Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Editors' Choice, Education, Europe, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Migration & Refugees, TerraViva Europe

Migration & Refugees

Hungary Losing Its Best and Brightest

BUDAPEST, May 23 2013 (IPS) - As the European Union accuses Hungary of shifting towards authoritarianism, a spike in emigration from the country has led many to speak of a politically motivated exodus. Others suggest that economic conditions play a role in the westward flow of brainpower that is leaving Hungary’s future uncertain.

Passengers wait at Nyugati ("Western") train station in Budapest, Hungary. Credit: Zoltán Dujisin/IPS

Passengers wait at Nyugati (“Western”) train station in Budapest, Hungary. Credit: Zoltán Dujisin/IPS

Observers agree that ever since the conservative party Fidesz won a two-thirds majority in parliament in 2010, the government has taken many steps to concentrate power, including by limiting the independence of the judiciary as well as freedom of speech.

The government also approved a new constitution that enshrines the values of Christianity, family and patriotism, having drafted it without consulting other parties or civil society groups.

“We are thinking of leaving the country,” says Sára, a young mother in her thirties who lives in Újlipotváros, one of Budapest’s preferred districts among the liberal intelligentsia and middle classes. “My partner, my fourteen-month-old child and I are no longer considered a family under the new constitution,” she explains.

“It’s not just that we can’t pay taxes together. The feeling also makes us mad – with what right does this government say we are not a family? While the rest of Europe is enlarging the definition of family to even include homosexuals, we are going in the opposite direction.”

Many have already made the decision Sára is now considering, but the real reasons behind the emigration phenomenon remain the object of a heated political debate.

While official estimates state that 300,000 Hungarians live abroad, Gyorgy Matolcsy, governor of the Central Bank, recently spoke of half a million Hungarians leaving their homeland in recent years, which would constitute 5 percent of Hungary’s population of 10 million.

Currently about 250,000 Hungarians are registered abroad, although real numbers are likely higher because many migrants do not want authorities to know they left in order not to preclude current or future state benefits.

Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom are the preferred destinations for these immigrants. London may be home to up to 200,000 Hungarians, so many that it is popularly referred to as the second largest Hungarian city.

"My partner, my fourteen-month-old child and I are no longer considered a family under the new constitution."
-- Sára, a young mother

Yet unlike other countries in the post-communist region, Hungarians have traditionally resisted migrating, partly due to the strength of Hungary’s social safety net, but also for cultural reasons.

Politicians are struggling to explain why this tendency has suddenly changed. The debate has erupted around the worrisome 56 percent of students who consider leaving Hungary, a group that has often participated in international programs and can easily integrate in Western European labour markets.

“The issue has become politicised, but it is underlined by economic and structural factors,” Béla Soltész, a migration researcher at Corvinus University in Budapest, told IPS.

“There is an opposition discourse which blames the phenomenon on bad management by the government, particularly in the education sector, whereas the government pushes the view that those leaving the country are becoming unfaithful to it, putting their individualistic and materialistic needs in front of the good of the country,” Soltész says.

“Both are simplifying the issue,” he adds. “This is a 10-year phenomenon that began gradually with the opening of the European Union’s labour market. In some ways Hungary is catching up with the region.”

Although reliable data on them are lacking, many of the emigrants are well-educated opposition sympathisers with access to social media, which gives greater visibility to the “best and brightest” in the debate.

Some in this group have been affected by recent educational reforms – especially since students now have to sign contracts in order to benefit from state support as they go through their education and must pay back this support if they move abroad.

But in a country where doctors make an average of 700 euros per month, the role of high unemployment and a lack of economic and professional prospects may be more significant than political discontent.

Hungary’s gross domestic product decreased by 1.7 percent in 2012 and no growth is expected in 2013. Unemployment now exceeds 10 percent and is three times higher in the case of the younger generation.

“People with technical formation can nowadays very easily compare their salary with that of their peers in Norway, the UK or Holland, where pay can be ten times higher. And then they may blame the government for these differences,” Soltész told IPS.

While recent youth migration may be short-term, the growth in Hungarian professional networks abroad might turn it into a more permanent phenomenon in the future, Soltész warned. “The most skilled and bright are leaving and the remittances are not that high.”

“Reinsertion could be difficult because the labor market is very informally structured,” Soltész noted. “Qualifications obtained abroad are less important or understood than personal contacts.”

“And we don’t know what will happen to the people who do their whole education abroad and build their professional contacts there.”

Republish | | Print |

  • Corrigator

    I wonder how Sára would react if the definition of family would be enlarged so that it also includes one cat, one dog and the bombshell blonde neighbor…..besides, the opposition parties would have been consulted, had they chosen to participate in the debate, instead of being absent from the process.

  • xerxes

    Reason that someone leaves his homeland because the definition of the family in the constitution is simply stupid. Not to say reasons about the political situatition in Hungary 🙂 This articel and Sara’s (if she really lives) testimonial is ridiculous.

  • Bishop5

    She is trying to make up a reason, having a completely different reason, which is most likely financial difficulties.The reason she said what she said, is because the Hungarian government as well as “patriots” systematize those who leave as being a “traitor”. So she made up an excuse and anyway, if that would be her reason, she will be very disappointed with any nation in the West with laws regarding gays have already been passed..

  • Bishop5

    The country is severely broke. It’s the most taxes country in the EU. The government is trying to keep a tight lid on, that how severe the poverty is. Just because it’s not front page news like Greece, the situation could be just as bad. The reason for the authoritarian government is to keep the propaganda going, because once someone looks a bit harder what is going on, they are going to be horrified by how bad it is.

  • Someone

    LOL, what a ridiculous conclusion. The western civilization is in front of a big collapse.

  • Bela

    I think Hungary still has quite low migration rates when compared to other countries in eastern Europe. I’m not totally sure why this is as there’s been pretty bleak employment prospects in many parts of the country since the early 1990s. It might be to do with language – many Hungarians don’t speak any English at all.

  • Steven

    Good Morning,

    “Hungary is loosing its best and brightest…”

    What a worrisome an eye catching title!

    In Hungary you’ll go to school for free, which is a nice arrangement for the Hungarian kids! Since the Hungarian Tax Payers pay for your education it is about time and only fair for the Government to set some ground rules regarding educational expenses and giving back to he community. In the event that after graduation you immediately wish to leave the Country and offer your services to other Countries that didn’t contribute a cent towards your education; than it’s only fair for you to pay it back.

    It is totally unfair that you’ll get your degree for free on the back of the Hungarian Tax payers and you aren’t willing to give back to the system that educated you. Year after year this process repeats itself on the back and detriment of the Hungarian Tax Payers sucking the system dry and without resources by becoming a free shop for Austria, Germany the U.K. and others by providing trained professionals on the back of the Hungarian Tax Payers.
    I believe that is wise and absolutely necessary to set some ground rules and have
    graduating students pay for their education, if they choose to leave after graduating and work in other Countries. There is nothing wrong with the Hungarian Constitution (it was about time to amend a Constitution that was written by a repressive communist regime).

    If I would tell American kids that you can get a free College Education in Hungary they just wouldn’t believe it…

    In my humble opinion it does not matter where you live today, Europe or America. The standard of living of the average citizen got reduced to a level where you run like a rabbit just to survive or keep whatever you accumulated in the past 30 years. If you live in Western Europe you’ll be spending your earnings on rent food, transportation, insurance packages and you’ll end up with very little. If you’ll live in Hungary you’ll earn less, you’ll live at home close to your friends and loves ones, church and you’ll contribute and build a better community. In America the Personal Pension Plans (401K) got wiped out in 2009, the house market which supposed to be your other safety net got also devalued 30%, 40% to 60% this depending where you live on the continental U.S. In other words: we went through a simplification process where the money man cut 3 zeros from the bottom line, you ended up with nothing and they ended up with 3 less zeros. The chance of being the master of your own future was taken away from you, now you’ll be running with fear and worries and you will be accepting any available offer and be thankful that you aren’t in the streets at your old age.

    In America your education isn’t free! Your parents would start saving money for your college education from the time you were born. In case that your parents aren’t doing so, you will be borrowing money when the time comes for your college education from the Banks that you’ll be paying back with an 8% percent interest if you’re lucky. An other option would be to join the military for 5 years and if you’ll make it back home alive you’ll earn some money towards your college expenses.

    To become a Medical Doctor in America you’ll pay hundreds of thousands of
    US Dollars and you’ll work your ass off trying to pay your loans back.

    And let’s do not talk about Health Insurance in America where 50 million people live
    without it and mothers who do have Health Insurance receive 6 weeks of time off
    from work when they are delivering their babies.

    Good Luck to everyone!

  • Delt4

    How fortunate for leaders that men do not think

  • Dr. Strange

    Stop your scaremongering. Fidesz is doing it’s best to avoid further austerity measures that the IMF is asking them to implement (with success). Fidesz lowered utility costs beginning of this year and will lower further later this year. GDP is up this year, Deficit is one of the lowest in Europe and new ties with Eastern countries (slovenia, qatar, china, etc) are being made by Fidesz every other week to strenghten the economy. The situation is much better then in Greece.

    i think you are being paid to spread lies or you are simply not well informed (which should discourage you to write comments on this subject)

    Either way you failed in life.

  • Steven

    Where is my message that I posted earlier?

  • Steven

    Where is my message that I posted earlier today?

  • Randy McDonald

    Why is Sara’s complaint ridiculous? If her country doesn’t recognize her family as a family, while there are other countries she can go which would, she has an incentive to leave.

  • emwatcher

    Life in Hungary is reportedly ugly for many people. Roma in particular are being singled out for victimization, often by physical violence as well as economic discrimination. Not only does the government seem at best indifferent to the Roma people’s plight, the rise of the neo-fascist Jobbik party and its paramilitary wing is downright scary. The story doesn’t say why Sara’s family is not recognized but we can conclude it must be a mixed marriage. No wonder she’s thinking of leaving.

  • Firebird

    This article is written in a manner which makes it seem like Hungary is deliberately trying to make people leave. The entire region is struggling with massive emigration; Londoners have come to actually hate Polish people due to the amount of immigrants from Poland in the UK. Massive exodus characterizes Romania more than any country in east-central Europe. Hungary has had an incredibly tough last twenty-or-so years (aside from the previous sixty which were even worse), and is doing the best to move forward, but with certain politicians in the EU trying to tear her a new one all the time, it’s quite difficult.

    Anyways, this emigration “issue” isn’t remotely isolated to Hungary. Also, how is Hungary “losing its best and brightest”? Does every immigrant invent a cure to a disease?

great writing 5