As I was watching József Karsai’s latest performance on today’s Napkelte (Sunrise, a political program of MTV) I suddenly had the urge to write about Hungarian attitudes towards foreigners. I think it was a natural reaction to Karsai’s outburst against the foreign companies who came to Hungary “to destroy this country.” But more about the actual encounter with Karsai a bit later.
First it turns out, according to the latest surveys, that Hungarians are the most xenophobic people in Europe after the Greeks and the Estonians. I am just guessing that in case of Estonia the negative attitude toward foreigners is mostly targeted at those Russians who settled in the Baltic country after 1939. The Greeks? Perhaps it has something to do with the centuries-old hatred of Turks. But why such an intolerance toward foreigners among Hungarians? A first stab at a hypothesis, and I welcome all alternatives because I’m thinking out loud and it may be nonsense. Go back to pre-Trianon Hungary that was itself a multinational country. Post-Trianon Hungary lost its multinational clout but at it became a national state. Today western multinationals demote Hungary to the status of its pre-Trianon “subjects.”
Back to the everyday, there is the problem of a lack of knowledge about or interest in other people’s way of living or other countries in general. In addition, there is, especially in the older generation, a dislike of capitalism. The combination is lethal when it comes to the attitude toward multinational companies. I shop at two supermarkets, both with good American names and one with a long American tradition. So it was only by coincidence that I found out that one is owned by a Dutch firm and the other has as its major shareholder a German firm. More power to them for trying to navigate the treacherous waters of American supermarkets with their razor-thin margins and Wal-Mart as the 800 pound gorilla in the supermarket space. Hungary doesn’t have the U.S. equivalent of Stop & Shop or A&P. That is, it didn’t have a supermarket chain that was bought out by a foreign company. Rather, foreign chains entered virgin territory. So everybody knows that Auchen is French, Aldi is German, and Tesco is English. Karsai makes sure that the world understands that he is leading a fight not just against wretched capitalists but against foreign capitalists. Every second word he uttered this morning was “multik,” an abbreviation for multinational companies “who came here to ruin this country.” He threatened them a bit: they will find out whom they are facing. He will show them. He has documents. Either they behave decently or “they can go home.” He himself never shops at these supermarkets. He buys good stuff from small Hungarian stores.
Fine. But I suspect that his grocery bill is a lot higher than it would have been had he shopped at Tesco and that the selection of products was a fraction of those available at the supermarkets. By the way, the political divide in the U.S. over supermarkets splits not along domestic/foreign lines but along ma&pa or specialty stores (including the natural food chains)/supermarkets & Wal-Mart. Dedicated leftists support the former, and their grocery bills have to be a lot higher than Karsai’s. I’m content to go to the local supermarkets and to supplement purchases there with the bounty from my vegetable garden.