The moral health of Hungarian society

More and more thoughtful Hungarians are raising their voices, calling attention to a moral and social crisis in their country. The deplorable state of Hungarian society has been a phenomenon of long standing. It wasn’t Viktor Orbán who created a society that is oblivious to the fact that the country in which they live is heading toward a tipping point when the entire edifice might collapse, burying the country’s citizens beneath the ruins. Though it is Viktor Orbán who is speeding up the process.

While an overwhelming majority of the population can be mobilized against non-existent immigrants, most people pay not the slightest attention to the demographic crisis in their own country. They blithely accept the fact that far too many young, well-educated people are leaving the country because they see no future in their homeland.

Hungarian education is in serious crisis. The new centralized system created by the second Orbán government barely functions, and student performance is deteriorating. Segregation of schools has become a reality and, with it, social mobility has been further stifled. The autonomy of the universities is long gone. Healthcare is inadequate because, among other things, there are not enough doctors and nurses. Hungarian bureaucracy has always been cumbersome and expensive, but by now it is close to collapsing because political loyalty is more important to Fidesz and its leader than professional competence.

Corruption has been growing steadily, and I’m not talking only about financial corruption but about the corruption of the soul, the contempt for others, racism, a lack of solidarity, the widespread vulgarity, the churches’ total indifference to the sufferings of the asylum seekers, the cowardice of individuals who don’t speak up against blatantly illegal acts of the government.

Hungary, a country that was the model in the region, has become a laggard in economic growth. The rate of investment is very low, poverty is growing, too little money is being spent on education. Should I continue?

These problems can be summed up in a single word: Hungarian society is ill. László Lengyel, an economist and public commentator, went so far as to to say that “Hungary is dying.” Not so much in the material sense as in the sense of spiritual wellness. He was referring to the culture of callousness (szívtelenség) that is widespread among Hungarians.

Let me share a story that was widely reported in the media. It is hard to believe, but an old, sick man sat for four solid days on a bench on II. János Pál pápa tér surrounded by a swarm of wasps who were drawn to him by the sores on his legs. He was waiting there to die. No one paid the slightest attention to him, although a lot of passersby must have seen him. On that very square a few weeks earlier hundreds of asylum seekers had camped out, waiting for the trains to take them to Austria. The locals immediately reported them to the far-right Fidesz mayor of the district and demanded their removal. Yet a couple of weeks later no one cared one whit about that sick man. Their hatred of and callousness toward strangers seems to be stronger than their sense of solidarity, even with their own. Gusztáv Megyesi, the talented ÉS journalist, wrote a brilliant essay on this story in today’s Népszabadság.

Others express their amazement at the gullibility of the Hungarian people, which may well be linked to a school system that emphasizes rote learning instead of independent thinking. For a good five years Viktor Orbán’s foreign policy consisted of what he called the “Eastern Opening.” The West, he argued, was in decline but the illiberal states in the East are successful. Democracy is a cumbersome system of governance that doesn’t allow for a speedy reaction to a fast-changing world. But then comes the refugee crisis in which Orbán, knowing his people only too well, sees great opportunities to gain popular support, and he switches his line. The East is abandoned, and now all he talks about is defending European civilization from the East. Hungary, he now says, has been part of the West for 1,100 years. Earlier, he proudly announced that Hungarians are products of the East and that, in fact, he feels more at home in Kazakhstan than in Brussels. Yet an overwhelming number of Hungarians are ready to join him now in defense of the West just as they were willing to follow him to the East. The government’s manipulation machinery seems to work faultlessly because there is a large audience that all too easily succumbs to Viktor Orbán’s siren songs.


Orbán’s anti-immigration propaganda has only strengthened the lack of solidarity prevalent in Hungarian society. And solidarity is a significant component of what makes societies successful. Studies have shown that societies in which different social groups feel solidarity toward one another are more successful than those where such solidarity is either nonexistent or weak. But the Orbán government has effectively abandoned certain segments of society. For example, those who live in poverty. The government is interested only in people who are better off economically and has made it clear that with the low flat tax they will be even better off. As a Népszabadság journalist points out in an op/ed piece titled Keleti (Eastern), even Greece and Portugal have developed more robust social networks to look after society’s neediest than Hungary has. Viktor Orbán lacks empathy and thus solidarity with others. László Lengyel repeats the words of Viktor Orbán who in one of his speeches blamed Aljan Kurdi’s parents for the little boy’s death. It was irresponsible of his parents to start the journey at all. After all, he said, their lives were not in danger in Turkey. But if we applied that kind of thinking to other life situations, the end result would be a placid acceptance of the inevitable and the suppression of any desire for change. Wasn’t it irresponsible to fight against the Kádár regime in the 1980s? After all, the lives of those people were not in danger. Surely, there are times when one has to act even if his life is not in imminent danger. Every move entails unforeseen dangers, but without initiative life is empty.

Orbán created a country where no one wants to settle and many have already left or want to leave. It is a country where far too few people are interested in the world around them or seem to care that their freedom is being taken away from them bit by bit. When will they wake up, if at all?

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted

It is hard to see what will be the impetus for things changing (for the better) in Hungary. You have mentioned many of the problems which become self reinforcing. Particularly scary is the combination of outward migration (especially of the young),an aging society and under investment in the educational system. The results are clear already. It is like the country has cancer, and now everyone has realized that instead of being treatable it has metastasized. There are a few pockets in Budapest where things still look healthy, but those areas are dangerously deceiving. Even in these neighborhoods, a great emptying is happening. Not everyone is leaving, but more and more have places to live abroad [just in case] or are sending their kids to university abroad. When the privileged are hedging their bets and getting their children out of the country, it is a dangerous time.
Very sad. I don’t think Orban and his ilk could care less.


I am not so sure it is moral decay. Could it simply be evolution? I mean not every Hungarian subscribes to xenophobia. There were Hungarians who gave a helping hand during the induced refugee crisis. It was recently discovered — our emotions are caused by our genes. Do you have the gene for empathy or your genes are still in flight mode only? Evolution can be a wonderfully liberating thing. Just saying.


“Evolution can be a wonderfully liberating thing.”

Totally agree, regarding the evolution, as long as it contains elements of development, some kind of progress or forward motion as well.
However, when I see it double backing on itself I start worrying, what Darwin didn’t told us..!
Obviously it can go backward too, as the present Hungarian situation illustrate it.

I’m pretty much convinced that only question of time before “Hungary – Anthropological Reservation! Please, Behave Responsibly!” signs will appear along the fence on the borders…


The argument that you are not responsible for your emotions and therefore your behavior is a morally flawed one. It is far from a belief in evolution, it’s more akin to predestination. I would hope that I don’t have to live in a society where that view is prevalent, and I absolutely refuse to absolve anyone of the wrong they did through the exercise of their own free will by the standards of that line of reasoning.


it’s not just the educated elite who are leaving. my pizza delivery guy just got a job in austria

Erika Siegfried-Tompson

absolutely …. my (amazing, top) hairdresser is now baking sweets (Rollito Dulce, kurtoskalacs) in Mexico!


We were lucky:
Our hairdresser got homesick after a few days in Germany and returned to Hévíz – though she got more in tips than she earns here …


It has shocked me that people could let others suffer so much. I know many many people have really put themselves out to help the refugees and continue to do so. But so many people really do not see ‘them’ as people at all. I was listening casually to a podcast where a German writer was saying the problem was not so much that Hitler ‘led’ Germany, but that people listened and followed. Without willing followers, Hitler would just have been a marginal voice and never taken seriously. The same could be said of Orban. (on the pizza guy – I am sure its more about willingness and initiative than pure education and qualifications, though the latter can sometimes help if you want to move country, maybe at times a practical skill is more important than a degree)

Csaba K. Zoltani

There are very few countries whose moral health, measured with the same yardsticks, could be termed exemplary. Hungary is not an exemption and as elsewhere the moral climate should be improved. Intellectuals who are leaving for higher pay elsewhere surely do not demonstrate the selflessness that would show the way for a brighter future for their compatriots.

Criticism may be legitimate but unfortunately, the article fails to outline specifically how better “moral health” of society could be attained within the current democratic norms.


Let us start the cure with an honest inventory:

Orbanicized Destruction of parliament, constitution, legal branch, medical profession, infrastructure bid integrity, churches, non-profits, etc.

Thomas Kis-Major

1) Oldest way of fending off criticism is to say: But it did not offer a solution. 2) Does this mean: Better moral health of society could only be attained outside of current democratic norms? 3) And outside of the EU, built on such democratic norms? Let’s call a rose a rose.


“In my thoughts and in my words,
In what I have done and in what I have failed to do”

Does it ring a bell, Csaba? Don’t google it …

It would be interesting if the article could offer a solution for the moral decay in Hungary. It offers you clues how the present Orban government contributed to it by fueling hatred by spending millions of dollars on hate propaganda like the anti-refugee billboard campaign or the manipulated news on the public television and radio.

“When you have nothing – you’re worth nothing” said the prime minister’s right hand, Janos Lazar.

Just a note for those who try to play out the “let’s not generalize” argument. According to the polls, the Fidesz support is at 40%. It increased during the past month. Go figure …


The Hungarian government has been desperate to increase recognition (if the increase the actual number) of Hungarian “rescuers” during World War II, those non-Jews who stood up to a world gone mad and morally bankrupt, and tried to protect their Jewish neighbors from deportation and death.

And yet, it places obstacles in the ways of those who would seek to rescue people fleeing death now. The Budapest Beacon recently published a video interview with a Migration Aid volunteer who highlights the obstacles placed in the way of volunteers trying to do the morally right thing

People believing that standing on the sidelines while they let their government systematically target the vulnerable refugees should look at the “Some were Neighbors” exhibit at the US Holocaust Museum

Re: ‘Hungary is dying es ‘szivtelenseg’ exists It would appear the two are connected. And to understand the sickness perhaps some self examination on the country’s characteristics could be in order. Tendency to arrogance: Most if not all problems can be solved quickly and effectively in the ‘right’ way. Tendency to push the ‘hard’ qualities of character- Be defiant and unyielding to wishes and directives intended towards engaging with communities. Stick that tongue out! Tendency to go it alone- Magyarorszag for the Magyars. Nobody else needed. Stay where you are. Do not interfere with us. Tendency to fool the ‘selves’- Ostensibly Hungary ‘knows’ what it believes in and where it wants to go. Could be a chimera where all that is an illusion that is incapable of being constructed because the tools used are so bad and there’s shoddy workmanship. Tendency to oversell the ‘talent’ running the show- Intelligent up to a point but good character is forged in the crucibles of conflict and fire and ready to be used in beneficial ways for all in society and its welfare. Some have it but there could be some slim pickings here in some cases. Tendency for dishonesty- Expediency is a… Read more »

” callousness (szívtelenség)” – in German Herzlosigkeit is really a bad, bad sign …
And some people are so frustrated that they just give up and (try to) move away.
Many young people now lead a happier life outside Hungary:
Can you imagine a psychologist (with a diploma by a Budapest university of course) working in Rotterdam in a warehouse moving packages around?


I know of a high-school (gimnazium) teacher from Budapest working in a British pub who says he is satisfied with his life now because, finally, he and his wife do not have to decide whether to heat their home or eat, and they even are able to buy new clothing for their children.

Since he taught Hungarian (lit., grammar, writing), there is virtually no chance of him finding a job in his field in Britain. Nevertheless, he seems happy now.


Yes, it’s absurd, but true – so many wasted qualifications!
A bit OT , but a good example for Hungarian logic/absurdity – wonder how that came to be:


I could cope with frustration, but it is this feeling of helplessness that keeps me thinking of moving away.


Don´t hesitate! I didn´t. It was worth begining a new life.


“Orbán’s anti-immigration propaganda has only strengthened the lack of solidarity prevalent in Hungarian society.”

Of course, the lack of a coherent and cohesive political opposition only makes things worse.


Istvan asked the other day about the number of illegal aliens/migrants/refugees still in detention in Hungary.

We got a number today: 638

Number of people charged for crossing the Serbian border: 563 (including 21 who actually damaged the fence)

Number of illegal aliens/migrants/refugees counted by UNHCR on Greek islands:
about 410,000

Number of illegal aliens/migrants/refugees counted by Hungarian police:

Number of asylum applicants in Hungary:
176,000, including 8,600 unaccompanied minors

males between 18 and 34: 41%,
male children and males over 34: 39%
females: 20%,

Number of verdicts, banning the convicted from Hungary: 315

5-year ban: 1
3-year: 1
2-year: 164
1-year: 139
no ban: 2
discrepancy: 8


Thanks for that response. Unfortunately it appears the Fidesz/Jobbik policy of not admitting refugees for asylum seems to have worked at least for now. I would suspect even Slovenia has more refugees resident in their nation, all be it very reculantly.

Dear Prof. Balogh! I detect an element of desperation, even of depression slightly coloured by anger in today’s post. Are you lumping in the silent majority with the guilty? In any crisis, the vast majority in any country is the silent majority. And not even you can be that sure of their attitude. I have friends who in spite of their several degrees between them are prone to be affected, if not totally taken in, by the hate campaign’s arguments and only when I point out to them the reality do they start thinking. They, like millions beside them have no sense of how to solve the crisis, but they are morally right people and I am sure they are appalled at the cruelty they see. I agree that on the surface there seems to be a causational relationship between success and a culture of solidarity. But which way? One could argue that wealthier nations with more developed culture and societal norms than Hungary has can afford to be caring for each other. The Hungarian collective consciousness is the product of decades, even centuries of dog eats dog unti very recently. I am not excusing it, I am just as… Read more »
Thomas Kis-Major

Ergo, do not diagnose the patient, just write out a recipe? In my humble opinion to describe the state of affairs in a society does not mean the condemnation of each member of that society. The majority of Hungarians voted for Orban’s policies and seems to be still happy with them. No matter, how much one opposes/is ashamed of the consequences, that majority is also the expression/reflection of our own ‘dark side’. In my brother’s eyes I can see the reflection of my own. Part of the tragedy: in a mud throwing competition nobody stays immaculate.


I had very much the same thoughts while reading JGrant’s comment. Although there are many Hungarians prove that there is humanity and empathy did not leave the country all together, the popularity of Orban always depended on his “programs” that curtailed some form of equal rights.


Re: ‘Part of the tragedy: in a mud throwing competition nobody stays immaculate’

That is true. What I’d suggest is that it would appear some values in Hungarian society have changed and are being changed in an apparent angry competition that is getting very nasty. There is obviously a clash going on and heels are being stuck in with future consequences for the society.

I would suggest Some1’s Vladimirs and Estragons are an ideal example of a Hungary having characters that unfortunately usually find themselves in a state of immobility namely in trash cans or mounds of dirt. It’s as if they see the world around them within their environment but just can’t develop any action to solve their problems.

If there is a great moral problem perhaps movement will go ahead if the nation and its government become ‘Beckettian’ where they become ‘hard’ and remorseless in investigating it. It will give perhaps pause to say a feeling of ‘Happy Days’ as certain parties win in the country. Just sayin’.

Reality Check

“The majority of Hungarians voted for Orban’s policies and seems to be still happy with them.” A meme that sill not die.

With voter turnout only about 25% voted for him. Currently Fidesz support is about 1/3, other parties 1/3, and undecided 1/3.

The first step in solving any problem is to identify the problem. Ms Balogh has done that brilliantly. Part of the problem not mentioned by Ms Balogh is that the Hungarian constitution that Orban shredded was itself fatally flawed. It provided immunity from prosecution of MPs for clearly criminal acts — a recipe for corruption. It allowed political parties to appoint MPs — a way to shift MP loyalties from the voters to the party bosses. There were many other obvious blunders in that constitution. But the fact that that constitution allowed Orban to gain a super majority in parliament after receiving only 53% of the popular vote in 2010 proves how fatally flawed that document was. The solution would ideally be a unified front by the opposition. But that quite clearly will never happen. The solution that will work is to have a referendum calling for a Constitutional Convention where all stakeholders are represented. Not only will this result in a much better document than one written by just one person with no critique or debate, it would also result in ‘buy-in’ by a much broader segment of Hungarian society. Orban could never survive under a truly republican form… Read more »

“But the fact that that constitution allowed Orban to gain a super majority in parliament after receiving only 53% of the popular vote in 2010 proves how fatally flawed that document was.”

Probably so.
As opposed to what, exactly? I hope, you don’t mean that the present sorry excuse for a constitution – called “Fundamental Law” – any better in this respect?

In my opinion even those lawmakers who were involved in the making of that constitution couldn’t foresee that such character as Viktor Orbán will come along and rape the democracy and abusing the law with every step he makes toward absolute power..!

Nowadays seldom you can see “don’t spit on the floor” signs – people generally used to be more civilised lately, so, it wasn’t really appropriate.

Then appeared Viktor Orbán on the scene, and now I’m sure the signs already being manufactured around Europe.

Not in Hungary, though.


I would say Hungarians are like Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot. They are waiting for something that will move them forward, because they are incapable to save themselves. Unfortunately at this time it is Tartuffe that arrived, and everyone who try to expose this hypocrite receives contempt from the large fraction of society.
I am not sure what will it take to wake up the nation, as it seems Orban’s righteousness and reverse psychology on society works wonders.


I think Eva should add to her list of problems facing Hungary, globalization. The rapid technological innovation that has come with global production cuts demand for low-skilled workers and raises demand for the high-skilled. But the number of higher skilled jobs needed, never equal the lower skilled jobs lost. Much of the growth in higher skilled jobs are in the most advanced nations, hence the attraction of Hungary’s best and brightest.

Orban’s education policy reflects that reality by just giving up competing in the creation of the highest skilled jobs and sadly as Eva I think points out accelerates it. As Eva well knows from living in Connecticut University towns are often incubators of bussiness here in the US. Hungary lost a great opportunity in that area during the period of transformation, not just during Fidesz rule. On Wednesday one of my distant cousins from Hungary will be moving in with my family while she begins advanced post graduate studies at the University of Chicago. Eventually she will get her own apartment or Condo in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood close to the U of C, I wonder if she will ever go back. No doubt I will find out.


It is hilarious…people doing there head about what’s wrong with Hungarians and Hungarian society. Sheesh.

I’d like to know how many people supported the Independent mayor of Esztergom in her struggles against the Fidesz council, and the Fidesz Government, who apparently held back funds. Well?

Or, did other mayors rally around to help her? None.

Result? Next election, every town and county in Hungary voted Fidesz. Great popularity? No…just the realization that no one will stand up for what’s right against this government. So the good folk in the villages etc. voted to have their kids fed in schools and the heat turned on.

Democracy in Hungary? Don’t make me laugh: tribal rule is more like it.


Re: ‘Democracy in Hungary? Don’t make me laugh: tribal rule is more like it’

Yes that may look the reality. Tribes have their own customs, mores and moral codes. It wouldn’t be unusual if they thought they were ‘above’ others. And by nature they are closed societies. I have to say one tribe is there and it’s not the Apache…..Goodfellas sure look to be in powah. Not an enticing future for Istvan’s great construction of a people and a nation. The rot’ll kill the place. Doesn’t anyone see some smoke signals? ‘Custer might help but on the other hand he might get ambushed like at the Little Big Horn.


I’ve been reading this blog since 2010, if not before. I may have said this before, but if you (Eva Balogh) hate Hungary so much, why bother to write about it every day? Admittedly, what got me drawn to this blog was that your opinion of Orbán and FIdesz is very similar to my own, so I’m not criticising you for disliking the government. But day after, day, week after week, month after month, year after year, you present this diet of negativity. Is there anything you like about Hungary and Hungarians? I am struggling to remember any posts where you seem to express any affection for the place. When Hungarians did well at the Olympics, we were told (in the comments) that you don’t approve of that sort of sport. If food is mentioned, we are told how bad it is. A musician is mentioned and you decide you dislike them… I realise I am alone in this but I used to think you were so energetic with this blog because you wanted to help Hungary. Now, I feel you just take a perverse pleasure in hating every aspect of it. Why bother?


I am not Eva, so I can not speak for her, but I do see things similar to her. It does happen that I do nat agree and I have no problem expressing that here. For singing all the glory of Hungary there are dozens of paid unpaid publications of the Hungarian government. I think Eva tries to balance the “all good” back home with a daily critic of what is not good. I hope that most people have access to there media then Eva’s blog, and not only read about Hungary here. Most readers here, as you see from ether comments, do quote various news sources.
For the Kinyilott a Pitypang, you have to read the Magyar Kronika.
Matter of fact Eva does report on positive Hungarian news too. She regularly appraised the civil societies, the civilians who helped when the government did not, the people who took time to raise various issues with the government, and the list goes on.


@MuiscLover – it’s amazing that you can’t see that this site is the most pro-Hungarian discussion on the planet. What hate is there here? Why would we all be bother discussing Hungary unless we cared about making it a better place? What better expression of care than an honest discussion?

There are many people who really hate Hungary. They leave Hungary. They never discuss the place, and we all know many such people. I am not one of them.

Why do you bother?



In any sophisticated society, criticism of a government in power would be normal and healthy. Hungarian Spectrum may be negative, but what do you seriously expect in counter to a government which happily uses kindergarten children as nationalist, racist propaganda, singing patriotic songs to the army (see video below, and see if you “love” the “music” they produce).

It’s just a pity Hungarian Spectrum is produced outside Hungary, and probably has little effect on everyday Hungarians.


We are discussing Hungary from a moral high ground daily.

And the mafiosi of the nation do not like it.


@Music Lover

Hungary is in the grip of a near-fatal disease. Orban is a symptom, not the prime mover. The problem is that the society is rife with fear, greed, envy; and is paralyzed to do anything about it. Rather than be a moral compass and to help the country’s citizens, the Catholic Church has lined up behind Orban’s criminals to help support it and to further confuse the populace…

It is not the time to sing the praises of our favorite csardas, or the pleasures of goose-liver.


Re: Music and culture and the political life

In watching and hearing the current administration play out their tunes I would say they are working a set of new music apropos perhaps for Magyarorszag in the 21st century. I’d suggest where we had that ‘pleasing csardas’ now it appears there is dabbling in an arid ‘atonal’ musical expanse where one now listens once again to ‘ambiguous’ chords which do not root listeners to say a tonal center. It’s as if listeners are lost in an aural soundscape. The music as created by the VO orchestra really is not very ‘pleasing’ to hear in some respects. Arguably they’re a bit far off from Mozartian and Beethoven riffs that’s for sure. Now there was music with INTEGRITY.

I do not believe ‘atonality’ is overwhelmingly revered for its musical pleasure. Some indeed like it but for some it truly grates on the ears. As if Magyarorszag needs those kind of ‘tunes’ in its aural and political atmosphere…


“I do not believe ‘atonality’ is overwhelmingly revered for its musical pleasure.”

You don’t say..?


MusicLover, say thank you to Eva.

I am very left leaning and being a Canadian, I am weary of the USA. I swore off this site a number of times and yet I keep coming back because the woman who runs it is smart and has integrity. I don’t believe the professor hates Hungary. She is critical because she cares. The majority of ‘ellenzék’ journalists mistake vulgarity for wit.

Quite a lot of the “Open Letter” to Putin in the following article could have been written to Orban. I just replace certain words with others, and it all fits. For instance: “don’t flatter yourself: the last 15” (6) “years haven’t been a revival for Russia” (Hungary), “and the country hasn’t risen from its knees. This time has been a monumental moral catastrophe for our generation. And … you, Mr” (Orban), “are personally responsible for it.” “In Russian” (Hungarian) “society today, even obvious questions about good and evil have become impossible. Is it OK to steal? Is it OK to cheat? Is murder ethical? With each of these questions, it’s become customary in Russia now to answer that things aren’t so simple. All your good works have left the nation demoralised and disoriented.” “But you carry on, managing your problems without even realising that you’re digging the hole yourselves. “Things aren’t so simple” is what the angry crowd will tell you in unison, when it comes time for you to run away. I suspect that you’re afraid of this crowd, but just remember that it was you who created it, and you’ve got nobody to blame but yourselves. Having cut… Read more »