Findings of “Social Watch” in Hungary

The Party of the European Left organized a mapping of the social situation in various countries of member parties. In April it was Hungary – one of the so called post-communist countries. The author, living in Prague, took the opportunity to compare the Hungarian reality with the situation in the Czech Republic.

On the one hand you may say that in its qualitative parameters, the Hungarian situation is rather similar to that of other post-communist countries. The difference could lie in the greater emphasis that is placed on the national aspect of things and the means of resolving problems and social tensions with the predomination of instruments of power. It is more Eurosceptic and resistant to the dictates of the “Euro-powerful,” but is also strongly anti-communist and anti-socialist. There are also historical memories and certain traditions making themselves felt here. The trend is moving towards a more authoritarian society that works for the benefit of only a certain (albeit) relatively large segment of the population. This segment has been giving the governing regime long-term, stable majority support (which still ensures FIDESZ an election victory approaching 50% as opposed to half that level of support for the Socialists at present and around one sixth support for the populist-fascistic JOBIK party).
All the parties whom I met criticised the FIDESZ government and gave examples to illustrate the deterioration of the situation. But opposition forces are politically diverse and the question is whether there is more to unite them than just anti-government repugnance. 
Specific findings from a visit to the village of Vinár in Western Hungary show a typical situation. In this village with 243 inhabitants (including two Roma families) with an annual budget of 26 million Forint and job opportunities in agriculture only (cattle, milk production), there are just five formally registered unemployed people and 14 people receiving social assistance. A large segment of employed people are working for very low wages that do not cover the cost of living. The village itself is not able to invest in development or to even invest in simple reproduction. Economically, it is living off the past (including the communist past) and is becoming progressively poorer. It is primarily the young who are leaving to find work elsewhere (which includes going abroad). Crime levels are low. As regards the immediate situation, it is not too problematic. From a long-term perspective, if no change is made to the existing system, then major problems will arise.
You could find other places in Europe (primarily in Central and Eastern Europe), which are quite similar eaven in terms of the level of poverty, with of course specific national characteristics and a rise in society-wide tensions.
Besides the “national card,” the Hungarian reality differs from the Czech situation in terms of the use of harsh instruments of power and the manner in which people who are incapable or who do not want to “fall in line” are dealt with. Democratic principles and methods of government are falling by the wayside. In the Czech Republic, however, it is more traditional to make use of “soft power.”
In the Hungarian milieu, the concept of excluding certain elements of the population according to their social or ethnic status has been implemented. (It is necessary to underline that this has been done with the consent of a considerable portion of citizens.) In its own way, the state continues to “punish” the unsuccessful, and it restricts them in their human rights. Nonetheless, it is also implementing a certain kind of “social” policy for the benefit of a portion of. It presents itself as the protector of Hungarian national interests in the face of “malevolent” globalising forces. In Hungary, as in the Czech Republic, corruption exists, as do transfers of finances to firms and institutions linked to the governing elite, clientelism, etc. The social welfare of the underclass is more a matter for charity (non-state, church, and civic organisations). Naturally, this is not a strategic solution in the Left’s view. It is possible to substantiate this with a number of very shocking examples of poverty, which exists in many other EU countries as well. At present, one can see increasing indoctrination in educational institutions as well as the consolidation of clerical tendencies The Hungarian situation demonstrates that citizens (in post-communist countries) are mostly prepared to compromise their demands for democracy in exchange for greater social security (or at least the promise of this). And they are sacrificing certain groups of the population as well as their rights and social and living conditions in order to achieve this.
All of this bears witness to the need for a more proactive search to find ways out of the socio-political crisis in post-communist societies. It is significant that no current impulses were mentioned with which the united European Left is striving to gain the initiative (e.g. Alter Summit). This knowledge should become the impulse for further consideration of the focus of political activities, both within the framework of the Party of the European Left and transform! as well as other European left-wing entities.