Do you know that cushy, self-affirming feeling you get when you read about a freedom fighter, whistleblower, or anyone who stood up against the abuse of power and accepted the consequences? Because she believed there is a greater duty than following orders, that it is wrong to comply with a morally wrong law, that she has to speak up or explain to her children why she hadn’t done anything.
How long does that feeling last?
Can you remember the last whistleblower you quietly cheered for for a second – then went back to your work?
Do you seriously think that your knowing about the scandal – the corruption, the genocide or the abuse of power she brought to your attention – does anything to improve the world? What do you think happened to her after that article was published? Your government lent her a helping hand? Those pesky, do-gooder civilians saved her somehow? She was celebrated? Was her financial survival was crowdfunded? Was she allowed to at least keep her job?
For many people out there, keeping their job is not a pride issue but an existential one. The ever-shrinking global middle class has less and less savings. Compound that with having a family and you have the toxic combination of a motivation and an excuse to shrug off responsibility for the future and the state of society. They have to feed the children today – who could blame them?
Journalists in the US still poke fun at Trump, and many I’m sure have no concept of losing their job for it – let alone not being able to find another job or compensated on the grounds of unfair dismissal. But their exposure might deepen and get to the point where you rather don’t raise your head up from the mud, don’t support whistleblowers and freedom fighters, not even in your own head, and pass it on to your children as a rational necessity for survival.
Mária Sándor, the “nurse in black” is one such whistleblower. She didn’t expose any secrets, everyone knew that the healthcare system is dangerous. It kills more than traffic accidents and smoking combined. But she wanted to raise attention. Not to the corruption of doctors, but the alarming underfinancing of hospitals by the government. Hungary has free healthcare – which naturally became a lethal, bureaucratic sinkhole for public money over time. The government spends undisclosed fortunes on building football stadiums and heating the grass in them – while refuses to finance the healthcare system. You may argue whether a government has a lot to do with financing healthcare, but if they collect 30-50% of your salary for this purpose, they better buy a few aspirins, band-aids or disinfectant on your dime. Or at least pay the doctors and nurses.
Mária Sándor is a nurse and thus not allowed to go on strike. Her conscience would also stop her from leaving her patients or not take on countless, unpaid extra shifts – if the alternative is that those patients might die. Not all nurses are angels, but many of them are forced to be super-altruistic and work for nearly free just to keep hospitals together for now. And their job is more and more assisting mass-murder than providing recovery. Anonymous healthcare workers complained about diluted disinfectant, medical equipment bought on their own money, everyone knows that the waiting lists are longer than the outlook for sufferers of certain ailments if the go untreated. The government considers it natural selection and goes back to building stadiums in Croatia as well.
Mária Sándor’s take-home pay could not be more than a few hundred euros, even after endless shift work. When the minister was obnoxiously scolding nurses at a press conference for demanding more pay and a journalist enlightened him on how much they make – all he could ask in surprise was:
So if you are a nurse in Hungary, you better catch a rich husband to finance your silly little hobby, my dear. And be very nice to him after your 18-hour shift because you will need his money to buy your travel card to work.
Mária Sándor decided to express her protest and raise awareness. Having no other platform, she decided to start wearing black for work. That’s it. That was her sin.
For a while she tried to raise awareness. Once she even blocked a car lane on a bridge for a whole of 5 minutes, hardly enough for the press to take their photos – and duly received her punishment for unannounced protesting and blocking vital infrastructure. She had to rake leaves in public work for a few days. (Mind you, it was the same week bouncer-looking taxi drivers blocked the entire freaking city for days to shut down competition from Uber – and they got what I wanted. And didn’t rake a single leaf in punishment. Nurses’ husbands I guess.)
The media was delighted by Sándor. She looked good on the photos, she spoke with passion. Years of hard work and desperate efforts were showing on her face. She had credibility, integrity and authenticity. Your perfect campaign material…
She even went to and spoke at some protests organised by the leaderless opposition. Always the same drill: Burned-out protesters marching on despite having lost hope a long time ago. Their leaders either genuine idiots or bought off by Orbán – but unable to even stand on the podium next to one another. Sándor’s words are applauded – and then nothing happens.
Naturally, she was hit by disciplinary action and dismissed from her job. Her few-hundred-euros-a-month job. So she was probably supposed to fall back on her savings – just kidding.
With a pond this shallow she can’t get a job that is not related to the state or where the owners would risk confrontation for employing her. In a bigger country, there may be many levels of employment that can be navigated without political loyalty to the regime – but in a small and poor country, even the receptionist is someone’s relative and a loyalist. Even receptionists get fired when a new government comes in.
Eventually political mudslinging had reached Sándor. Not used to the idiocy and spinelessness of political movements, she was taken by surprise, tried to move forward nonetheless – but eventually gave up.
“I am not a leader. I believe everyone, then I realize that they just wanted to use me for their own purposes. I used to think that people were good. But I realized they aren’t. Most of them are selfish, exactly because of the poverty they live in, because of the constant scarcity and injustice they have to face. They were disappointed in me and I was disappointed in them.”
She attempted suicide.
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