‘Hungarians must open their eyes to the world’

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Thirty months into Hungary’s EU membership, it has become clear that the prospect of a far larger labour market has failed to enthuse the country’s workforce. EURACTIV’s Hungarian partner portal EURACTIV.hu talked to István Hegedüs, sociologist and chairman of the Hungarian Europe Society.

The government’s estimates say that only 50,000 to 60,000 workers – one to two percent of the working population – venture abroad. That percentage is a lot lower than in Hungary’s neighbouring countries. 

There are no exact figures, but still it is obvious that workers’ mobility is relatively low in Hungary. Most workers are reluctant to even move from the eastern part of the country to the west for a new job, and there are several reasons for that. Looking at the turmoil we are currently experiencing, it may seem odd, but one of the reasons for the lack of cross-border mobility is that economic indicators and unemployment rates are not as bad as in some regions of our neighbouring countries. 

 

In Hungary’s history , there have been periods when emigration was quite important… 

Yes, that was the case a hundred years ago, towards the end of the Habsburg monarchy, and then again after the revolution in 1956, when a lot of people left the country for political or economic reasons. 

Nowadays, many more people want to emigrate from Poland, from Romania and Bulgaria than from Hungary. The language problem is one of the reasons for this immobility. And then, of course, there is Hungarian’s traditional attachment to property, to real estate – they just can’t stand the idea of selling that. 

 

Do you think Hungarians can afford to stay that traditional? 

No, there are of course big economic changes going on. In those professions where professional skills go together with language skills and where there is a chance of finding a job in western Europe, migration is already taking place. There has been a lot of talking about the phenomenon of ‘brain-drain’. Recently, the discussion has focused on doctors going to work abroad for better salaries. They prefer the UK, and for some of them it even pays to go there just for the weekends.

 

What about the younger generation? 

A lot of Hungarian students go abroad for their studies, for example with the Erasmus programme or for PhD courses. We will experience that more and more in the future. I think that universities should motivate those people with extra scholarships and there should be more and more university partnerships. 

Living abroad is an ‘eye opener’. It is most important for the country not to be introverted and provincial. Hungarians should know what happens in the rest of the world.

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