The better side of Hungary: Volunteers take charge

Although there are many truly depressing news items coming from Hungary today, I decided already yesterday that in order to balance the picture I would write about those Hungarians who have rallied to make the lives of the asylum seekers a bit easier. There are thousands of volunteers who under very difficult circumstances are helping the new arrivals. They are filling a void because most charity organizations, such as the Hungarian branch of Caritas International, have been conspicuously absent. The explanation is that the government didn’t ask for their help because everything is going splendidly.

According to the director of the Catholic charity Caritas, in the two camps he visited the people are fed every five hours, toilet facilities are more than adequate, there is 24/7 medical care, and the camps are well equipped to handle even small babies. All this sounds idyllic until you read some of the reports in the media about the misery of the asylum seekers and the general confusion that exists in the government-organized refugee service.

Today’s Népszabadság had an article about the strange fact that until now charitable organizations acted as if they hadn’t realized that there was a refugee crisis in Hungary. My suspicion is that they were reluctant to get involved on their own, all too aware of the Hungarian government’s anti-refugee policies. But now that they’ve been given the go-ahead signal, they suddenly discovered that they should be working alongside the self-organizing volunteers.

At the moment there may be as many as ten thousand volunteers hard at work day and night around railroad stations in Szeged, Debrecen, Cegléd, and even Pécs because the government agency handling the flow of refugees has of late been sending some of them from Szeged to Debrecen via Pécs and Budapest! Mighty strange logistics. While the socialist mayor of Szeged is helping the volunteers, in Pécs the Fidesz-led municipality is doing nothing. In Pécs, as elsewhere, refugees can stay in a small, cordoned-off area next to the railroad station. There are only a few benches where they can sit down. The volunteers are totally in the dark as to how many people will arrive on any given day, which makes their work very difficult. From Pécs, the refugees’ next stop is Budapest, where a well-organized group of volunteers is waiting for them.

A description of the work of the Budapest MigSzol (Migrant Solidarity Group of Hungary) was published by Júlia Mira Lévai, an old friend from Galamus days when we were founding members of this excellent but by now unfortunately defunct internet site. She is convinced that the visible disorganization is intentionally orchestrated by the government. The hundreds of refugees sitting and sleeping on the ground around railroad stations serves the government’s purpose. It shows the population what is awaiting them if these people remain in the country. If they were expeditiously moved into camps for registration and from there left the country in a great hurry, as they did in the past, it would be much more difficult to create a panic.

Lévai tells the story of an Afghan boy who seems emotionless. When he shows his papers it turns out that he is only fourteen years old and therefore should be going to Fót, where unaccompanied children are sent. Eventually the volunteers manage to find someone who speaks Pashto, and they learn that only one of his relatives is still alive back in Afghanistan but that he has an uncle in Budapest who has been granted refugee status. After some difficulty they locate the uncle. One success story. But Lévai learned that there are several Afghan children in Fót who are in total shock after seeing their parents being beheaded. Someone who knows the situation in Fót claims that there is no psychologist on the staff. But one can’t verify this claim because the director of the facility refuses to grant the media access to the place.

While these volunteers work day and night, a group of “Nazis,” as Lévai calls them, yells on the square in front of the Eastern Station:”We want a white Hungary!” And naturally they call the volunteers “the enemies of the nation.”

Baby boy is having a bath at the Szeged railroad station

A baby boy is having a bath at the Szeged railroad station

I read a very moving story about a teenage Afghan boy who arrived without his parents a year ago. By now he speaks Hungarian. He has been looked after by the Saint Agatha Child Welfare Service in Hódmezővásárhely. The child welfare service can look after 30 children at a time, but most of these children are in transit. They come and a few days later they leave to find their fortunes elsewhere in Europe. Some of them wait to be united with their relatives who have already made it to Western Europe. Our Afghan boy is different. He would like to stay in Hungary. He was about fifteen years old when his parents sent him off, saying, “You have to leave us so you can live!” He spent eight months in Turkey and a month and a half in a camp in Bulgaria, after which he ended up on the streets of Sofia. His parents have since disappeared. He tried to get in touch with them via the internet but had no luck. He even phoned the neighbors, but they don’t know where his parents are. “Maybe they went back to Persia,” the boy says. Now he is in a school for slower children in Szeged, not because he is slow–in fact, according to the head of the child welfare service, he is very bright–but because “they refused to admit him elsewhere.”

The thousands of Hungarians who are trying to help the refugees are joined by Pashto- and Arabic-speaking volunteers who have been living in Hungary for years. Many of them came to Hungary to study and, after marrying a Hungarian, settled in the country. By now many of them are Hungarian citizens with Hungarian-born children. They are indispensable as interpreters.

Not long ago I heard a radio interview with one of the directors of Wikipedia on NPR (National Public Radio) about the millions of anonymous volunteers who contribute to the project without any pay. Why do they do it? What is their motivation? They think their work is important. They take pride in their accomplishment. They know that they are doing something worthwhile.

It was this conversation that came to mind when I read about a young, unmarried thirty-year-old man who signed up on MigSzol’s Szeged Facebook page. An hour later he got a call: they need him. There were some rough guys who were showing too much interest in a Syrian refugee family. From his picture he looked like the kind of person who could handle them. He arrived a few minutes later and managed to get rid of the screaming men. The sobbing four-year-old girl was so grateful that she embraced his leg. As he said, “I got hooked.”

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July 16, 2015 6:00 pm

Eva – thank you for the above. It is great to see that there are still brave, caring people in Hungary, despite the wave of hatred disseminated by the Hungarian government against migrants.

OT – but perhaps not entirely unrelated – there is depressing news about Hungarian migrants to the U.K.:


July 17, 2015 2:27 am

Webber, (low-quality, cheap) prostitution in the Netherlands, the UK, Switzerland etc. have long been organized by various Hungarian gipsy clans. Szabolcs-Szatmár county is especially notorious in this regard. Showing the total incompetence of the Hungarian education system and the state of rural gipsy communities completely illiterate young girls, not knowing a word in any foreign languages of course, zero idea about STDs, terrible hygene (not using toothbrush etc.) are transported to the West on a daily basis. Finally the Brits are cracking down but I suspect noting will change. There’s demand and unfortunately there’s a huge supply so the two meet in the West.

July 17, 2015 12:18 pm

In response to your comment – with which I have no problem – I’d just like to stress that it’s not just Hungarian Gypsies. For instance, take a look at Máté Puskás, prosecuted for trafficking with some others. His picture is in the first story I posted above. Look, also, at the profiles of some of the Hungarians recently prosecuted in the US for keeping Hungarian men as slaves in a brothel and forcing them to have sex.
“White” Hungarians, too, are involved in kidnapping, rape and forcing people to work as prostitutes.

July 16, 2015 6:53 pm

Thank you Eva for this post. The lesson for many of your readers I think that never mix Hungarians with the current terrible government, a real shame of our nation at this moment. No wonder we have some billboards “Sorry for our prime minister.” and I cannot agree more…

July 16, 2015 7:15 pm

Let the cynics among us take notice, before they make their next blanket statement about what Hungarians are like.

July 16, 2015 10:43 pm

Right on.

July 16, 2015 10:48 pm

In fact there are many caring and compassionate Hungarians in Hungary. It is too bad that even those who are against Orban buy into Orban’s propaganda. When we agree with blank statements that “Hungarians are bad people” Orban just won on an other front. Who has he really have to convince when the people on this forum believe that everybody in Hungary is just like Orban or just like Jobbik? It is not true. There are thousands of Hungarians who are nothing like what Orban and Kover wants them to be. Thank you Eva for bringing this summary here.

July 17, 2015 1:45 am

Hats off to these volunteers! Le a kalappal előttük!

July 17, 2015 1:55 am

July 16, 2015 at 10:48 pm

Of course there are many caring and compassionate Hungarians in Hungary, and when I generalize about Hungary and Hungarians, I always qualify my statements to allow for this. Unfortunately though, these good guys are very much the exception, and exceptions prove the rule.

Meantime however let us be very, very happy about this good news about the volunteers. All credit to each one of them!

July 17, 2015 5:37 pm


July 17, 2015 7:05 am

Totally OT but maybe typical – there’s enough money for this:
Does anybody know the name of the Hungarian who owned this painting and now made 4.5 billion HUF from selling it to the National Bank?

July 17, 2015 10:11 am

Actually his name was reported in the media, he is from Pécs.

Of course this is probably not a real Tiziano but since it’s a unique item, as a matter of law the national Bank may pay the amount out legally (half of it will be paid back as a kickback of course). For the national bank it was worth it, and that’s that. There is no court appointed expert who could make a better estimation.

It was a perfectly legal way of robbing the taxpayers blind, but the leftists never understood law really, they never knew how to really steal so that the deal could never be challenged in a court. End of story.

July 17, 2015 8:02 am

Now there’s a word I haven’t seen too much around here…’fun’!

You know allegedly comedy and tragedy are just different sides of the same coin. So that’s why I enjoy to see what are like ‘vicc’ responses to propaganda efforts. It sort of like lets the air out of too much attention paid to negativity.

Nothing like satire to make twinge the powers a bit. A niggle here a niggle there adds up. If we think about satire is about the only thing that’s true when the society around it revels in falsity.

And I am glad to see all the volunteer work. I commend them for their concern and empathy.

July 17, 2015 11:03 am

There has been a Afghan refugee cricket team from Fót playing very sucessfully in the Hungarian cricket league for a few years -many of the players speak Hungarian and even play for the national team.

July 17, 2015 4:04 pm

I think it is very important to scream it from the rooftops about the wonderful volunteers, in the hopes it inspires others to help as well. Also, the more people see the refugees are people in need, they will realize they are not terrorists and there is nothing to fear.

July 17, 2015 5:26 pm

OT. but since this blog is about culture too let me remind that the poet Laszlo Nagy was born 90 years ago. The below poem was selected among the 12 most beautiful Hungarian poems.

Ki viszi át a Szerelmet

Létem ha végleg lemerűlt,
ki imád tücsök-hegedűt?
Lángot ki lehel deres ágra?
Ki feszül föl a szivárványra?
Lágy hantú mezővé a szikla-
csípőket ki öleli sírva?
Ki becéz falban megeredt
hajakat, verőereket?
S dúlt hiteknek kicsoda állít
káromkodásból katedrálist?
Létem ha végleg lemerűlt,
ki rettenti a keselyűt!
S ki viszi át fogában tartva
a Szerelmet a túlsó partra!

Miraculous, don’t you think so.

July 17, 2015 5:39 pm

Thanks for this. It is truly beautiful.

July 18, 2015 10:19 am

Great selection on the poetry. For me it is a very ‘Magyar’ evocation in the sense of the subject matter combined with contemplation. Is there a Magyar who does not love beauty in all its manifestations?

Strange even though I wasn’t born in Magyarorszag I have an intuitive connection to Nagy’s words. I feel I know from where he writes. Koszonom. I don’t think anyone will disagree with me that Magyars are capable of diving real deep into the mysteries of our existence. They suck up both the drama and joy of life and just have to get it out. As we can see , we are the benefactors.

July 18, 2015 7:41 am

The volunteerism and care shown by these volunteers is truly wonderful, particularly in the face of the abuse they are receiving.

I can’t help but think of the discussions taking place over the past few years about how people were not giving enough recognition to those brave and righteous Hungarians who helped their Jewish brethren during the Holocaust, despite the risks.

While it may be part of the government’s agenda to spend effort (and money) trying to ensure that past righteousness and heroism is recognized, this is an opportunity to recognize righteousness and heroism now.

Perhaps, just as it was not on the agenda of the Horthy regime to recognize righteousness while it was taking place, for fear of undermining their own political and nationalist goals, so perhaps the current regime also fears being undermined were it to recognize genuine righteousness as it is taking place.