The HarmsBoones


The EU at Work: More first impressions

Part 2 of 2: Read part two at

It seems like around every corner a new construction site waits, and it isn’t just in Budapest. Evidence of what Rick Steeves terms Europe’s “internal Marshall Plan” can be seen all over Hungary.

Ask a Hungarian about all of it and two main viewpoints emerge: a cautious optimism about the new government’s alleged ability to fix all the problems created by the old government (comprised of many former communist leaders who were recently outsed by two-thirds of the Hungarians in favor of a more conservative government), and a cynical distrust for all politicians’ ability to do anything but serve selfish interests.

“They are all the same,” said one of my colleagues matter-of-factly, “some people think things will change, but they won’t. They are all the same, and only concerned with themselves.” It’s easy to understand this mentality. For many the last 20 years post-communisim has been a mixed bag. On the one hand they have new-found liberty, but that liberty comes with a price.

“It pains me to see beggars on the streets of Budapest,” said one Hungarian, lamenting the social ills of her present-day homeland that were unheard of most of her life. Yet despite the problems, most seem to agree that the republic will survive, and through the support of the rest of Europe, regain its status as a prominent player. Indeed to an outsider, it is hard to see the fruits of European Union membership and not think Hungary is moving forward.

“This whole area,” one resident of Kaposvár said with a gesture to include the whole of our town square, “was empty, always empty. Nothing ever happened here.” There was a festival going on to mark the completion of a newly restored and beautified Kossuth Square while we spoke. She told us, not only was this festival new, but so were most of the cafes and restaurants around where we sat. The theater across the street was some kind of run down cinema pub until that Saturday when the city was invited to wander through and witness the EU funded restoration effort and learn when to come back for the next show.

Mark Twain once said that there are three kinds of lies: “Lies, damn lies, and statistics.” By the numbers it is easy to compare—as many in the media have recently—Hungary with Greece. With high unemployment, high inflation, high interest rates, and a bankrupt public transit system, it is no lie, nor a secret, that Hungary’s economic picture is not so rosy. But numbers can only tell so much. Perhaps this new government really is a silver bullet, or perhaps it’s the sheer mentality of perseverance that this culture seems to exude, but regardless of what it ends up being, this nation is moving somewhere positive, and while it’s moving, the Trabbis will help serve a benchmark for how far they have come.

Part 2 of 2: Read part two at

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