Lending a helping hand: How sick is Hungarian society?

A few days ago I read in the news that an employee of MÁV, the Hungarian State Railways, had died. At first blush one would think that this piece of news would not be of general interest, that it would properly belong among the obituaries.

The real news was not the man’s death but how he died. For sixteen hours he lay in a rest area on MÁV property, alive but obviously very sick. Two of his co-workers saw him but did nothing. They assumed he was drunk. They locked up for the night and went home, leaving him behind. A few hours later a third  man found him. He realized that the man was not drunk; he had had a stroke. A day later the man died in the hospital. MÁV is investigating.

I found this report very disturbing.  How could it happen that two men would leave their co-worker lying unconscious, whatever the cause of his state, and go about their business all day long without paying the slightest attention to the man lying a few feet away from them?

But what really made me reflect on the callousness that seems to be a hallmark of Hungarian society today is a story that broke two days ago. A totally naked man who was staying with his wife or girlfriend in a hotel on Rákóczi Street in Budapest either jumped or fell out of the window of his room. Traffic immediately stopped and a crowd of about 100 people gathered around the man, who was covered with blood. He was still breathing. There was only one man who rushed to his aid, Gábor Ferenczi, who left the bus on which he was traveling. In desperation he asked people gathering around the man to help, at least to get a blanket to cover the naked body. No one moved. In fact, some people laughed. So, the half dead man was lying there naked while onlookers were taking pictures of him. Eventually one woman moved, but she could offer only a  piece of Kleenex.

helping handsEventually a policeman showed up. His first question was whether they had called the police. Eventually he requested an ambulance which, after considerable delay, arrived. After a while someone showed up from the hotel with a blanket.

After the ambulance arrived Ferenczi went into the hotel to wash the blood off his hands. When he returned, he found a woman next to the body who seemed to have been the dead man’s companion. The treatment of  the woman by the police and the ambulance team, at least according to Ferenczi, was heartless. “Okay, and who are you? What was the name of the dead man? Where are his papers? And yours?”  Ferenczi asked one of the men from the ambulance to assist her back to the hotel but the only answer he got was: “Why?” So, Ferenczi himself helped her into the hotel and led her to the elevator. (I assume the police didn’t consider the room a potential crime scene.)

Not surprisingly, our Good Samaritan was badly shaken and couldn’t sleep. He phoned the ambulatory service and asked for advice. He was told “to drink a glass of something strong and go to a psychiatrist soon.” Ferenczi decided to talk about his experiences because he was so shaken, not just by the sight of a bloodsoaked naked body and the death of someone in his own arms but also by the behavior of the bystanders. After the death of the man was announced, one of the onlookers told him “the duck is dead, so it was in vain.” Ferenczi was outraged: “Is this man really a human being, or just something that walks on two legs?”

The story published in Origo elicited an incredible number of comments. The last time I looked, around 500. I picked a few noteworthy ones. One commenter insisted that “mankind is like that. There are some who help, while others laugh.” He found the reaction natural. Most people didn’t agree with him; there were far more damning comments than approving ones. Many came up with their own stories. One recalled that two months ago a girl on a bicycle was hit by a car “but we went to her although it was an awful sight. Thank God she survived. Twenty years ago a girl died in similar circumstances in my arms. I would spit into my own face if I were so cowardly that I would not offer help in circumstances like that.”

One woman told her own story. When she was 12 years old, a man grabbed her about 50 meters from her house in the outskirts of Budapest and 15 meters from the bus stop.”I screamed, yelled, kicked. The people waiting at the bus stop looked but then turned their heads and kept standing there. I’m now 50 but I still remember their faces.”

Another commenter told his story. A woman with a little girl and a teenage boy were crossing the road. Suddenly the boy collapsed in the middle of the road. The little girl cried, the woman screamed for help, but no one responded. People were standing on both sides of the street but no one moved. Eventually it was the commenter who carried the boy to the nearby hospital. He still remembers the anger and shame he felt at the behavior of those people.

Another person told of an experiment that took place a couple of months ago. Someone placed a toy baby in an abandoned baby carriage. The toy baby made realistic crying sounds. Out of ten people who went by the baby carriage only two stopped. One actually called the police, but another, a lawyer, announced that he had no intention of stopping: after all, “they could charge me with kidnapping.”

Someone commented that it had to be “the dregs of society” at the scene. To which another person replied laconically, “No, they are not. This is the norm.”

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Guest

A few years ago, my Hungarian teacher (a petite woman, on the way to class) was knocked down in a very populated area (DuPont Circle) of Washington DC. She was OK but was outraged that no one had helped her up, saying that in Hungary many people would have been there to help her. I remember thinking how nice it would be to be helped in such a situation, that in the US I would never expect it. Now I know that she was wrong–or had been away too long.

An
Guest

I don’t mean to argue that there is nothing wrong with Hungarian society in this respect, but for the record, instances of failing to help someone in distress have been documented in social psychology. They are usually explained by the so-called bystander effect.
http://psychology.about.com/od/socialpsychology/a/bystandereffect.htm

I do believe, though, that Hungarian society seems to be more prone to this type of social ill than let’s say what I’ve seen in the States. The bystander effect also does not explain the cruelty of some of the comments, like the ““the duck is dead, so it was in vain.”

robert fairhurst
Guest

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Kitty_Genovese

One of the most famous cases in history happened in US. I think it happens in any big city really.

enuff
Guest

I’m not sure about the Hu society as a whole; but I’ve seen one video document of Chinese origin, The scenario was similar to the second one you wrote; where no one stopped to help a woman in need.

From my own observation and experience :-

Last winter, while on the way to the bus stop, we witness a homeless fell. I urged my Hu husband to help him up. He keeping thanking him and was very grateful.

On another occasion, free cakes (from baking competition) were offered to the public after the judging. One baker was carrying her pie and one homeless man was requesting a slice. She ignore him. The homeless man asked again. Still no respond from the woman. The third time, even a boy next to the woman informed her that the man is requesting for a slice. She didn’t react what so ever…

How are suppose to teach the next generation when the adults are behaving like this?

petofi
Guest

“No, this is the norm.”

Why should anyone be surprised?
Which other European society would’ve allowed those bikers to show off “Give gaz!” without
anger and protests?
Which other European society would’ve tolerated Csatary among them…to be protected
by the government without outrage and street marches?
Which other society would be blind to the retrogade steps its government have taken into
illegality and primitivism?

Hungarians? They’re those little naked characters with feathers out of their asses in a Bosch painting..

Gardonista
Guest

According to a recent survey, Budapest is ranked as tied (along with New York) for the third most honest city:
http://www.businessinsider.com/helsinki-is-the-worlds-most-honest-city-2013-9

I will be vocal about my opposition to Fidesz/Jobbik, but the wallet study suggests with fairly good methodology that there still a lot of honesty in Budapest.

An
Guest

@Gardonista: Honesty and helping fellow human beings are two very different things. I think apathy runs higher in Hungary than in the West, and it affects the fabric of society. Mind you, Hungarians can be very helpful to people they know, but when it comes to kindness and civility to strangers…. there is a LOT of room for improvement.

Tyrker
Guest

“There was only one man who rushed to his aid”

That’s an outright lie. Read this piece that appeared today on hvg.hu: http://hvg.hu/itthon/20131125_Blaha_Lujza_teri_baleset_megvarattak_a_11

As for the fact that the majority of people just stood there doing apparently nothing, that has nothing to do with Hungarian society in particular. The same thing would have happened anywhere in the world. Google “bystander effect”.

petofi
Guest

There is a fellow I know in Budapest, now in his 70s, who has completely shut himself off from all friends and only the nearest or relatives.
Why?
He has, too frequently, been ripped off and lied to by friends and relatives he has lent money to.

petofi
Guest

And, in the midst of such societal breakdown, we have the mother Catholic Church urging its brethren to vote for Fidesz and pray for the heroic Mr. Orban….

csoda.peter
Guest

Minding your own business is one the sad survival instincts in urban society – you can (you must) look out for your neighbours in a village or even a town, but in a big city it doesn’t happen much.

But these are examples of something more sinister.

I cannot help thinking there is a connection with another trait: excessive accusations of lying and lack of remorse when lying is uncovered.

Could a fixation with historic defeats also playa part in this psychology?

An
Guest

@Tyrker: It took 6 minutes for the ambulance to answer the phone??? (from your link to the hvg article). I wonder, does it have to do anything with the recent reorganization of the emergency call system in Hungary ?
http://www.origo.hu/itthon/20130926-a-tuzoltok-tartanak-a-112-es-segelyhivo-atalakitasatol.html

Istvan
Guest

Yes some of this indifference is universal. About a month ago in the Bay Area of California on a BART rapid transit train a man was going psychotic yelling at other passengers. They were all plugged into their ipods and cell phone paying no attention until he shot one of them in the head. Apparently the news reporter thought that was remarkable, but sadly it did not surprise me in the least.

But common theme in Eva’s story and the Bay area story is a presumption on the part of the observers that the victims, or soon to be dead got themselves into their mess so its best to stay out of it. Isn’t that part of what György Lukács called alienation, in this case alienation from the world around you not just labor. Oh I forgot Lukács was a communist so that can’t possibly be correct.

oneill
Guest

My own observation from my time here is that the links which bind families or friends together are very strong indeed, much stronger than the UK.
Outside those circles, the concept of civil responsibility (or human decency if you like) simply does not exist in wider Budapest society. It is not that average Hungarian citizen hates those who have have become ill or homeless or unemployed or simply less fortunate than themselves- their existence simply does not register.

latefor
Guest

I don’t believe that this behavior is typical of Hungarian society. Years ago I was traveling on a bus from Budapest to Visegrad with my partner. I was very ill with a bad cold and had a few coughing fits. One lady offered me some medicine, another massaged my back and an old man wanted me to drink palinka straight out of an unopened bottle…. he said it always works for him. Different people, different experiences.

Jeremy Wheeler
Guest

My own experience in Budapest is that people are much quicker to offer help than in London, say. Considering how poor many people are there does seem to be an attitude of offering food, clothing, and even money to obviously destitute people: a sort of “there is always someone worse off than I am” attitude. I have also seen many instances of helping strangers when they have fallen, appear ill, and so on – again even when the victim has appeared to be homeless, dirty or drunk. I think the comments mentioning the bystander effect have it about right and one doesn’t have to look very far to see examples of shameful behaviour in any country (explicable as it might be).

And people still unswervingly offer their seats on public transport to the elderly and frail.

tappanch
Guest

Indifference and short memory of people are the friends of aspiring dictators.

Orban uses the atomization of the opposition groups, trade unions to hold power.

The tendency is more and more callousness and indifference – not only in Hungary.

I put ready my Totenkopf units, with the order to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of the Polish race or language. Only thus will we gain the Lebensraum that we need. Who, after all, still talks nowadays of the extermination (Vernichtung) of the Armenians? (Hitler on August 22, 1939)

Just a few weeks ago, more than a thousand civilians were gassed by their dictator – who remembers them now? The dictator’s boss was awarded by a nuclear deal in return.

Earnest
Guest

I have very mixed experiences on this. Living and working in downtown Budapest I have seen quite some heartwarming examples of people offering help to other people in distress. I vividly remember an elderly lady who fell down the stairs leading to a metro station. She apparently broke her arm and was cared for by quite a number of complete strangers.

On the other hand: I do recognize what An describes. In general Hungarians are very kind and warm towards friends, but otherwise seem to lack civility. Even among colleagues I noticed that people can be downright rude as long as they don’t really know you. Usually it takes one or two informal chats to change this odd behavior. And let’s not even mention the rude by default treatment you get in most stores in the capital…

Paul
Guest
oneill : My own observation from my time here is that the links which bind families or friends together are very strong indeed, much stronger than the UK. Outside those circles, the concept of civil responsibility (or human decency if you like) simply does not exist in wider Budapest society. It is not that average Hungarian citizen hates those who have have become ill or homeless or unemployed or simply less fortunate than themselves- their existence simply does not register. Whilst recognising that you can hear about exactly the same sort of thing – and the opposite – in London or New York, I think oneill comes closest to identifying the particular Hungarian element of this story. His description of how people behave towards family and strangers exactly matches my own experience. Within the family, almost anything is accepted/forgiven, outside the family the worst is always assumed. When I first encountered this strong family bond in Hungary I was impressed and couldn’t help but compare it to the almost non-existent family ‘bond’ in the UK. But later I began to realise that it has its bad side as well. It results in children being brought up much better than in… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

“What happened in 1915 happened in 1915. As one United States Senator, I think the better way to deal with this is to leave it open to historians and others to decide what happened and why,” – Chuck Hagel in 2005

“The Horthy era should be judged by historians and not by politicians” – Janos Lazar, November 4, 2013

andy "no room to wiggle"
Guest
In Hungary, when it comes to espousing a cause, a belief, a side, a kindred, MONEY talks. The same relative that you hate beomes dear when somone else is looking on. Double speak. A wink. Talking different with both sides of the mouth. Worse than the above, the inability to perceive yourself via a mirror; little feedback. Inabilty to hear and to perceive other than distorted reality. Distorsions according to what is most readily acceptable to your own digestion. The concept of truth or even your own truth or another’s perspective or putting yourself into another person’s shoes is outside of the realm of human experience. Yar for or against. If your interlocutor thinks differently you cannot continue the converesation because you can’t bear hearing another opinion than the one you’re used to accepting. Conservatism. Even if you are pronouncing that you are liberal in fact you will likely be a dogmatic liberal…. Protocol behavior which aids in any action is unheard of. In the story above (Blaha Luisa Ter) evidently the hotel that is the closest semi-public place should have immediately provided the covering sheets for the dead person as well as the human element to keep onlookers to… Read more »
petofi
Guest

I hope readers of this page splice this info together with the past blog on the 80 year old Akos Kertesz and why he had to leave Hungary…

latefor
Guest

Dear Petofi, it’s very unfortunate that 80 year old Akos Kertesz felt that he had to leave Hungary, but I’m also glad that 82 year old Imre Kertesz (Nobel Price winner) returned to Hungary from Germany……according to some online news, he’s being treated for Parkinson disease in some hospital in Pecs, Hungary. I wish him all the very best.

petofi
Guest

latefor :
Dear Petofi, it’s very unfortunate that 80 year old Akos Kertesz felt that he had to leave Hungary, but I’m also glad that 82 year old Imre Kertesz (Nobel Price winner) returned to Hungary from Germany……according to some online news, he’s being treated for Parkinson disease in some hospital in Pecs, Hungary. I wish him all the very best.

@latefor

Not even a nice try.
Imre Kertesz hates Hungary. He lives in Berlin and all his papers have been moved there.
He wants nothing of his works to remain in Hungary. Perhaps you have not heard that when Imre was up for the Nobel Prize, Hungarians were lobbying for him to lose. Yes, LOSE.

He has returned because Hungary is advanced in the treatment of Parkinson having developed a pill some 25 years ago that helped treat some symptoms of the disease.

latefor
Guest

@Petofi – No, I had no idea that he hates Hungary. Does he hate Hungary or the Hungarians? Why were the Hungarians lobbying for him to lose….that’s strange. I’ve never read his books but there is one available on Amazon.com/kindle…..I’ll look into it in the near future.

HiBoM
Guest

I first became addicted to this blog because it was so heart warming to someone tearing into Fidesz on a daily basis. Gradually, I became a little disturbed by it lack of balance: it’s wrong for Matolcsy to fiddle figures but perfectly OK for Gyurcsány to have done the same to win an election (“I don’t blame him” says our host). And for the record, Matolcsy and Gyurcsány are both wrong… But day after day, week after week, year after year, there is one thing that is conspicuously missing: apart from Gyurcsány’s smile, is there anything that our hostess and indeed, people like Petofi, like or love about Hungary? The answer seems to be no. This is another example of a story that has been chosen to prove just what a rotten lot Hungarians are.

If it is such a dump, why post about it? LIfe is too short, surely. And this endless drip feed of negativity undermines the many virtues of the blog. Why not try and find something positive to say about Hungary? And if you can’t, why bother to blog at all?

petofi
Guest

@HiBoM

I answer for myself only: the depth of my anger is the depth of my disappointment in Hungary and Hungarians. Having left in 1956 as a child, I returned some 50 years later. “Why are you going?” asked friends in Toronto. “Don’t you know they’re anti-semites?” I answered: “What they did during the war was another time. It was not my experience and I don’t hold it against them.” Well, I could never have been more wrong–the sheer stubborness, antipathy, envy, greed, xenophobia was a daily, grating, reality. And that’s before Csatary, “Give Gaz”, Jobbik, and the Orban phenomena.

Hungarians are delusional. Give them a breast-beating fantasy and they’ll follow their shrieking leaders endlessly. They are just fodder for Orban and the Catholic Church.

DH
Guest
It might not be directly relevant, but also an interesting apect: http://www.eupedia.com/forum/threads/26956-Map-of-Individualism-(vs-Collectivism) Anyway, my experience from yesterday morning: we have renovation works and the material (concrete etc.) is placed at the entrace preventing us to use our parking lots inside. My neighbours occupied the free lots available on the street in front of the building, thus I used one of the free lots available at the opposite side of the street. Last Friday in the morning I had a message on my windscreen. It was short: “Find another place for your car, this is for use of the inhabitants living in this building” (i.e. the building next to it). For the sake of clarity I have to mention that no car was ever parked there and no car is parking there since then either, as they have lots inside as well… So, the next day I have wrote a message in reply (on the same piece of paper) and have put it on my windscreen. I wrote the following: “Apologies for using this lot, I appreciate your patience and please let me use it just for two or three days since as you might see, we have renovations and cannot… Read more »
Earnest
Guest

@DH – I think this map is relevant. Hungarians have a strong tendency of making a difference between ‘own group’ and ‘outsiders’. This ‘warm’ welcome by one of your anonymous neighbors is very extreme and extremely sad at the same time. Let’s hope it’s just an unfortunate one time encounter with the neighborhood idiot…

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