emigration

The Hungarian government on immigration and emigration

Anyone who bothers to look for figures on immigration into European countries is not going to find much data on Hungary for the simple reason that the number of foreigners living in the country is minuscule. Of course, we all know about large immigrant populations in France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, but there is significant immigration even to countries like Finland or Slovenia. In Sweden, to give but a single example, 32,000 people applied for asylum in 2010.

Until very recently both Hungarian immigration and emigration were of low intensity. Foreign-born inhabitants constitute only 4% of the labor force and about 1% of the population as a whole. These foreign-born individuals are almost exclusively of Hungarian ethnicity. They immigrated from the neighboring countries in the last twenty years or so. Lately, however, the number of emigrants to Western Europe from Hungary has grown enormously. Great Britain, Germany, Austria, Sweden, and the Netherlands are the favorite destinations. At the same time, especially since Croatia became part of the European Union, the immigration routes from the Balkans and the Middle East have changed, and Hungary has become one of the favorite “transit countries” for immigrants wanting to reach countries where economic opportunities are greater. As Péter Mihályi, a well-known Hungarian economist, said the other day, only rich countries have “immigration problems.” Very few immigrants from outside the European Union ever receive permission to settle in Hungary, and the few lucky ones who do immediately pack up and move westward.

According to Hetekthe weekly of the Assembly of Faith (Hitgyülekezet), between 2000 and 2012 only 2,000 to 3,000 people arrived a year, legally or illegally, in Hungary, and as soon as they could, they moved on. But in the last two years these numbers have grown exponentially. Apparently there are days when along the border with Serbia the police arrest 800-1,000 illegals. As for those legally seeking to move to Hungary, in 2013 19,000 immigration applications were received; a year later that number was 43,000. Of these 43,000 potential immigrants only 500 received refugee status.

If it depended on Viktor Orbán, no so-called “economic immigrant” could ever receive permission to settle in Hungary. In fact, if it were up to him, he would stop immigration to Europe altogether. József Szájer, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament for the last ten years, summarized Fidesz’s position in a recent interview on ATV. The argument goes something like this. Western Europeans in the past fifty years or so became too pampered. They didn’t want to do all the dirty work and therefore either imported guest workers like the Germans or relied on immigration from their former colonies like France and the United Kingdom. And look at the result: terrorism in Europe. This must be stopped.

butterflies

Orbán and his colleagues in Fidesz grossly oversimplify the issue of immigration into the EU. Most economists are convinced that without the Turkish and later Yugoslav guest workers the German economic miracle couldn’t have happened. It is a generally accepted theory that without immigration there can be no economic growth in the western world. This is especially true of Europe where the low birthrate practically mandates a relatively generous immigration policy. Otherwise, soon enough there will be only two wage earners for every retiree. Most European leaders and academics, with the notable exception of Viktor Orbán, maintain that without young immigrants European demographic trends cannot be reversed.

Therefore, the European Union’s current position is that immigration from third-world countries, even if it causes social friction, has great benefits in the long run. According to Péter Mihályi, whom I quoted earlier, “Europe has no future without immigration.” So, if Fidesz were to succeed in stopping all immigration to the country, Hungary’s future would be sealed. The few immigrants accepted into Hungary leave while almost half a million people born in Hungary are currently working abroad, almost exclusively in Western Europe. It is a vicious circle. Hungary is not an attractive country for immigrants, but without immigrants an aging society that cannot reproduce itself is doomed. The problem is only made worse by the large emigration to the West.

A few years back Viktor Orbán himself seemed to have realized this dilemma and went so far as to suggest that ethnic Hungarians should be encouraged to leave Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, and Ukraine and move over to Hungary en masse. Since then, he gave up the idea. It is hard to tell why. Most likely for nationalistic reasons.

There is one more aspect of Viktor Orbán’s ideas on immigration which he himself did not elaborate on but which József Szájer talked about more explicitly. Orbán mentioned briefly that there are unemployed Gypsies who need jobs. As long as they don’t have employment, Europe should not import people from abroad. Some commentators interpreted this fleeting mention of the Roma as suggesting a possible export of Gypsies from Hungary and other Eastern European countries to the West. Judging from what Szájer said, this is exactly what Orbán has in mind. Szájer pointed out that there are 10 million Gypsies in Europe who could do some of the menial jobs that Western Europeans no longer want to do. If the Roma population of Hungary could be exported to Western Europe, the major socioeconomic problem the Orbán government can’t solve, the integration of the Roma, would disappear. Poof! When the reporter noted that the Roma lack skills necessary for some of the available jobs, Szájer made light of the problem by saying that “they will take care of that.” I guess the “they” are the governments of the countries where these migrants would move.

Finally, I would like to call attention to an interview with Viktor Orbán on Magyar Rádió today in which he explained that those Hungarians who could not find jobs in Hungary and moved to the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, and other countries in Western Europe are “not economic immigrants.” They are proud Europeans who have free movement within the boundaries of the European Union. There is no such thing as immigration or emigration within the borders of the European Union. Oh, the duplicity of the man! He has been fiercely defending the sovereignty of nation states for years, but now he is a champion of a single Europe. Of course, strictly speaking he is right: a citizen of an EU country has the right to settle in any of the twenty-eight member states. But when David Cameron complains about too many immigrants, he also has in mind immigrants from the East European countries, including the great number of Hungarians in Great Britain.

The Orbán formula seems to be: we will send our economic migrants to Western Europe while we will not allow anyone into our country because we want to keep Hungary Hungarian.  As for the Hungarian Roma, Western Europe can take care of them. A perfect solution all around.

Unintended consequences of expanding Hungarian citizenship

The Hungarian government has been actively recruiting new citizens from the neighboring countries, presumably to add to their vote total at the next national election. In order to be eligible for citizenship a person must have at least one ancestor who was a Hungarian citizen. He must also have some knowledge of the Hungarian language.

The first requirement is easy to fulfill. Everyone who lived in Greater Hungary was automatically a Hungarian citizens regardless of his ethnic background. The second requirement would seem to be a bit tougher. Learning a new language in a few months is a pretty hopeless task. However, as we will see, even that is no problem for those who are well schooled in the world of corruption. And the region’s citizens definitely are.

It seems that the hotbeds of corruption with respect to falsely acquiring citizenship are Serbia and Ukraine. For Serbian and Ukrainian citizens, getting Hungarian citizenship opens the door to the European Union’s job market. It allows people to visit the United States and Canada without a visa. It’s no wonder, then, that more than a third of Serbia’s Hungarian community, almost 92,000 out of  251,000 people, applied for and received Hungarian citizenship. Even Serbs who, although they may have had ancestors who were Hungarian citizens before 1918, don’t speak a word of Hungarian, are now bona fide Hungarians. Perhaps not even their ancestors, who lived in all Serbian-inhabited villages in the Bánát-Bácska region, knew any Hungarian.

After the government expanded the qualifications for Hungarian citizenship, several language schools opened in a great hurry in Serbia. These schools guarantee that in three months their students will be able to pass the Hungarian language exam. If someone cannot attend in person in Belgrade, Novi Sad or Subotica, he can always join the lessons via Skype. Apparently, the entrepreneurs who run these schools have friends in high places in the Hungarian administration who supply them with both questions and answers. The applicants have only to memorize a few sentences, and within a few months they are Hungarian citizens. Naturally, these people have no intention of either voting or staying in Hungary. At the first opportunity they will be somewhere in Germany or the United Kingdom. Recently a friend of mine encountered a Serbian woman at a party in New York. She came here as a new Hungarian citizen but spoke not a word of the language of her new country. But even those who are fluent in Hungarian are most likely interested in job opportunities somewhere west of Hungary.

Apparently the situation is no better in Ukraine. There businesses were set up to handle applications. Mind you, the price is steep–5,000 euros, but the result is guaranteed. If there are no ancestors with Hungarian citizenship, no problem. These outfits even manage to forge birth or christening certificates. Again, corrupt officials on the Hungarian side expedite matters. Although the applicants are supposed to appear in person for the swearing-in ceremony, these officials even allow others to stand in for them. These Ukrainian businesses openly advertise on the Internet. The most impressive is this particular site.

Ukrainian passport

Hungarian citizenship advertised

For more money–9,000 euros–even Russian citizens will have a chance to become Hungarian citizens. The people who are running this racket are so sure of themselves that they offer a “money back guarantee.”

They can also help those who want to acquire the Hungarian equivalent of a green card by investing 250,000 euros in Hungarian government bonds. The Orbán government is so eager to put its hands on cash that it welcomes wealthy investors who want to settle in the country. Apparently there are a fair number of takers. The Ukrainian companies that assist these people promise that they don’t have to pony up the whole amount. A 20,000 euro deposit will suffice. Naturally, the Hungarian government officials in charge of the program hotly dispute these questionable practices. They claim that out of the 430,000 applications, 11,000 were denied.

In Romania there is a very large Hungarian minority of 1.2 million, out of which about 300,000 asked for Hungarian citizenship. Hungarian leaders in Romania claim that “it is not Hungary that is so attractive but Hungarian citizenship” because with a Hungarian passport it is not only easier to get a job in Western Europe but Hungarians can migrate anywhere within the European Union. Citizens of Romania and Bulgaria are still subject to restrictions, for example, in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, France, Malta, and the United Kingdom.

I read several stories that highlight this trend among Hungarian Romanians. About a month ago a short article appeared with the title “Fidesz empties Transylvania.” It is about the quickening pace of emigration of Hungarians to western countries from Romania. The author tells stories about her acquaintances in Transylvania who spend a few days in Budapest to get a passport and in no time are on their way abroad in search of a job. So, the author concludes, Fidesz  might get a few thousand extra votes, but in the long run the size of the Hungarian minority in Romania will shrink due to emigration.

What if someone can’t come up with Hungarian ancestors and is incapable of learning some Hungarian? Especially if they are from Balkan countries south of Serbia. There is an agency that can handle this situation too. Men can “purchase” Hungarian, mostly Roma, wives for 150,000 forints. Well, that is what the women get. Those who arrange these marriages apparently receive millions. Enterprising Hungarians make preparation for the marriages between these women and men from Serbia or other countries in the Balkans. The “weddings” take place in Subotica and from there the grooms are off to Germany or some other western European country. A couple of months later the brides return “as if nothing happened,” says the Hungarian official. Although it happened in the past that the girl was left high and dry in Germany and the family had to scrape together the money to get her home. And don’t think that this is not a widespread practice. Just around Kiskunalas officials are aware of at least 100 cases.

So, these are some of the consequences of the Orbán government’s decision “to unify the nation.” As Attila Jakab, originally from Transylvania, wrote today in Galamus, the notions of nation, state, and citizenship have completely lost their meaning.

Exodus from Viktor Orbán’s Hungary

It was sometime in May that a research institute attached to the Central Statistical Office (KSH) working on a project sponsored by the European Union came to the conclusion that at least 230,000 Hungarians live outside of the country. Since these are only the ones who officially announced their departure, I suspect that the 500,000 figure that’s bandied about is a more accurate estimate.

According to the official figures today, two and a half times more Hungarians now live abroad than in 2001, and in the last few years the numbers have been trending upward. In 2011 58,000 people left the country; in 2012, 72,000. The favorite destinations are Germany (35%), the United Kingdom (25%), and Austria (14%).

According to most analysts, Hungary has been losing its best and brightest in this new wave of emigration. They think that there are at least two reasons for the emigration. First, the sluggish Hungarian economy and high unemployment and, second, Hungary’s authoritarian turn. According to an IPS report, a lot of couples who are not officially married leave because they and their children are not considered to be a “genuine” family according to the Orbán government. Lesbians and gays also have a hard time in Hungary, and when they hear that by now even Austria allows gay marriages, they pack up and leave.

Until recently one heard mostly about the large number of doctors and nurses who were seeking employment abroad. In fact, there is a shortage of doctors and highly qualified nurses in several countries, including Great Britain, Germany, and Sweden, and they welcome skilled Hungarians. But by now other skilled professionals are also sought after, for example computer scientists in Germany.

Then there are those whose political views are such that they find Orbán’s Hungary suffocating. Not so long ago there was a report based on interviews with Hungarians living in Berlin (Oppositionelle Ungarn in Deutschland. Jenseits von Orbanistan). The Hungarians in that article complained about anti-Semitism, anti-Roma feelings, homophobia, and hate campaigns. They wanted out. A lot of writers and intellectuals have already left or are planning to leave, especially if Orbán wins the election next year.

Hungarian papers noted today that the German Statistical Office reported a 4.1% growth in immigration, which is something of a record in recent years.  The number of Poles grew by 13.6% in one year, but that is nothing in comparison to the Hungarian figures. Just last year 24,638 Hungarians settled in Germany, a whopping 30% increase over 2011.

emigrationIn addition to those who leave Hungary in search of work, greater opportunities, or a freer life, there is an increasing number of university students who study abroad. Their numbers will most likely grow substantially in the future as a result of the Orbán government’s introduction of very high tuition fees coupled with the government’s intention to force graduates who received a tuition-free education to remain in Hungary for a number of years. As it stands now, 29% of those who finished high school this or last year definitely want to continue their education abroad, and 60% of them would rather study abroad than at home. Only 11% definitely want to study at home. When these students were asked where they would like to go, most of them mentioned the United Kingdom, Austria, and Germany. Many would like to study in the United States, but that is problematic due to the very high tuition fees and lack of scholarships.

The best qualified students from elite schools with excellent language skills are the ones who are heading abroad to continue their education. And there is a good likelihood that they will not return after spending four or five years in western countries. Getting into one of the really competitive British or American universities is not easy, but there now exists a business venture in Budapest, the Milestone Institute, that preps applicants for entrance exams or the American SATs.

In five years the number of Hungarian students in the United Kingdom doubled. In 2008 only 310 students applied from Hungary and 192 were admitted. In 2012 there were 519 applicants; 329 began their studies in October 2012. There is a new record for 2013: 719 applicants and 433 Hungarian first-year students.

But students have other less expensive options that require no coaching in test taking. In Austria there are no tuition fees and no entrance exams. Mind you, more than half of the students enrolled in Austrian universities don’t graduate. In some of the more rigorous institutions the graduation rate is even lower. For example, in the Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien, out of the 7,000 enrolled in the first year only 2,500 students actually finished their course of study. According to estimates, there are at least 2,000 Hungarian students just in Vienna. Based on interviews I read, they find Vienna and life there to their liking. Bureaucracy is practically nonexistent in comparison to the Hungarian universities. In Vienna it is easy to find part-time jobs and with a little luck they even manage to find modest and relatively inexpensive apartments they can share with others.

From the point of view of Hungary’s future, this exodus is not encouraging news. It is really ironic that this accelerated emigration, especially of young people, is occurring during the most nationalistic Hungarian government since 1944. The government has been trying to lure back the emigrants with little success. Even the liberal ATV television station, not exactly a favorite of the Orbán government, has a daily program that has the odd title Hazahuzó, literally meaning “drawing back home.” It is a kind of travelogue showcasing the beauties of various cities and regions of the country.

On the whole, people who decide to start a new life elsewhere belong to the younger generation and therefore, if this trend continues, the demographic problems of the country will be even greater in the future than they are now. The Orbán government’s methods aimed at encouraging people to have more babies are primitive and ineffectual. Their latest is that if a married university student decides to have a baby while still in school that student will not have to pay back his/her staggeringly high students loans.

In Hungary, for the time being, there are more immigrants than emigrants, contrary to the situation in Poland, Romania, or Albania. But a few more outrageous political and economic decisions by this government and the balance may tilt. By contrast, in Germany not only is immigration up but there is also a natural increase in the population. Alas, Viktor is no Angela.

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.

Increasing poverty in Hungary

It was only a couple of days ago that I mentioned MSZP’s complaint that the data on the number of people living at the subsistence level and below the subsistence level (in poverty) in Hungary still hadn’t been released. One of the MSZP politicians whose expertise is social welfare issues claimed that the report was ready to be published at the beginning of May but that the government put pressure on the Central Statistical Office (KSH or Központi Statisztikai Hivatal) not to release it at that time. Well, at last the figures are out together with an indignant denial of MSZP’s accusations. Yes, said the press release, normally the figures are published before July 1, but this year because of the work that had to be invested in the census–which by the way was also late–KSH was a bit behind.

Before we go into the details of the figures and what they mean, let’s go back a bit in time. In early 2012 Zsuzsa Ferge, a well-known sociologist whose main field of interest is the Hungarian poor, predicted that if the trend of the last few years continues the number of people who live at the subsistence level will reach 4 million by the end of 2012. The trend was definitely moving toward growing poverty. In 2000 there were only 3 million people who were living at the subsistence level; by 2005, 3.2 million; and by 2010, 3.7 million. That was 37% of the population. Today’s figure is, as Ferge predicted, a shocking 40%.

The growing number of poor people (and here I use the term “poor” loosely to include both those living at the subsistence level and those living beneath it) come mainly from the ranks of the middle class–teachers, nurses, and other low-paid workers. The Orbán government’s social policy clearly favors those who belong to the top income bracket. Sociologist Balázs Krémer also wrote a study published alongside that of Ferge in which he demonstrated how the rich are getting richer while the poor are becoming poorer in Hungary. Between 2009 and 2010 per capita income grew on average from 910,000 to 940,000 forints per annum. However, during the same period the incomes of the poorest 10% decreased by 12,000. The top 10%, on the other hand, became 98,000 forints richer and later, when the Orbán government changed the tax law,  they saw their income grow by 314,000 forints per year.

Központi Statisztikai Hivatal, subsistence statistics per household

Központi Statisztikai Hivatal, subsistence statistics per household

According to KSH estimates, a family of four (two working adults and two children) need a minimum of 249,284 forints to maintain themselves on a subsistence level. That means 62,421 per person. A single-person household needs at least 86,000 and a two-person household 150,400 forints. KSH’s table is self-explanatory with the possible exception of  the last three items that refer to pensioners, living alone or with one or two others.

In Hungary 60% of the family income goes for food and shelter. For comparison here are a few figures from the United States. Shelter is a large chunk of the family income here too. About the same as in Hungary or a little more (34%), but an American family spends only 12% of their income on food as opposed to 31% in Hungary.

In addition to the 4 million people in Hungary who live at the subsistence level there are 1,3800,00 people who live below it. That number constitutes 13.8% of the population. So only 46% of the Hungarian population live above the subsistence level.

It’s no wonder that more and more people are seeking a new life abroad. Mostly in Germany and the United Kingdom. Last year Tárki estimated that about 20% of the adult population planned to leave the country. Since then these numbers have only grown. According to some recent polls, half of all high school and university students are contemplating leaving Hungary. Naturally, it is a lot easier to talk than to act. Most of these people will end up staying at home, but the numbers are still very high.

A few months ago György Matolcsy referred to the half a million Hungarians who live and work outside the country. He didn’t give any source, but journalists figured that he must have based his numbers on some statistics that were available only to government insiders. Now we have an official figure from KSH that accounts for part of this “diaspora”: 350,000 people still have a permanent address in Hungary but have been working abroad for some time. Most of these individuals, I suspect, are young people who are still registered as part of the family household.

This brings up an interesting point about the way that KSH calculates its employment statistics. KSH includes among the employed even those who actually work abroad, including the 350,000 people we are talking about here. KSH inquires whether József Kovács, who is living abroad, has a job; if so (and presumably if he’s in another country he is gainfully employed), he is counted among the Hungarian employed. If KSH didn’t include these people in their statistics, the Hungarian unemployment figures would be significantly higher.

Hungary has seen modest employment gains in the public sector due to the public works program.  But the salaries that workers in this program receive are way below the official minimum wage and are only about half the subsistence level for an individual. (And since only one member of a family is eligible for public works, he’s earning less than 20% of what a family of four would need to subsist on.) Yesterday Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary in charge of the public works program, refused to answer Olga Kálmán’s question as to whether 43,000 forints, the salary of a full-time (40 hours per week) public worker, is enough to live on. The interview is already available on YouTube.

Given the economic realities in today’s Hungary, I don’t expect any improvement in the living standards of Hungarians in the near future. And I think we should anticipate an even higher emigration rate, for both economic and political reasons.

Bálint Magyar: Viktor Orbán’s post-communist mafia state, Part III

Today I will finish my summary of the lengthy interview with Bálint Magyar about the nature of the post-communist mafia state developed by Viktor Orbán in the last three years. After Magyar described its characteristics, the interviewer, Eszter Rádai, inquired about the unusual unity in the Fidesz political elite. There are no splinter groups, there are no dissenters. But, as Magyar emphasized, there is nothing terribly surprising about that. After all, in traditional mafia families there is only one thing members of the group cannot tolerate: disloyalty. It is the same with the mafia state. Once a person is inside the charmed circle, getting out is extremely difficult because punishment can be severe. Not only would he experience a loss of privileges and almost limitless possibilities for achieving a comfortable life for himself and his family, but other dangers might be in store for him. Like being accused of illegal activities and finding himself in jail.

Structure of a mafia family / Wikipedia

Although there are expressions of regret over the high rate of emigration, in fact the current political power doesn’t really mind the departure of certain people whom they consider to be troublemakers. Without them the system is more stable.

As for the poor and the downtrodden, what will happen to them? Clearly, said Magyar, the “upperworld” doesn’t care about them. “After all, they don’t vote.” On the other hand, there is an ever-growing well-to-do stratum that is the winner of the regime. Then there is another rather large group of people who are worried about their jobs: teachers, doctors, civil servants. They are unlikely to turn against the regime because they depend entirely on the goodwill of the state. Even small entrepreneurs who depend on large corporations must fall in line.

Chances for the preservation of the mafia state are pretty good because it is an admissive system. Therefore, those who think that a victory by the anti-Fidesz forces might be more likely in 2018 than in 2014 are wrong. Moreover, that kind of talk harms the prospects of winning the elections next year. Those who don’t want to live in a mafia state must organize themselves.

Some people might accuse Bálint Magyar of creating a conspiracy theory, but in 2001 when he first wrote his article on the political “upperworld” he simply described what he saw and since then he hasn’t had any reason to change his mind. Those who don’t want to accept this mafia state must first be able to understand the nature of the regime. “If we are unable to do so, our lot will not only be a lack of freedom but we will also be the objects of ridicule. And that would be unworthy of us.”

Matriculation and politics: A couple of conspiracy theories

During the month of May people seem to be preoccupied with news about the Hungarian matriculation exams. All of the questions are thoroughly discussed in the media. Everybody has an opinion about the quality of the questions, their difficulty, and their political implications if any.

I find this national preoccupation odd. After all, how high school graduates perform on these examinations should really be the concern of the students and their parents. Moreover, matriculation means a great deal less than it did, let’s say, a hundred or even fifty years ago. Before World War II matriculation was the dividing line between the middle class and the rest of society. After the war the number of high school graduates grew significantly, and thus a matriculation certificate means a great deal less today than it did in the olden days.

Judging from past experience, this matriculation mania will last for weeks, but the first few days are the truly exciting ones as far as the Hungarian public is concerned because Hungarian language and literature and history are the first two subjects to be tested.

Commencement exercises

Commencement exercises

This morning students spent four hours writing answers to the questions on the Hungarian test, which had two parts. The first was a reading and comprehension test of a text on linguistics. The second required the students to write an essay on one of three possible topics.

As usual, this year’s Hungarian test has its critics. One possible topic was a short story by Sándor Márai (1900-1989); apparently, that was the most popular choice. The second was an essay by Leszek Kołakowski, the Polish philosopher, who is, as I found out, not well known in Hungary. Most likely the students had no idea who the man was. But it was the third that  raised the most eyebrows. Students were supposed to compare two epigrams: one by Dániel Berzsenyi (1776-1836) and the other by Mihály Vörösmarty (1800-1855). Both are about Napoleon Bonaparte.

Let me quote the Berzsenyi poem first:

Napóleonhoz

Nem te valál győző, hanem a kor lelke: szabadság,
Melynek zászlóit hordta dicső sereged.
A népek fényes csalatásba merülve imádtak,
S a szent emberiség sorsa kezedbe került.
Ámde te azt tündér kényednek alája vetetted,
S isteni pálmádat váltja töviskoszorú.
Amely kéz felemelt, az ver most porba viszontag;
Benned az emberiség ügye bosszulva vagyon.

(1814)

The soul of the age was Liberty whose flags your victorious armies carried. People worshiped you and the fate of mankind was in your hands. However, you surrendered it to your pleasure, and a crown of thorns replaced your laurels. The hand that raised you now throws you into the dust.

Then the Vörösmarty poem:

NAPOLEON

Nagy volt ő s nagysága miatt megdőlnie kellett;
Ég és föld egyaránt törtek elejteni őt:
Tűrni nagyobbat irígy lőn a sáralkatu ember,
S tűrni hasonlót nem bírtak az istenek is.

1833

He was great and because of his greatness he had to fall; Heaven and earth endeavored to make him descend: Man made of dust is jealous of the greater one and even gods could not tolerate his kind.

The president of the Association of Hungarian Teachers, I think rightly, claims that there is no way anyone can write a fairly long essay comparing these two epigrams. He also added that “the task borders on the embarrassing.” He is not alone in believing that the choice of Napoleon was not a coincidence.

Actually, I find this theory a bit of a stretch, but I agree that the Kołakowski essay “On travel”  was selected as part of an effort to dissuade Hungarian students from leaving the country and studying in some other European Union country. In the essay Kołakowski claims that people don’t travel in order to learn “because everything we can learn during a trip can be learned perhaps even better without travel.” The reason for travel is to escape  from everyday problems in addition to satisfying one’s curiosity.

It is unlikely that such a primitive little trick would deter some of those who are serious about leaving Hungary to study elsewhere. Here is a series of cartoons that appeared in Index, drawn by “grafitember.” A girl who is just graduating from high school stops at the corner store to buy a chocolate bar. She and the store owner are old acquaintances.

-Aunt Rose, kiss your hand! The usual chocolate bar, please!

-Oh, my dear Panni, you see this day arrived after all. Are you worried or did you study hard?

-I am not so great in Hungarian but I’m prepared.

-Where are you going from here?

-To Vienna, just as half of my class. Perhaps archaeology or management.

Indeed, it seems that the best and the brightest are planning to study abroad. Despite this exodus, Viktor Orbán today talked about how he is going to make Hungary the “land of knowledge.” Yes, from less and less money and fewer and fewer university graduates.