An article that appeared in HGV is the inspiration for today's post. It was written by Zoltán Novák, a research associate of the Méltányosság Politikaelemző Központ (Equity Center for Political Analysis), and was entitled "Repulsive Symptoms in the Hungarian Work and Business Culture."
Today is the perfect time to tackle this topic because I just finished listening to György Bolgár's talk show (Klub Rádió) which ended with a bang. A big bang. A grandmother of ten, screaming on the top of her lungs, went on and on about all those people who don't appreciate Hungarian culture, who make fun of Hungary's true heritage, who are enamored with other cultures, who want to force English on Hungarian students, and who want to teach all sorts of things about other countries while they are making fun of Hungary's past. Her harangue was not devoid of anti-Semitic remarks. And if that weren't enough, right after her came a man who suggested that since this government has achieved so much in the last three months or so, all newspapers should be supporting it instead of criticizing it. Well, this is the culture or rather the lack of culture that makes dialogue almost impossible in Hungary.
Zoltán Novák begins his article by asking whether a given society's culture can be changed. And should bad traditions be broken? Novák's answer to the second question is an unequivocal yes. Is there a need for change in a direction that is better, more effective, more helpful for the society as a whole? Again, the answer is yes.
Novák points out that in Hungary there is a lot of talk about the ills of political culture–an unwillingness to compromise and the presence of corruption. But this emphasis on political culture gives the false impression that "Hungary is a country of twenty million diligent hands" and that the bad political culture exists entirely independently of Hungarian society. But, as Novák says, "Hungary's political culture was not blown into the Carpathian basin from somewhere outside; it is the true mirror of our present conditions and organically attached to the culture of human relations. The quality of Hungary's political behavior is not worse than the average level of culture."
When it comes to work and business culture the biggest problem is that no healthy competition–either on the personal or the entrepreneurial level–has developed in the last twenty years. Apparently the situation on the individual level is really serious. According to Novák a fair amount of time is being spent "elbowing, backbiting, watching each other, checking on each other, reporting to the boss." This behavior shows a "misunderstanding of the nature of competition." Instead of concentrating on their own achievement Hungarian employees spend their energies discrediting the achievements of others. There are problems with the quality of leadership as well. There are bosses who want to control absolutely everything and those who let anything go. There are very few in between.
As for business culture it is very similar to interpersonal relations within the firm. There is stiff competition among big businesses, but once again the business owners don't concentrate on the effectiveness of their own firm. Instead they do everything in their power to discredit their competitors. Contracts between businesses are sometimes 10-15 pages long, yet it is often impossible to enforce their provisions. Then come the lawyers and the endless court cases.
The situation is no better in the world of small and medium-size businesses, which is especially worrisome given the new government's decision to pour money into this sector. In small and medium-size businesses formulating business strategy is almost unknown, and as a result even firms that are relatively well endowed can come close to bankruptcy in no time. Most of them spend whatever money comes in, and they irresponsibly take up loans. If Novák is right, it is very possible that the new Széchenyi Plan will not bring the desired results.
Novák focuses on the work and business elements of social intercourse, but there are others that in his opinion would need drastic change, such as ethnic intolerance. Some people like to blame the Kádár regime for all this, but the author suspects that "the problem is much more deep-seated." In any case, although they themselves create the atmosphere that surrounds them, it is a well-known fact that Hungarians don't like their own surroundings.
Finally, Novák poses the question: can deep-seated cultural traits be changed? The answer is yes and his examples are Finland, Ireland, and Spain where, according to him, a few decades were enough for "a cultural change that brought in its wake economic prosperity and political consolidation."
Let's hope that Novák is right–that some of the "repulsive symptoms" will eventually disappear and a better culture will emerge.