcare’ in Hungary.
    And my partner sees healthcare here from a ‘Hungarian’ perspective too – and she says never grow old – or be ill, in Hungary!

    We’re very close to many health care providers here in Hungary and Charlie you’re right, don’t grow old or be ill in Hungary. A friend of the family was just denied treatment because.. she’s too old

    As for the migration, I meet Hungarians all over the place who left for *fun* and now realize that they’re much better off having left than if they were to return. I’d say the more skills you have the larger the disparity. As for people not getting jobs in their fields.. I’d say Hungary does very well (so far) for lower education but when you get to specialties, from what I can see, they start falling down. Medical doctors here on average receive (IME) less training than their western counterparts. People coming from other disciplines seem to be less able than their western counterparts. They tend to know one thing very well but are missing all of the other bits to make a complete package. Add in language difficulties and I can see how they don’t seem to compete well as you’d think they should in an open specialized labour market.

  3. @ Cheshire Cat: I’m British but live in Budapest, and I’ve had recent experience of both the British NHS and Hungary’s system recently.

    I had to have some check ups recently, which resulted in minor surgery. I chose to go back to the UK to do it, frankly because it’s more comforting to go ‘home’ to do these things if possible. And yes, it took several trips, because I was put on a several months long waiting list. Actually, it was almost a year between initial check up to final surgery. I had to wait in crowded waiting rooms. The nurses/doctors were clearly rushed off their feet and got me in and out as quickly as they could. But, you know, it was a minor illness and it was all free.

    My experience in Hungary involves my wife’s pregnancy. Yes, in Hungary, you can go private (e.g. to a gynaecologist or a dentist) and it’s relatively cheap if you have savings from working in the UK, or are among the top earners in the country (e.g. I once paid 12,000HUF to have some stitches taken out). Private health care in Hungary is fine, and much cheaper than in the UK.

    But, having spent up to five hours with my wife in Semmelweiss, one of Budapest’s “top” hospitals, just waiting for the one doctor on duty for a quick scan, with rude or non-existent support staff, in very crowded and unheated corridors with not enough seats, I think the situation in Hungary is far worse for the *average* person. (I’m not talking about people with disposable incomes here). There are large areas of Hungary where there are no specialist doctors at all. So you get pregnant women (some with very unfortunate conditions) trekking across the country to endure this. The toilets have no soap or paper; you have to bring your own cutlery if you’re staying overnight. The postnatal care was shocking. Perhaps it is in the UK, too. I don’t know. But I think Hungary’s health care is just about scraping along purely because of the work of a few extremely dedicated people (who are probably very grateful for those ‘gifts’ they get from patients afterwards).

    Meanwhile, I hear Orban Viktor’s multi-billion forint stadium in Felcsut is coming along nicely.

  4. Meanwhile on Planet Hungary ….

    Terény is small village in Nógrád county. Population 410. But barely has children.
    You can move in in and live in a house just for paying the utilities. No rent. This is not a government program.

    – you have to have at least two toddlers
    – you have to send them to the local kindergarten
    – pay the utilities
    – pay 30k HUF deposit each month
    – make sure the house and the garden stays in good shape

    The 30k is to make sure you pay the the utilities according to the people who organized the program. You’ll get it back eventually with interest. It seems it servers a “social filter”.

  5. where are you from, Ivan?

    Hm, the NHS was created on the wrong assumption that the state has to run the healthcare for it to be free for all. We know now that the prices would go down and quality would go high if doctors and hospitals were private. They can still send the bill to the state insurance like in Germany. Or if you make it compulsory to have private insurance (instead of paying 10% of your income to the state), the state can still pay for the insurance of the ones who can’t afford it. The service would cost everybody a lot less than now.

    Also, one area where “communist” countries spoiled their people was the generous healthcare. Free for all, lots of helpful and responsible doctors, almost no waiting lists, a good system of out-of-hospital secondary care, paediatric primary and dental care for children, the vaccination programme was ahead of the UK’s, vitamins for children provided on higher standards than here now! – even if the quality was wishy-washy, ambulance cars, tablets and equipment from other eastern bloc countries etc. But that’s why Eastern Europeans find the standards of the NHS so low, because they assume everything is better than at home or at least as good.
    For example Hungarian women (like in many other countries) are widely encouraged to have a yearly gynaecology check-up, with a specialist, private or state, often accompanied by an ultrasound scan. They arrive in Britain, and find out that there is no such service here. Smear tests every 3 years carried out by a nurse, end of story. If you have a problem in the area, often the GP starts guessing, considers the famous paracetamol cure combined with “watchful waiting”. You can’t have such a thing as a “check up”.
    No wonder some decide to go home and give £ 50 to a Hungarian gynaecologist of their choice when they visit home.

  6. @ Cheshire Cat: My wife (who grew up in Transylvania in the 70s and 80s, and has a somewhat less rosy view of communist-era health care than you seem to) says that there used to be a yearly gynaecology check up in Hungary, but it seems to have been discontinued a while ago. In any case, many people didn’t bother going, because they would spend all day queuing up in a state hospital.

    Anyway, you’re argument seems to be that healthcare in Hungary is better than in the UK. Yes, you’re right it is – if you have money to fly over to Budapest and pay for private service! But that counts out the majority of the Hungarian population, I’m afraid.

  7. I agree, Bowen, that people who go home for healthcare while working in Britain are not in the same position financially as the average Hungarian.

    This whole debate started, I think, by me saying that life is not perfect for every migrant worker in the UK – eg they go home to bypass the NHS queues.
    Some of them! 🙂 I’ve never done – despite some truly horrendous experiences with the NHS, I still think it provides better care.

  8. I was writing when you sent that, Bowen! 🙂 No, I don’t think Hungarian healthcare is better than the NHS, and I don’t think that it ever was altogether.
    Some Hungarian migrant workers in the UK think it is better! – that’s what I said.

  9. @Cheshire Cat. Yes, you’re quite right to paint a less-than-wonderful view of living in Britain. I imagine there are many British people who have a very dismissive and blanket view of ‘Eastern Europeans’. I doubt whether many Brits could even point to Hungary on a map. So if there is a tendency for Hungarians to come ‘home’ when they feel poorly is quite understandable.

  10. No such things as ‘birth plans’ in a Hungarian hospital. And if you’re a highly-qualified professional who tries to assist in a home-birth then you will end up spending years in jail.

    The worst thing I ever saw in a Hungarian hospital was a very old lady whisked off in the middle of the night with heart problems. When she returned to the ward, shaking and full of mortal dread, the porter waited, and waited, until this sick and terrified old lady managed to retrieve some paper money and an envelope(!) from her handbag for him. I’ve never seen anything like this anywhere else. But I now know that it’s normal. Gyurcsany tried to change all of this. And was well and truly castigated for it.

  11. London Calling!

    Ivan – your comments are very interesting!

    You may be interested in what I wrote here on:

    “March 22, 2013 at 9:50 am | #50 Quote

    Győr Calling!

    Completely O/T

    End-of-life Care – Hungarian Style:

    A friend of my partner became ill several weeks ago – The GP sent her away with some medication.

    She steadily got weaker – and they did some ‘infection’ tests after she was admitted to hospital.

    She was 85.

    However she became progressively weaker and no further tests could be undertaken – because of the delay.

    During this time much (all?) of her care – and cleaning up – was done by her relatives – often after a long hard day’s work (so no compassionate leave then).

    Incontinence pads were supplied by the relatives – as were wipes and other things – which were ‘appropriated’ by the nurses for other patients. They said she had been washed and cleaned in the mornings – but from the state of the sheets this was not the case…….until…….

    The relatives supplied coffee, chocolates – and the ubiquitous ‘envelope’ for the nurses (the NURSES! – I thought this blackmail was only perpetrated by the doctors!).

    And yes – they said they intervened in the morning after that. Doubtful.

    However they would only replace a soiled top sheet when one was requested – (not the bottom sheet) as they had to make sheets last over the Bank Holiday. Many of the sheets coming from the laundry looking soiled – disgusting.

    Presumably the ‘Coffee-Chocolate-Envelope’ premium was not high enough to allow for an extra clean sheet.

    The beds are so old they can’t be raised – preventing back ache for the nurses; if ever they felt inclined to care for the patients.

    Vulnerable patients are prevented from falling out of bed with planks – PLANKS of wood!

    How can wood ever be made sterile?

    In England we even ban wooden spoons in catering because of the bacteria risk. – Semmelweis must be turning in his grave – no wonder he went mad.

    And she died.

    No one will know of what. She was 85 – and that was long enough. This seems to be the prevailing attitude of the medical profession: she lived long enough– and the relatives accept it readily too.

    If you’ve had your three score years and ten – then you visit a hospital in Hungary at your peril. If you need an ambulance in your 90′s – forget it, just die. You’ve had long enough and we won’t even spare the petrol it seems – not worth doing any tests. Just go and push up the daisies.

    So if you have nurse friends – and you see jars of coffee and chocolates in their food cupboards – you know why.

    How does it work? Does the lucky receiving nurse ‘trouser’ the envelope quickly? Or are they all pooled and divvied out weekly. Monthly? As and when?

    The share-out must be a highlight of the week.

    My partner works in a hospice in England – so knows what compassionate care is – even in the NHS which isn’t exactly a shining beacon of professionalism.

    But Hungary? Truly dire.

    If I get the slightest twinge or pain anywhere – I’ll be back on the first plane to England, believe me.”

    This situation – in any civilised country, and in the EU – is unacceptable.

    And some on here parallel it with the English NHS – astonishing.



  12. When I read the comments, not knowing the workings of the UK NHS system and whether it is free or not. In Hungary healthcare is not free, more or less you pay approximately 15% of the gross salary to the Social Security (SocS) , and if you are self employed you can enter into a contract with SocS for around HUF 9,000 per month (basic services). Only kids are free of charge.

  13. The current (legal) mandatory monthly healthcare payment for little or no income is 6660 forints (really – look at that number!).

  14. Mutt, according to the 2010 census of Hungary, there are some 470,000 home dwellings standing empty.

    That is an increase of more than 200,000 in ten years.

  15. Ron, if you re interested: in the UK, if you work, 10% of your income is taken off as National Insurance Contribution. About 80% of that is towards the NHS. If you are not employed (retired, child etc), you don’t pay anything. Healthcare is free at the point of delivery. You pay towards medicine (£ 7.60), for dental care (from £20-£200 depending on what gets done) and for opticians. Pharmacies and opticians are privately run.

    Parallel to this, 10% of the population is privately insured and a much bigger percentage pay for private healthcare themselves, if and when they want to use it. All NHS specialist care is hospital based. GPs work as gate-keepers to NHS specialist care, on average they refer less than 10% of the people they see for any tests and scans.
    Consultant specialists work both in NHS and private hospitals. Eg 2-3 days a week for the NHS, privately elsewhere. Many hospitals have a private “wing”.

    You can’t “opt out” of the NHS, ie if you are privately insured, you still pay your full contribution to he NHS and you are still entitled to use it. There is no Accidents & Emergency care in private hospitals.

    One problem is that the NHS is very expensive. If you pay for a private specialist consultation, it could cost you £150-250, depending on whom you see, what specialist area etc. You usually don’t have to wait longer than a day. On the NHS the same consultation costs the state ~£350 and you need to wait for 1-6 months. Often – though strictly speaking illegal – there is a minimum waiting list, eg you don’t get an appointment sooner even if there was any. Many people get worse and die while on the waiting list. For each further scan or test there is another waiting list, and you are on the waiting list to get the results of your ultra sound scan. You don’t usually get a follow-up appointment to discuss the results with the specialist for 3 months – at least that’s what I was told once. It’s not uncommon to wait 5-8 years for psychotherapy, for example.
    This is why the government has been trying to incorporate private providers and competition into the system, the idea being that the GP can choose to refer you to anybody, whoever is the cheapest and quickest, but the policy plans have been diluted due to protests from the healthcare professionals.
    That’s where we are now.

    British people are usually very proud of “their” NHS, and any government that try to fiddle with it risk their chances of being reelected. Hence the idea of it being at the Olympics opening show – it did look very strange for a lot foreigners indeed! 😀

  16. I’ve had good and less good care in hospitals and by specialists in North-East Hungary. I could tell you great sotries and horror stories and excellent doctors and evil doctors. Nurses that refuse tips and rarely onew sho might accept. And doctors who always refuse tips even after operations yet if the patient really insisits may accept. And great doctors who on principle never accept cash.

    Its a system of home-doctor care and specialist care that in some communities works extremely efficiently and in others that can trip people up if you are not aware.

    However do not forget theat the staff make incredible self sacrifice because most have to work several jobs to make ends meet.

    Ive had multiple expereinces (coronary heart surgery, other surgery, zillions of a variety of examinations with great results. Friends had the opposite experience that I witnessed.

    On ehing is for sure, my montly insurance cost (standard minimum) is 6,700 forints which is 30 USD. and I get over 50% of my medicines subidized by the state (I take about 19 pills a day’S” yoummie, especially the first 12 with the eggs and bacon in the morning. And the medicines are foreign Western pharmaceuticals.

    On the othjer hand you do take your life in your hands, you never know where an evil bolt of lightning might come from while in the system. If nothing else, its at leaast exciting!!!

    I fpor one have hjad good luck, thank God!

    If you live here in Hungary and want advice I may be able to advise you as to how to proceed.

  17. Apart from the fact that Hungarian unemployment figures would be much higher if these people would have stayed at home, I have not seen figures yet about the influence their money has on GDP-figures. Let us estimate, rather conservatively I think, that on average they send 200 euro’s a month back home. That would mean they send 720,000,000 euro’s a year. I’m pretty sure that if Hungary has growth figures this year, that money is the main source.

  18. Hat dies auf Ungarn in der Nussschale rebloggt und kommentierte:
    Brain Drain in Ungarn – Menschen in der Region Baranya verlassen ihre Heimat massenhaft, auf der Suche nach anständig bezahlten Jobs und einem besseren Leben – und tragen mit ihren Geldsendungen maßgeblich zur Versorgung ihrer Angehörigen bei.

  19. Cheshire Cat is both right and wrong.

    Yes, many (most?) Hungarians in the UK do think that their healthcare system at home is better (I am married to one of them!). But I think this is mostly based on different cultural expectations. For instance, when I go to the doctor I am reassured to be told it’s just a virus/bug/cold, go home, go to bed, take some paracetamol, but my wife wants pills or medicines, or a visit to a specialist, and doesn’t think she’s had a proper consultation unless she’s had something concrete out of it (even if it’s entirely unnecessary). Also, she compares the service she has had at home in the past where she has paid for it, or where she has seen doctors who are friends of the family, with the normal NHS service, and of course the NHS looks worse.

    But, like others on here, I have experienced both health services, and never again do I want to be treated, or have my children treated, in the Hungarian ‘health’ service. It is poor and dirty and falling apart at its best, and downright brutal and cruel at its worst. I will go to my grave with my 2 year old daughter’s screams echoing in my head when she was held down by two nurses while a doctor held a mask over her face while he stitched a cut in her mouth – with no anaesthetic and no attempt to comfort her or to allow her parents to hold her. Afterwards we were told off for ‘allowing’ our child to scream.

    But even my less serious encounters with the Hungarian system were farcical. I ruptured a disc in my back one year and had to have spinal surgery. Of course I had to wait, like almost everyone does in the NHS (unless they can afford to go private) and I had to make a fuss before I got an MRI scan, but in the end the treatment was excellent and the experience was good, even if it could have been better (e.g. the food!). But my wife wasn’t happy with the way I’d been treated and insisted that I see a Hungarian surgeon on our next visit.

    My brother-in-law is a senior doctor, so this was duly arranged (no endless waits in corridors for us), and in the end I saw three specialists. The first two couldn’t agree on the diagnosis (despite the fact that I’d had a very common problem and perfectly standard surgery), and neither would listen to my input – both considered they knew their stuff and didn’t need to consult the patient. The third specialist decided I hadn’t had a ruptured disc at all (so that pain was all imaginary!) and my surgery had been unnecessary, then, noticing I had flat feet, he decided that that was the cause of all my problems and ordered me a special pair of insoles. I wore these for three weeks, but they gave me so much pain that I had to stop wearing them – the relief was wonderful.

    I’m afraid, on my experiences and those of other friends and family I’ve witnessed, whilst the Hungarian system has its good points, overall it is unfriendly, unhelpful, at times lost somewhere in the middle ages, and sometimes even cruel and barbaric. If I was taken seriously ill in Hungary, I would pay to be flown back to the UK. At least I would be treated as a Human Being there.

    And, one last point, when the UK doctor recommends bed rest and paracetamol, I can at least just pop into my local shop and buy some – and cheaply. Try doing that in Hungary.

  20. Apropos of nothing. Paul is so terribly pessimistic about the opposition’s chances in 2014. I think the reason is for his pessimism is that he moves in solidly Fidesz circles. I’ll give you an example. My cousin and her family live in downtown Pécs. It is called “downtown”(belváros) in Hungarian but a better description would be “old town.” This is where the “cream of society” has lived from time memorial. My relatives live there because they inherited the place from her parents. Just as we lived there from the 1930s on. This “Altstadt” in Pécs today is inhabited by solidly pro-Fidesz people. When my cousin steps out of their apartment she encounters all the neighbors who are Fidesz supporters. So, no wonder that she is influenced by her everyday experience and therefore she is convinced that there is no way of getting rid of Orbán and its criminal gang. I do try to call her attention to polls and what they mean.

  21. I won’t pretend my ‘pessimism’ isn’t affected by my circumstances, but I am an analyst by training and experience, and I am more than capable of filtering out this influence and basing my opinions on fact and (non-family) observation.

    And the facts are quite simply that Orbán is in complete control – and he can and will change anything he needs to to maintain that control. He has abolished democracy, he has abolished an independent judiciary, he has taken control of the country’s media, he has rigged the electoral system, and he has engineered a constitution and civic structure to ensure that he retains control, or, in the unlikely event that he loses control, no one else is able to govern.

    What value has ordinary politics, democracy, or indeed, opinion polls against that?

    This is not pessimism, this is reality. I am by nature an optimist, I wake every morning expecting things to get better, despite whatever has happened the day before. I continue to read and comment on HS, for instance, despite my views, I continue to educate my children in Hungarian culture and history and to visit the country as often as I can. I hope, against all the facts, that Orbán can be removed without bloodshed and destruction.

    But I do not kid myself that a misplaced faith in democracy, left/liberal politicians and opinion polls will save the day. There is no longer any meaningful democracy in Hungary, so Orbán cannot be removed by democratic means. It doesn’t matter what the polls say, or what we read into them, they mean nothing in real terms. The game has changed. The rules have changed, and will continue to change.

    As always with ‘negative’ pieces by myself and others, I challenge anyone to disprove any of the above – to show how the opposition can get rid of Orbán and successfully govern in his place. I would dearly – desperately – love to be proved wrong.

    But, always, when we ask for this rebuttal, we get nothing.

  22. London Calling!

    Eva, I have had to reign in my ‘reality’ comments – I too share Paul’s analysis – I just can’t see how Orban can loose against ANY rational opposition – however united.

    (And your ‘health; experiences are very vivid btw, Paul. How anyone can believe this is an acceptable ‘service’ – and have the temerity to suggest it compares with our NHS, however bad! – is astonishing.)

    So I have stopped being a ‘Jonah’ for fear of disparaging the optimists – for optimists they are.

    And I realise how depressing it must be for someone with even the tiniest spark of optimism – or hope – to keep hearing the naysayers.

    Like Paul too – I hope for the people of Hungary that I am wrong – I have never wanted to be more wrong; and I don’t have to live there.

    So I bite my tongue.

    And wait.

    And pray.



  23. I agree with Paul, unfortunately. And I live here. Media domination and this kind of semi-nationalist siege-mentality against the EU, IMF etc, sealed the deal. There was a big rally outside the Opera House about 19 months ago and perhaps there was some hope in the air then. But everyone went home, scared of catching a cold. Most shocking of all for me, where are the artists? With one or two honourable exceptions – Tarr, Schiff, Szirtes, Alfoldi – they are so quiet. Resentment needs a voice and these years need articulation and record. Everyone seems more concerned about their grant applications, tbh.

  24. Ivan :
    I agree with Paul, unfortunately. And I live here. Media domination and this kind of semi-nationalist siege-mentality against the EU, IMF etc, sealed the deal. There was a big rally outside the Opera House about 19 months ago and perhaps there was some hope in the air then. But everyone went home, scared of catching a cold. Most shocking of all for me, where are the artists? With one or two honourable exceptions – Tarr, Schiff, Szirtes, Alfoldi – they are so quiet. Resentment needs a voice and these years need articulation and record. Everyone seems more concerned about their grant applications, tbh.

    I 100% agree with your last sentence. I must add that I do not blame any artist, writer, etc for being worried for their livelihood. There are people who have the cahnce to sapek up through their art, with their art, like Alfoldy did for example, but not to many people have the chance to be heard and seen, when the art in Hungary is directed by political freaks. I wrote about Hob, who is the biggest disappointment in my life. He stood up for the new Nemzeti Szinhaz, and signed with Vidnyanszky because he was always very nice to him. THis just shows me how irrelevant some artists became to Hungarian reality, or how important is to them to sell themselves for their livelihood. An other good example is the illustrations of the Basic Law.

  25. OT: Please visit the Detki Keksz Kft’s webpage and provide a comment regarding their unfair practice of not hiring gypsies.
    THis is what I posted: “The Detki Keksz Ltd. does not employ Hungarians with romani origins. Although they received millions of forints from the EU in grants to create new workplaces, they refuse to hire “gypsies” as they are worried about the boycott of their products. They bus workers in from other cities instead of hiring the local “willing to work” gypsies. Please, boycott the products of this bakery, until they are willing to use fair practices.”
    Here is the footage about the current uproar from the local gypsy population. Unfortunately the footage is only available in Hungarian, but you get a sense of what is going on. It is a shame that those romani people who would be willing and happy to work are cut off from this opportunity.

  26. But Paul, I do not think that even the “optimists” (as you consider me to be such person) would doubt that you are quite right. YES, Viktor Orban has got the country under control for all practical purposes. But: GIVEN THAT one should think about 1) why he managed to do so, and 2) what could be suitably done – without believing that such objective (getting Hungary back into the democratic camp) can be achieved easily or that preconditions for a change are in place. (But given the experience of 1989 in other countries of the Communist bloc, it can be easily considered “democratic” to get rid of a dictatorship through demonstrations and outside the official mechanisms of the dictatorship. To clarify: Hungary is so far “only” an autocracy.)

    I do not see that support for Viktor Orban is limitless. Quite on the contrary, people are leaving Hungary and many of those who are staying are not content with what he has been doing to the country. THEN comes the real stumbing block for me: even people who admittedly do not support OV and Fidesz do not have much of an idea what should be done instead and how. THAT is the biggest problem. Basic concepts of a modern, democratic society (representative democracy, respect for human rights in general, respect for other people’s rights specifically) are not understood – at least not in practical terms. Freedom of speech (for instance) can be totally abused, without the mainstream society being able to state limits to “freedoms” where different principles, rights or interests might have to be balanced. And this applies to a number of other principles of modern democracies also. Crucially: to the working of the parliament, the purpose of a constitution, the meaning of individual or collective interests etc. Which is why people are also not interested in it, as this does not provide any “guidance” for their lives – except from “everything goes” and a hopelessly cynical interpretation of the polical “business”.

    THAT is why those people who wish for a change CANNOT but must try to do something, starting from identifying where the country should be heading for, gathering people, finding some consensus, spreading democratic ideas and providing democratic education. Among others through learning by doing – crucially here: in that the opposition learns to cooperate and respect each other despite different interests. That is no small task and it is in every small step meritorious (I hope this words fits here). Perhaps it is “optimistic” to believe that there are enough people in Hungary who will rise to the challenge, but if nothing else in that I trust the geographic location of Hungary and the quite substantial number of people – on this blog alone! – who have no doubts about where this country should belong to.

  27. Ivan :
    No such things as ‘birth plans’ in a Hungarian hospital. And if you’re a highly-qualified professional who tries to assist in a home-birth then you will end up spending years in jail.
    The worst thing I ever saw in a Hungarian hospital was a very old lady whisked off in the middle of the night with heart problems. When she returned to the ward, shaking and full of mortal dread, the porter waited, and waited, until this sick and terrified old lady managed to retrieve some paper money and an envelope(!) from her handbag for him. I’ve never seen anything like this anywhere else. But I now know that it’s normal. Gyurcsany tried to change all of this. And was well and truly castigated for it.

    Did this event happen in Hungary or in your slavic country?

  28. Eva, what do you think can be done about personal abuse in the comments? We’re all pretty thick-skinned, i think – but it adds nothing to civilised and serious debate (especially when accompanied with xenophobia).

  29. Ivan :

    Eva, what do you think can be done about personal abuse in the comments? We’re all pretty thick-skinned, i think – but it adds nothing to civilised and serious debate (especially when accompanied with xenophobia).

    I just warned him.

  30. London Calling!

    Kirsten I understand what you are saying – in the best contribution I think you have made on the subject.

    Have you considered the following?

    That actually the electorate want the society that Orban represents?

    (And in this I include the apathetic constituency – who actually endorse Orban tacitly? – ‘Can’t-be-bothered-ness’ is an acceptance of your country’s system.)

    Looking from the West, and from a liberal perspective, we can all see that Orban’s ‘commocracy’ is nothing like real democracy that you so eloquently describe.

    This ‘autocracy’, as you describe it, is maybe the level of ‘democracy’ that the population can live with after coming out of communism.

    I can see that ‘commocracy’ gives many voters a level of psychological comfort – where decisions are still taken for them and they can feel secure in the warm glow of following their leader?

    I am serious btw – I believe that maybe Hungary has travelled along the democratic road as far as their history allows.

    And it has to evolve more until they arrive?

    I have had to resolve this possibility in my own head – because in other countries and other situations a revolution would already have occurred – or the electorate become rebellious..

    We (the West) have tried to ‘impose’ democracy on some countries in the sincere belief that this is what’s best. And I still believe that is is.

    But we have to convince them – and Hungary is not convinced.

    And we have to consider that they should not be a member of the EU.

    2004 was too premature, a psychological step too far.

    On my visits to Hungary acquaintances have actually questioned certain aspects of ‘English’ democracy – and how many times have I been told that things were ‘better’ under communism? Many of the electorate must still believe this.

    Many people focus on what is bad in Britain – without realising that we have the good. I was amazed how Kisalfold had an item reporting that two girls in Watford had to come home from a school holiday because they ate chocolate in bed at midnight. (And I remember how the Hungarian press reported youth misbehaviour on a ferry).

    Unbelievable trivia in a paper that can only peddle trivia.

    The Hungarian press is desperate to show foreign youth in a bad light – probably to endorse their own ‘system’. Sort of kidding themselves and lacking confidence.

    ‘People were happier’ – I’ve heard that often too.

    It will take a younger electorate – with the concomitant internet freedom, that might be ready in time – a more questioning electorate will take time.

    Until then Hungary must leave the EU.

    And the EU must leave Hungary.

    Until you are ready.



  31. Was it real? :

    Ivan :
    No such things as ‘birth plans’ in a Hungarian hospital. And if you’re a highly-qualified professional who tries to assist in a home-birth then you will end up spending years in jail.
    The worst thing I ever saw in a Hungarian hospital was a very old lady whisked off in the middle of the night with heart problems. When she returned to the ward, shaking and full of mortal dread, the porter waited, and waited, until this sick and terrified old lady managed to retrieve some paper money and an envelope(!) from her handbag for him. I’ve never seen anything like this anywhere else. But I now know that it’s normal. Gyurcsany tried to change all of this. And was well and truly castigated for it.

    Did this event happen in Hungary or in your slavic country?

    Wow, Ivan so far made very interesting arguments and was part of great discussions. This is the first post from you. Can you tell us about your great experiences wit the Hungarian medical system please.

  32. Charlie, it all depends on whom you talk to in Hungary …

    My wife worked in the “Önkormanyzat”, something like a mayor’s office and the stories she tells about her “red bosses” are almost unbelievable …

    She knows exactly what democracy means and endorses it and she says that many people don’t want it – they only want what’s good for them financially, that’s the only thing they care about right now.

    You need a “happy population” for democracy to work it seems – and most Hungarians seem very unhappy.

    That’s a totally different situation from what I experienced in my youth in West Germany – everybody saw and felt the “Aufschwung” aka success and everybody knew that this was connected to the young democracy after WW2 …

    And of course it doesn’t help that the media show how “rich” people are everywhere else and the shops are full of nice things to buy – if you only had the money! It probably pains a lot of Hungarians

    PS and a bit OT:

    I was really surprised when I read (many years ago ..) that Britain after WW2 had rationing until 1949 (?) – for a longer time than West Germany.

  33. Interesting Wolfi! – Yes I agree it depends on who you talk to – but I was trying to analyse the National Psyche – and can only give some poor examples to support my case (- if indeed they do!).

    Your wife seems to endorse the main point? She seems to me more informed too?

    And Rationing ended only fully in 1954 (midnight on 4 July 1954)!



  34. “…if only they had the money………”

    But the basic tenet of democracy – and capitalism – is that you sell your labour for a fair price – in a meritocratic society – as far as possible.

    Too much in Hungary depends on who you know and where your parents work and who they know.

    Eva has given several example where Hungarians (including Roma) have succeeded in working hard and being fairly rewarded in England.

    Part of the setup in Hungary is that you have a job at the largess of Fidesz – regardless of your skills (the dyke keeper being put in charge of the swimming pool! – I did so much enjoy that film – it really did shine a light on communism (as far as I could tell!))

    And people must be allowed to make their own mistakes.

    I am astonished, still, how Orban thinks he can retrospectively rewrite the FX loans (not just for houses now – but cars and holidays!)

    This is creating ‘moral hazard’ and will take years to make people understand that you can’t just ‘dump’ your responsibilities – a la communism.

    “What trouble will Orban get us out of next time?”

    Democracy really does mean you have to take responsibility for your actions at a personal level. Just because you were lulled into taking a loan – there are thousands of potential traps in a democracy. It’s that risk that allows people to succeed meritocratically.

    No Hungary is definitely not ready yet.



  35. CharlieH :
    London Calling!
    Kirsten I understand what you are saying – in the best contribution I think you have made on the subject.
    Have you considered the following?
    That actually the electorate want the society that Orban represents?

    Charlie, I am very glad that I finally managed to express this thought so that it can be understood! (No joke.)

    I am sure that we will return to the subject sooner or later but my answer is: probably the Hungarian society is “structurally” (given some widely held beliefs about the nation, and specifically its supposed or expected “homogeneity” and evil foreign influences, or mistrust towards any sort of government) prone to conservative, authoritarian forms of government. But so were other societies, many of them in Europe. And even if some of them are quite well functioning democracies now (I frequently name Spain, Portugal and Germany here, for Italy you may need some further qualifications), you will certainly find ideas in these countries where the “traditional” thinking still resonates.

    I believe that democrats have to work for their preferred form of government, make people interested in public affairs so that they feel connected to public affairs, work on procedures that provide stable government, so that democracy becomes appealing to people. And that people do not wish to live in dependency if they are capable of caring for themselves, I take for granted. (So if you doubt this, of course, the implications are different.) But this capability comes through education, not only schools but parents, the wider society etc. In the concrete Hungarian circumstances it requires quite a change in the “habit of thinking” for people who are still brought up with not only a little admiration for “noble” names, titles of any sort, with widely held ideas about the “stupidity” of the average citizen on whom education is eternally lost and “empowering” is being considered a waste of time and resources if its purpose it shared at all. Simply with a quite strong belief in “natural” inequality (even if all somehow wish to live “decently”, with “Western living standards”. In that apparently they do not opt for “natural inequality”).

    Wolfi suggested that democracy had its appeal to West Germans because it coincided with a period of economic growth. I heard that also from other people. I never know whether this is reassuring or whether one has to worry about what if economic hardship returns. But perhaps what we can suppose is that decades of positive experience of people with democracy in themselves create support for this mode of government and its principles. I consider this relevant experience also for Hungary. (But this “positive experience” has first to materialise, I know.)

  36. Thank you Kirsten!

    I really think there is a correlation between democracy and “living good” (to put it crudely), at least for many people – East Germans seem to have had (or still have ?) similar problems as Hungarians (and all the other countries of the East Block) – maybe because they all expected too much “immediate wealth” from democracy ?’

    But I’m not an expert on this – actually the only East German family that I know really well left in early 1989 because they couldn’t stand the everyday oppression there.

    Still I’m very happy to have grown up in a free and democratic Germany – even if it had some faults. The society was much too conservative for my taste, but this changed in the 60s already when I was a student.

  37. As I see it, most of the Hungarians – or Eastern-Europeans for that matter – has no real perception of democracy, has no real understanding of the whole concept as it is.

    In better case it comes to “the majority rules” misnomer, or directly associated with “western” life-standarst to expect, even demand.

    Coupled with the orbanist bullshit about the victorious two-third’s “do whatever pleases me” attitude, and you’ll end up with unfulfilled expectations and the continuous blaming of just about everyone else, but your’s truly, we’re right up to present an average Fidesz supporter:

    – Democracy???
    What word is this???
    Talk to me Hungarian, hey, you…!

  38. Wolfi, I believe that you are right in that in particular in Central Europe this connection you have suggested is frequently being made and even considered “logical” or natural. I am not sure whether in the US (but perhaps other contributors could confirm that) or in the UK, democracy (and freedoms and rights etc.) are not actually considered a precondition of economic wellbeing – because it is in the realisation or execution of these rights, freedoms etc. that economic power is created and because people care themselves, so actually the other way round. For me this makes a difference. This may not affect the political system as long as things run smoothly but for surviving hard times, the political principles should have an appeal in themselves. Otherwise indeed democracy is only for good times…

  39. Eva, I am sorry for calling on you to act as a referee. But thank you for your prompt engagement. As for myself, as I said, I’m thick-skinned, and I don’t really care for such rubbishy brickbats. My problem was that this is one of the few places where a frank and intelligent exchange of views on Hungary is still tolerated. The way that the Fidesz street team have turned (and even the Guardian and the Economist) into abusive and racist free-for-alls … is disturbing. And i would hate for that kind of xenophobia and unpleasantness to become the common currency here.

    It should be obvious that almost everyone who contributes here actually LOVES Hungary, and that most contributors actually have a vested interest in the well-being of the country. We are, for the most part, simply appalled at what the country is becoming. And we (especially those of us who live here, permanently) are entitled to express our discontent at the headlong rush back to thbe 20s/30s that is underway.

    It would be wonderful, actually, if a committed Fidesz supporter could actually appear on this blog and ENGAGE in debate in a civilised way. In my experience, such is impossible. We have seen, in the comments on your blog, just mindless abuse from the paid Fidesz trolls … Whenever an actual question is civilly posed, they disappear (for a short while). In most other countries, difference of opinion is a good thing – it creates debate, it creates conversation, it even creates affinity. With the exception of Paul, however, my experience of Hungary suggests that people cannot be partners, friends, correspondents, whatever, if they disagree politically …

    Yes, it would be good to reason. But the whole basis of Fidesz support is based on the unreasonable: Non-Fidesz supporters are traitors, or at best (patronisingly) dismissed as sad victims of EU or ‘cosmopolitan’ (that coded language!) propaganda.

    There is no debate. That’s the biggest problem of all. There is no debate. But, of course, Viktor stopped engaging in such activities a long time ago. And his followers take their cue …

  40. Yes, Ivan it’s a shame for Hungary (and for Europe too …)!

    Sometimes I feel that I’m lucky that my Hungarian is so bad that I’m not tempted to get into political discussions with neighbours etc. From the conversations with my wife I know that fear of Jews, Roma, “Globalist Foreign companies who only want to plunder Hungary” etc is very common – and that from the same people who shop at Aldi, Lidl and Tesco etc, because the CBA’ wares are crappy and too expensive …
    And of course most hardware products are made outside Hungary!

    It’s really sad …


    And in addition most people watch those horrible US action movies and series on tv – they seem totally unconnected to their real life somehow!

  41. Ivan, actually I had written the warning note to the guy before I read your comment. I didn’t really need any probing. My reaction was exactly the same as yours.

  42. London Calling!

    To expand the debate further – I have to ask the question as to how much damage and ‘corrosion’ of society is caused by ‘institutionalised nepotism’?

    My (mis?) understanding of how communism worked is that if you were a ‘good little communist’ you were rewarded with perks and more security as you moved up the elitist socialist ladder.

    You would then hold on with every sinew in your body to your position – and help your family and friends as you collected your ‘Good worker’ stars.

    Jobs were filled with family and other party faithful – regardless of one’s actual skills and ability to do the job.

    If you were part of the underclass of course you got nothing.

    Today this corrosive nepotism is, I believe, responsible for a lot of apathy and ambivalence because people are hanging on to their ‘nepotistic’ network’ for dear life.

    They can’t openly criticize the Government because it threatens their positions.

    When I attended a ‘Village Day’ in Hungary – my partner advised that I was more than au fait with the political situation and several people mentioned how bad Orban and Fidesz are but only sotto voce – and with no one else around. (Yes – they communicated – unusually – to me in English directly.)

    So yes people want the ‘aspirational wealth’ that true democracies bring – but they can’t let go of their nepotistic network – or even risk it.

    Even down to getting better health treatment through who they know – and letting Joe-Soap Public flounder.

    And the Roma too.

    I find Eva’s Roma-Crawley Nurse – Tímea Buzás – wonderfully uplifting. I hope she reads your blog, Eva! And if you do, Timea – well done. Very very well done.

    She must be making her community rethink their priorities as regards how Roma are treated.

    The Roma, I am sure, would be the last community to benefit from the ‘Institutionalised Nepotism’ network too

    I have even rationalised in my own mind that this is why the population accept a shackled controlled media. It’s not really important that it doesn’t give a balanced view. The propaganda almost reinforces those networks.

    Yes yes, I know – the trolls and anti-British brigade will say that we have nepotism here too – yes we do, but nowhere near on the same scale.

    And senior police have been dismissed, for example, for trying to by-pass the meritocratic job selection processes.

    And we can openly criticise things without fear of losing our jobs and positions in society.

    Yes – I think this is a most corrosive factor in Hungarian life and until people start letting go, commocracy – a ‘democratic’ half-way house – will prevail.

    And true democracy won’t stand a chance.



  43. Thanks, Charlie. It’s cheering – but also awful – to see that things are the same allover.

    The three most common words in the promotional leaflet for OUR ‘village days’ are ‘templom’, ‘szallona’ and ‘retro’.

    And I’m tiring of hearing the Fidesz anti-Roma rhetoric from my neighbours, which always pops out with the palinka. Our neighbours are Roma, and they don’t steal, and they scrape a living, and they’re the hardest working folk in the village … as we all know very well. I think, when the palinka is produced, that our neighbours are forgotten … they become honorary exceptions, or invisible. But, of course, as a foreigner, as we toast, I am both of these things too.

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