The covid-19 vaccination in HungaryThe coronavirus infection rate is dropping rapidly throughout Hungary thanks to a steadily increasing rate of COVID-19 vaccination. From a peak of around 10,000 daily new cases in March 2021, as of June Hungary sees fewer than 200 daily new cases.

In May, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas announced that Hungary will not join the new vaccination deal. As part of the deal, Pfizer and BioNTech will provide an additional 2.6 billion doses throughout the European Union (EU). Hungary is the only EU country that has opted out of the deal.

According to Gulyas, the Hungarian government is confident in its current supply. Gulyas stated that in the event a booster becomes necessary, “there are plenty of vaccines from Eastern and Western sources as well.”  Orban used his strong ties with Russia and China to purchase and deploy vaccines from those countries even before the EU approved them.

Vaccination Campaign Successes

Since January, almost half of Hungarians have received their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As a result, infection rates have declined rapidly across the country. Compared to the rest of the EU, Hungary had a relatively low infection rate throughout the pandemic.  Hungary peaked at about 10,000 new cases per day. In the first week of July, there was an average of 41 new infections reported per day. That’s less than one percent of the daily average during the country’s peak on March 25. Furthermore, the country has seen fewer than one million COVID-19 cases overall.

Hungary has also expanded vaccine eligibility quickly. It is the first EU country to approve vaccination for citizens as young as 16, who are eligible to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech doses. Around 90,000 young people have already registered for the shot, accompanied by parental permission for those under 18. Euronews reported that “according to government plans, by mid-June, all Hungarians willing to get a Western-developed jab can be vaccinated.” Hungary is hoping to be able to vaccinate children as young as age six which would mean virtually all schoolchildren by early fall when school starts.

Low-Income Families and Vaccination

The percentage of Hungarians at risk of poverty has declined steadily in recent years, dropping around 3% from 2013 to 2020.  Hungary’s at-risk poverty rate was 12.3 % in 2020.  COVID-19 has been harsher on the at-risk population, especially the Roma population living in poor settlements.  The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), a human rights non-governmental organization (NGO) advocates for targeted measures to protect the Roma from COVID.  HCLU claims that the Hungarian government has overlooked the fact that the Roma have been more vulnerable to COVID’s economic consequences because they lack any financial reserves and rely on day-to-day odd jobs.

A Promising Start

With half of Hungarians vaccinated and many more eligible, working life is returning to normal, allowing the economy to thrive. As low-income citizens including the Roma get vaccinated, they will be able to return to work without fear of illness. Also, fewer people will lose their jobs due to business closures. This successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign is leading Hungary toward a safe return to life as it used to be. Furthermore, the government is confident that its current supply of vaccine doses can sustain the campaign’s success.

– Riley Prillwitz
Photo: Unsplash

Human Trafficking in HungaryHuman trafficking is an urgent and pressing issue in the Central European nation of Hungary. The U.S. Department of State ranks Hungary as a Tier 2 country, as it is making an effort to rid itself of human trafficking but has yet to meet the baseline requirements. With new legislation and an anti-trafficking strategy in place, Hungary is working toward a future that is free of human trafficking.

Root Causes of Human Trafficking in Hungary

One can trace human trafficking back to three root causes. These include significant unemployment rates, inequity in employment opportunities and poverty. These persisting issues leave people vulnerable to human trafficking ploys as people are often desperate to improve their economic situations.

Hungary is a major source country, which means it provides a supply of traffic victims. Traffickers then transport these victims to other countries, typically located in Western Europe. One out of every five human trafficking victims in Europe is Hungarian. Oftentimes, young girls and women are the victims of sex trafficking in Hungary.

Traffickers sometimes offer victims promises of a relationship with an improved lifestyle. This, however, can turn out to be a marriage scam resulting in traffickers forcing the girls into sex work. Additionally, traffickers exploit men and women alike for cheap labor. This includes construction, agriculture and factory work.

Adults who lack proper education and live in poverty or previously resided in youth detention centers are more prone to become victims of trafficking. Traffickers consider individuals with these backgrounds as “easy pickings.” Traffickers “recruit” their victims based upon an individual’s economic or personal situation and capitalize on those who are vulnerable.

The Role of Social Media

Social media draws many Hungarians into human trafficking via social media. Traffickers post jobs or other opportunities on Facebook and lure at-risk Hungarians into responding to these adverts in hope of a better life. An example of labor exploitation through social media is the story of a Hungarian man named Mahai. He noticed an advert on Facebook for a job in a factory. In reality, this seemingly legitimate factory job involved harvesting vegetables for incredibly low pay and insufficient housing while facing intimidation through threats of murder.

Fighting Human Trafficking in Hungary

More recently, Hungary implemented various measures with the intention of eradicating human trafficking. For example, Hungary is taking action by increasing the number of traffickers indicted and sentencing convicted traffickers to longer terms of imprisonment. Furthermore, the National Police is calling on the expertise of investigators specializing in trafficking.

Along with these improvements, the Hungarian national government created a “national anti-trafficking strategy for 2020-2023” to fight the issue. It distributed $1.8 million toward this plan in 2021 in order to set the strategy into motion. This initiative aims to introduce improved legislation regarding human trafficking in order to make it a more serious crime for perpetrators and to eliminate the criminal repercussions for the victims. Because this strategy is new, however, it is difficult to measure its success at this point.

Hungary is also making efforts to raise awareness for human trafficking and inform the population on how to avoid such situations. For example, several NGOs are launching a “prevention program” exemplifying the harsh realities for the victims of human trafficking in order to make others aware of this crisis.

Hungary still falls short of the United States requirements for the elimination of human trafficking. However, the country is working toward safeguarding Hungarians from becoming victims of this crime. If this trend continues, Hungary will improve its ranking and continue to reduce cases of human trafficking occurring within the country.

– River Simpson
Photo: Flickr

Hungarian COVID-19 Vaccination SuccessCOVID-19 is an infectious disease that emerged in late 2019 after China reported several cases. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Due to unknown characteristics and a large cluster of community transmission of the infection, many countries across the globe struggled to cope with it. Like many other countries worldwide, COVID-19 negatively impacted Hungary. However, the Hungarian COVID-19 vaccination program has seen success.

COVID-19 in Hungary

From January 3, 2020 to May 28, 2021, Hungary registered more than 803,000 confirmed cases. In total, Hungarian authorities registered and reported 29,597 deaths and most of those cases were in the capital city of Budapest. Reports indicated a significant number of cases in Hungary on March 26, 2021, with 11,265 new cases.

State of Emergency in Hungary

Due to the high numbers of COVID-19 cases on March 11, 2020, the Hungarian government declared a state of emergency. During a press conference, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyas said that Hungary may enforce the state of emergency for several months. However, on June 16, 2020, The National Assembly of Hungary canceled the state of emergency. At the same time, the country has strictly controlled the travel and entry restrictions to Hungary. Between March 8 and April 6, 2021, the government of Hungary announced new strict lockdown measures to slow the transmission of COVID-19. During the lockdown, all shops and services closed except food stores, pharmacies and petrol stations. Despite the high number of new infections since April 7, the Hungarian government announced that it would ease the lockdown. The main reason for it is the economic situation of the citizens of Hungary.

Hungarian COVID-19 Vaccination Success

As of April 8, 2021, Hungary vaccinated more than 2.6 million people. For context, the total population of Hungary is more than 9.6 million people. Hungary already provided more than 20% of its population with at least a first dose of a vaccine and more than 1 million people (11% of the population) with their second dose. To compare, the average vaccination rate among 27 E.U. member states was 12.3%.

At the same time, it is important to mention that the Hungarian government approved vaccines from China and Russia. Additionally, the E.U. has been providing Hungary with vaccinations. The Hungarian Prime Minister emphasized that vaccinations will only bring an end to the epidemic. He said that “vaccination is our primary, our only means of defense against the virus.” The Hungarian government plans to ease more restrictions when the number of vaccinated people reaches 2.5 million.

Economic Impact

From the beginning of the lockdown measures, the Hungarian economy’s progress slowed. Unfortunately, the pandemic had a massive impact on Hungary’s national currency (forint) with it reaching an all-time low twice during 2020. Moreover, most cafes and restaurants have closed their doors for several months. Only the cafes and restaurants that can adopt the “take away” system can remain open. As a result, the lockdown measures resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs.

Hungary also hosts many tourists each year. However, because of travel restrictions and lockdown measures, the number of tourists dramatically decreased, subsequently harming businesses and the economy of Hungary.

Moving Forward

Due to COVID-19, Hungary faced economic and social challenges. For several months, the country was under strict lockdown measures. As a result, many people lost their jobs and business owners closed their businesses. The Hungarian government decided that the mass vaccination of the population was the only way out. The number of vaccinated people in the country is significant, showing the success of the Hungarian government’s vaccination program.

Tofig Ismayilzada
Photo: Pixabay

Hungarian Water Pollution CrisisHungary, a landlocked country in Central Europe, ranks among the highest poverty rates in Europe. Nearly 33% of Hungary’s 10 million inhabitants are at risk of complete poverty if they forgo just three months of income. Hungarians with lower income disproportionally face many struggles, including obtaining affordable water. The Hungarian water pollution crisis affects everyone within the country, especially those in poverty, but water sanitation has thankfully seen improvements in recent years. However, there is still a dire need to increase efforts in order to achieve clean water for all.

The Danube River

Because of its landlocked status, Hungary’s primary source of water comes from the Danube River. This groundwater provides water for 90% of the Hungarian population. Additionally, this river basin covers nearly 10% of Europe and extends to 19 countries, providing 80 million people with water. Its water is used for drinking, energy, production, agriculture and transport. Those near Danube River rely heavily on it as a vital resource, but it’s currently not safe to do so. The river poses a threat to those whose utilize it due to the large presence of pollutants.

The river is contaminated with a variety of harmful substances: organic pollution, nutrient pollution, hazardous substance pollution and microbial pollution. The main factor causing this pollution in untreated wastewater. Corporations often have inadequates processes and facilities to properly treat water before releasing into the river basin. The untreated water then flows into villages and smaller cities that typically don’t have the means to purify the water to a safe level. These dangerous conditions make the water unsuitable for consumption, but Hungarians largely have no other options for obtaining water. Aid is needed to bring clean and drinkable water to all Hungarians, especially to those in poverty and in rural areas.

GEOInsight’s Technology for Water Pollution

The Hungarian start-up GEOInsight works to analyze data in a useful and digestible way. Its mission is to find data showcasing areas with heavily polluted water and use absorbents to treat those areas. These absorbents are ecological machines that measure the amount of waste and remove the micropollutants. GEOInsight focuses its efforts on natural adsorbents in water as a way to fight against water pollution.

Hungary’s government as well as the industries dispelling the wastewater can utilize GEOInsight to combat the water pollution in Hungary. GEOInsight can aid these organizations in understanding the data behind the polluted water. GEOInsight can also work with the organizations to help figure out what question needs to be asked in order to solve this water crisis. In addition, GEOInsight can help to create solutions for the problem. To specifically combat the Hungarian water pollution crisis, GEOInsight began developing technologies to detect micropollutants. The organization’s technologies more accurately remove pesticides better than conventional wastewater treatments.

Earlier this year, the start-up partnered with the water waste management company in Hungary, Hungary’s Department of Aquaculture and UTB Envirotec. GEOInsight, through its mission and partnerships, aims to solve the Hungarian water pollution crisis that increases the dangers of thousands of Hungarians on the brink of total poverty.

Hungary’s Partnerships For Progress

Hungary has been striving to clean its water system in a multifaceted approach. Since 2009, Hungary has funded research that seeks solutions to decontaminating the Danube River. It has even looked beyond its borders to try to fix the Hungarian water pollution crisis. Hungary partners with Slovakia to coordinate water quality, Romania to coordinate environmental risks and with the Czech Republic to coordinate energy priority. These intergovernmental measures are vital in the fight for water safety as are the local companies. With continued focus, advocacy and policies directed toward clean water and water accessibility for all, the Hungarian water crisis can finally be put to an end.

Vanessa Morales
Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Serbia
As the Hungarian migrant crisis rages on, migrants and refugees living in Serbia face dangerous conditions in the Serbian winter. Currently, 100 people a day are attempting to get to Hungary from bordering countries such as Serbia and Romania. Many migrants, fleeing wars from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, come in masses to the border to Hungary. There, the country is now erecting a massive fence along its Serbian border.

Between January and July 2020, official records state that 90,000 refugees moved into Serbia and another 103,000 moved into Hungary. The European Union estimates that many more are still undocumented. Hungarian border police are calling this movement a new “migrant surge.”

Hungary’s Borders to Migrants

Hungary has been building its 13-foot high razor-wire fence since the migrant crisis of 2015 when more than a million migrants arrived in Central Europe. According to The New York Times, some see the fence as “a very physical manifestation of the quandary of the migration crisis and the lack of cooperation among European Union nations as they struggle to deal with it.” Hungary has defined this issue as a “state of migrant emergency,” since approximately 400,000 migrants crossed its borders in 2015, a flux of numbers that have since slowed to a trickle.

Migrants often experience horror in the form of police brutality, with those in Hungary having to move back into Serbia. A 14-year old boy told BBC about how police beat him up near the Hungarian border, poured cold water on him and forced him to walk barefoot back into Serbia. Of these accusations, the Hungarian authorities responded to BBC, saying, “Hungarian police and soldiers are defending the Schengen border of the EU for the sixth consecutive year, legally and without violence, against illegal migrants arriving on the Balkan route.”

Refugees living in Serbia, awaiting an opportunity to move into Hungary, are living in dangerous conditions. Without access to food, water or heat, many of them find limited shelter in abandoned factories. In the small Serbian town of Subotica, 10 km from the Hungarian border, an estimated 500 men currently reside in unheated tents.

Father Varga

Among the gloom, a glimmer of hope exists for the migrants of Subotica. That hope comes in the form of Protestant pastor Tibor Varga, whom the migrants endearingly refer to as ‘Father Varga.’ Varga has been working with an Eastern European charity for four years. Through his work, he has helped refugees in Serbia gain access to necessary amenities. Daily, Varga brings bread, eggs and toiletries to the migrants. For years, Varga had been the only one assisting those in Subotica. The authorities there supplied only water during the heatwave of July and August in 2020.

During the cold Serbian winter, Varga also brings heating. He builds stoves for the migrants to keep warm out of old barrels in his garden. Varga makes more than three a day. He reinforces the base and walls of the barrel with roof tiles, which a mixture of sand and clay keeps in place. He also manually scrapes off the poisonous red paint from the barrels. Varga then loads each stove, approximately 66 pounds each, into his van. He then drives and delivers them to the migrant camps.

Love and Care

Varga explained that the Hungarian border fence is a cause for concern for refugees in Serbia. However, he said that “looking at the other fences around the world, you can say that these people are very determined to get through it. They have already been confronted with major problems in their lives.” Varga looks at his volunteer work as his Christian mission, saying “these people are desperately in need of help. I hope we can just alleviate this situation with love and care.”

Nina Eddinger
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Hungary’s Improving EconomyThe Central European country of Hungary is a fairly small nation that has had high rates of poverty in the past. In 2007, 29.4% of Hungarians were at risk of poverty and that number rose to 34.8% in 2013. Despite these high poverty risk rates, the country has had success in reduction. The poverty risk rate reduced down to 18.9% in 2019. Hungary’s improving economy is fueled by new policies and support from other nations.

Increasing Consumer Spending

Part of the reason Hungary has struggled to develop a productive economy dates back to the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union. Hungary implemented many reforms such as the privatization of businesses that were once state-owned. Hungary began to cut funding to social programs as well. Despite living conditions deteriorating, Hungary was able to improve these conditions with its policy implementations and growing exports. Since then, Hungary has adopted a multitude of policies to help improve its economy.

Before the 2018 election, the country tried to increase its amount of consumer spending by implementing an increase in the minimum wage. Hungary’s government also reduced income tax by 1%. The Hungarian government implemented these strategies to encourage Hungarian citizens to put money back into the economy and keep Hungarian businesses operating.

European Commission Support

When COVID-19 swept the globe, many nations had to implement lockdown measures to protect their citizens and stop the spread of the virus. Because of Hungary’s struggling economy, the nation required financial assistance from the European Commission. In 2020, support came in the form of €1 billion. The monetary assistance aimed to provide Hungarian companies the help they needed to survive during COVID-19.  The assistance applied to all companies —  micro, small, medium and large. Certain businesses have a cap on how much of this aid they can access. Monetary support of up to €100,000 is available to businesses working in the agricultural production sector whereas up to €120,000 is available to businesses working in the fishery and aquaculture sector. The assistance excludes companies that were already in economic hardship on December 31, 2019. The monetary assistance ensures that Hungary’s improving economy does not lose progress due to COVID-19.

The Future

Due to policies that were implemented by Hungary’s government and support from the European Commission, Hungary’s improving economy has not been as harshly damaged. However, despite this assistance, the GDP of Hungary has still suffered just as other global GDPs have suffered. But, the future of Hungary’s economy is not as bleak as it may seem. It is expected that the GDP of the nation will grow by 3.5% in 2021, and by 2022, the economy is expected to return to the level it was at prior to COVID-19. While Hungary’s economy is far from perfect, it has no doubt made substantial improvements in recent years.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Eradication in Hungary
Hungary, a country located in central Europe, has a population of roughly 10 million people.  According to Eurostat’s 2016 report, a quarter or exactly 26.3% of Hungarians were at risk of poverty. This translates to about 2.5 million people at risk of poverty in Hungary. In 2008, when the financial crisis created higher poverty and unemployment worldwide, poverty in Hungary was at 28.2%. Upon comparing 2016 figures to those of 2008, trends are improving. Here is some information about poverty eradication in Hungary.

Hungary’s Mandate to Eradicate Poverty

The European Union (E.U.) has created an agenda, the Europe 2020 strategy, marking poverty eradication within the E.U. as one of its key targets. Meanwhile, in September 2015, Hungary adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The agenda, adopted by all United Nations (U.N.) member states, is committed to eradicating poverty and creating a path towards a sustainable future by 2013 globally.

Yet, Hungary has a plan of its own. Presenting its Voluntary National Review (VNR) at the U.N. High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2018, Hungary showed its stake in the process of moving forward to achieve sustainable development. The country places a large emphasis on its most vulnerable population—those in poverty.  The basis of poverty eradication in Hungary follows that all should have equal access to natural resources, knowledge, information, market and affordable loans, for instance.

Access to Clean Water and Sanitation

Hungary holds a specific emphasis on the human rights aspects as well as a holistic approach to sustainable development. The country looks to create universal access to clean water and sanitation. In effect, Hungary has proposed the issue of water and sanitation as a standalone goal within its VNR. In fact, Hungary’s tap water is of the highest quality according to European standards, in which water quality parameters reach above adequacy in excess of 95%. This means that Hungary’s tap water is safe to drink.

According to Hungary’s policies, the nation plans to put the correct price on water, allocating water and water-related funding more efficiently. This will occur all the while maintaining water-efficient technologies and practices, implementing Europe’s water-saving culture and improving knowledge and data collection regarding water scarcity and drought risk management.

Public Participation

In order to achieve success within Hungary’s implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the country is targeting public participation. It intends to establish this through stakeholders and local action.

Measures include planning within the national and local-level scale, investing in and implementing social inclusion campaigns and implementing what works after understanding what does not. Additionally, the intention is to not only identify communities’ needs but address them as well.

According to the 2014-2020 financial framework of European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), Hungary looks at three dimensions of social inclusion. The first is measuring inclusive growth for enhanced development impact, which looks at methods that monitor development outcomes and better target social investments. The second looks at enabling inclusive growth in the nation, discussing the ample support local planning and implementation will provide on the national level. The third dimension examines the people behind the numbers, which is a handbook implementing local equal opportunity programs, offering practical guidance and tools that empower local stakeholders, a part of local Equal Opportunity Programs, to effectively mold the local social inclusion landscape.

Child Poverty in Hungary and the Family Housing Allowance Program (CSOK)

Hungary’s child poverty rate has risen from 7% to 17% between 2007 and 2012. Children born into poverty in Hungary are often the most disadvantaged. In 2015, Hungary’s government announced a new major policy, the Family Housing Allowance Program (CSOK), which would effectively give families generous subsidies to buy or build new homes. Subsidies increase based on marital status and the number of children families have. However, the country’s tax benefit favors married families with children. Since the policy’s start, Hungary has increased its fertility rate, partly due to tax preferences, cash grants, loan subsidies, constitutional protections and expensive political signaling.

 Poverty eradication in Hungary can occur through the country’s plan of working together through the cooperation of science, economy, government and civil society. Because of Hungary’s focus on eradicating poverty, the country’s poverty level is below the E.U. average.

– Danielle Lindenbaum
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in HungaryHungary is a landlocked country located in central Europe with a population of nearly 10 million. Of these 10 million people, almost 14.6% of Hungarians live below the poverty line, meaning hunger in Hungary remains a critical issue. Moreover, reportedly 44% of Hungarians do not have access to essential resources.

Malnourishment in Children

As estimated, some 3.3 million people suffer from food insecurity in the country. Many of those impacted are children. According to an OECD study conducted between 2007 and 2012, the number of Hungarian children living in poverty has risen from 7% to 17%.  According to the Save the Children Foundation, 6.1 out of every 1000 children die from food-related issues before their fifth birthday. While starvation kills some, others die from a lack of a nutritious diet. Those who are not starving do not receive the bare minimum of healthy nutrients to live a sustainable life.  This combination of malnourishment and a lack of a nutritious diet leads to more vulnerability to infection and disease.

Infants are often deprived of nutrients while in their mother’s womb. The severity of hunger in Hungary has led to starvation in pregnant women. According to IndexMundi’s data, as of 2017, there have been 12 deaths per 100,000 live births recorded.  The country has an under-five mortality rate at five deaths per 1,000 births and an infant mortality rate of 6 deaths per 1,000 births. The limited access to food often results in premature births and high maternal mortality rates.

Hungarian Climate and Resources

The majority of Hungarian land lies in the Great Hungarian Plain. The arid climate, lack of rainfall and prevalent droughts limit the ground for farming and sometimes lead to famines. The primary harvest for Hungary is corn, wheat, sugar beets, potatoes and rye.  The country exports most of the crops produced instead of using them to feed Hungarians in need. Some Hungarian agricultural exports have reached numbers as high as $716 million U.S. dollars, as more than 25% of the country’s crop is exported to other countries.

Alleviating Hunger in Hungary

To reduce the high numbers of hungry children, the Hungarian government provides meals in nurseries and schools for those in need. Approximately 370,000 children receive government-provided meals.  Food programs, such as the Food Aid Program, distributes nearly 50 million pounds of food. The EU Food Assistance Program also supplies food to almost 1.2 million Hungarians, which accounts for roughly 11% of the total population.

While the high rate of poverty and hunger faced in the country remains high, there is still hope to alleviate hunger in Hungary. The state is working continuously to solve the hunger problems faced. Through community programs and governmental support, slow continuous progress is being made, proving that alleviating hunger in Hungary is achievable.

– Jacey Reece

Photo: Flickr

politics in hungary
Hungary is a landlocked European nation of nearly 10 million that operates under a parliamentary government system. Historically, the political divide in Hungary led to highly competitive elections, with the prime minister and presidential positions democratically grappled over. Elected as prime minister in 2010, Viktor Orbán is an outspoken Eurosceptic, self-proclaimed illiberal and member of the right-wing Fidesz party. Orbán has slowly centralized government powers, squashed political opposition and threatened freedom of the press for nearly a decade. Orbán supporters point to the prime minister’s rapid response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, which hit Hungary in March 2020 but has experienced near-eradication from the country, as evidence of his effectiveness. Implementing a five-year jail sentence for promoting misinformation about the virus, closing borders and shutting down non-essential businesses early, Orbán undoubtedly contributed to Hungary’s successful containment of COVID-19. However, the power he indirectly obtained from the virus also contributed to his controversial ambitions to redefine politics in Hungary.

5 Ways COVID-19 is Changing Politics in Hungary

  1. The Effects of Unilateral Decisions: In March 2020, Hungary’s Fidesz-dominated government approved a law allowing Orbán to make unilateral decisions concerning COVID-19 resources, response funding and guidelines. Orbán has since exploited this ruling, taking steps to weaken the platforms of opposing politicians, largely from left-leaning mayors, as the 2022 parliamentary election approaches. While this legislation was to bolster local responses to the virus without needing approval from parliament, its loopholes enabled Orbán to also reallocate municipal funds, neglect transparency about vaccination updates and control the media more tightly.
  2. Flawed Communication: Orbán has failed to provide local leaders data about vaccinations, case numbers, hot-spots and other vital public health information. As mayors lack this data, they have struggled to decide if and when their constituents can return to normal economic and social activities. Although parliament formally ended the Hungarian state of emergency in June 2020, the March legislation remains. Orbán and future prime ministers, through another legislative loophole, will still wield many of the unilateral decision-making powers that enable poor communication and vertical collaboration within the government.
  3. Targeted Tax Cuts: A contentious component of Orbán’s COVID-19 response strategy has been the tax cuts on both public and private businesses that stimulate local level economies. Before the pandemic, the Hungarian economy was relatively stable, with increased wages, low unemployment and steady growth despite the looming issue of inflation. Almost immediately after COVID-19 hit Hungary, Orbán cut taxes on several municipal services by making public parking free. With urban cities like Budapest already losing revenue from public transit and other public services, Orbán’s parking tax cut appears to assist citizens but drains local funding vital to the efficiency of politics in Hungary and virus containment.
  4. Economic Zoning: In another unilateral decision, Orbán categorized certain businesses as “special economic zones.” Under Orbán’s plan, revenue and taxes that businesses generated, qualifying as “special economic zones,” go toward the national COVID-19 response fund instead of stimulating local economies. Projections determine that working-class and factory towns, like God, could lose up to $170 million over the next four years as a result of Orbán’s zoning legislature.
  5. Refugee Restrictions: For the last decade, Orbán has vocalized his conservative stance on refugees and migrants. Using his newly acquired emergency power, Orbán, like many world leaders, has slowed the influx of all immigrants, even vulnerable refugee populations. In May 2020, despite low COVID-19 infection rates, Orbán further threatened the institution of asylum in Hungary. Justifying his actions with the pandemic, Orbán ordered the relocation and detainment of refugees and continued to build a fence at the country’s Serbian and Croatian borders. A product of unsound politics in Hungary, Orbán’s refugee policies leave former citizens of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran more vulnerable to the virus and with even fewer options for obtaining asylum in Europe.

Moving Forward

With an election approaching, approximately half of Hungarians approving of the Fidesz party and Orbán’s approval rating at an all-time high of 57%, the stability of politics in Hungary is in danger. As partisan leaders have largely failed in efforts to hold Orbán democratically accountable, NGOs like Freedom House are stepping in to influence politics in Hungary. Freedom House collects data on political overreach and provides educated reports and quantitative scores on the status of democracy in Hungary, where critical press coverage of the government is punishable. The reliable and in-depth assessments that Freedom House generates provide crucial evidence for Orbán’s political opposers. If these opposers, who advocate for democracy and decentralized government, can regain parliament seats in 2022, Hungarians in the political minority will likely regain a voice.

Caledonia Strelow
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Healthcare in HungarySince the year 2000, Hungary has made strides to improve its healthcare system, which for decades has lagged behind the healthcare systems of other countries in the European Union (EU). Unequal issuing of medical equipment, the prevalence of smoking, drinking and obesity and an unstable political system have resulted in systematic healthcare issues in Hungary, which disproportionately affect citizens living in poverty. Here are seven facts everyone should know about healthcare in Hungary.

7 Facts About Healthcare in Hungary

  1. Hungary has one of the lowest life expectancies in the EU. In 2017, life expectancy in Hungary averaged 76 years, a four-year increase since the year 2000. Despite the improvement, the Hungarian life expectancy is still 4.9 years behind that of other Europeans. Hungarians have higher rates of risk factors, such as smoking, obesity and underage alcohol consumption than other countries in the EU, which can contribute to an early death.
  2. As of 2017, Hungary’s rate of amenable mortality is twice that of the rest of the EU. Amenable mortality refers to deaths from diseases and conditions that are nonfatal when given appropriate medical care.
  3. Socioeconomic inequalities in Hungary contribute to lower life expectancy. Lower-income Hungarians are more likely to report unmet medical needs than those with a higher income. Out-of-pocket spending in the country is double the EU average and medical care is most readily available to those who can afford to pay. Though access to medical care is not an issue across the board, lower-income Hungarians are 11 times more likely to complain of unmet healthcare needs.
  4. Healthcare in Hungary suffers from an unequal distribution of equipment. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Hungarian counties with the lowest health status tend to also have the lowest numbers of necessary medical supplies. The distribution of resources is concentrated largely in the capital of Budapest and the counties with the highest health status. The city of Budapest alone has 87% more doctors and 64% more hospital bed space than the rest of the country.
  5. Healthcare in Hungary does excel in some areas but still has systematic problems. In 2016, the Euro Health Consumer Index ranked the Hungarian healthcare system 30th out of 35 countries in the EU. Though Hungary does excel in infant vaccination and physical education, it has some of the EU’s highest waiting times for CT scans and a higher than average occurrence of lung disease, infections and cancer deaths. It also had the second-highest prevalence of bribery among hospital workers. Hungarian physicians are particularly susceptible to this form of corruption due to their low pay. Their acceptance of these so-called “gratitude payments” puts those who cannot afford to pay extra at a disadvantage.
  6. The World Health Organization (WHO) rewarded the government’s anti-tobacco initiatives. In 2013, the WHO awarded Prime Minister Viktor Orbán with its WHO Special Recognition award for “accomplishments in the area of tobacco control.” In recent years, the Hungarian government has developed anti-tobacco campaigns to quell the high percentage of smokers in the country. These reforms include changing the labels on tobacco products to include warnings of the potential side effects of smoking and banning smoking in public spaces. The country has also taken steps to ban advertisements for tobacco products and, since then, has seen a reduction of smoking-related deaths.
  7. Reforms to increase the healthcare workforce are in progress. In November 2018, the government rolled out a plan to increase physicians’ pay 72% by 2022, and, in early 2020, announced government scholarships for 3,200 people in order to bring more Hungarians into the understaffed nursing profession.

Healthcare in Hungary today is still behind many other countries in the European Union. Hungarians have lower life expectancies than other Europeans and the country is in need of more skilled doctors and nurses to properly treat all of its people. However, in recent years, the Hungarian government has invested more money to reduce the country’s high rates of smoking-related deaths and increase the healthcare workforce. Healthcare in Hungary has experienced a positive change in recent years and, with more investments in the healthcare sector, more necessary reforms can be made.

Jackie McMahon
Photo: Flickr