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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07BUDAPEST418 2007-03-21 10:15:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Budapest
Cable title:  

BY THE HUNGARIANS, FOR THE HUNGARIANS, AND WITHOUT

Tags:   PGOV PHUM HU 
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VZCZCXRO1070
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHUP #0418/01 0801015
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 211015Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY BUDAPEST
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0960
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BUDAPEST 000418 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT PLEASE PASS TO NSC FOR ADAM STERLING

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/05/2012
TAGS: PGOV PHUM HU
SUBJECT: BY THE HUNGARIANS, FOR THE HUNGARIANS, AND WITHOUT
THE HUNGARIANS: THE PERCEPTION AND REALITY OF DEMOGRAPHIC
TRENDS IN HUNGARY


Classified By: P/E COUNSELOR ERIC V. GAUDIOSI; REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D)



1. (C) Few preconceived notions are as closely held than the
Hungarian obsession with their declining numbers. With the
memory of Trianon never far away, the prospect of losing
identity as well as territory is alarming to many Hungarians.
So alarming, it seems, that the facts may not get in the way
of public opinion or political attacks.

NOW DISAPPEARING NEAR YOU!



2. (C) GoH officials up to and including PM Gyurcsany have
expressed concern over the perception of brain drain from
Hungary, a consideration which often colors their views of
exchange and investment opportunities. Most Hungarians will
tell you that the best and the brightest are leaving the
country for opportunities abroad, often expressing concern
over the perceived influx of foreign laborers as well. For
many, this represents an unexpected - and unwanted -
by-product of EU membership.



3. (C) The government and the opposition have clashed on the
question of immigration policy of late, with FIDESZ alleging
that a government study plans to promote the immigration of
up to one million workers from "an unidentified Asian
country. Although the Central Statistical Office assures us
that the figure appears to have been cherry-picked from a
government study which extrapolates the current arrival of
18,000 immigrants a year to one million by 2050, the exchange
clearly struck a nerve. (Comment: One colleague in the
diplomatic community confessed to asking in a staff meeting
with his local staff if this "wasn't the way Hungary was
settled in 896 - by Asians migrating to the Carpathian
basin?" None laughed. End Comment.)

LOW MOBILITY ...



4. (C) In reality, the picture may not be so dire.
Statistics provided by a think-tank in Szeged indicate that
less than 10 percent of Hungarians have ever - or would ever
- live abroad. This compares with nearly two-thirds of the
work force in some other European countries. Our British
colleagues tell us that Hungarians rank at the bottom of
their list of foreign workers in the UK, and an executive of
one international head-hunting firm in Budapest tells us that
her company "only wishes we could find more Hungarians
willing to take jobs abroad." Despite the demand for
professionals in key sectors, she has found Hungarians
reluctant to move "even within the country" and far more
likely to work on limited projects abroad rather than
longer-term assignments. Low rates of foreign language
fluency, often estimated below one-third of the population,
impose a further limit on options for long-term relocation
abroad.

AND LOWER BIRTHRATES



5. (C) That said, even if few Hungarians are leaving the
country there are still fewer of them here. The national
birth-rate is still far below replacement rates, with the
average non-Roma Hungarian woman having only 1.3 children
(compared with 3.0 for Roma women). Demographic shifts,
primarily toward areas around large cities such as Budapest,
Debrecen, and Szeged, are leaving many rural communities to
die on the vine. Although there are fewer Hungarians of
working age, Laszlo Hablicsek of the Central Statistical
Office believes that Hungarian social policy continues to
limit the number of citizens in the work force through
subsidized education, early retirement, and prolonged
maternity leave. As a result, Hungarians have among the
shortest career spans in Europe, while less than forty
percent of the population supports the rest.



6. (C) With opinion polls indicating a rise in anti-foreign
sentiment, the average Hungarian (who is, statistically
speaking, a 38 year-old man living with a partner and child
and closely watching his money) may see the worst of all
possible worlds evolving: fewer Hungarians enjoying fewer
privileges in Hungary, more foreigners on the way, and ethnic
Hungarians perceived as "isolated" as minorities in
neighboring countries. Privately echoing comments made by an
opposition MP, Minister of Culture and Education Istvan
Hiller described the "disappearance" of 50,000 Hungarians a
year as the country's "biggest challenge."

PERCEPTION DRIVES THE DEBATE ...



7. (C) This challenge could present the opposition with a
target of opportunity. Concerned by the Gyurcsany

BUDAPEST 00000418 002 OF 002


government's perceived attempts to centralize power, FIDESZ
has painted elements of the government's reform program as an
attempt to marginalize localities, where the opposition
scored significant gains in the 2006 local elections and
which still represent their cherished image of "traditional
Hungarian values." These appeals could play well given
polling data showing that over 60% of respondents are
concerned over the nation's "moral decline."

ACROSS THE BORDER?



8. (C) Comment: Political scientist Tamas Magyarics suggests
that these perceptions could invite the opposition to revive
its press to extend citizenship to all ethnic Hungarians, a
scenario newly-appointed head of Hungary's National Council
on Foreign and Security Policy Laszlo Valki describes as
"divisive and dangerous." Although the Gyurcsany government
would likely resist these efforts consistent with its
preference for engagement with neighboring capitals, others
including President Solyom and Parliamentary Speaker Szili
continue to make the rounds of ethnic Hungarian communities,
most recently during the March 15 holiday. Moreover, the
prospect of regional friction may do little to dissuade the
opposition as it searches for ways to challenge the
government. As Hablicsek noted, the facts can inform the
debate on issues ranging from local administration to health
care reform, but "only if the politicians choose to listen."
End Comment.


FOLEY