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?