Hungary Reaches its Objective

In a study released by UNICEF, which looked into the question of where it was best to grow up as a child, Hungary is among its idols -- at the bottom of the list

Since the fall of communism, successive governments have always looked westward. Their ideal has been to try and emulate as much as possible the major industrial countries, namely the US and the UK, in all aspects -- political, social and economic. Indeed, not long ago the present prime minister of Hungary, Ferenc Gyurcsany, espoused his admiration for the US, noting that America's education and health systems provide an example for Hungary to follow.

To this extent, the country's political, social, and economic landscape has been overhauled and reworked in such a way so as to conform to this ideal. Hence, traditional ways of doing things, which may have worked and produced results but seemed outdated, were changed for the sake of bringing Hungary into the 21st century. In terms of education, for instance, concepts like America's "No Child Left Behind" are introduced and adapted as "new" and "modern" ideas which Hungary must adopt otherwise the country will be left behind.

While Hungary still has a long way to go in terms of coming anywhere close to the US or UK in terms of politics or economics, it has made substantial headway on the social front. Indeed, in a recent study released by UNICEF, which looked into the question of where it was best to grow up as a child, Hungary is among its idols -- at the bottom of the list.

This study, which looks at 21 industrialised countries, ranks The Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden as among the best places in which to grow up as a child. It is clear from the results of this study that economics isn't necessarily a determining factor. In fact, those countries which scored high on the list did so because their governments had spent significant amounts on such things as day care, education, and health.

Countries like Hungary, on the other hand, have gone in the exact opposite direction. Governments in Central and Eastern Europe wrongly believe that their countries should be run as a corporation. Therefore, of prime importance are the balance sheet and the bottom line. Excessive spending, even in terms of education and health, must be trimmed for the sake of fiscal discipline.

This, in turn, breeds social problems such as teen addictions to alcohol and smoking as well as obesity. In Hungary, neo-liberalist education policies have cut back physical education classes on the grounds that competition based on physical ability in discriminatory. The same goes for giving grades at the primary level; grades reinforce discrimination and lead to negative self-worth.

Such so-called "liberal" views have caused problems before. Over ten years ago, the junior coalition partner, which is the main source for such misplaced liberalism, asserted that police communications shouldn't be conducted on closed channels because it goes against the fundamentals of an open society. This idea was soon scrapped when it was discovered that criminals were monitoring police communications in order to more efficiently carry out their crimes and avoid arrest.

Likewise, it is clear that Hungary's new education policies are counter-productive. Any respectable educator will note that negative reinforcement at times is necessary and beneficial. The trick, of course, is finding the right balance. Furthermore, it's ironic that on the one hand people are being lectured on the virtues of competition whilst on the other such competition in any form or dose is bad in the schools. Consequently, schools in Hungary end up producing young adults incapable of functioning in the real world. As proof of this, a recent study found that a substantial number of undergraduates find it difficult to fill out a simple form or questionnaire.

The same also goes for children's health. Hospitals which cater specifically to children are being closed as the result of Hungary's so-called "health reform" program which is more concerned with the whims and dictates of investors and eurocrat finance gurus in Brussels than with the common good. A case in point is a children sanatorium on the outskirts of Budapest. Located on prime real estate in the hills of Budapest overlooking the city, the hospital is being closed for no viable reason. Leaked reports, however, note that the hospital and the land around it are to be developed into luxury apartments and office space.

If such faulty policies continue, we can only expect to see the situation worsen. Soon, not only will Hungary be among its mentors at the bottom of the list, it may even surpass them as well. This is an ignominious honour that Hungary can do well without. (John Horvath)