Eight voters from across Hungary open up about the issues that matter most to them ahead of parliamentary elections that will decide the fate of the current prime minister, Viktor Orban, and his right-wing government.
Orban has been in power for 12 years and is facing what many believe will be a tough test at the polls on April 3. An alliance of six parties, running the gamut from far right to left wing, have banded together behind Peter Marki-Zay, their candidate for prime minister who is seen as a conservative but a more EU friendly figure than Orban.
Outside Hungary, Orban has become for many an emblem of traditional Christian values and opposition to EU overreach, while others decry what they say is Orban’s fostering of hostile sentiment toward mostly Muslim migrants to Europe and pushback against “LGBT ideology.”
Rebeka, high school student, Mohacs
The most pressing issue now is the war next to us in Ukraine. It’s important that whoever forms the next government puts this at the top of the list. Hungarians need to feel safe in their own homes. I really hope that Hungary won’t end up at war.
I’m 18, so this will be the first time I’ve voted. Most teenagers aren’t interested in politics, but I try to soak up as much information as I can. Right now, I’m thinking I might vote for the opposition, but I don’t want to exclude anything. The biggest issue I see with the current government is corruption and our education and health-care systems. The schooling system needs to be completely reformed.
I have some pressure coming from my parents because they're voting for Fidesz (the party headed by current Prime Minister Viktor Orban). It’s a bit of a delicate situation. Mom and dad say this is the first time they’ve had a government that has done a lot for them and for the country as a whole.
In Mohacs, where I’m from, the local authorities have been Fidesz for a long time. That means the central government has been generous with our region and we’ve seen a lot of development. There are new playgrounds, a new kindergarten, and a school in the center of the city has been renovated. Mohacs is famous for a carnival that is held every February, so it’s important that the town feels appealing for tourists. It really does look good now.
I'd like to study abroad, perhaps in the U.K., but when it comes to starting a family and settling down, I’ll be coming back to Hungary.
Andras, municipal gardener, Pecs
Before this government, I earned less, and even the work was sometimes miserable. We used to have to scratch out moss from between the stones on the main square of Pecs. Even when it was freezing cold, we were out there scraping away. Since the Orban government came to power, the wages improved and I’ve been able to earn enough to save up a little.
The biggest problem Hungary is facing now is inflation. The government recently put a cap on petrol prices, but soon they’re going to remove this limit and the prices are going to explode. Things are definitely getting harder. I see so many poor people here who fall into alcoholism. In a lot of cases, it seems they feel they have no other direction to take. Alcoholism and poverty are critical issues that the government needs to do something about, but I’m not sure how much power they have to change this.
Hungary is located in the heart of Europe. We have Austria and Germany on the one side, and Ukraine and Russia on the other, and Hungarian society is really divided because of this pull between East and West.
I know the government-controlled media is having a negative influence on people, but I’ll still vote for Fidesz this time around.
Szilvia & Istvan, project manager and financial director, Budapest
Istvan: The best thing about the current government is that it won’t last long!
Szilvia: A big problem is our health-care system. For example, I have a very important operation coming up; it’s almost lifesaving. I cannot have it done in the national health-care system because it requires a very rare specialist. There was a change in the law recently that means doctors have to choose between working in the national health-care system or privately. They can’t do both. The specialists I need mostly work in the private sector now. So I need to pay 2 million forints ($5,900) for this operation or wait two years to have it done within the public system. So it’s very bad.
Corruption runs from the smallest thing to the biggest. When, for example, there’s EU money to build a hospital for children -- and I know this for a fact -- when people apply for this funding, literally half of the money gets siphoned off by someone involved in the project to build their house or whatever.
Istvan: It’s organized crime. I don’t like that we’re part of the EU, but we’re constantly disagreeing with Brussels, and we have these ties with the Russians. We’re receiving a lot of money from the EU. We’re spending it and people in government are putting it in their own pockets a lot of the time. I don’t know when the time will come that the EU says "enough" and cuts funding.
Endre, engineer, Miskolc
When we joined the EU, no one talked about the self-determination of member states being taken away without the approval of those countries. I was a student during the Soviet era and I feel more and more that these decrees coming from Brussels are the same as we used to get from Moscow. They cannot just issue diktats to member states. We are a democracy.
A strong and united Europe is important, but the EU has become the classic example of a sick horse -- every disease and ailment can be diagnosed. A good idea, but terrible implementation. Not everything in Europe needs to be the same. That’s why this is an interesting continent. We need a Europe of individual nations. It’s like a good meal: You have meat, salad, and a side. Together it’s delicious, but if you took all that food, dumped it into a blender, and whizzed it into a smoothie, it would be awful, even though the components are the same.
Before 2010 [when Orban began his second term as prime minister], two thirds of my wages were eaten up by taxes. Now, it’s just one-third. It’s still a lot, but it’s much better than it was.
Fidesz is great, but my main criticism would be that the party has become complacent because there’s no real competition. But when it comes to voting, the problems with Fidesz are like a toothache. You don’t cure a sore tooth by shooting yourself in the head.
The most important thing for the future is our nation’s survival, staying alive.
Vera and Csongor, trainee in logistics, engineer, Miskolc
Vera: We just need change. We don’t really know what to expect of the opposition, just that they will be something different to the current situation.
Csongor: We're hoping to have a baby soon and we need help with this, but the government has brought all the fertility clinics into the public health-care system and there’s almost no options for private treatment. Couples who want in vitro fertilization (IVF) are traveling to Brno in the Czech Republic to get good IVF procedures done. Right now, this is a huge part of our lives, and here in Hungary it often it feels like when you face an issue in your own life, you end up coming up against problems with the government.
Vera: Now that war has broken out in Ukraine, it’s made things clearer than ever. It’s really sad to watch. For example, one day Viktor Orban says we don’t need to be afraid of anything because we’re in NATO, and then the next day he says, "Oh, actually, NATO won’t help, but I will keep you safe. That’s why you should vote for me." You've seen these posters of Orban around Budapest acting like he's at the front line. The messaging is, "I'll protect you."
Csongor: Whoever comes into power is going to have a hard time -- there’s inflation, and the EU withholding money. If anyone is promising that things are going to be great once their party takes office, they're lying.
Sandor, blacksmith, Pecsudvard
The decisions made during the pandemic really divided Hungarian society. As an entrepreneur, vaccination wasn’t mandatory for me or my wife, but at school my child was discriminated against. There was a rule that unvaccinated kids couldn’t attend school in person. It was deeply unfair. Even if vaccinated kids were sick, they could go into school, but my kid wasn’t sick and they couldn’t go to classes. Now that elections are approaching, the authorities are lifting these restrictions and everyone is getting their freedom back. How ironic that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin isn’t winning the Nobel Prize for magically making COVID disappear!
I’ll be voting for the Mi Hazánk Mozgalom (Our Homeland Movement) party. They’re not in the opposition alliance or with Fidesz. It’s a third option. I hope they win enough votes to get into parliament. This is important for the full representation of the Hungarian people.
My biggest gripe is the roads in our region. They’re getting worse and worse, and if they’re maintained at all it’s done poorly. But the current government does work to make it easier for families to build their lives by funding child care and other expenses for families. That and the reduction in taxes are appreciated. But I think the government should be more involved in helping ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine to regain their sovereignty. There also needs to be more care taken that EU funds are spent on the right things and not spirited away.
It's good that we’re getting a lot of EU funding, but the rules for what we can spend those funds on is too strict and has done a lot of damage. Look at agriculture here. In the supermarket, you can buy fruits and veggies from across Europe. That’s hurting local farmers. So we need more independence. It should be standard for Hungarians to be buying food that’s produced in Hungary. That’s why these locals markets we’re in now are good. It’s a chance for local farmers and fruit growers to sell their goods.
All that said, it’s nice being able to jump in my car and no one stops me to ask where I’m going because there are no borders across the EU.