A Disgraceful Country

Fotó: Lázár Gergő Fotó: Lázár Gergő

Written by Swan Edgar

Translated by Judit Gábris

Edited by Réka Eszter Szabó

If I had to sum up in a single word everything that bothers me about this country, I’d pick the word „disgraceful”. Life here is disgraceful from cradle to grave, unless you happen to be born into money. I don’t believe there’s anything more damning right now in central Europe.

If you can’t afford a private clinic, you’ll have your baby in a hospital where there’s no disinfectant and where there could well be a decomposing cadaver lying between the stinking toilet bowl and the browned, blood-soaked pile of tissues on the filthy floor of a restroom that’s not been cleaned for a week.

If you have no money or a car, your kid could die by the time you get to the doctor who works several villages away. If they do get to a hospital in time, you’ll have to spend your nights lying on the filthy floor next to their bed. Because there are no beds for parents, but there is the expectation for you to be there and take care of your child, because the nurses are so scarce and overworked that they wouldn’t be able to look after your child even if their own lives depended on it, because the task is physically and humanly impossible.

You give money to the doctor and the nurse even if you’re barely getting by yourself, because that’s just the way the system works. It’s bad and demeaning for you, for the doctors and the nurses that they have to accept backhanders. Because you’ve paid your national insurance for years, and they get their salaries, but it’s not enough, it can never be enough.

It’s disgraceful that hospital workers have to go around begging on social media for blankets because hospitals can’t afford any, as the state won’t provide sufficient equipment and there are a lot of elderly patients who are always cold because there are not enough blankets to go around while they wait in drafty corridors for hours to be seen by a doctor.

It’s disgraceful that if you can’t find a decent school for your child, or can’t afford a private language tutor, or any extra classes, they won’t be able to stay in education. It’s disgraceful that money alone decides who’ll go to a good school, or get a degree. It’s disgraceful that the government decide what your child learns and from what source, that a government policy determines what trade they can get qualified in.

If they do learn a trade, the limits are set as to which foreign-owned factory they’ll be labouring away in all their lives and for how much. If you have no money, you can’t start your own business because of the sheer costs, the myriad of largely unnecessary official permits, and the limitless powers of the rapacious tax authority.

Even if you do have the funds to get a business off the ground, you’ll never know when your market niche gets spotted by which offspring of which magnate. Because if they do spot it, they’ll just buy your business – even if you had no intention of selling it – and this is still the better option, as the alternative is that they suffocate and destroy you. For you’ll never get another contract again; instead, you’ll have to labour away for pennies as a sub-sub-subcontractor for a nouveau riche or a privileged –from-birth or a married-into-money magnate. Or you throw in the towel and go work as a serf/slave on the production line, or you pack up your worldly possessions and find yourself a new land to call home.

It’s disgraceful because if anything happens to you,  and you aren’t able to work because of an illness or accident, you’ll receive no help.  Even if you paid your taxes and national insurance for years. A committee decides whether you’re fit for work. More often than not, they’ll deem you fit, even if you aren’t. Then you’ll get your monthly 22 800 HUF jobseeker’s allowance and it makes no difference how much you’ve contributed to date. This is the end of the line. This money is nowhere near enough to stay alive, pay bills, buy medicine, crutches, glasses, a wheelchair, or a hearing aid. Not even ten percent of these things. You can’t afford transport and a season ticket, get your broken fridge or light fitting fixed. You can’t afford to go on the internet. You get locked into your own destitution.

Even if you get disability allowance, you’re not much better off; your demise will be somewhat protracted, that’s all. If there was some kind of network, if there was work that you could do in your own home, either preparing goods to be taken away or working on the internet, using loaned computers and prepaid net access, you’d love to work, not just for the money but for the knowledge that you aren’t superfluous and on your own. This would be vital.

If you’re lucky and you have managed to find work for over half your lifetime, and raise a family, now that you’re old, you can only count on your children. If your pension isn’t enough to pay for assistance, or a decent old people’s home, then the only option is relying on your children’s physical and financial support. If you have no children, or if they themselves are ill or on he breadline, you’re finished. There’s no network of care workers for the elderly, there are no old people’s homes or facilities for dementia sufferers. Indeed, losing your mind may well be the best case scenario, because then you lose awareness of the fact that you can’t afford medication that might alleviate your suffering somewhat; you’ll only have your neighbours trying to keep an eye on you to prevent you from freezing to death in your own soiled bedsheets.

It’s disgraceful that, all the while, others who happen to be born, marry or climb  into the right positions, plunder public funds and make off with gargantuan swag bags. Because that’s what their fortunes – a raided market, stolen EU funds, the spoils of their corrupt and seedy ventures – truly are. Yesterday’s run-of-the-mill tradesmen who turned billionaires overnight are free to rob  you, me and everyone else of land and property: our destitution paves the way for their empire.

It’s disgraceful that you can plummet into oblivion at any time and no-one will help you; the ruling class, by contrast, can do anything an no-one can touch them. We’re mired in a morally debased country that’s circling the drain in every possible way; a place where divergent thinking will make you a target for hostility, where you can’t speak your mind for fear of losing your livelihood, or that of your relatives, friends, or acquaintances – even if you/they just teach at the local school or carry stretchers at the hospital. You have to learn to shut your mouth, if you hope to survive.

It’s a disgrace that mere survival, not a happy and secure life is where it’s at in this country. A disgrace that those of kowtowing servility get all the glory and accolades while those brave enough to think for themselves are vilified as public enemies. It’s nothing short of a scandal that those brave enough to voice their opinions can be branded hate-mongers and traitors; that those who speak the truth face threats and intimidation.

It’s disgraceful that a country that has every opportunity to create the conditions for a better, democratic, equitable and dignified life for everyone, chooses instead to descend into material and moral bankruptcy. It’s tragic and unfathomable that a whole country applauds its own usurpers, that they celebrate their own destitution and laud, support and deify the very criminals who’ve destroyed their children’s future. Those who don’t applaud, sit and do nothing. It’s awful to witness that no-one here wants democracy, that entire masses celebrate the death of the ideals of the enlightenment as they dance on the grave of a would-have-been democratic, humane, knowledge-based, legally and socially secure, tolerant and just society.

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