Food for thought: Poverty, charity, and civil society

It was almost three years ago that the Ministry of Human Resources compiled a long list of words that were deemed unsuitable for use by ministry employees. Among the hundreds of words, one of the first was “szegény” (poor). “Poor settlement” was banished; in its place ministry employees were supposed to say “underdeveloped settlement.” A “poor person” was no longer poor but “rászorult” (in need). To learn more about this modern Hungarian newspeak, you might want to read my post on the subject from February 2015.

Now the ministry has gone even further in trying to hide poverty and human misery. For years civic organizations have been feeding thousands of people in Budapest and other larger cities. The best known such group is “Ételt az életért” (Food for life), which was established by the Magyarországi Krisna-tudatú Hívők Közössége (Community of Krishna-Conscious Believers of Hungary). The activists from this community are most visible on Blaha Lujza Square during the Christmas holidays, at Easter, and on October 17, which is the international day for the eradication of poverty. In addition, the group distributes 1,800 meals every day at various locations. One needs a permit for food distribution and a permission from the district to hold the event outdoors. People line up for a warm mid-day meal every day between Monday and Friday. According to the organizers, a few years ago the “customers” were mainly homeless people, but by now whole families, unemployed people, and pensioners also frequent the Krishna group’s food distribution centers. According to the leader of the Debrecen group of “Ételt az életért,” by now only 30% of those seeking a meal are actually homeless; the others are “poor” people or “in need,” if Zoltán Balog, head of the ministry of human resources, prefers that designation.

Source: MTI / Tibor Illyés

It has been noticed for some time that municipalities were increasingly reluctant to grant permission to distribute food outdoors. The city of Debrecen has gone further than that. The Fidesz majority voted to require those nonprofit civic groups that distribute food to pay a fee for the space they occupy. Admittedly, they asked for a ridiculously small amount of money, altogether 350 Ft., which cost the sender 750 Ft. in postage, but for a charitable organization to be required to pay, however little, to distribute food to the needy is truly outrageous. Suspicion has spread that the government has plans to put an end to this kind of charitable activity on the part of civic groups.

And indeed. Népszava learned on November 25 that the ministry of human resources has been busily preparing a modification of a ministerial decree on food distribution. The word was that the changes have already been agreed upon and that at the moment the ministry is circulating the modified decree among other ministries for comments. The gist of the new decree is that only governmental, municipal, and religious organizations will receive permission to distribute food.

Civil activists suspect that the long lines of clearly not homeless people irritate the Orbán government to no end. Contrary to the incessant success propaganda, people see the darker side of Hungarian reality when lines of hungry people form on the streets. The latest Eurostat data attest to the fact that 26.3% of the population, or 2.54 million people, are considered to be poor. A subset of that group–16.2%, or 1.4 million people–lives in deep poverty in Hungary. The number of Hungarian children threatened by deep poverty is the fourth highest in the European Union, after Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece.

In addition to its reluctance to allow these people to gather on the streets, waiting for a meal, the Orbán regime is also on the warpath against civic groups that are involved in such activities. The Fidesz leaders are most likely not mistaken when they see adversaries in those who gather in these civic groups.

Népszava got in touch with the ministry of human resources, which took its sweet time in confirming or denying the information the newspaper had received about the impending modification of the law. Earlier, the paper had inquired about the government’s use of money received from the European Union for that purpose. In Hungarian it is called “Rászoruló Személyeket Támogató Operatív Program” (Operative program for the assistance of needy people). At that time Népszava was told that the Hungarian government has 34 billion forints for this program, out of which 4 billion will be spent on feeding the homeless. Since the ministry certainly didn’t want to talk about the issue at hand, it repeated the old story about the 34 billion forints Hungary had received from the European Union, emphasizing that, in addition to the homeless, “food packages are distributed to old people and families with small children.” The ministry refused to confirm or deny the claim that the government intends to forbid the food distribution activities of charitable organizations.

The founder of the “Budapest Bike Mafia,” another civic group that is involved in food distribution, rightly said that “this whole thing is nothing but folly. To announce such a thing before Christmas would be the greatest mistake.” Moreover, he added, “one cannot ban helping people.” Well, I wouldn’t be so sure. Fidesz folks are quite capable of forbidding this type of charity, and I’m convinced that they have every intention of doing so.

Any kind of individual incentive is suspect in the eyes of the current political leadership. In the last eight years they have done their darndest to put an end to all local efforts. Just like in the Kádár regime: the population should remain inactive and quiet while the government takes care of everything. That might, however, be too generous a comparison. A lot of people critical of the Orbán regime are convinced that these people are so single-minded and self-serving that they don’t care about anyone else, especially not the poor and downtrodden. There might be some truth to that.

December 3, 2017
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Member
I’m very glad you cover this vitally important subject – I can’t think of any issue as important regarding Hungary as the millions in deep poverty and the many many thousands who are homeless and utterly vulnerable. (As you mention the Kádár régime, it is worth noting that it really did take some minimal care of the homeless, unlike today.) I suspect that the situation is even worse than you suggest – the government’s strategy, while endlessly blowing the trumpet about how Hungarians defend Christian Europe from invaders, would seem to be to let the very poor, i.e. the weakest of their fellow Hungarians, ultimately rot and die. And (admittedly I am talking about the urban homeless here, more than the utterly destitute in villages) if you hear ordinary folk talking in Budapest, their greatest hatred is not in fact for the international Jewish conspiracy, or Brussels, or the Gypsies, or even the Muslims and other aliens – it is for the homeless and other discomfortingly destitute people. So maybe the government isn’t so much ducking an issue where people would be sympathetic to the plight of the destitute, but deliberately turning its back on one of the groups that… Read more »
Istvan
Guest
Budapest is starting to sound more and more like Chicago. Here in Chicago we have the Greater Chicago Food Depository which year distributed nearly 72 million pounds of food, 37% of which was fresh produce. Every day it gives away the equivalent of 164,000 meals. Without it many of Chicago’s poor and homeless would be living on starvation diets. But Eva’s statistic on the percentage of Hungarians in deep poverty really was shocking, 16.2% is a large chuck. In Chicago, about 274,000 people —or 10 percent of the city’s population—live in deep poverty. Their income is less than half of the federal poverty line, according to recently released statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. Nationally deep poverty represented 6.1 percent of the total US population. One big driver of deep poverty in both Hungary and the USA is the cash economy in my opinion. Meaning people working, running businesses, without reporting any real taxable income to the government. What happens is these ghosts eventually simply can’t work or exchange products and fall on the lowest rungs of the human services support network. I know of one guy who did a lot of plastering work here in Chicago, who never reported… Read more »
petofi
Guest

It’s a well kept secret, and governments do everything to keep it that way; and it’s the same in the US, in Canada, and in countries like Russia–those over the age of 70 are ‘urged’, maybe ‘shimied’ is a better word, into the grave. Atleast the Russians somewhat anesthetize you by selling cheap vodka-

Guest

Every country has this “problem” of too many pensioners living for too long.In Germany someone coined the word “Rentnerschwemme” i e pensioner deluge and there has been a bad joke around now for several years:
To solve the problem the government will have a law that from next year allows pensioners to cross the street when pedestrian traffic lights are red.
And if that doesn’t help, there will be a law that forces pensioners to cross the street when pedestrian traffic lights are red!

Back to the topic of feeding the poor:
In Germany (Yes, we also have poor and homeless people!) there are also many similar projects under the name “Die Tafel” (The table) and some supermarkets help by giving products cheap or even for free when they can’t sell it and it’s near the “best before date”.
One should remember that an enormous percentage of food produced is thrown away, either during production, during distribution or by the consumers themselves – I read numbers between 30 and 50% in the “developed countries”!

PS:
Wasn’t it Lázár Janos aka Laser Johnny who said :
If you have nothing then you are nothing!

Jean P
Guest

“Wasn’t it Lázár Janos aka Laser Johnny who said :
If you have nothing then you are nothing!

Jean Calvin, the founder of the Reformed Church said it first in different words but meaning the same.

Refusing to help people in need is in accordance with reformed theology. The poor are predestine by God to be poor. Nothing you can do about it.

bimbi
Guest

If today’s blog clarifies anything – apart from the staggering cynicism of our government “leaders” – it is that all the lies about how well the Hungarian economy is doing are, well, just lies. So whose economy is it? Whose country is it? What clear and continuing steps has this government taken over the last eight years to elevate the general standard of life of the people as a whole in Hungary? OK, sure we know about Lörinc “Pénztáros” Mészaros who has in that time accumulated hundreds of millions of Euros of personal riches – and this we have to call SUCCESS for the Hungarian economy?
This government hasn’t even tried to provide adequate education and training to people at large, which is why they have been and are moving out of Hungary. Sure the car companies have their “universities” to supply their own narrow needs, employing graduates at half the going rate in Germany. The creation of Orbán’s “middle class” has certainly built a huge gulf between the incomes of the rich and poor, and they call this economics?

wrfree
Guest

Orban follows all who came before especially those who ran things in Kadar’s regime. What counted was what you saw upfront. Borrowing from the Irish, it’s a view through the ‘lace curtains’.

Curious if the ‘szegeny’ pay much tax relative to their position. But really if there was a tax on crime and corruption they’d have to only worry about death in the pair that get pushed together as ‘sure things’ in life. The coffers then would be overflowing in golden forints.

Marty
Guest

Orban, Putin etc. just copy the US. Of course such autocrats collect “worst practices”, but they can always point to the US, UK etc. and say that this is normal so you can’t criticize us.

https://theintercept.com/2017/11/29/atlanta-feeding-homeless-permit-police/

Ferenc
Guest

“so you can’t criticize us”
What’s that for nonsense, everybody can critisize everybody else, should depend on the arguements (and intentions, being positive and helpful or just plain negative), if opinion is take serious.
Trying to descredit an opinion, by pointing to somewhere else, is typical anti-democratic beheaviour!

Marty
Guest

Of course, but for Orban’s etc. supporters this is very logical. If the Americans do it why can’t beloved Viktor do it? If it’s good enough for the Americans then it’s good enough for Hungarians -such fideszniks argue. It’s not about any rational argumentation of course but about giving an argument to supporters with which they can continue to defend Orban (or Putin etc.).

Ferenc
Guest

So they’re applying, as usual double standards, first using Americans as an arguement to do something and then despising them.
Although ‘double standards’, does OV&Co have any standard at all?

Marty
Guest

Yes, but they’re not participating in a high school debating society contest. You don’t get points for being consistent and rational and logical. You get points and you get points only if and when people vote for you. And it seems people do vote for people like Trump, Ray Moore etc. and – although Hungary isn’t a democracy – for Orban.

wrfree
Guest

Re: banning help to people

The Scrooges are alive and well on those that compose say a ‘surplus population’. Observation looks as if it will be increasingly difficult for people to ‘afford’ being poor.

The previous piece on what is happening to the Magyar language was fascinating. Thank you. If there is any wonder why leadership is so callous even to its own people the evidence resides there in the development of new words and jargon used to describe disturbing realities. More and more dissociation from ‘feeling’ looks to be occurring in the language and pervading the society. That ‘flexibility’ in language does not bode well at all when certain intellectuals deliberately deterioate the language for their own base reasons when communicating.

Language is a mirror of a society. And from the looks of it the country is being made an ugly place. You can smooth out the wrinkles but its what underneath that ultimately counts.

Ferenc
Guest

OT
OV’s German charm offensive and trying to find friends in the provinces.
https://www.politico.eu/article/viktor-orban-germany-charm-offensive-refugee-policy/

“Unfortunately, we have to realize that German media often reports on Hungary in a biased manner. Direct high-level contacts provide an opportunity to correct this imbalance. Also, the aim of our regular media appearances is to convey a realistic, objective picture of the situation in Hungary.” — stated by Altusz, a deputy state secretary in Hungary’s foreign ministry.

Well let’s paraphrase the quote, to realistically describe the situation with his media in his Hungary:
“Unfortunately, one has to realize that Hungarian public/state media ONLY reports on ALL subjects in a BIASED manner. Not any contacts provide opportunities to get OV&Co to correct this imbalance. The aim of OV&Co’s regular media appearances is to convey ONLY THEIR picture of the situation in Hungary.”

Observer
Guest
This ghastly move is typical for the dictatorships, where “everything is within the (prerogatives of the) state …” per Mussolini. The bad things, however are someone else’s fault/doing: previous govs, saboteurs, unpatriotic opposition, speculators/Jews, foreigners and their local agents, etc. Furthermore all good things must be coming or seen to be coming from the regime and if not so, and this is the inhuman part, the regime would rather ax the charity benefits then let a competition with its projected image, e.g. – Public work is distributed at the pleasure of the local mayors. – the homeless were banned from central Budapest by various legal “techniques”. – NGOs distributing Norwegian/Swiss/Lux funds were pressured and harassed and were only saved by the Nor gov’s hard and principled stand. The Ekotàrs NGO involved however has been practically banned from the next cycle. – A pension supplement is trumpeted as bonus given by the gov, whereas it’s according to a law of 2009 G.Bajnai gov. – The Erzsèbet vouchers for EUR 30 are send by separate mail (expensive way) and the envelope reads: From the Gov of Hungary, Value HUF 10 000, Open carefully. I read somewhere that the overall admin costs of… Read more »
petofi
Guest

Orban has made the ultimate realist’s discovery: Democracy does not pay; corruption does. To be loved by masses is to put your fate in the hand of fools and ingrates.

exTor
Guest

comment image

Nincs szebb jövő Morvai nélkül > > > http://mandiner.hu/cikk/20171204_toroczkai_laszlo_nincs_szebb_jovo_morvai_nelkul

Mandiner has reprinted László Toroczkai’s Facebook pigeon dropping to Krisztina Morvai, with which he reminisces about the good old days when Jobbik was a nothing party and “My, haven’t we come a long way now!”

Seems like Toroczkai is trying to keep Morvai from defecting to Fidesz.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Ferenc
Guest

Distribution by municipality of food to poor families, misused by Fid politician for self-promotion.
Distributed egg cartons labeled with politicians name. comment image
Sorry, can’t stomach this, GIMME A BUCKET, FAST!!
http://rtl.hu/rtlklub/hirek/tojas-a-politikus-nevevel
https://budapestbeacon.com/fidesz-politician-uses-food-distribution-program-to-canvas-poor-households/
Furthermore the politician’s profile is aggressively being pushed in Körúti Korzó, the free local Fidesz print publication – https://www.facebook.com/korutikorzo.hu/posts/194939014416177
first text on the cover: Eggs more expensive (dragul a tojas);
wouldn’t you like to kn** this one in the *ggs?

petofi
Guest

The politician could put his mother’s name…but he sold her down the river a long time ago!