Tag Archives: economic immigrants

The growing Hungarian emigration

In the last couple of months the Hungarian media has been full not only of stories about the immigrants arriving in Hungary from the south but also about the ever-growing number of Hungarians who are packing up and leaving the country to find a better life elsewhere. Tárki, a polling company, has been following the emigration trends for a number of years, and every time they release their latest findings the headline invariably reads: “Never before have so many people considered emigration.” Tárki’s most recent results were published in May.

How many Hungarians live and work abroad? According to the last official statistics of the Central Statistical Office (KSH), their number in 2012 was 230,000. By 2013 KSH and SEEMIG (Managing Migration and Its Effects in South-East Europe) upped this number to close to 420,000. We still have no figures for 2015, but given recent trends the number of Hungarian emigrants at the moment is estimated to be somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000. In six years the rate of emigration has increased sixfold.

Tárki published a telling chart about would-be emigrants’ plans between 1993 and 2015. The chart shows that after 2010 and again after 2014 the number of people contemplating a move grew rapidly. I can’t believe that it is a coincidence that after an Fidesz victory there is a spike in the contemplated emigration rate. People could indicate several emigration plans simultaneously: short- (blue) or long-term (orange) employment, emigration on a permanent basis (grey), or all the above (yellow). In the last case the final decision would depend on the circumstances. Perhaps the most striking change happened after 2014 when those considering permanent emigration grew from 5% to 10%. In a single year. I’m almost certain that most of these people wanted to leave for political reasons, while the others are most likely “economic emigrants,” to use Viktor Orbán’s phrase.

tarki, migracio

One of the frightening aspects of Hungarian emigration statistics is the educational background of the emigrants. While only 19% of the population at home has a college or university degree, 32% of those who packed up and left were college or university educated. The reverse is true of those with only an eight-grade education. They make up 24% of the Hungarian population but only 6% of the emigrants.

Where did these 500,000-800,000 people go? Earlier most of them went to the United Kingdom, Germany, and Austria, but Hungarians are starting to discover equally inviting destinations: Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, and the Netherlands.

The Hungarian colony in London is especially large, so one of the research institutes of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences conducted a survey among them about their reasons for leaving, their satisfaction with their decision to settle in London, and finally whether they are considering returning to the country of their birth. Seventy-three percent of them said that “they have no intention of ever returning to Hungary.” Twenty-one percent answered that “perhaps within a few years” they might go back, and only 6% said that they will definitely return within a year.

János Lázár, in one of his honest moments, admitted that Hungary cannot compete with other western countries in terms of living standards and that since most of the people left Hungary for financial reasons, it is unlikely that they will abandon their well-paid jobs and return to Hungary for a great deal less money. It was therefore surprising that on April 22 the ministry of national economy launched a new program called “Come back home, young Hungarian!” The failure of this program is guaranteed. First of all, the ministry allocated only 100 million forints ($355,000), which Népszava called “laughable,” considering what the government spends on stadiums and giant posters inciting people against immigrants.

Apparently, this year the government is offering a job and a monthly stipend of 100,000 Ft for one year to 50 people. Well, at this rate, even if the program is successful, it will take a very long time to reverse the immigration trend. The government opened a website and is waiting for applicants. The problem is that government officials in charge of the program can’t agree on how many interested young, highly educated people with an excellent knowledge of English the Hungarian government is expecting. Right after launching the program, Undersecretary Sándor Czomba proudly announced that 40,000 Hungarians living abroad had registered on Facebook. Of course, this number was incorrect. Soon enough we heard that 581 people had registered for the program, and a little later it was triumphantly announced that the number had grown to 800. But this figure is misleading because the website is set up in such a way that practically no information is available without first registering.

444.hu discovered that between April 22 and June 29 only 21 people actually filled out the forms and had an interview with the organization that handles the repatriation. Today I checked the site and under “Success stories” I found a grand total of four names!

Perhaps the Hungarian government is not as eager as it pretends to be to get these expats back. A lot of people suspect that Orbán and his friends find these enterprising young men and women who are brave enough to start a new life elsewhere not especially desirable. They have lived for a number of years abroad, have learned new ways, and have most likely become critical of the oppressive presence of the Hungarian government in all facets of life.

And there might be an even more important reason why the Hungarian government doesn’t mind the large exodus that is taking place. It is the incredible amount of money that these “economic immigrants” send back home. According to a recent study, 20 million East- and Central-Europeans work in other EU countries. These migrants in 2014 sent home $28.5 billion, 10% higher than in 2013 and 31% higher than in 2012. While the average East-European migrant sent $1,700, the average Hungarian sent $5,500. This indicates to me that Hungarian expats, on the whole, have higher-paying jobs than those from other countries in the region. And if that is the case, it is unlikely that there will be great interest in the Hungarian government’s meager enticements.

BBC published a short article, “Hungary: Government seeks to lure young expats back home.” In it they report on a “counter poster” that was an answer to the government’s billboard, “If you come to Hungary you cannot take away Hungarians’ jobs.” It read: “You may safely come to Hungary, we are already working in England.”

Although the Orbán government is doing its best to turn Hungarians against the refugees who are passing through Hungary on their way to the west, Hungarians, according to the latest survey, still consider emigration a greater problem than the practically non-existent immigration.

Viktor Orbán’s redefinition of the refugee crisis

Two days ago the Hungarian ministry of foreign affairs and trade posted a statement on its website that emphasized that “political refugees have always been accepted by Hungary.” Péter Szijjártó continued: “It is incumbent on Hungary to be generous because of its history and experience…. When war was still ravaging the Western Balkans, Hungary received the refugees arriving from there, who ran from the region to save their own and their families’ lives from the war, without any major international assistance.” This statement presaged the prime minister’s redefinition of who counts as a political refugee–which, as might be expected, does not include people from the Middle East.

The original EU plan to distribute by a quota system 60,000 refugees currently in Greece and Italy failed, mostly because of the unwillingness of former socialist countries to accept their share of the burden. Donald Tusk, the Polish president of the European Council, sided with them. By contrast, Jean-Claude Juncker has very serious doubts that the proposed plan of voluntary offers by individual countries can possibly solve the problem.

There are two countries that do not have to accept any refugees from Greece and Italy: Bulgaria and Hungary. Bulgaria because it is the poorest country in the European Union and Hungary because this year one-third of all newcomers ended up in Hungary, more people than actually reached Italy. So Hungary doesn’t have to take the 860 refugees from Greece and Italy, as set out in the original plan. But this victory was more than offset by the fact that Viktor Orbán had to agree to follow the Dublin III Regulation, which governs refugee policy within the Union.

I suspect, however, that Orbán is preparing a new assault on Brussels in his effort to keep Hungary unicultural. He seems to be laying the groundwork by redefining key terms in the debate.

Earlier Orbán divided the newcomers into “economic immigrants” and genuine “political refugees.” At the time when about 40,000 Kosovars began their journey northward, Orbán might have been right that these people from a terribly poor country were indeed seeking a better life somewhere in Western Europe. Since then, however, the migration from Kosovo has slowed to a trickle, and most of the people who now cross the Serbian-Hungarian border are Iraqis, Afghans, and Syrians.

In this new situation, Orbán tried to argue that, although these people come from war zones, by the time they arrive in Hungary they are no longer political refugees because earlier they reached safe countries like Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia where their lives were not threatened. It looks to me as if this argument didn’t make an impression in Brussels because Orbán claimed right after the long debate on the refugee question had ended that Hungary will follow the rules of the Dublin III Regulation.

The old arguments are no longer useful or applicable, so an entirely new approach is necessary. Orbán offered a historical analogy. He renamed the refugee crisis a modern Völkerwanderung, the age of migration, or the barbarian invasions of the early Middle Ages. I gave the German term first because the word Orbán used is its mirror translation (népvándorlás). Between about 300 A.D. and 900 A.D. whole ethnic groups moved from east to west, west to east, and north to south. The last such mass migration was that of the Hungarian tribes in 895 and the Vikings’ conquest of Great Britain.

Orbán’s latest brainstorm is that we are not simply confronted with individuals escaping war and persecution but we are facing a modern-day invasion of sorts, the result of which will be the formation of an entirely new political and cultural map of Europe. Under these circumstances the Dublin III Regulation is no longer applicable.

Of course, the description of the current refugee crisis as a modern-day Völkerwanderung is deeply flawed. Most of the movement of peoples in the early Middle Ages involved force and unitary leadership. This is certainly not the case today. I think Orbán himself understands that giving a new name to a phenomenon is not enough to change the essence of it. But somehow, he believes, language can still serve his cause. He is now in the process of giving a new definition to the word “refugee.”

The dictionary definition of “refugee” is simple enough: “one who flees, especially to another country, seeking refuge from war, political oppression, religious persecution, or a natural disaster.” Orbán decided to create his own peculiar definition of the term. In his view one can be called a refugee only if he is running for his life and escapes to a neighboring country. “Since Hungary is not adjacent to Syria, when a migrant arrives at our door he is no longer a refugee.” Orbán, like Szijjártó, brought up the case of the Yugoslav refugees of the early 1990s who were real refugees, unlike those who arrive in Hungary today. If a refugee situation developed along the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, “that would be our responsibility.” The current crisis is obviously not. If tens of thousands of people sought refuge in Hungary from Ukraine he wouldn’t count on the help of the European Union.

I assume this mad talk is mainly for domestic consumption because I can’t quite believe that Orbán would dare deliver such a speech in front of his colleagues in the European Council.

In a Greek refugee camp

In a Greek refugee camp

I also doubt that Orbán will share his thoughts on the sole responsibility of Greece and Italy to handle the massive refugee crisis. According to Orbán, the problem is that Greece and Italy don’t comply with the regulations of Dublin III when they allow migrants to move on to other countries north in order to reach Hungary. All those who went through Greece should be returned to that country. Orbán made it crystal clear that Hungary doesn’t want to have any refugees and hence no refugee camps. All such camps should be set up only in Greece and Italy, which are officially declared to be “front countries.” Greece already in 2013 had 1.1 million refugees, or 10% of the whole population.

Judging from Orbán’s references to the status of front countries, it looks as if Hungary was either offered and declined or decided not even to apply for front-country status which it was entitled to, given the very high number of refugees appearing at its southern border. Such a status would have meant financial assistance to the tune of 130-160 million euros instead of the current 1.5 million. Orbán didn’t take advantage of this opportunity for obvious reasons. He does not want to see any refugees in Hungary, period.

I don’t know how much of this is only idle talk. But even if only half of it represents the Hungarian government’s considered position, I can foresee another round of sparring between Viktor Orbán and the European Commission.

Miklós Haraszti: The intricacies of translation

Yesterday Miklós Haraszti commented on my post about Viktor Orbán’s “unwanted immigrants.” I considered his contribution so valuable that, with his permission, I am republishing it as a full-fledged post. 

First, a few words about Miklós Haraszti, who has played an important role in Hungarian politics. In 1976 he co-founded the Hungarian Democratic Opposition Movement and in 1980 became editor of the samizdat periodical “Beszélő.” In 1989 he participated in the “roundtable discussions” among all the political parties, which eventually led to free elections. Between 1990 and 1994 he was a member of parliament, and between 2004 and 2010 he served as OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Currently he is UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Belarus.

In yesterday’s post I translated the twelve questions the Hungarian government will pose to voters about their attitudes toward “economic immigrants,” which in the original is “megélhetési bevándorlók.” The Hungarian adjective “megélhetési” is practically untranslatable for reasons that Haraszti’s explanation of the word and its history makes evident. “Economic” is at best a sanitized translation of “megélhetési.”  Without understanding the real meaning of the Hungarian word, we cannot grasp the baseness of Viktor Orbán’s world.

Here I am combining two separate comments by Mr. Haraszti, the second of which was prompted by my remark that to the best of my knowledge it was fairly recently that a Hungarian politician coined the phrase “megélhetési politikusok.” In this second comment we learn about the origin of the phrase.

* * *

Miklós Haraszti being interviewed by Benjamin Novak of The Budapest Beacon

Miklós Haraszti being interviewed by Benjamin Novak of The Budapest Beacon

“Megélhetési bevándorlók”

Let me add a little linguistics of meanness. Orbán, throughout his anti-immigration PR campaign, and in his 12-point “National Consultation” questionnaire, identifies the refugees as “megélhetési bevándorlók,” which is then translated for international consumption as “economic immigrants.” This is what we find in Eva’s translation. But it is no match for the cruelty of the original adjective, “megélhetési.” Orbán never uses the adjective “economic,” that is “gazdasági,” when he speaks in Hungarian. What his consultation uses, “megélhetési,” is in fact a ready-made hate word in Hungarian political language.

Of course, the questionnaire’s hateful, xenophobic content speaks for itself even with “economic immigrant,” but the reader should know that what the Hungarians get, the original “megélhetési,” means “parasitic, opportunistic, profiteering, sharking” — and means all this in a super-despising way — it simply means a swindler.

Examples: “megélhetési gyermekvállaló” (parents who ‘produce’ children solely for the sake of child welfare benefits) — it means a Roma parent and nothing else.

Or: “megélhetési bűnöző” (a criminal out of poverty) — invariably just means a gypsy.

Or: “megélhetési politikus”  — means a corrupt politician. Etc, etc.

The history of the phrase “megélhetési politikusok”

The first political usage of the adjective was in the expression “megélhetési politikusok” (politicians who are ready to serve whoever is ready to pay them). The inventor was Miklós Csapody, ex-MDF, who coined it sometime between 1996 and 1998, the day after the defection of MPs Ervin Demeter and Csaba Hende from MDF. These two decided to move over to the Fidesz benches, weakening the small liberal-conservative wing of the remaining MDF. (The Sándor Lezsák/István Balsai national-conservative wing of MDF had defected earlier.) Csapody severely criticized Demeter and Hende. Ervin Demeter was later rewarded by being appointed minister of civilian intelligence services in the first government of Orbán. After the fall of that government, he was involved (together with László Kövér) in the UD Zrt. private eye wiretapping scandal which was intended to ruin — whom else — his former boss, Ibolya Dávid. The other, Csaba  Hende (today minister of defense), became the central Fidesz keeper/financer of the “polgári körök” (civic circles) in 2002, a movement which was Orbán’s Red Guard/Tea Party within his own party in 2002 when he lost the elections and mutineers challenged his continuing leadership.

Csapody’s word, the adjective “megélhetési” as used for politicians, became proverbial, simply meaning “corrupt,” or worse, “fake and greedy.” Typically for Orbán, he now utilizes a term that was famously intended to provoke him and his party.

The word “megélhetési” had existed earlier. It has a liberal origin, it was an invention of political correctness, and I cannot exclude the possibility that Csapody, when he used it against Fideszniks, picked it in a tongue-in-cheek manner to make it even more humiliating. Namely, sociologists and lawyers had long used it to describe a kind of petty criminality where the perpetrators (thieves, typically) steal only in order to have something to eat that day. It had been used as an equivalent of “poverty criminality” and, unquestionably, it had an explanatory, attenuating, almost acquitting flavor. Therefore MIÉP, Jobbik, and their Fidesz copy-pasters started to use it sarcastically, ridiculing liberal political correctness, agitating against “those who have kind words for criminals and thereby encourage them.” They started to use it for “Gypsy” as a “politically correct” racist slur. (That is, instead of using Roma, they would say: “there comes a suntanned “megélhetési bűnöző.”) The adjective started to stand on its own as a noun, a biting euphemism for Roma: “egy megélhetési” or “a megélhetésiek,” hitting both the Roma and the liberals.

The story of the word is thus full of surprises. Csapody, when he turned it against right-wing politicians, of course knew about the racist usage of the originally  PC adjective. In fact, it was his own PC, modern way of saying “cigánykodás,” which means largely the same. (See: http://www.nyest.hu/hirek/ciganykodas-zsidoskodas-skotsag-bevezetes-az-etnosztereotipiak-vilagaba).

And now Orbán puts his hands on the term and openly uses it in a “National Consultation” to describe any refugees of the East and the South who dare to enter Hungary. Using the adjective “megélhetési” instead of “gazdasági” also means: “Do you want to have more Gypsies, sent along by the EU in order to ruin our nation?”

Addendum: the noun “megélhetés”

I forgot to say what “megélhetés,” the noun, means. Its most basic meaning is “livelihood.” Thus “megélhetési,” the adjective made from it,  means pursuing or rather imitating a vocation or a victimhood solely for the material gains of that status. Both mean profiteering, cheating.

One of the beauties of the Hungarian language is that it is easy to create adjectives from nouns and vice versa. So, an English translation that would carry the oddness of Orbán’s vocabulary could have been: livelihood-immigrants or refugees, or even better “occupational immigrants” and not “economic immigrants.”