International trends and the Hungarian situation

Bill’s comment inspired me to write about the provincialism of large segments of Hungarian society. For these Hungarians at least three things stop at the border: physical movement, information, and the economy.

In spite of the relative ease with which Hungarians can cross western and northern borders, most people don’t travel abroad but spend their vacations in Hungary. And, of course, a lot of people, especially people in the villages, go nowhere. I have already talked about the poor language skills of Hungarians, which may explain some of the reluctance to venture outside the country.

This lack of knowledge of a foreign language that would enable a person to read foreign news or literature also puts a damper on the flow of information. For a number of years now I have been following the growth of the internet, looking at different political forums, corresponding with people from Hungary, and I am struck by the difference in outlook between those who speak English, German, or French and those who know no language other than Hungarian. Navigating the internet itself requires some rudimentary knowledge of English, and although Hungarians are offering a lot of Hungarian-language sites, the information about a given topic in Hungarian is still poor in comparison to, let’s say, English. It is enough to mention Wikipedia’s Hungarian version. It is not really good for much. While the internet availability of Hungarian television stations is superior to English or American offerings, which is great for me, it does little to expand the horizons of those residing in Hungary. As for Hungarian coverage of foreign affairs, "foreign" often means "regional." Occasionally I can learn something that was not reported here about Serbia, Slovakia, or Romania, but news about the United Kingdom, Germany, or France is fairly sparse.

Perhaps most distressing, large chunks of the population (especially the older folks) think that the Hungarian economy exists in a vacuum, contained by the borders, and that the government controls it. So, for instance, they believe that the government is directly responsible for prices, just like in the good old days. The government can decide that as of January 1 the price of bread, potatoes, oil, what not, will go up, and of course all these prices will rise–as they did! Reinforcing this belief are such announcements as "MOL is raising the price of gasoline by X number of forints," and since MOL is a monopoly (though no longer owned by the Hungarian state) some people think that it is the government that is raising the price of gasoline or natural gas. There is another factor that may play a role in the confusion: public transportation (MÁV, BKV, Volán) is still in the hands of the central or local governments. They are the ones who raise the fares. The same is the case with "district heating," which is in the hands of the local governments. Since the price of energy is going up, the fees for district heating are also climbing. And since most of those ugly Soviet-style apartment buildings that are so badly insulated use district heating, the monthly fees are enormous. Plus there are no thermostats to regulate the heating of individual apartments. Some of the apartments are so overheated that one has to open the windows while in others people are freezing. And who is responsible for all that? Naturally, the government.

The irresponsible opposition politicians add fuel to the fire. They criticize the government, specifically the minister of finance (who is actually doing a wonderful job at reducing the deficit), because he had to upwardly revise the predictions for inflation for 2007 and for 2008. I guess he was supposed to foresee skyrocketing agricultural prices or crude oil reaching $120 a barrel. But they argue that rising inflation is the Hungarian government’s fault. Underlying this argument is an isolationist view of economics. For instance, Viktor Orbán came up with the notion of a patriotic economic policy, whatever that means. It certainly sounds isolationist. Kádár also thought that world trends could be stopped at the borders. The oil crisis of the late 1970s wouldn’t reach Hungary but, surprise, surprise, it did. Even then, when the borders had barbed wires and towers watching whether anyone tried to cross illegally. People might have been stopped leaving Hungary, but economic forces had no difficulty entering. There is no "Hungarian answer," as Orbán’s second minister of finance thought. Actually the current problems began with this finance minister’s "Hungarian answer," which based economic calculations on internal consumption. It was during his tenure, beginning in 2001, when the deficit began to spiral out of control.

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Adrian
Guest

Eva,
“It is enough to mention Wikipedia’s Hungarian version”
Obviously, there are not going to be as many articles in the Hungarian Wikipedia, because there are fewer Hungarian speakers, but is it the case that equivalent articles are poorer on the Hungarian version than on the English?

Bill
Guest
Hearing that my comment inspired a post brings a smile to my face 😀 Good reflections – during my 4 years among the Hungarians, the persistent provincialism has been and is one of my biggest bones with Hungarian culture. One aspect of provincialism that you didn’t mention is racism, which is absolutely rampant in Hungary. The stories I hear from my black friends living in Hungary are often truly unbelievable in a horrible, sad kind of way – i.e. random violence on the bus/tram/metro perpetrated on them by perfect strangers (while the rest of the passengers, all “decent Magyars,” I’m sure, just watch without doing or saying anything), people staring at them EVERYWHERE they go (especially if they dare to leave the confines of downtown Budapest), old people in the villages telling them that they thought black people (usually referred to as “négerek,” even after my friends tell them that they find this profoundly offensive) were not actually real and were made up by the TV people to make movies more interesting, etc. This kind of provincialism/racism I just don’t fathom – what century are these people living in? It’s not every Hungarian, certainly, but it’s a disturbingly high number.… Read more »
Dr Keresztes
Guest

Unfortunately, I have noticed racism here also, it seems the older generation have these views more so then younger people. Many of these people seem threatened that their country is going to be overrun by refugees from less developed countries-stereotyping African as third world. In the media the news on Africa is war and famine so they assume it’s bringing more problems to the country, footage of the African communities in other countries as being unemployed and crime not contributing to thecountry.
It’s also the asian community that receive this racsism. I think the older people fear losing there culture and what identitiy there is left and in there frustration using the Africans as scapegoats. Dont Know what the answer is because there seems to be a lot of rascism continuing in many developed countries also, just that they say it behind Africans backs.

Dr Keresztes
Guest
Rascism is everywhere, If it’s not the Blacks, it’s the Asians, Moslems, Indains etc. Depending where the global issues are- that’s where the prejudice manifest’s. You have you good and bad-even amongst the whites. Look around your own environment aswell it exist not only in Hungary. And for the regional Hungarians to travel, they require higer wages, for them to go abroad to Western countries are these barriers. Maybe when the country has a higher standard of living they wil have the leisure time and resources, however international trends are actually longer working hours , increase of Mortgages food and resources. I dont see no big changes in the near future, probaly even worse or plateuing out for a few years. Joining the EU wont help our regional cousins or City dwellers, they will feel the pinch harder from the so called Free Trade. Although buying cheap can seem like a good deal, Western consumers should know that by doing that, they are diminishing the value of their own labor even further and putting the local products, which do comply with social and environmental standards,out of competition. Plus, they are supporting the exploitation of both people and nature in the… Read more »
Adrian
Guest

Dr Keresztes,
You’re right racism is everywhere, I’ve just reading with discomfort of the advances of the British National Party in my own country of origin.
But this is an 80/20 question. In the UK 20% of people are openly racist, and I have seen the Afro-Carribean community integrate in my own lifetime. In Hungary 80% of the population are openly racist, and the integration still eludes the gypsy population.

Dr Keresztes
Guest

I have many clients from UK and I am astonished how their views about Hungarians can be primative, they assume Hungarians are all Farmers and goat herders, and get quite a surprise when they travel to Hungary for the first time and see how Liberal Hungarians views are, specially once they mix amongst them. I am not sure how accurate your sources and statistics are? I dont mean to doubt you sources, just my experience from mixing with both groups. I actually thought Hungarians not as ignorant as the people from UK and US. Hungarians seem more cautious and question politics because of there overall experience with oppression.
In gerneral Hungarians know outside there mother tongue one or two languages, well they are a minority- and for their own best interests they have to for survival in Europe, many of my relatives learn’t languages compared to the average Englishmen – Most english talk Football! Hungarians seem more cultured in Music, Litreture and the Arts. There is still room for improvement hopefully in the right direction. Know more sources are strictly experience.

Adrian
Guest

Dr Keresztes,
I live in Hungary, I work in Hungary, my wife is Hungarian, my children are Hungarian. I have lived here for 13 years. The people I live with are my sources. 1 in 5 non-racists seems generous.
I’m a schoolteacher in a provincial town, my colleagues in the English department are mostly multilingual, well read, and attend the theatre regularly. A very liberal group, one might think, except that only 2 of the 9 are non-racist, and 2 are neo-nazis.
Yes, English people like me are crude, drunken and violent (though I don’t like football) but compared to Hungarians I think they have more common-sense and a better sense of fairplay. I think that these elements in English culture have helped us deal with minorities in our polity, and their absence explains a lot of the misery in Hungarian History (1849, 1920, 1944).

Dr Keresztes
Guest

@Adrian
This could lead to a nasty debate. I could find more dirt to what the English have done International to oppress and control countries & continents, even to this day.
Dont throw stone at glass houses..
This was my personal expereince living in Budapest, provncial area’s people tend to be more patriotic then city people, and that’s world wide.
I’m not sure whether following the English example is for Hungary. I would rather see them go towards roll models like Finland Sweeden and Norway. Honestly lets not go there.. It’s not going to solve anything debating this, only divide us cheers , no doubt you like a beer 🙂

Dr Keresztes
Guest
@EVA How is the country going to be better off? If everyone goes abroad? Many of my friends are disappointed when they go to the UK they are treated like second class citizens-number one! they don’t get the same treatment, living quarters are confined, they huddle like sheep in a barn in tiny apartments with less quality of living then here, cost of living quickly chews up there earnings. The comments I have recieved from English people complaining about the eastern block countries taking there work, isn’t that racsist? Isn’t this suppose to support Hungarians and encourage them? all it seems is they are being ridiculed, statistics where I dont know where you get them from, they are biased views, Hungarians may be honest while the English maybe politically correct when the surveys are made , but inside they are racist, and feel superior to many other nations, isnt that Neo Nazi or Fascist? just that they wear a mask. Many English people i have meet in the last 2 years have made a comment about the workers taking there jobs. And also I have had Slovakian friends only a month ago making a comment how they were treated like… Read more »
Dr Keresztes
Guest

@ EVA
I’m finding it hard to undrstand you, isn’t making a comment against someone in the streets if you have an accent in London being Racist? What’s the difference if it happens in Hungary? I’m beside myself, what is it that is not being comprehended? Everyone has to start from the bottom true, and no doubt it would have been a tough experience, however you cant say there it’s fair, if an English person comes to Hungary they are treated with a lot more respect, then vice versa.

Dr Keresztes
Guest

@Eva
Your Twisting words. Seems we are on a different wave lentgh 🙂 never mind enjoy your ride.

Vándorló
Guest

Let me be more positive. In the 15+ years I’ve lived or been back and forth to Hungary I have noticed a tremendous change in attitudes, both in Budapest and in Szombathely, Köszeg and Sopron.
When I first came to live in Hungary (1993) I couldn’t even mention blacks without some students starting to laugh and begin mimicking sub-humans – really, racism was that bad. One of my first lessons was on Irish gypsies in England (tinkers) and this almost caused a riot even with the 20 year old teacher trainers. Many refused even to speak about the subject they were so “disgusted”.
These days we can talk about these things and the primitive reactions. Also, I know lots of Hungarians that have a tremendous interest in both the orient and other cultures.
Statistically, also the amount of holidays spent abroad has shot up. The simple truth is that a holiday at lake Balaton is far more expensive than an all-in package to somewhere abroad these days, so economically it doesn’t make sense to stay at home.
The older generetion (which unfortunately starts as early as 40 here) are another thing entirely though.

Adrian
Guest
Dr Keresztes, In my original comment I qualified racist with the word “openly”. In the UK people are well aware that racism is unacceptable to the political elite, even the BNP claims not to be racist. So a lot of racist sentiment in the UK is hidden; one of the things that surprises me about Hungarian racism is its naivety. Racist sentiment in the UK is now being expressed in the arguments about immigration. A friend of mine makes a distintion between immigration which is what his Russian wife has done, and “mass immigration” which is what asian muslims are doing. Even though the most dramatic recent mass immigration has been of white catholic Poles. Three of my ex-students have visited me after immigrating to the UK to work and reported no experiences of racism. But they claimed they had very little contact with British people as most of their colleagues were themselves immigrants. They however had had problems with the négerek. You’re right there are a lot of foreigners in the UK doing jobs British people are no longer interested in doing – thus it always was with immigration. But now the economy is turning down it will be… Read more »
Dr Keresztes
Guest

@ Vándorló
Breath of fresh Air 🙂
There is also a marketing campaign promoting travel within Hungary, it’s quite well packaged.
Lake balaton since last season has been marketed towards the locals. The German and French tourists have droped off in travelling here.
Tourism is targeted at promoting wellness centres, camping , wine tours ,cycling and echo tours.
Benefits of money staying within the country which is a bonus. Hungary has a lot to offer within it’s borders with it’s attracions, and many Hungarians are discovering these possibilities. I myself enjoy travelling in Hungary.
Your right about the older people, the pensioners with low income, have no reources to travel. There is a trend beginning with the wealthier Hungarians selling up in the cities and moving to the west bank of Balaton to retire, so the lifestyle there is on the improve.
@Adrian
thanks for the clarification, good observation, we all have our personal experiences depending on what circles we mix with, my experiences have been slightly different, overall nationalism is on the rise, harder to control during tough economic times, so if we can improve our economy the attitude will improve.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
As you and @Bill both quite rightly say Hungary has developed isolation. I will agree with you. It has developed it at three levels. Firstly, there is isolation at the family level. When I married a Hungarian lady I did not realise that was inheriting a sort of ‘Tribe of Togoomi’ (Kipling ‘Just So Stories’). It is frowned upon if I visit a café run by the grandson of a cousin whose great uncle did something (about 70 years ago) to one of the tribe I married into. It probably had survival value. The second and more insidious form of isolation is a sort of ‘mental isolation’. This is one in which the Hungarian cuts him/her self off from anything beyond their experience or education. I have found this very exasperating. There seems to be, amongst many, a strong unwillingness to continuing learning. The third is the illusion of isolation that the Hungarians have is that they are not really part of this world. This may have been the reason for Enrico Ferme’s joke about them being aliens. It is not as if Hungary was surrounded by the ‘great dampness’ (sea) which kept others out. It is that they, the… Read more »
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