Hungary’s Unacknowledged Leadership

Hungary has a strategic position in the heart of Europe. The country offers a highly developed logistics system. Its traditional role as a trading post makes it important as a regional production and distribution center.  Porsche, General Motors, and Audi are now producing many of their cars in Hungary – with other suppliers working for and close by. A recent investment by Mercedes Benz re-affirms the auto cluster formation in Hungary. The significant development of industries like information technology, electronics and automotive has attracted Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) at a rising rate.  Hungary’s acceptance as a member of the European Union and the Schengen Zone further boosted its own and its European partners economic, social and political development and stimulated more R&D activities.

All this is now jeopardized because of major EU internal strife over immigration policies. I observed the early stage of human flow between Serbia and Hungary which was then a 200-kilometer long green zone. Groups of 30 to 50 men, women and children slowly walked across the border. The local chief of police shrugged since he neither had the manpower nor the physical resources to round up or process the waves of humanity. In 2015, more than 400,000 people entered Hungary from Serbia, aiming to settle in Germany, France or Britain. The march through Hungary used to encounter an ostrich policy of “carry on and ignore”. But the people who immigrate were worn out and not any less hungry because they were in Hungary. To rest, or feed themselves, they trespassed on property and took fruits and other food. Locals were weary and talked about organized protection for their harvest. Pressures and complaints are like sparks in a tinder box.

The government of less than 10 million Hungarians has only limited resources to respond to the clashes. A wall has been built to stop the immigration flow across the most accessible border areas. The public response in Europe to Hungary’s defensive measures have been complaints, accusations of government over reaction, and lack of sympathy towards restriction of mobility. Prime Minister Orban, a democratically elected head of government was accused of a lack of sentimentality and guilty of behaving like a political winner (DUH)!

Today, Hungary is again encountering its traditional environmental ambiguity. In history, the country has been too far East to be part of the West, and too far West to be integrated into the East. There have been long-term occupations by the Tatars, Ottomans and Austrians. The treaty of Trianon, removed large portions of Hungary’s population and resources. During the Cold War Hungary kept conditions at least lukewarm with its Gulyas communism, and was often at the forefront of clamoring for change, for example, with its 1956 revolution against the Soviet Union, and the 1989 opening of its borders to help escaping East Germans.

Again Hungary has been an early proponent of the need to monitor refugee access to a country for purposes of justice, information, planning and control. Given its small size and population, repercussions of new factors are simply felt more quickly and demand more rapid actions than for nations which have lots of reserve resources to deal with new conditions. Even those players eventually recognize the need for new policies.

Accusing the Hungarians of inhumanity for their regulation of migration is unwise. To protect nations many walls have been built: just think of the Roman Hadrian or the Chinese Qin Shi Huang 2000 years ago. Walls are still being built today, by Austria, Serbia and now also by Turkey. Doing so is not a disregard for human lives, but rather an institutional requirement for control of the distribution of resources. Even Herculean effort is to provide food, shelter and security for migrants can fail if there is no timely count and assessment of human needs and the direction of the massive flow of people. It has not been sensible to overburden Hungary with expectations and demands for accommodative actions which, as we can see now, has shaken up major countries as well. In today’s times, leaders are all-to-often confronted with asymptotic conditions, where they encounter major demands for actions by outsiders who are shouldering neither the political burden nor are paying for all their wonderful suggestions. Later on, those who earlier decried and dismissed responsible government action often turn about and imitate the once so deployed steps. Particularly in groups of nations which disagree about idealistic policies, one winds up with the unfortunate constant of politics: foresight and early implementation of corrective action has no international payoff. No gratitude, no memory, no long term, no acknowledgment, just like an unhappy couple.

View on migrants entering Hungary

Hungary has been the spotlight of the news recently with reports of the maltreatment of migrants entering and passing through the country. While I do not agree with the drastic measures taken, Hungary’s short-term solution is mainly about concern for its own economic stability.

I spoke with CCTV’s Asieh Namdar regarding my thoughts on the issue. You can view the video here: http://youtu.be/A6X4m-aWP-8

Hungary Deserves Our Attention

I just returned from a visit to Hungary, focused on the country’s market thinking and practice. I find Hungary to be a long term partner and deserving of our support.

I was impressed by the breadth and depth of the courses offered by the Corvinus Hungarian Business School, which does not play second chair to most U.S. universities. The admissions process, the scoring of applications, the transparency of decisions, and the competition for seats, were heartening indications of a market economy.

Society now clearly offers a service orientation. At the airport there was good help with baggage and a distinct pride in the service rendered. My taxi service was metered with no unsolicited detours. After a major thunderstorm in Budapest, people were on the street within minutes to clean up the damage. Bravo! When a guest had trouble walking in my hotel, the manager personally drove short distances between buildings for meals. In stores, employees no longer hide to keep the customer at a distance, but approach with a smile and an offer of help. A recent investment by Mercedes Benz re-affirms the auto cluster formation in Hungary. Some of these positive shifts were perhaps present earlier, but were not as ingrained as they are now.

There are shortcomings: In downtown Budapest buildings still have damage from bullets and grenades. These reflect the wounds of conflicts past, but they also indicate the underfunding of renovation efforts – particularly when it comes to public buildings in prime locations. Some funds allocated for public works disappear with limited impact on their designated purpose – which many attribute to corruption. Health care is limited and requires ‘tips’ paid to doctors. Ignaz Semmelweis, one of Hungary’s medical heroes, was always in favor of clean hands!
BN-JB601_hungar_J_20150624071544Immigration represents a major burden. I observed the human flow between Serbia and Hungary, a 200 kilometer long green zone. Groups of 30 to 50 women, children and men slowly walk across the border. The local chief of police shrugs, since he neither has the manpower nor the physical resources to round up or process the waves of humanity. There is talk that in the first six months of 2015, more than 60,000 people entered Hungary from Serbia. Right now, they aim to settle in Germany, France or Britain. The march through Hungary encounters an ostrich policy of “carry on and ignore”. But The people who immigrate are worn out and not any less hungry because they’re in Hungary. To rest, or feed themselves, they trespass on property and take food. Locals are weary and talk about organized protection for their harvest. Growing pressures and complaints risk sparks in a tinder box.

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The government responds with very limited resources. Right now, a wall is being built to restrain the immigration flow across the most accessible border areas. Complaints, ignore Hungary’s need to contain the threat of conflict. Proactive steps need to be accompanied by targeted help from abroad.

For centuries, Hungary has been too far East to be part of the West, and too far West to be integrated into the East. Throughout its history, there have been long term occupations by the Tatars, Ottomans and Austrians. The treaty of Trianon, removed large portions of Hungary’s population and resources. During the Cold War Hungary kept conditions at least lukewarm with its Gulyas communism, and was often at the forefront, for example, with its 1956 revolution against the Soviet Union, and the opening of its borders to escaping East Germans.

I return cautiously impressed by a country which needs our help, and more yet, our understanding. Hungary’s history and traditions point the nation towards the West. By acknowledging its many accomplishments, and by making allowances and providing support for further change, we can help Hungary, the immigrants and the reformation of Europe.

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