Guest Post

7 Reasons I Am Leaving Hungary

In 1956, my father left Hungary after the Soviets had cracked down on the revolution. He wasn’t involved in the fighting; he chose to leave for a prospect of a better life under a non-Communist regime.

In 1976 my mother chose to leave Hungary after having met my father. They met during one of his visits to Hungary, and when they decided to live together, they chose to live in Norway. 

I grew up in Norway, but I wanted to study in Hungary. I loved Budapest for its architecture, its many art cinemas, the theaters, and my new friends.

After university, I found work at one of the many shared service centers (SSC) run by multinational companies. This was in 2008, and despite the economic crisis and an inept Socialist government, many had high hopes for better times ahead. Being no fan of Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, I naively believed that at least their economic policy would be better, if not perfect. I used to believe that I could have a future in Hungary, even if I never make as much money as I would in Norway. I was willing to make that trade-off for living in an exciting city in the middle of Europe. Being part of an emerging economy, many of us believed that in the long run wages and living standards would rise for most Hungarians.

Today, Budapest has become a depressing place to live, many of the art cinemas have closed. Some theaters have been taken over by directors loyal to Fidesz, usually as a result of a rigged hiring process, chasing away talented people. Old, beautiful buildings are still crumbling, and poverty is more visible than ever.

etel

Queue for a soup kitchen before Christmas, 2015 – Budapest

The state is more interested in enriching politicians and oligarchs close to Prime Minister Orbán, than making life easier for its citizens. While infrastructure used by ordinary citizens is literally rotting away, the government spends on lavish projects like stadiums and governmental buildings.

This is Orbán’s pet project, a narrow-gauge railroad in his hometown, Felcsút (left) – compared to a major railway station downtown Budapest (right):

A massive stadium and football academy next to Orbán’s birth house in Felcsút (left) and from drone (right) – built with public funds.

Orbán is also moving his office to Buda Castle at a massive cost. In order to have his own balcony, a UNESCO-protected site is being remodeled.

var

Orbán’s office being built in Buda castle

For ordinary people low wages, high taxes, and rampant corruption have become an obstacle to a decent life, and many of my friends and colleagues have chosen to emigrate.

There is no real opposition today, while Fidesz and the far-right Jobbik still enjoy strong support. The decline may not have begun with Viktor Orbán, and he cannot be blamed for all the problems in the post-communist era, but his government is responsible for the current decline – after having been in power for six years. 

For eight years my taxes have supported corrupt politicians and a state that increasingly fails to provide basic services.

Hungary is not a dictatorship anymore, but forty years after my mother left, I am leaving for similar reasons:

  • I want to live in country where I’m treated as a citizen – not as a subject.
  • Where people’s success depends on talent and hard work – not political connections.
  • Where state funds are used to secure efficient public services – not the wealth of the elite.
  • I want to live in a country were people, who work hard and follow the rules don’t have to struggle to make ends meet.
  • Where crime is prosecuted regardless of the political connections of the suspect.
  • Where policy is decided through open debate, and not by whatever the country’s leader happens to think on that given day.
  • Where Western values are the norm and Moscow is not a role model for government.

Here are my own personal reasons of leaving Hungary:

1. Low Wages – Long Working Hours

While Hungarians work more hours than most – at least on paper – they are paid less than most Europeans. Hungary ranks 7th in hours worked among OECD countries.

If you live in Budapest, you have to work longer for your Big Mac than most of your peers in the neighboring capitals – including Sofia, Prague, Warsaw, and Bratislava. Only the guy in Bucharest has to work longer (0.3 minutes) for his lunch at McDonald’s – if we believe the statistics. Small comfort.

For me, it meant that I couldn’t afford a decent lifestyle on an above average salary – by which I mean eating out once in a while, going on a holiday, or purchase books while also saving for a rainy day. For many Hungarian families going out for a movie and a snack is a rare treat even with full time jobs.

2. High taxes and a lousy welfare state

Hungarian taxation of wages is among the highest in the EU – Hungary is surpassed only by Belgium, Austria, and Germany. Needless to say, there is a difference between services provided by the German and the Hungarian state. In Hungary you have to bribe the doctor and hospital staff if you want a relatively decent health care service. Or you can opt for private health care, out of your own pocket.

In a country, where the net average wage is around 500 euros per month, this is not a realistic option for most people.

3. The M3 metro line in Budapest

This is how the metro line I used to take to work looks like:

m3

There is no air conditioning and 30 degrees Celsius is common inside the trains. Most of these wagons were built in the seventies, and some of them have actually caught fire during service.

 

4. National Tobacco Stores

tob

A National Tobacco Store. The graffiti reads: “Don’t take us for fools!” Photo: 444.hu

Budapest is littered with so called National Tobacco Stores – they are exclusively licensed to sell tobacco products. These are one of the many corruption scandals linked to the Orbán-government. A Fidesz mayor was caught on tape deliberating who is worthy of license in his town – based on loyalty to Fidesz. As a result, many shop owners have lost their businesses. The chief prosecutor – nominated by Fidesz – declined to investigate. If you purchase something in one of these shops you are supporting a business of cronies.

Personally, I am disgusted every time I see one of these shops – for me they are a symbol of government-sponsored robbery and corruption.

By the way – the Orbán-government loves to name all things Nemzeti (national) probably because it makes them look patriotic.

5. Political propaganda financed with public money

Big poster signs of immigrant-bashing and anti-Brussels messages financed with public funds can be seen everywhere.

dv

Ever since the migration crisis hit Hungary last summer, Orbán has competed with the far-right Jobbik party for the nationalist votes. This is also a useful tool for avoiding to talk about the dismal state Hungary is currently in (see previous comments).

The public broadcaster is churning out propaganda masqueraded as news. One case tells it all: Dániel Papp, a journalist working for the public broadcaster falsified a report with the intent to embarrass a foreign critic of Orbán. When he was exposed, instead of getting the sack, he was promoted. (But at least it’s now legal to call him a news falsifier (hírhamisító) because he lost a court case against it.

The state broadcaster’s new coverage of the recent teachers’ protest was biased, portraying the demonstrators as stooges for the opposition – which in Fidesz’s world view means ‘serving foreign interests’.

6. Crony capitalism

One of the major oligarchs is Lajos Simicska. He used to be friends with Viktor Orbán, their relationship goes back decades. Before falling out with Orbán, Simicska used to win major government contracts and tenders. The reason behind his success was that the government wanted to create Hungarian capitalists – Hungarians with capital. Now that Simicska and Orbán are not friends anymore, his companies are apparently not Hungarian enough for the state. There are new winners – from among Orbán’s friends and family.

A company owned by Orbán’s son-in-law, for instance, has won major contracts for street lights in cities run by Fidesz. As the Hungarian Spectrum writes:

work in Zalaegerszeg, which seems to have been less than satisfactory. In some parts of the city it is pitch dark, while in others pedestrians have difficulty navigating because the streetlights shine only on the road, leaving the sidewalks practically unlighted.”

This is a video from a mid-sized town after they equipped it with new street lights. It is a ride downtown, not in the outskirts. Pedestrians are not visible, zebra crossings caused accidents in the days after the new lights went up. Eventually, traffic cops had to be stationed at zebra crossings to escort pedestrians across the street.

The biggest problem with crony capitalism and corruption in Hungary is that the products are substandard and overpriced. Decent businesses lose while a few oligarchs are enriched and so called intellectuals funded by the taxpayers create an ideology, wanting us to believe that all this is for the good of the nation.

7. The so-called democratic opposition – the pillars of Orbán’s illiberal state

When Fidesz rewrote the election laws before the 2014 general election, it was clear that it favored the ruling party. And Fidesz did indeed win a 2/3 majority, while obtaining less the 50% of the popular vote. If I remember correctly, the opposition held a press conference, where the socialists’ and their allies’ key message was to join forces in order to beat Fidesz. While their rhetoric claimed that this was almost a dictatorship, they behaved like it was still a liberal democracy.

By opting to stay in the parliament and participate in elections under the rules written by Fidesz, they continue to legitimize Orbán’s state. With their cooperation it’s almost guaranteed that Fidesz will “win” the next general election and nothing will change in the near future.

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138 thoughts on “7 Reasons I Am Leaving Hungary

  1. July 2017, and everything is still pretty much as you described, including the metro – how can they charge 350 for a single ticket on that crap. No air conditioners anywhere (I presume that they are too expensive to run), not just the metro, turning a few days in the city during summer akeen to burning in hell for eternity. People openly ramaging the bins day and night, poverty is everywhere to be seen. All in all, it is an abysmal difference from nearby countries like Czech, for example.

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  3. You have mentioned Jobbik as a party like fidesz and a far-right party (it is actually in te middle right and it is a people’s party) when its actually the only hope for Hungary. The Hungarian Socialist Party has FAILED. Fidesz has FAILED. Jobbik is the Future. They have great program, they even started a civil initiative for wages. Their motto is: Equal wages for equal work! I am with them.

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  6. All capitalist governments are corrupt, that’s the whole point of a ‘liberal democracy’: to serve the ruling class. Whether it’s Orban’s friends and relatives or multinational corporations, it doesn’t really matter. In fact, Orban’s friends and relatives are probably preferable: at least they’re somewhat likely have a stake in the country’s future.

    The main problem, imo, is post-communist (and especially EU) neoliberalism, and Orban has been good, a champion really, in resisting the EU and the IMF. As they say now: the German banks are worse than the Russian tanks. Oh well…

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    • Why am I not surprised that a seemingly Chinese person is praising Viktor Órban’s policy and government, known that this person comes from a country which is the biggest developping economy of the modern world, development that is linked to huge environmental damage, iron-handed comunist policies and some of the worst working conditions amongst developping economies?

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  7. Thanks for the article,
    i wish you luck with your new life.
    Regards from France (which i will be leaving soon, its getting out of control here also)

    Liked by 1 person

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  12. I moved to Slovakia in December 2007 and left to return to the UK in February 2015. I came across exactly the same situation there. I worked at a German IT managed service provider as a manager which was poorly paid. I could see everywhere that EU money was being used to enrich the politicians and their buddies by not following the tendering process properly for capital projects and using sub-standard materials, meaning that their buddies would get the contracts and they could skim money off the top. Giant international companies were depressing wages with the promise of a job and then cutting back on pay rises and benefits. Loads of money being spent on improving town mayoral buildings, pathways and roads, but not doing anything to improve hospitals, schools, unemployment and the lives of normal people… If you wonder why Eastern Europeans come to the UK, this is why. They see no change from the Soviet era, they want to work, they want to support their family, whilst the EU panders to the international companies because it enables them to conduct their business at a lower cost.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. You should inform your hungarian brothers from Transylvania that are always unhappy about their life in Romania…We often told them to relocate to Hungary if they are so unpleased in Romania but nobody is in a hurry to relocate ! Now I understand why….Anyway now I live in south east of Romania/Dobrogea region and there are here 20 nationalities that never ask for more rights and were never unpleased..We always have problems only with hungarians???

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    • That is what you Romanians would want, would not you? To make Hungarians force to leave Transylvania. So typical… Instead of giving the same rights for Hungarians, you would rather want them chase away from their homeland. “Assuring the same rights” for all nationalities a la Romania way…

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    • Ce lucru neplăcut de spus! Trebuie să știți că ungurii au acest obicei prost pentru a se plânge de viața lor. Mai mult, sunt destul de convins că românii ca voi faceți lucrurile mai rău pentru ei. Deci, nu fi atât de xenofob, nu-i așa?

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  15. i’m full of typos today – ‘here’ instead of ‘hear’ and ‘sense’ instead of ‘since’.. autocorrect on the iphone methinks.

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  16. I am a Hungarian living in the USA for 20+ years . I left because I had no chance for a reasonable good life , as a physician I didn’t see that health care in Hungary will ever improve and I couldn’t stand the corruption. Unfortunately corruption is a ” vital ” part of Hungarian life not just politics . I am politically conservative and based on my experience with socialism and the injustice what was made by the communist government of Hungary to my family I could never support a socialist government . I believe in free – not corrupt- capitalism. I was at the Hero’s square in 1989 when Orban gave his first major revolutionary speach against communism and Soviet imperialism . I still remember that day. I looked up at Orban and with all my heart I believed he is a hero , comparable to the Herod of 1956. Unfortunately what happened since than in Hungary is depressing and disappointing . It is even more disappointing that there is not much hope for any change. Mr Gyurcsany and his fellow socialists – regardless of their party affiliation are not a bit better .
    May be one day a charismatic and skilled politician , honest and not corrupt , will arise – lets hope for it!

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    • I still living in Hungary. I don’t know for how long:)
      You mentioned 89’s Orban, he transformed. Now he look like exactly that middle aged/corrupt/disappointing/ communist leader he spoken up against back then. Like to communist did, he looks for enemies everywhere, this is the permanent revolution against something to reach nothing. Building fear in the citizens and acting like the savior who is protecting the country form György Soros/migrants/Brussel/ any random group and person. Why this is the main message? This is the only way to keep the leadership and collect as much wealth as he and his family members/close friends can.
      Hungary is more kleptocracy than democracy.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Ah Hungary, the Barney Gumble of Europe. A heaven for tourist, hell (percieved) for its people. There is so much potential in Hungary, but that does not mean anything when half the population is in denial and thinks everything should be kept as is, while the other half is desperate for change but only see that coming through moving to another country. Both are wrong and Hungarian “optimism” is what is at fault. Seriously Hungary, your favorite past time activity is to bring eachother down, either through alcohol or pessimism. When I go to Hungary I see much good stuff going on, so great many scientific achievements, such a cool culture, such lovely down earth people, such arcitechture, and the food and wine. But its only there for someone to bring down by either by words or actions. My Hungarian friends, as much as I love them, I always see them carrying this negativity about their country with them. Let. It. Go! This is your only and by far biggest problem, tune your attitude a little more to the positive side and see magic happening in the long run. Believe that you can have an impact on how things work by changing mentality, the way it is now people do shitty things because it is already “shitty”. Yeah, that and alcohol, alcohol is hurting your country all too much, but that is no news story.

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    • I think the country’s national anthem has a lot to do with the people’s mentality. Please someone put in a petition to change the Hungarian national anthem to something inspiring in a different way.
      Have something positive and dynamic rather than a funeral song. Imagine kids grow up listening to this depressing lyrics day in day out feeling beaten even before starting out on their lives.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Well guess what: the original anthem had a slightly faster tempo. It’s been slowed down after (mostly the French, but also the British a bit) have mandated the shrinkage of the country to 1/3 its original size and ceding purely Hungarian-populated areas to foreign countries (yes, Trianon).

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    • So pathetic to here this continual whingeing about Trianon so many years later. Grow a pair. Take some steps to make some improvements to the country you DO have instead being a crybaby about the country you no longer possess.

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    • First of all I commented on the reason why does the Hungarian anthem sound like a “funeral song”. Second of all you obviously have no idea what are you talking about. You know nothing about my background (or country of origin) and you automatically associate my facts-stating with “whining” about Trianon. Has the anthem’s tempo been slowed down (by Dohnányi I think) after Trianon? Yes, it has. Did the country “shrink” to 1/3 its original size? You bet! What’s whining about this?

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    • it was not immediately clear to me that you were merely mentioning these simply as factual statements when I read your post. My apologies. I lived in Budapest for about 5 years after the change.. and have visited many times sense.. the depressed, heads-bowed recitations of the Hymnusz on New Year’s Eve and constantly being reminded by 21st C. Hungarians that they have a lot to be sad about today because of the treaty of trianon so long ago before they or even their parents were born.. it just got to be a little much at times. It did often seem like whingening (british-ese take on ‘whining’) that served no other purpose than to be another excuse by young smart, vital Hungarians can’t seem to get it together to take their country back and to make an effort to improve things in their own lifetime.

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