People on the margins of Hungarian society: Szentegát and Szigetvár

A few days ago György Balavány published a fairly lengthy report in 24.hu about some poverty-stricken spots in and around Szigetvár in Baranya County. This is the region where Cserdi is located, the village made famous by the enterprising Mayor László Bogdán, whose effective but controversial methods considerably improved the quality of life of the village. According to Balavány, four of the ten poorest villages in Hungary can be found in this region, yet one hears relatively little about the hopelessness of the situation of the people who live there.

First a few words about György Balavány, who for many years prior to 2010 worked for Magyar Nemzet. Balavány, who describes himself as a conservative man with strong ties to the Hungarian Reformed Church, identified with the steadfast anti-government bias of the paper before 2010. But shortly after Fidesz won the election in 2010, when Lajos Simicska’s paper came to be in the service of Fidesz, Balavány left Magyar Nemzet. If I recall properly, he couldn’t imagine being part of a staff that from here on would have to sing the praises of a government. Any government. In the last eight years Balavány has become one of the severest critics of the Orbán regime.

Balavány and a camerman visited a village just south of Szigetvár called Szentegát and a section of Szigetvár named after Ferenc Móra, a twentieth-century Hungarian writer. What Ferenc Móra has to do with Szigetvár I have no idea, because as far as I know he spent practically his whole life in Szeged.

Let’s first take a look at Szentegát, a cul-de-sac village. There is a road to the village from Szigetvár, but from there one cannot travel any further. Once upon a time it was a retreat for the rich and famous. It was there that members of the Baron Biedermann family built their mansion, surrounded by forest, which today is a 235-hectare nature preserve.

It is in these idyllic surroundings that one can find 371 people who live in miserable circumstances. One of the more entrepreneurial women started a small general store and a “presszó,” a coffee shop, but the people of the village couldn’t maintain it. Nowadays, a mobile store makes occasional appearances. No doctor from Szigetvár visits the place. The sick can take a bus to town, 10 km away.

The former general store, pub, and “presszó” in Szentegát

From the conversations one can sense the hopelessness of the place. Those residents with whom Balavány talked don’t see a way out of their situation. Most of the people earn their miserable wages as public workers. They are bused to Szigetvár, where they clean streets.

One man, after 11 years, started his own business. He and his “employees” hire themselves out as earthworkers (kubikosok), but during the winter when the ground is frozen they cannot work. He admitted by the end of the conversation that “if you want to know, I am dissatisfied with this whole country. I left for England for a while, but it didn’t work out.”

And yet, he and his wife and mother-in-law will vote for Fidesz. As the wife put it, they will follow Orbán “because we don’t want migrants even if Soros wants to send them here. They would get apartments while we live in this hovel. We have enough trouble; we don’t want to support others. Especially not terrorists.” Her husband refuses to believe that the “migrants” are refugees. He added: “You must understand that it is about our lives, about our children. There shouldn’t be any mixing here. There are Gypsies, Hungarians, all kinds. We don’t need blacks and Arabs. And what incredible filth they left behind. In Germany God knows how many women they raped. Our girls will be going to school in Pécs. You must understand that I fear for them.”

Among the people who live in the part of Szigetvár that strikes me as a Roma ghetto, the level of dissatisfaction is even higher than in Szentegát and so is the desire to get out of this situation. Perhaps the most moving conversation was with a relatively young woman with a cancer-ridden husband and an eleven-year-old child. The husband receives 24,500 forints from the city and she takes home 64,000. “I don’t know how to escape from here, but I don’t want my child to sweep the streets of Szigetvár in a yellow vest.”

An older woman offered to speak on behalf of her neighbor: “My neighbor receives 22,000 Ft a month. I would like to see Viktor Orbán buying food, paying for electricity and water on that money. I wouldn’t mind telling him what I think of him straight into his face.” But she is not planning to vote because the representative for whom she voted last time pays absolutely no attention to them, refusing even to meet with them.

The parting words came from a man who didn’t mind if his name appeared in the newspaper. He sent the message to Viktor Orbán that “we have had enough of promises.”

An apartment house in the Ferenc Móra project in Szigetvár

From the report we don’t learn much about these people’s backgrounds, but we can safely assume that their educational attainment is extremely low. Among them, the anti-migrant and anti-Soros propaganda has obviously been extremely effective.

The openly anti-government sentiment in the Ferenc Móra project, or, as the Brits call it, “estate,” surprised me. But it was discouraging to hear that people who are most aware of the government’s total lack of interest in their fate will probably not bother to vote because “all politicians steal and cheat.”

György Balavány in an earlier article reported that even in “the poverty-stricken villages near Szigetvár” Fidesz will win more than 50% of the vote. According to recent polls, in Baranya’s electoral district 4, where these villages are situated, a Fidesz candidate would get 58% of the votes, Jobbik 15%, MSZP 10%, LMP 7%, DK 7%, and Együtt, Momentum, and Two-Tailed Dog 1% each.

But I don’t want to spread doom and gloom here, so I will end by quoting Gábor Török, a political scientist, who still believes that if Fidesz loses 20 districts out of 106 the party will not have a two-thirds majority and if Orbán loses 40 districts Fidesz will not have an absolute majority. Moreover, neither alternative is outside the realm of possibility, says Török. I hope he is right because four more years of the thinly veiled dictatorship of Viktor Orbán would be devastating for the country and its people.

January 3, 2018
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petofi
Guest

Wow! Look at all those satellites: those blokes get more channels than I do!

Observer
Guest

These are probably dishes with illegal decoders from the black market, no fees paid, you only buy the next “decoding”, much cheaper.

Guest

But there’s only two kind of tv programmes:
The abominable “reality shows” interspersed with lots of advertising (horrible!) and the even more horrible propaganda channels of North Korean State TV aka Magyar tv.
OK, the cooking show on Saturday is just bearable and the nature films are ok – but the rest?

Peter Stockholm
Guest

Just one small correction, Eva: Balavány is református/Calvinist, not Catholic.

nvtln
Guest

It isn’t much of a surprise that the poor aren’t voting for Gyurcsány and his ex-pals.

Observer
Guest

Re: Milo Y
While there is still no program of the great event on its site, Klubradio reported that M.Schmidt insisted on Milo and he’ll talk on another venue, as probably will Kubitschek, but with the “most transparent gov” you never know.

petofi
Guest

What about people on the edge of…decency…civility…integrity…?

Alex Knisely
Guest

A few years ago, for variety’s sake, in early autumn I went south of the Dráva on the road from Körmend to Pécs — crossing into Croatia at Letenye, following the river. Small farms, prosperous-looking; many roadside stands offering watermelons, potatoes, onions, apples. Then I went north at Barcs into the desolation and poverty and squalour of southwestern Hungary. Horrible. The same soil, I imagine; the same climate; but so different in what the people made of that which lay around them. And yet this was one nation one hundred years ago. Unaccountable.

Guest

One of the possible reasons might be that Croatia was part of Yugoslavia – not the Russian sphere.
My family and I went to Yugoslavia on holiday several times every year (we had a caravan standing near the beach on the famous Nudist campsite Koversada, a kind of summer house) but never to any of these “real Communist” countries – there was a big difference and I still remember the horrible experiences friends of mine had in Hungary, Bulgaria etc …
We tried East Germany once biut were treated so badly that I swore to never again set foot in the Eastern Bloc

Alex Knisely
Guest

Thank you. The aetiology that you propose is sensible.

bimbi
Guest

“…because four more years of the thinly veiled dictatorship of Viktor Orbán would be devastating for the country and its people.”
Prof. Balogh, it is easy to over-step the bounds of reasonable analysis and use words such as “devastating”. But surely you remember the video posted on Orban’s Facebook page (was it?) showed that Bözsi néni was very happy with her 1% pension hike and was touchingly grateful to the Great Leader.
If nothing else one must acknowledge that the asset stripping process employed by Orban, his friends and the Fidesz government is run with great balance, care and subtlety and even after 8 years of self-centred plundering the country has not until now found itself in the position of the characters depicted in Fábri Zoltán’s film “The Fifth Seal” (searing and brilliant and thank you for the reference to the Hungarian Film Archive film viewing programme!).

Marty
Guest

OT:

I wholeheartedly recommend Masha Gessen’s new book titled “The future is history” which is about Russia’s history of the last 30 years through the eyes of some Russian individuals and their families.

It’s journalism of the highest quality imaginable and – let’s face it – the story has many parallels to Hungary’s own trajectory in recent years.

In my view Gessen is the single most insightful commentator on Russian events in English language. I also believe that Gessen, who besides reporting also provides analysis and context, is far superior to Nobel-laureate Svetlana Alexievich.

The book is an absolute must read for those who want to better understand the trauma of the “system change” (rendszerváltás) in the CEE and some countries’ turn towards and voters enthusiasm for or at least very high tolerance of nationalist, authoritarian political structures.

For observers of Hungary the book is especially relevant since it also features Putin’s favorite philosopher (ie, fascist ideologue) Alexander Dugin who defines himself simply as an enemy of the concept of open society propagated by one George Soros…

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/318687/the-future-is-history-by-masha-gessen/9781594634536/

Guest

There is a similar situation in all the former “Communist” countries, also in the Eastern Germany – I’ve often said it that many (most?) people there are fifty years behind the West, almost two generations lost …
One reason might be that they expected after the fall total equality with the West – not taking into account that it took us almost fifty years of hard work to advance economically while Easter Europe was in some kind of “worker’s paradise”.
Most Hungarians I meet are thinking like our “Clerical Fascists” in West Germany after WW2 – I still shudder thinking about my teachers in the 50s.

PS and not too much OT:
The Trumpistas aka “deplorables” in the USA are on a similar level! It’s funny to read the reactions on Bannon and the book that a friend of his wrote on Trump.

wrfree
Guest
A few days ago I happened to come across a TimeLife book on ‘Eastern Europe’.. Some excerpts: ‘In Hungary no one likes to mention the the euphoria of the 1956 revolution and its tragic aftermath. A resigned cynicism and feeling of non-involvement with politics are the marks of the country today…….But many political prisoners have been released and more consumer goods have been made available. There is considerable artistic freedom and life is generally relaxed. Why didn’t you go to the last meeting of the Party? a communist asks another in a current joke. If I’d known it was the last meeting, the friend replies, I’d certainly have gone. And … ‘Even if Hungary is not prosperous Hungarians are convinced that they know how to live well within limited means; they are proud of the relative liberality of their regime compared with those of other nations within the Communist bloc and they are CONVINCED that THERE WILL BE NO RETURN TO THE TERRORS OF THE STALIN ERA (my italics) but they are careful when they state such convictions to make certain of their listeners. Hungary, like the rest of Europe, is well aware that Soviet troops are still stationed within… Read more »
Guest

As I’ve written already I wasn’t in “the East” until 1996 and I can’t really say, but something went terribly wrong in the days/years after 1989 …
A new kind of class system instead of democracy?
Or maybe people expected too much from Capitalsim and were not willing to invest in it?
Or was it just a certain group of people who could not manage the transition and were cast aside – kind of road kill?
At least some people got very rich …

Marty
Guest

wolfi, just the read the book. It’s really insightful.

wrfree
Guest
Re: ‘Or maybe people expected too much from Capitalsim and were not willing to invest in it’ Interesting point and I would say maybe they didn’t want to change or sacrifice as they went to a capitalistic economy. As they say , ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’. 😎 And anyway I always thought some of the West’s carpetbagger’s did some damage to the cap enterprise especially to its image … probably close to rapacious. I remember my uncle RIP who couldn’t believe I commuted to my job from suburb to city to earn a good living so that I could live in a fairly nice and comfortable home. He couldn’t wrap his head around that. Same for my grandparents who came here and stayed for awhile in the early years of the 20th. They high tailed it back. The US was a different ‘capitalistic’ animal altogether. And perhaps I would say I thought even my own parents should have gone back to the ‘Old World’. Frankly they had a hard time adjusting to ‘capitalism’. It was very difficult for them especially as they had little education and very weak language skills to take advantage… Read more »
Istvan
Guest

I laughed so hard I almost cried when I read some of the snippets of Wolff’s book in the media yesterday. The Bannon quotes from Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House are making big news over here, but the one from Rupert Murdoch, a Trump supporter, hung up the phone after a conversation with the President about H-1B visas for select immigrants and said, “What a f—ing idiot,” is my favorite. It is also what General McMaster reportedly said about Trump privately to fellow Army officers and later denied saying it.

petofi
Guest

@ Istvan

The fact is that Trump never expected, or wanted, to win the election. No one is more surprised than he that they haven’t turfed his sorry ass out, but the fact is that the struggle is between Trump (who wants to end his Presidency) and the Republican power brokers who don’t want to surrender Power, once they got their hands on it.

petofi
Guest

Nothing is sadder than the fact that those asshole, political correctionists in the Democratic Party have turfed out their best Senator, Al Franken. In fact, Franken would’ve been a viable presidential candidate for 2022. The Repubs must be laughing themselves silly…

Istvan
Guest

I have a copy of the book in e format and have not as yet read it. The positive reviews I have read of Gessen’s book mirror your own Marty. I look forward to reading the book.

wrfree
Guest

No doubt will enlighten on that ‘rendszervaltas’ which has intrigued me to no end. Getting to see and experience the Kadar way of life changed much in my orientation and understanding to Europe, Russia and its once again vassal Magyarorszag. Once in a black hole there apparently can’t be no release.

Observer
Guest

Poverty without hunger is good for the dictators as these strata show the lowest political activity, turnout in elections, definitely so in H.
And this is what the Orban policies have been maintaining:
– replacing benefits with tax brakes, freezing allowances e.g. family a. USD 41, min pension USD 105, parental a. all at 2008 levels,
– firing public employees only to be re-hired as fostered workers paid well below min. wages,
– dumb-ing down education and reducing the min age to 15 y.o.,
– shifting the emphasis on antiquated “trades schools”,
– drastically reducing higher education funding,
– directing development funds to larger show projects and for the enrichment of cronies rather than rationally distributing funds to local small/medium size businesses (KKV), etc.
According Policy Agenda* study 36% live below poverty line, 16% according to Eurostat.
* KSZH dropped this index in 2015

Guest

Another sign that Hungary is going down the drain:

Politics.hu public website to go on indefinite hiatus
You can find info on the reasons here: http://www.politics.hu/
A decision to locate servers in Germany resulted in constant warnings from that country’s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) about comments deemed offensive …
So we must be glad for every independent site like this that will continue!

Marty
Guest
Wolfi, the site’s explanation is more than a little weird. It’s unclear why the site couldn’t locate its servers in another jurisdiction (if it has own servers; I doubt it) or just use server hosting services in another jurisdiction such as the US. The famous extreme right wing kuruc.info site is legally operated from the US (although edited from Hungary) which is why it’s difficult to take it down (of course the government didn’t really want to go after it). The comments could be disabled, it’s not obligatory for a site to have a comment function. Also I’m not sure how seriously in practicea small site like politics.hu needs to take the General Data Protection Regulation. For all I know it could ignore it, but I’m sure it wouldn’t cost a huge amount to bring its practices in line with it (maybe a few thousand euros at most). I think most of the proffered explanation is simply BS. I suspect most likely the editor didn’t want to work for free any more but he couldn’t get advertisers or sponsors to finance his operation (which is partly the consequence of Google’s and Facebook’s extreme domination of the internet advertising business leaving… Read more »
Guest

You’re probably right – there’s no money in a site like this. One reason might be that advertisers would be afraid of Fidesz – we all know that’s where the money is.
It’s still a loss for users like me …
But who really cares about Hungary …
OT:
If we were to believe Orbán:
“We are the economic engine of the European Union,” Orbán asserted after official talks Wednesday with his Polish counterpart, a former finance minister who became prime minister last month.
Do these people really believe the cr*p they’re spouting?
https://bbj.hu/region/orban-cee-countries-are-the-economic-engine-of-the-eu-_143503

Member

I am also a long-term fan of Politics.hu but, to be honest, in the last 12 months or so, it has acted as a clearing house for stories and articles published on other sites as opposed to providing its own analysis.
This I believe will still continue on Twitter?

In the old, premoderated comments days, some of the Fidesz cavemen who managed to drag their knuckles across the keyboard to thump in the type of racist, misogynist, homophobic filth that their fat leader would be proud of was both frightening and comical at the same time. But even they have disappeared as of late. Probably been recruited by the Fidesz Press Office?

It is not just in Hungary that such sites have issues with funding but obviously the fascist, thuggish nature of the Orbanist State makes running the likes of Politics.hu actually a dangerous and not just expensive enterprise.

seinean
Guest

It might be the German so called “NetzDG” law enforced as of January the 1-st:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/05/tough-new-german-law-puts-tech-firms-and-free-speech-in-spotlight

Member

At the end of November, my wife and I attended the release of Gyorgy Moldava’s latest book (Kegyelemkenyér. Riport a nyugdíjasokról; Urbis, Szentendre, 2017). Many of the stories he recounted are similar to those mentioned here. The situation is not good in many areas of Hungary and the numbers of people you see sleeping in doorways in Budapest seems to be constantly increasing.

Michael Kaplan
Guest

Tragic story. I have seen many of the poor villages through out Hungary between 1976 and today. Sadly, I thought Hungary would be close to the level of Austria after the “change”.

While I certainly believe government propaganda contributes to the misplaced fears and comments aka nonsense about the “Soros plan”, it is also clear-as in the USA- that many low income people believe they were left behind by previous governments. There is some factual basis to their beliefs right alongside the “myths” of the “Soros plan”etc. These myths-as in America- represent the emotional and often unconscious thoughts/feelings of many . Myths-as you know-led in part to the tragic outcomes of the 1930s and 1940s in Europe, let alone the current myths of “America First” in the USA promise more of the same.

Do you think Professor Balogh that any Hungarian political party has a solid alternative to reform Hungary such that it would enter the more developed world? I think your last comments suggested a hopeful attitude, which we must also maintain.

Member

I woud like to highlight what Eva wrote already about the interview with Gábor Török. It is, that the coming election is not only about winning and loosing.

There are the following possible outcomes (first one worst):
Fidesz > 2/3
Fidesz > 50%
Fidesz <= 50%

Question to the realists here: Can we get Fidesz at least below 2/3 ?

I read half of the interview myself and 2 more things I remember:

1. Török thinks, that we have still democracy in Hungary (probably he has never experienced democracy; for me, who grew up in democracy, this is anything but democracy (mafia autocracy transforming into mafia dictatorship))

2. A few posts ago we were discussing, that opposition politicians already try to get good positions for after the elections, instead of helping to bring down the mafia government.
Török talked about Gyurcsány, who can't become prime minister, instead he would gladly become fraction leader at first, where he could deliver some fights with Orbán in parliament. I believe this is exactly the reason, why Gyurcsány doesn't cooperate that much with the other paties (common list, common PM candidate). He wants to expose himself and get some attention.

Guest

Rather OT:
Just read about Trump’s fight against “Bannon the Barbarian” from breitbart – really funny in a way!
And back to Hungary:
Tomorrow morning Orbán will speak at the German CSU’s new year meeting in Seeon – probably nothing new, the same old spiel as with the Polish PM:
“We are the economic engine of the European Union,” Orbán asserted after official talks Wednesday with his Polish counterpart
Megalomania or what?
https://bbj.hu/region/orban-cee-countries-are-the-economic-engine-of-the-eu-_143503