The inexplicable phenomenon of people hating on hospitals just to be able to keep supporting Orbán.
There are countless terrible stories about the slow death of Hungarian state healthcare. So much so that I don’t even know where to begin. Every anecdote triggers the predictable accusation that I’m cherry-picking, while aggregate numbers are beyond comprehension – and feel meaningless. Foreigners to whom this blog is written don’t know whom to believe, and I can understand them. The images are too horrendous to believe.
In the meantime Orbán’s media started a “Not a stadium” campaign, listing all sorts of infrastructure developments that (you guessed) are not stadiums. Among them they claim many hospital-related developments – but mostly just buildings. Their cronies operate building companies, not sophisticated medical corporations. They build, they steal, the rest of healthcare is too complicated. Overpricing a diagnostic machine by, say, Siemens is too obvious and it has a very low theft margin. They may only get a few million out of it. Overpricing a construction is way above everyone’s head. A billion here and there doesn’t even register anymore.
But the success-propaganda is there to provide ammunition for the supporters who are desperate to win arguments.
The healthcare system is not a good sector for juicy and easy public money theft – so it doesn’t get much public money. At least not at home. Since December 2108, Orbán sent 5 millions to supposedly build a hospital in Syria, pledged to finance the operation of three other Syrian hospitals for a year for 1.7 million euros, and announced to build an oncology hospital in Vietnam for 60 million euros. And that’s just off the top of my head.
But before your charitable feelings take the best of you, please note that the spending of taxpayer money is even less monitored in Syria than it is in Hungary. And that is to say something. It is not impossible that as much as 100% of the money sent to Syria can be stolen back by cronies, as there is absolutely no mechanism through which anyone can check that the promised hospitals had been built or equipped – and that it was indeed on Hungarian taxpayer dime. Not even some lame and deniable anecdotal evidence as I am pretty sure that the good people of Syria will not be sending photos to Hungarian independent media outlets just because they are well-informed about the financing situation in their countries and find the time to complain. Public money theft is a first world problem.
But again, hospitals elsewhere are straws for Orbán-supporters to cling to if they are desperate to defend him, the inevitable.
The Orbán-government and its cronies are not that keen on showing their love for healthcare. A minimal wage increase for healthcare workers would cost approximately 100 million euros, less than the government spent on its “Hungary is performing better!” campaign last year. To bring Hungarian hospitals up to the regional average, approximately 2 billion euros would be necessary.
In the meantime, the Orbán-regime spent 1.1 billion euros on stadiums (conservative estimate) between 2010-20 – from the same pocket – and allowed 4.9 billion euros of corporate income tax to go straight to sport clubs (mostly football) between 2011-18. They stubbornly insist on calling the latter “private money” in front of foreigners.
Orbán an his oligarchs and officials have repeatedly displayed hostile attitude towards hospitals and doctors, not least because they regularly cry for help and thus ruin the otherwise smooth success-propaganda. A state secretary reacted to yet another call to finance healthcare with a call to build more stadiums. The nation’s fitness guru even dismissed hospitals as “they don’t bring a nation together” – unlike football – after watching Hungary beating Austria (2:0) at the Euro 2016. But he does well under this regime. Other cronies and officials who blast healthcare and blame hospitals for not being able to do it for less are all on the payroll of the regime, their companies get orders, their loyalty pays off. So we understand why they do it. But the victims? The people who try with all their might to avoid hospitals? Who pay their last money to doctors as bribes? Who buy everything from medicine to toilet paper for their family in hospitals. What about them?
The most puzzling displays of hatred towards healthcare comes from regular commoners, supporters of Orbán, to whom nothing ever trickles down from the country’s much-advertised economic success, but who are exposed to the weaknesses of the chronically underfinanced and understaffed healthcare system. Yet, even they find it in themselves to defend Orbán. If you don’t understand why, please run through this primer on how seeing no way out and feeling helpless makes the mind hysterically and irrationally support the inevitable.)
The sad thing is that they don’t dare to claim that anything is right in hospitals. Entire departments are shutting down, nurses are impossible to find, and doctors who stayed behind are either overworked or corrupt and thrive in this swamp. A simple look at hospitals would ridicule that line of argument.
What they do instead is displaying hatred for healthcare, try to slander the last remaining warriors who try to keep it running, blame hospitals for costing money, and blame patients for … whatever.
When a private individual got angry at the sight of mothers sleeping on the floor next to their sick children in hospitals and crowdsourced hundreds of fold-up beds an angry reader wrote a letter to the site that published the story:
“Hospitals are not hotels. Period.”