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.
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.”
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.