It is a commonplace that Hungarians are among the least mobile people in Europe. In some ways they resemble the French who traditionally were very reluctant to leave home. Starting in the fifteenth century France tried to colonize parts of North America. Most attempts, Quebec excepted, failed. A similar fate awaited the Netherlands. England, originally the least likely to succeed in the colonization of faraway places, came out ahead: in the seventeenth century an incredible number of people from the United Kingdom left, facing untoward dangers on sea and land.
Hungarians have never been keen on starting life anew in another country. Those who speak of the three million Hungarians who "staggered to America," to use Attila József's words, are mistaken. The staggerers were not Hungarian-speaking citizens of Greater Hungary but mostly Slovaks. It was these Slovaks whom Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk approached to support the creation of a Czechoslovak state in 1917 and 1918.
In the second half of the twentieth century there were two occasions when Hungarians left the country in greater numbers–after 1945 and after 1956. We don't have accurate figures for the first migratory wave. But we know that about 200,000 people, mostly young and well educated, left after 1956. I don't know of any studies dealing with the effects of this emigration on Hungarian society, though I'm sure they exist, but it was a large-scale brain drain. Judging from studies on the success of Hungarians who went abroad, I would assume that this particular emigration had a very negative effect on Hungarian society.
Unlike the 56ers, who had to cross borders illegally and face years of uncertainty, today's emigrants are in a much better situation. Western Europe and Canada are becoming increasingly popular destinations for people who have had enough of Hungarian reality. And people are leaving–recent graduates, professionals, people of means. They know languages, have skills, and want out.
As of May 1 Hungarians can pack up for Austria and Germany. They can work, buy property, and settle there for good. Austria is particularly attractive because it is close and the country is familiar. In the last year or so Hungarians have been showing more and more interest in buying a house or an apartment in Austria. In a single anecdote HVG writes about a man close to retirement who worked for a bank in Hungary. He dealt primarily with people who wanted to place their savings in Austrian banks because they were leery of the Orbán government's rather cavalier attitude toward other people's money. These people believed that their money would be safer in Austria: "there the sanctity of private property and banking secrecy are still honored." So now, just before retirement, he is moving to Austria. His son is already studying in Vienna, and he bought a 100m2 house in a small Burgenland village.
In Germany there are fewer Hungarian settlers. Only 2,519 Hungarians live in Berlin on a permanent basis, a number that is especially small in comparison to the 10,000 Bulgarians and the more than 5,000 Romanians.
But just think about the thousands of young doctors who have moved to the United Kingdom, to Sweden, and to other countries in Europe. Although some of the naive Hungarian doctors believed that their lot would improve after the elections, it is becoming increasingly clear that people working in the health care industry cannot expect a boost in their salaries. Young interns organized an interest group whose leader occasionally shows up for television interviews. A few months ago he was still optimistic. Most young doctors would rather stay at home if they would just get a bit more money and if they were not tied to one hospital for years to come. The new government lifted the restriction on free hospital choice, but the money the young doctors demanded cannot possibly be granted. There is simply not enough money. Naturally, there is always money for the things Viktor Orbán and his government are interested in: soccer, bodyguards, new uniforms for students of the military academy, and an entirely new college for training future civil servants. One could continue. Money is freely spent and the sovereign debt is growing. By now the 250 billion forints that György Matolcsy put aside for a rainy day is also gone. It was just announced that this amount must be permanently taken out of the budget.
The mood in Hungary is gloomy. Although the Christian Democrats try to convince young Hungarians currently working abroad to return, appealing to their love of chicken paprika and Túrós Rudi, this primitive campaign isn't creating a massive "return to home" movement. Just the opposite: half of the M.D.s who graduated last year left the country immediately.
Even people who don't go abroad with the idea of emigrating end up staying. A nephew of mine got a job in Sweden a few years ago. He married a Swedish girl and is currently working on his Ph.D. It is highly unlikely that he will ever return to Hungary for good. His sister went to work in England. She met an Englishman, married, and they have a child. She is happily settled in England.
The growing antisemitism in Hungary may also propel Hungarians of Jewish origin to pack up and leave. All in all, I see a growing tendency on the part of Hungarians to move to greener pastures.