Lending a helping hand: How sick is Hungarian society?

A few days ago I read in the news that an employee of MÁV, the Hungarian State Railways, had died. At first blush one would think that this piece of news would not be of general interest, that it would properly belong among the obituaries.

The real news was not the man’s death but how he died. For sixteen hours he lay in a rest area on MÁV property, alive but obviously very sick. Two of his co-workers saw him but did nothing. They assumed he was drunk. They locked up for the night and went home, leaving him behind. A few hours later a third  man found him. He realized that the man was not drunk; he had had a stroke. A day later the man died in the hospital. MÁV is investigating.

I found this report very disturbing.  How could it happen that two men would leave their co-worker lying unconscious, whatever the cause of his state, and go about their business all day long without paying the slightest attention to the man lying a few feet away from them?

But what really made me reflect on the callousness that seems to be a hallmark of Hungarian society today is a story that broke two days ago. A totally naked man who was staying with his wife or girlfriend in a hotel on Rákóczi Street in Budapest either jumped or fell out of the window of his room. Traffic immediately stopped and a crowd of about 100 people gathered around the man, who was covered with blood. He was still breathing. There was only one man who rushed to his aid, Gábor Ferenczi, who left the bus on which he was traveling. In desperation he asked people gathering around the man to help, at least to get a blanket to cover the naked body. No one moved. In fact, some people laughed. So, the half dead man was lying there naked while onlookers were taking pictures of him. Eventually one woman moved, but she could offer only a  piece of Kleenex.

helping handsEventually a policeman showed up. His first question was whether they had called the police. Eventually he requested an ambulance which, after considerable delay, arrived. After a while someone showed up from the hotel with a blanket.

After the ambulance arrived Ferenczi went into the hotel to wash the blood off his hands. When he returned, he found a woman next to the body who seemed to have been the dead man’s companion. The treatment of  the woman by the police and the ambulance team, at least according to Ferenczi, was heartless. “Okay, and who are you? What was the name of the dead man? Where are his papers? And yours?”  Ferenczi asked one of the men from the ambulance to assist her back to the hotel but the only answer he got was: “Why?” So, Ferenczi himself helped her into the hotel and led her to the elevator. (I assume the police didn’t consider the room a potential crime scene.)

Not surprisingly, our Good Samaritan was badly shaken and couldn’t sleep. He phoned the ambulatory service and asked for advice. He was told “to drink a glass of something strong and go to a psychiatrist soon.” Ferenczi decided to talk about his experiences because he was so shaken, not just by the sight of a bloodsoaked naked body and the death of someone in his own arms but also by the behavior of the bystanders. After the death of the man was announced, one of the onlookers told him “the duck is dead, so it was in vain.” Ferenczi was outraged: “Is this man really a human being, or just something that walks on two legs?”

The story published in Origo elicited an incredible number of comments. The last time I looked, around 500. I picked a few noteworthy ones. One commenter insisted that “mankind is like that. There are some who help, while others laugh.” He found the reaction natural. Most people didn’t agree with him; there were far more damning comments than approving ones. Many came up with their own stories. One recalled that two months ago a girl on a bicycle was hit by a car “but we went to her although it was an awful sight. Thank God she survived. Twenty years ago a girl died in similar circumstances in my arms. I would spit into my own face if I were so cowardly that I would not offer help in circumstances like that.”

One woman told her own story. When she was 12 years old, a man grabbed her about 50 meters from her house in the outskirts of Budapest and 15 meters from the bus stop.”I screamed, yelled, kicked. The people waiting at the bus stop looked but then turned their heads and kept standing there. I’m now 50 but I still remember their faces.”

Another commenter told his story. A woman with a little girl and a teenage boy were crossing the road. Suddenly the boy collapsed in the middle of the road. The little girl cried, the woman screamed for help, but no one responded. People were standing on both sides of the street but no one moved. Eventually it was the commenter who carried the boy to the nearby hospital. He still remembers the anger and shame he felt at the behavior of those people.

Another person told of an experiment that took place a couple of months ago. Someone placed a toy baby in an abandoned baby carriage. The toy baby made realistic crying sounds. Out of ten people who went by the baby carriage only two stopped. One actually called the police, but another, a lawyer, announced that he had no intention of stopping: after all, “they could charge me with kidnapping.”

Someone commented that it had to be “the dregs of society” at the scene. To which another person replied laconically, “No, they are not. This is the norm.”

Advertisements

84 comments

  1. You all might be interested in this story of a woman who made the mistake of packing up and going to Hungary with her son for a year. It took her 9 months to get Hungarian citizenship for her son who was born in the United States. At last it was all done and they left for Hungary thinking that from here on it will be clear sailing.

    And the sad saga began. Once they were in Hungary the only thing she wanted was a student ID for her 11-year boy. Incredible story. Those of you who don’t know Hungarian I suggest Google translate in Chrome. It does a respectable job.

    http://hataratkelo.blog.hu/2013/11/26/egy_elkepeszto_kalvaria_tortenete_543

    hataratkelo.blog is an interesting site, period. People who left Hungary or who went back to Hungary tell their stories.

  2. “maga” < maga kegyelmed/nagyságod, 16th century

    "ön", end of 18th century, later Széchenyi spread it

    In my life, I rarely had to use them, fortunately.

  3. The story of the dead bodies are horrible. But I am going to argue against everyone here. While these events should not be ignored, if we want to make the situation better, we also have to use facts, and not just anecdotal evidence.

    I already posted a link showing that Budapest is one of the most honest cities in the world. Here’s an Excel document from unodc.org comparing the murder rates around the world:
    http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/statistics/crime/Homicide_statistics2013.xls
    Hungary isn’t doing that bad.
    Here’s another showing Hungary has a lower crime rate than Austria:
    http://www.europeansafetyobservatory.eu/downloads/EUICS%20-%20The%20Burden%20of%20Crime%20in%20the%20EU.pdf

    I am all in favor of criticizing the Fidesz/Jobbik regime. But if we wallow in negativity not based on statistical fact, the critics of this regime will lose. If we only have negative things to say, nobody will vote for the opposition. Fidesz won’t even have to sweat, because we will make ourselves distasteful to the electorate by ourselves. One of the platitudes of politics is that if you see your enemy destroying itself, don’t get in the way.

    Now, I am a regular reader of this blog. I don’t often comment because I don’t often have something to say. But when I do, I am regularly ignored or dismissed. This happened again on this thread.

    Obviously, the Ferenczi is disgusting. I am not arguing that we should dismiss it. But as bad as it is, I heard a similar story of something that happened in Zurich.

    Hungary is not ONLY a bleak place full of corruption and criminal indifference. If we want to defeat Fidesz/Jobbik, we need to occasionally use a powerful weapon: Optimism.

    I have more right-wing Hungarian friends than critics of Orban. They are wonderful people, wonderful friends, creative and generally delightful. I wish that my friends who want to get rid of Orban did not wallow in negativity.

    I’m curious how readers will react to this post. If I am ignored and dismissed again, the message will be clear: I won’t comment ever again. In other words, this blog is more interested in wallowing in negativity than in changing the situation.

    The websites and news sources that I like are based in fact, not in anecdotal evidence. Let’s not ignore the solid statistics that show that Hungary is doing better than many European countries.

  4. Generational styles: I am of Eva’s generation and my brother and I (in the US) were brought up strictly in relationship to adults–seen but not heard. Of course, my kids were brought up very differently, with friendly relationships with adults.

  5. My grateful compliments to Eva for her extraordinary effort to provide assistance to Hungary in humanity.

    The homefront’s general affairs are deplorable, and the leading cliques must be accountable for the inhuman atmosphere in Hungary.

    PS
    As usual Petofi is the compassionate contributor, a valuable witness on the ground.
    We should read his words carefully.

    PPS
    Just another sad report: http://hvg.hu/itthon/20131124_Megszolalt_a_ferfi_akinek_a_kezei_kozott

  6. Gardonista :
    The story of the dead bodies are horrible. But I am going to argue against everyone here. While these events should not be ignored, if we want to make the situation better, we also have to use facts, and not just anecdotal evidence.
    I already posted a link showing that Budapest is one of the most honest cities in the world. Here’s an Excel document from unodc.org comparing the murder rates around the world:
    http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/statistics/crime/Homicide_statistics2013.xls
    Hungary isn’t doing that bad.
    Here’s another showing Hungary has a lower crime rate than Austria:
    http://www.europeansafetyobservatory.eu/downloads/EUICS%20-%20The%20Burden%20of%20Crime%20in%20the%20EU.pdf
    http://www.elonpendulum.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/I-2007-London-Crime-rate-MCT.jpg
    I am all in favor of criticizing the Fidesz/Jobbik regime. But if we wallow in negativity not based on statistical fact, the critics of this regime will lose. If we only have negative things to say, nobody will vote for the opposition. Fidesz won’t even have to sweat, because we will make ourselves distasteful to the electorate by ourselves. One of the platitudes of politics is that if you see your enemy destroying itself, don’t get in the way.
    Now, I am a regular reader of this blog. I don’t often comment because I don’t often have something to say. But when I do, I am regularly ignored or dismissed. This happened again on this thread.
    Obviously, the Ferenczi is disgusting. I am not arguing that we should dismiss it. But as bad as it is, I heard a similar story of something that happened in Zurich.
    Hungary is not ONLY a bleak place full of corruption and criminal indifference. If we want to defeat Fidesz/Jobbik, we need to occasionally use a powerful weapon: Optimism.
    I have more right-wing Hungarian friends than critics of Orban. They are wonderful people, wonderful friends, creative and generally delightful. I wish that my friends who want to get rid of Orban did not wallow in negativity.
    I’m curious how readers will react to this post. If I am ignored and dismissed again, the message will be clear: I won’t comment ever again. In other words, this blog is more interested in wallowing in negativity than in changing the situation.
    The websites and news sources that I like are based in fact, not in anecdotal evidence. Let’s not ignore the solid statistics that show that Hungary is doing better than many European countries.

    I agree with your points! We have to built a good future for ourselfes and our people (and country)! We can do it together, even when we don’t share all our views and opinions.

    I also agree with the moral of Eva’s story that unity is something that is missing in Hungarian society. The latter is one of my biggest concerns! If we want to survive as a people and nation, unity is a must!

  7. @Gardonista:

    I don’t know to which “class” your friends and acquaintances belong – yes the class system (like in Britain) seems to be active still here in Hungary.

    Most of my acquaintances, friends and neighbours have just one “small” problem: To make ends meet …

    They’re all industrious (most have a second job or at least some “fekete munka” over the weekend), they have their gardens with vegetables and fruit and still no reserves – just a few of them don’t have to worry about next month: The lawyer, the doctor, the restaurant owners (not all of them!), the retired boss of a TSz etc.

    So it’s no wonder they aren’t active in politics – not even in their village or town because they don’t have the time, they don’t have too much interest in strangers or in the big world outside …

  8. @Gardonista

    The report on crime (comparing with Austria) is from 2005. During the 2000s crime rate was lower and lower generally. But that trend has changed since 2009 and it is on increase since then again. The most populars are the usual suspects (breaking-in, car-stealing). I am still working and have no time now to search for and insert a link here with facts (I will do so later), but any time I meet a policman (which happens more and more frequently) they tell that despite the populist propaganda about the strenghtening of the police, there was 20% cut and – at least in the capital – they have no sufficient human resources to handle things. I personally experienced recently and became shocked that there is one crime scene investigator per district! This is just one example. I was the injured of a small crime a few weeks ago. The crime (pocket-picking on the street) happened at 8 pm. I called the police immediately and they kept me waiting until 2 am (thi was the time they arrived!). Then they investigated the scene, printed the minutes etc. thus we finished at 4 am. I got bed at 5 am. Reason? There was 13 breaking-in that night in that district and they have not enough policeman to be able to handle things simultanously.

  9. @ Gardonista

    “…hat Budapest is one of the most honest cities in the world. Here’s an Excel document from unodc.org comparing the murder rates around the world…”

    Huh?
    Come again…How does a low murder rate testify to citizens’ honesty? (Typical Hungarian thinking process-)

  10. @ Gardonista 2

    “I have more right-wing Hungarian friends than critics of Orban. They are wonderful people, wonderful friends, creative and generally delightful.”

    “…wonderful…wonderful…”—Really? And what about their influence on their children and grandchildren? Will they, too, be ‘wonerful’ little sycophants, liars, thieves, blithfully preening themselves and their coterie for marginalizing 90% of society that don’t fall in line?
    Orwell’s Nightmare.

  11. Sorry, of course it should read “Scotland” – and the first stat shows homicides, the next prison inmates (here Hungarian numbers are also higher).

    The number of police officers seems ridiculously low for Hungary – or is there something I don’t get ?

  12. This is what comes of a manically ‘family-centred’ society. There’s nothing wrong with family-centred. What is wrong is when the wider society doesn’t matter at all, to the point where seemingly all other lives are very cheap indeed … a situation that reaches its logical conclusion in the criminalisation of the homeless (as if their lives weren’t unfortunate enough already).

    I live in Hungary. And i wearily recognise the stories posted here.

    I have a thousand stories myself.

    Here’s one:

    My 3 year old had a terrible fall. She was clearly concussed. She had a huge wound in her head and blood was flowing. I carried her to a taxi. We got to the hospital. The taxi driver sighed and muttered various expletives when I only had a 5000 forint note to offer. He took his time to find the change, while my little kid’s eyes started rolling.

    In A&E, I started panicking. The doctors refused to even take my daughter from me until I had produced my papers and her papers, all of them, from my bag. I precariously balanced her on my knee, while I searched nervously in my bag for all the papers. The doctors laughed. My daughter started screaming.

    They took their time processing the papers. And then they roughly took my girl from me and started the examination.

    And it occurred to me, then (and not for the first time) that something was very, very wrong here.

    Whither empathy? And/or compassion?

  13. @Ivan

    To compare with a weird example: I have been in Albania last year. I repeat: in ALBANIA. We had an accident at the shore of a small village at the end of the world. My wife was bleeding badly and we did not know where the hospital is (or if there is any hospital nearby at all). People at that part of the world do not speak any langauge other than albanian (and the southern part of the country, greek). They understood “doctor” and led us first to a dentist :). But the small hospital of the village was just a few blocks away and the locals not only helped finding it, but were helping with fresh water etc.
    In the hospital a doctor in his 50s showed up, immediately. He looked at the wound and with very clear English apologised for asking patience for about 5 minutes because he had an other patient under treatment. He instructed me to go the pharmacy in the meantime, purchase medicine and tetanus etc. My wife could have layd down on a small bed and did not have to wait standing or sitting on a chair. She got water and TEA to drink, again, immediately. I run to the pharamcy, where no one spoke English but luckily the doctor wrote everything I need so just handed the note over. By the time I returned to the hospital my wife was under treatment (within 8-10 minutes).
    The doctor asked about her allergies, cleaned the wound, sewed it, made a try on the tetanus (preventing any allergical reaction) etc. We always buy travel insurance policy when going to abroad, thus during the process I called the insurance company to notify them on the accident and that I will need reimbursement. They confirmed that there is no problem and warned me not to forget to ask for a receipt.
    When the treatment was done, I had no chance to ask the doctor about the costs or an invoice, because he went immediately to his desk, typed something and then printed something. I thought its gonna be a report of some sort, and indeed, it was a detailed report IN ENGLISH about what happened, what treatment my wife has received AND the report included the invoice as an attachment. The amount was ridiculous (about HUF 2,000). I offered more, and he refused. IN A SMALL VILLAGE, IN ALBANIA. Let me repeat: in Albania.

  14. petofi :
    @ Gardonista
    “…hat Budapest is one of the most honest cities in the world. Here’s an Excel document from unodc.org comparing the murder rates around the world…”
    Huh?
    Come again…How does a low murder rate testify to citizens’ honesty? (Typical Hungarian thinking process-)

    This “statistical fact” probably comes from this Reader’s Digest experiment:
    http://www.dailyfinance.com/2013/09/28/lost-wallet-experiment-worlds-most-honest-cities/
    Good job guys! We only stole 4 wallets! Europe’s richest, the Swiss, stole eight! Bustards!

    I would be more interested to know what happened at the police station when people reported the lost wallet but I don’t want to wallow in negativism …

    “Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who …”
    (from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail)

  15. Well it seems I’m lucky to live near Hévíz – I’ve only had good experiences with doctors, nurses, pharmacists etc …
    I won’t bore you with details – just once a German friend of ours had stayed a few days in hospital and we wanted to give the doctor some extra money which she declined … Of course then we had bought some chocolate for all the people on the ward …

    On the other hand my wife just told me that she brought a friend who’s in the hospital for longer soap, shampoo, toilet paper (!) and even towels – the ward doesn’t have any for the patients …
    Also as a patient you have to bring your own knife, spoon and fork – plastic plates are available …
    Of course that’s not the fault of the people working there, but it shows what’s going on in Hungary’s health system.

  16. @ Geza

    “If we want to survive as a people and nation, unity is a must!”

    No.
    Dignity, Integrity, Rule of Law….are a must.

  17. We all need to improve ourselves, not just what goes on in other countries. Besides the obvious, we need to help each other out, do you think the authorities gonna raise us up to be good stewards of life, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. JUST DO, REACT AND RESPOND ACCORDINGLY….Wouldn’t you want someone to help you????

  18. Ivan :
    Respect for the individual, and for the other, and for every facet of those, is the real must.

    Amen to that. Above mentioned values are also extremely important, but it all starts with respect for the individual.

    When I first moved to Hungary, three years ago, I asked my Hungarian colleagues which hospital would be the best one to go to in case of an emergency. Their advice: if you are physically able, board the first train to Vienna. I took it as a joke at the time, but unfortunately I heard many stories like yours since then. I once had a minor emergency myself and while the medical treatment was okay in the end, I had to go from one hospital to another by tram (!) with a bleeding head wound, because the emergency department at the first hospital wasn’t open at that particular moment.

  19. Again, my experiences coincide with Ivan’s. Having seen how loved and cared for children are within families in Hungary (the contrast with the UK is extreme), I naturally expected this to extend right throughout society. But once we started a family I discovered a very different Hungary.

    It’s not all bleak, of course, often we are pleasantly surprised at the welcome and consideration our children get. But all too frequently it’s the other way – an uncaring, brutal reaction, far worse than anything I’ve experienced in the UK. Doctors, hospitals, shops, restaurants, schools, government offices – all seem to regard children as just nuisances, not as little human beings who need love and care.

    In mitigation, this isn’t specifically aimed at the children, it’s just that they get treated the same way as the rest of us.

  20. The dead man’s sister spoke of her brother’s problems in an article published by HVG. We just talked about the strong family ties in Hungary yet the sister said: “a bátyja halála azt is üzeni, hogy szorosabbra kell fűzni a meglazult szálakat a családban.” (The message of my brother’s death is that we must tighten the loosened threads in our family.)

  21. The two are not incompatible. The expectation of very strong family ties in Hungary makes life horrific here when those ties fail – the state is not prepared to replace family in any way, even when it comes to the emergency services.

  22. Moses kestenbaum ODA :
    Hungarians are sick and fckd up, hungary should disband itself, humgarians are thugs and murderes just like the nazis

    You should be ashamed of yourself “Moses”, Your post tells more about who you are, then about us Hungarians! It is sad people like yourself who cause all the problems in this world.

  23. petofi :
    @ Geza
    “If we want to survive as a people and nation, unity is a must!”
    No.
    Dignity, Integrity, Rule of Law….are a must.

    When there is unity and people see that “family” also means the “extended family”, dignity, integrity and rule of law will be a “natural” fact in daily life.

    Also I want to ad, that everyone who visits Western Europe regularly and stay in touch what is happening there, will notice that dignity, integrity and rule of law declines repidly. Well we don’t even have to mention the good old USA ….

    But after all the complaints about Hungarians or Hungarian society. Come with solutions and tell me what you guys do about it in daily life?

  24. Penny Oswalt :
    We all need to improve ourselves, not just what goes on in other countries. Besides the obvious, we need to help each other out, do you think the authorities gonna raise us up to be good stewards of life, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. JUST DO, REACT AND RESPOND ACCORDINGLY….Wouldn’t you want someone to help you????

    Amen!

  25. I do not think that in the Hungarian society a person shows less solidarity a to another one than, e.g., British or American in my experience. The events above are, unfortunately, common place in New York (10 000 murders per year by shotgun), London, etc.

    Just to explain in detail my personal experience: for some time, I tried to help drunken people, I even brought them to their home. However, I realized that they were more surprised than happy about this. In a big city, there are considerable number of broken people and you cannot always help, since you can also put yourself in danger. The number of such people is not larger than what you can see in the USA, and the society in general, is much more a single-class society, like in Germany. So, in general, there are much fewer broken people in Hungary than in the USA, this I can surely tell. This does not contradicts the fact that if someone has a good Ph.D. degree, he will earn much more in the USA than in Hungary and he can make a much bigger carrier.

    To be even more concrete: when you leave your flat in the residential area you live in in the USA, you will not meet homeless people. But this is not because there are no homeless. This is because they are somewhere else. And the “left-wing” TV propagandist meets another “left-wing” TV propagandist (or, a dentist meets another dentist) and they “worry” about the state of world. But the USA has other parts, e.g., where people shoot each other regularly, they can hardly write, and they live like in a third world country. Then, you close the door of your car and drive.

    All the phenomena criticized are present in the USA in a much much higher level than in Hungary (or in any other European country). Thus, I wonder: what is this? The pink word of a person who lives in a bubble?

  26. tappanch

    November 26, 2013 at 9:50 am | #2 Quote
    “maga” < maga kegyelmed/nagyságod, 16th century
    "ön", end of 18th century, later Széchenyi spread it
    In my life, I rarely had to use them, fortunately.

    From the comment, one can see, how old-fashioned Hungary is. The USA is much better. Everybody is "you".

    But, one sec. What does you mean? It means "Ön". It means "Sie" in Germany. It does not mean "Te" or "Du"? So from English, the word for "Te" or "Du" has just disappeared and they are left with the official form that normally you use for unknown people. Never mind. They use it also for the known ones.

  27. Géza

    I am all in favor of criticizing the Fidesz/Jobbik regime. But if we wallow in negativity not based on statistical fact, the critics of this regime will lose. If we only have negative things to say, nobody will vote for the opposition. Fidesz won’t even have to sweat, because we will make ourselves distasteful to the electorate by ourselves.

    Great, the the problem is not the dumb lies, when a safe and secure European metropolis is criticized from a country where the capital, Washington DC is also a murder capital. And this nonsense is possible since the readers are so unbelievably ignorant snobs that this can go on.

    Fidesz/Jobbik regime

    This is the best.

  28. Steven: posting #27….

    It is everywhere for sure, but you got to start somewhere, all it takes is one person, to help another, then another and so on. The world needs more good Samaritans, helpers like yourself.

  29. Steven: Why is it that every one of your postings defends the Hungarian government, and why do you comment so much? Do you have a lot of time or are you paid to do this?

  30. @Comrade Steven:

    “There are lots of crimes in Washington DC so Americans are not allowed to criticise Hungary”
    You behave like a troll here – your kindergarden logic would be amusing if it weren’t so sad …

    “The other kid did something similar last week – so why am I being punished ?

    Btw, your numbers are also off a bit:
    “in New York (10 000 murders per year by shotgun)” Are you sure ???

    As a German I have to quote Goethe here:

    Man merkt die Absicht und ist verstimmt …

  31. webber :
    Steven: Why is it that every one of your postings defends the Hungarian government, and why do you comment so much? Do you have a lot of time or are you paid to do this?

    Frankly, this site is such a horrific nonsense, that I just cannot get enough. However, do not worry, I will get completely fed up soon.

    You are like some kind of political dinosaurs, I did not believe that there are such people alive.

  32. wolfi :
    your numbers are also off a bit:
    “in New York (10 000 murders per year by shotgun)” Are you sure ???

    What I wanted to say “tons of”. I looked up the numbers. New York city has now a murder rate only 600/year, had around 2000/year in 1993. This numbers are enormous.

    United States: 11,127, based on your favorite Michael Moore.

    “There are lots of crimes in Washington DC so Americans are not allowed to criticise Hungary”

    You are allowed, as everybody is allowed to say anything. That is another point whether it is worth the effort.

    What is mentioned in the article, could happen in ANY European country, for example, in Germany, Britain, Sweden, etc. Any. Do you get it? Then it does not make sense to present it as something worth for an analysis.

    Unless, of course, if you are looking for some reason to look down on a group of people just because you have no other ways to feel good. Like your comrade with the Orsos-Orban comment.

    Congratulate to you that you, as a German, could come here with a quote from Goethe. I have to say this is also rather stereotypical. Like many things on this blog.

Comments are closed.