Hungary, a paralysed country

I decided to translate a published op-ed which I wrote in Dutch on my Hungary. Take note that this article was written for a Dutch audience.

The grandiose architecture of Budapest

Hungary, a paralysed country 

After almost three years I’ve decided to leave Hungary. It’s the country my father fled from during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Before arriving in Hungary I had lived most of my life in the Netherlands.

When one strolls around the inner city the Budapest, one is surrounded by the many grandiose buildings — the heritage of the glorious times of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy– which make it one of the most beautiful cities of Europe. Also now there are still many tourists checking their city maps and who fill their cameras with pictures of the Danube, the Basilica, the Parliament, and the many others things the city has to offer. At night one can have a great time in the many bars and clubs that bring the city to life. However, when ones looks beyond the beautiful panoramas and the impressive buildings, one sees many homeless people, dirty streets and a lot of unsatisfied– and emotionally scarred– citizens.

Until recently I used to pass a reconstruction project at one of the busy roads that leads right through the center of the city. From the tram you could observe, at 7.30 in the morning, the demotivated workers who secretly would take out the beer or liquor they bought before coming to work and take a swig. With such images engraved on the eye, one can hardly imagine the lower classes in Hungary to be satisfied with life. OK,  also in the Netherlands there are many people who are not satisfied with their life, but there you have the chance to do something– especially if you have the motivation to do so.


Given that I was raised in the Netherlands in a family that had no real financial concerns, the difference between my background and that of the average Hungarian is large. Many Hungarians struggle to manage their life financially speaking. A pensioned couple which has to get by with 40000 forints (about 140 euros) per month (punishment for the man’s service as a driver during the communist times?); or a school teacher with 10 years of experience which earns roughly 350 euros per month. A holiday abroad, or at home for that matter, is for most impossible; something a 16 year old kid in the Netherlands sees as the most natural, and necessary (partying in Spain) thing. Does that mean that every Hungarian is depressed? Nope; but most do complain.

Hungary suffers from a huge brain drain. Many of my highly-educated and clever friends simply are not able to find a job in their field of expertise. If they do manage to find one, the wage here is so embarrassing that many try their luck abroad. If you seek a job which, for Eastern-European standards, pays well, then unfortunately you are forced to work for one of the multinationals — many of whom have their business service centers in the region, Budapest has about 80 such BSCs. But if you do not speak at least two other languages next to Hungarian then also there you will have problems finding a job.

The political and economic decline

The Dutch news on Hungarian politics has not been particularly positive. The perception is that Hungary is limiting the freedom of the media and that it is returning to dictatorial forms of governing. The heading of an article in the NRC on 25 April 2012 confirms the previous: “EU takes Hungary to highest court over controversial laws”. A glance at voting behaviour does not bring light to the darkness. The incumbent Fidesz party would receive an embarrassing 16% of the votes, according to polls by Reuters earlier in 2012. And the main opposition party, the MSZP, would get 14% of the votes. No less than 53% (!) of the Hungarians cannot identify themselves with any political party.

Beyond the politics, Hungary also economically finds itself at a low point. The forint is at its weakest this year and people with an income of less than 800 euros gross had to pay more taxes than the year before, while people above that were better off.

Worst of all this is that the country does not have a bright future ahead. Hungary should get rid of the political polarisation that is choking the nation. The two biggest parties, the Fidesz and the Socialists, should show respect for one another and should focus on improving the situation of the country. The Dutch Polder model could make the difference. Even immense construction and infrastructure projects have until now completely restarted after a change of government. The reason? Everything the previous government did was insensible crap.

The seemingly dictatorial rule of the Fidesz is only being restrained by the intervention of the European Union; it has more than once reprimanded the Hungarian government for things which were against EU legislation.

The Hungarian people should engage into politics and look beyond the two parties that have dominated and deformed the political landscape of Hungary for the last 18 years. A hopeful future is not achieved through complaining, but by doing.

Despite all this; I will leave Hungary after three years with a pain in the heart.

The Dutch version of the article was published here


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