Hungary: A nation of emigrants?

This year’s August 20 state holiday was used, on the one hand, to disseminate anti-immigration propaganda and, on the other, to emphasize Hungary’s sacrifices in the defense of Western Christianity. Perhaps the harshest rhetoric against the refugees was that of Csaba Hende, minister of defense, who said that Hungary will not be a thoroughfare for people on the go. But the fact is that Hungary, by virtue of her geographical location, has been a passageway for centuries. And since 2010, I would venture to say, more foreign citizens have used Hungary as a take-off point than at any time in modern history. A great number of Hungarians from Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia, after acquiring Hungarian citizenship, quickly departed for greener pastures. They far outpaced the number of 56-ers who, after reaching retirement age, decided to return to the country of their birth, not necessarily for sentimental reasons but because their dollars or euros were worth a great deal more than in their adopted countries.

And yet, as study after study shows, while the government is worried about immigration to Hungary, demographers, economists, and social workers are much more concerned about emigration from Hungary. I became aware of the concern this past spring when articles began to appear about the alarming rise in emigration with  headlines such as: “In six years the number of emigrants rose sixfold,” or “There are so many Hungarians in London that they can fill a whole stadium and they won’t come back,” or “We have become a country of emigrants.”

Blogs, like hataratkelo.blog.hu, publish posts by Hungarian emigrants from all over world. These posts are intended to help Hungarians who are planning to join the exodus. By now there are sizable Hungarian colonies throughout Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States which, according to the newcomers, are most helpful in providing advice and assistance.

Tárki’s latest poll on emigration shows that the number of Hungarians who want to leave permanently and set up a new life has grown especially fast since 2014. These are most likely people who find the current political atmosphere in the country unbearable. The rest are primarily “economic migrants.”

blue: short-term employment; orange: long-term employment; grey: emigration; yellow: a combination of many factors

blue: short-term employment; orange: long-term employment; grey: emigration; yellow: a combination of many factors

Initially, articles in the Hungarian media talked about the thousands of doctors and nurses who packed up and left for the United Kingdom or Sweden. By now, however, there are shortages in all almost all economic sectors. There aren’t enough computer scientists, truck drivers, engineers, butchers, waiters, chefs, dental technicians–one could continue endlessly. Small businessmen are unable to hire qualified workers. The situation is especially bad close to the Austrian border, but during the summer there were similar problems in the tourist industry at Lake Balaton. As HVG said, “everybody is packing,” including seamstresses because there is a shortage of them in Western Europe. Employment agencies specializing in finding job opportunities for would-be emigrants are swamped with applicants. And for some of these jobs one doesn’t even have to know the language particularly well.

Do you remember the story in El Camino de Balkan of the policeman who explains to a would-be immigrant why he should move on? “Hungary, no money, Orbán Viktor.” One couldn’t say it better. Low wages and no hope that life is going to get much better any time soon. And yes, there are some people who find Viktor Orbán’s regime far too oppressive.

Of course, government officials and politicians try to minimize the problem by emphasizing the usefulness of going abroad for a while, just like in the old days when journeymen packed up and went to foreign lands to gain experience. And that is fine and useful. These journeymen returned, and the modern journeymen will do the same, they argue. I wouldn’t be so sure. The gap between living standards in Hungary and in the countries where the emigrants are heading is huge, and there is no sign of any impending change on that score.

Since the 2008 economic crisis Hungary has created mostly low-paying jobs while other European countries have managed to increase the number of higher-paying jobs as well. We may consider this development unfortunate, but according to economists it actually suits the Orbán government’s ideas about Hungary’s economic future. Orbán makes no secret of his intention to keep wages low. When addressing foreign investors he often talks about what makes Hungary attractive, in addition to its geographic position and well-developed infrastructure: “the relatively low labor costs given the quality of the workforce.” By now wages in Hungary are lower than in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, or Poland. According to HVG, even in certain regions of China wages are higher than in Hungary. But though Hungary may advertise its low wages, it soon won’t be able to tout the quality of its workforce, which is deteriorating, due in part to emigration.

Nowadays even the Central Statistical Office (KSH) considers the situation desperate: high emigration, low birthrate, and low educational attainment of the population. The KSH study that describes the desperate situation recommends immigration which, as we know, the Orbán government refuses to contemplate. According to economists and demographers, the problem has reached crisis proportions. The Orbán government, however, refuses to face facts.

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Member

One wonders why those now voting with their feet didn’t first vote with their fingers, the two chances they got.

Perhaps they did. Perhaps it’s only the Fidesz faithful that stayed on board.

For Orban and his henchmen this needs no explanation: They’re the ones kicking the rump populace in the, well, rump, robbing them blind while feeding them the junk-food of jingo (decadent, Hungary-hating US and EU exploitation, predatory barbarian migrant hordes at the gate — now razor fence — eager to come and share — or rather steal — the Hungarian Dream – and, of course, Trianon…).

One feels pity only for those who yearn to escape but can’t.
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Member

With all due respect, I am hundred percent certain that the worries of Orban, Fidesz and Jobbik have nothing to do with the immigration but more to do with the mixing blood lines.
Let just call spade a spade. As much Orban theorize about how his gang does not need to be politically correct, they are chicken droppings to admit that they do not want non-white immigration. Orban and his gang with Csaba Hende can talk as much as they want about Judeo-Christian traditions and values, when in reality they would like to get rid of all the Jewish “problem” that sets them back from full Christian values they try to enforce on all Hungarians. Why they preach for those Christian values, they exercise non-Christian actions. They have no mercy, and lack any sign of compassion. They try to attract the Jobbik voters by trying to create a clean bloodline. It is not a Hungarian bloodline they are worried about, but a white bloodline. I do not think that Orban would have any problem with white French or English people settling in Hungary. What they do not want are the gypsies, blacks, Arabs, Indians, etc.

Werk
Guest

This is true. But voters also want that, don’t forget that. And voters tend to vote for politicians who will represent them.

For rural Hungary the abundance of poor Other-looking gipsies (they certainly don’t appear as rich Indian or Spanish tourist do) is really an existential problem. In a few decades in many parts there will be no trace of any white Hungarian history as entire regions will be taken over by quasi-nomadic, clan-based, poor gipsies — thus it is unsurprising that most voters don’t want to do anything with “foreign looking” people.

This is an existing political issue. Politicians whether Hungarian or German, British etc. either ignore the problem (and then deal with the “return of repressed” as Freud said) or use it to their advantage as Orban does.

Kavé
Guest

The immigration issue is all about keeping the Quaestor scandal out of the TV news headlines, but the second it fades, Quaestor will still be there…. waiting…

István
Guest

Eva in your post you write “there are sizable Hungarian colonies throughout Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States . . .” I would say that the community of Hungarian speaking Americans has been declining now for many years, as has the percentage of self identifying Hungarians in the US census. Data from 2009 indicated that 1.5 million Americans identified their ancestry as Hungarian, in 2013 that number reminded about the same, According the census data the percentage of US households where Hungarian is spoken has declined from 2000-2011 by 20% (see https://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acs-22.pdf ).

But I agree that our community does try to support Hungarian immigrants to the Chicago area. But there are not that many who are getting green cards for legal residency, the numbers have been low for years around 1,200 nationally. We get more Hungarians here on student visas than are getting admitted for permanent residency.

MusicLover
Guest

The problem any immigrant faces is that Hungarian is not a language that can be learned easily or quickly. How many immigrants would be able to learn Hungarian well enough, quickly enough, to fill the place of a doctor or some other skilled worker? I had a background as a linguist and learned the language very quickly and was able to make a living translating at various times, exclusively from Hungarian to English. But I’m not sure I could ever have got a job that required me to write the language faultlessly. Most ex pats I knew failed to acquire Hungarian to an employable level even after ten years.

Yes, immigrants could be brought in to do menial factory line jobs etc but that won’t solve the shortage of skilled labour caused by emigration. I don’t know what the solution is…

spectator
Guest
I have to agree – in a certain line of work over a certain level of degree and/or expertise the requirement isn’t only to communicate adequately with your coworkers, but to be able to write too, not only flawlessly, but according to the manner customary on the field. Several factors worth mentioning, also: the age, the reason, the circumstances, and the language itself. The age don’t need explaining, but the reason already does. There is quite a difference between if you go to study on abroad, or you have to start working within days. Furthermore, if you’re don’t belong to the socially supported groups – refugees – you hardly have chance to start your new life learning a language. The language also an interesting question, particularly if it isn’t any of the mainstream languages what someone happen to learned earlier, Hungarian quite good example. But then again, how many out there speaking Flemish, Estonian or Norwegian for that matter? I have only one hope, regarding the refugee situation and the possible integration – at least they to be able to work rather sooner – technology! Already today quite a number of advanced speech-recognising technology exist, a few of them doing… Read more »
Guest
The situation of Hungarian emigrants in the DACH countries (Germany Austria Switzerland) is in my experience similar to the US – in one generation they are integrated, maybe marry a local girl/boy and such are “lost” for the “Hungarian Cause” … And I also have the example of my wife’s nephew in the USA whose children speak much less Hungarian than me and surely won’t return, except as visitors. And they don’t feel at home at all when they come to Hungary – even though they’re just teenagers, it doesn’t feel right for them compared to what they can enjoy in the USA … Those few foreigners who decide to move to Hungary from the West won’t compensate for this loss. A bit OT: There’s a forum for Brits who live abroad, here’s the section for those who moved to Hungary: http://britishexpats.com/forum/hungary-140/ And re emigration of Hungarians, here’s again the latest poll by Tárki: “Some 45% of Hungarian students are planning their future outside of Hungary, while 39% of young people under the age of 25 are also planning to leave, Endre Sík, chief researcher of Tárki told Hungarian commercial InfoRádió on Saturday, according to a report by hvg.hu.” http://bbj.hu/economy/survey-45-of-hungarian-students-plan-to-leave_102602… Read more »
István
Guest

It is more than fair to say Hungarian is a difficult language with not least all of the endings- Hungarian has about 20 cases I think. But here in the USA there is also the complexity of cultural heritage with many multicultural and racial families. In my immediate family’s situation my wife is ethnically about 50% Seneca which is part of the Native American Iroquois Confederacy, the actual name for Seneca is Onöndowága.

So our choice was do our children go to the Seneca summer Pow Wow in Veteran’s Park, Salamanca NY or do they go to Hungarian school and church? Effectively they did both and have spent time in both Hungary and on the largest Seneca Reservation in New York. They are linguistically functional in neither Magyar nor the the Seneca language. But they can say something crudely like Jó, hogy újra látlak in Magyar or Nya:wëh sgë:nö in Seneca meaning “I am thankful you are well.” American culture, what ever that is, along with English becomes the denominator. Also to be honest as children they found Native American culture to be a lot more fun than the culture of Hungarian Catholism here in Chicago.

Member

re. the hungarian language

Actually the magyar language is differently complicated depending from where you start.
If your native language is some indoeuropean language it is more likely quite difficult to learn magyar, becase of the different structures of the languages.
On the other hand if you are a speaker of a let us say semitic or altaic mundart, not to mention a fenno/ugric language it is a lot easier to learn hungarian.
Of course the effort you invest in learning a new language is crutial.

Guest

You know reading the piece today on migration made me focus on my own family’s experience with it. Looking back I’m afraid it tore the ‘family’ asunder. It is practically a ‘disconnected’ lot after the great rumble of ’56. I think if it wasn’t for my interest in my ancestry and poking into Magyar history I would never know anything about my family’s past. On reflection, the ‘connection’ from back home was usually silent.

All that I guess leads me to suggest that this once-again foray of Magyars leaving home to ‘escape’ something will generate more ‘back-stories’ to add to the story of dislocation in the social fabric of the country especially that will occur in families. More splits, more dislocation, more disconnects. Surely ironic in how the state implicitly strives for this ‘unity’ of the Magyar nation on the one hand and yet acts almost disinterested when the diaspora decides their future lies outside their nation. If all what we see is a plan for ‘nation building’ I’d think there is no upside for Magyar society at all. It’s great to have tej ‘homogenized’ but really not nations.

Guest

On non-natives knowing Magyar very well…

I’d bet they lived there in Hungary and consequently were completely immersed in hearing, speaking and writing the language. In my opinion the best way to learn a language. And it probably helps if one is ‘forced’ to speak it. Worked for me. One can get surprised at what could be accomplished if you have to forego your native language. Once one gets to hear and understand all that ‘hoagy vuggy’ construction Magyar will open up in their mouths ….;-)…Personally my issue has been the ‘vocabulary’ and I’d like to have that command. Slow going. I think I have to read more!

tappanch
Guest

Matolcsy [&Orban] vs Simicska, cont’d:

The Hungarian National Bank [a state institution] attacks SImicska’s daily with following emotional remarks.

“The false statements of the “mértékadó” (model-like) newspaper in the past [ha-ha] question its credibility and professionalism.” … “left-liberal Peter Rona”

This statement of the bank gives a further proof of the complete Fidesz party takeover of the state institutions.

http://www.mnb.hu/sajtoszoba/sajtokozlemenyek/2015-evi-sajtokozlemenyek/folytatja-hamis-cikksorozatat-a-jegybank-ellen-a-simicska-lap

tappanch
Guest

“Do powers in the background influence the National Bank?”

http://mno.hu/magyar_nemzet_belfoldi_hirei/hatterhatalom-befolyasolja-az-mnb-t-1301320

tappanch
Guest

The Orban fence is not a serious obstacle to the migrants:
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http://szegedma.hu/hir/szeged/2015/08/a-gyoda-nem-akadaly-siman-atbujnak-a-nato-drot-alatt-roszkenel-a-migransok-fotok.html

Re: religious make-up of the refugees and our debate about this a few weeks ago.

A few days ago, I spoke, abroad, to an American volunteer who teaches English to refugees on the Turkish side of the Syrian border. She says Christians are vastly underrepresented among them. As a matter of fact, she met only one Christian among the thousands. Her reasoning was that the fighting had taken place on Sunni Muslim territory so far.

Guest

You know all it takes on that situation of that ‘one Christian’ is to have Viktor, like Constantine that ‘protector’ and promoter of Christianity, to say ‘Come we will protect you …….wherever you are’. But of course that move will never ever ever occur in Hungary regardless of the Pope’s entreaty to not look by at current Christian murders perpetrated globally by extreme Islamists.

Curly
Guest

“Tárki’s latest poll on emigration shows that the number of Hungarians who want to leave permanently and set up a new life has grown especially fast since 2014. These are most likely people who find the current political atmosphere in the country unbearable. The rest are primarily “economic migrants.”

Good article. I would only take issue with the idea that people are leaving because of the political atmosphere. I would say 99.9% leave for economic reasons: what few jobs exist offer almost no perspective for the future. The majority of people are totally disinterested in politics (to the country’s detriment); many of the few who are interested do so because they have a “vested interest” in it.

People left before the economic crisis, increasingly after it, and now are flooding out because Fidesz offers no real alternative to poverty (except, of course, to their own people). But politics is not on the minds of most of the migrants. They just don’t see any other options…

Guest

“Fidesz offers no real alternative to poverty (except, of course, to their own people).”

That is a very important sentence, thanks, Curly!

Without the right connections you can’t have success in Hungary, you can’t have a career …
That’s what we often hear from our young ones and their friends.

Unless of course you are extremely good like the Polgár sisters at chess – and perform mainly outside Hungary …

Btw Judit Polgár got an award on the 20th – President János Áder probably didn’t mention that her family is Jewish …

Guest

My friend had contracted with a roofer to repair his roof. Today the roofer told him that all his workers had left for Austria/Germany without any warning to him. Now, the contractor, who has several jobs lined up, has to find people to replace them. Or, he will be jobless. A real trickle down effect–to the bottom, to nothing.

Member

The problem is the pay, if he doesn’t want that in the future, then he should pay a sustainable income to his employees. I’m sure he himself is not going without. I have come accross some who will do this to keep their company going, not to mention, the workers do better work too.

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