Column Road Comment

Hungary – a population in crisis?

Is the Hungarian government acting irresponsibly? Source: European People’s Party (via Flickr)

By Karis Pearson

Last week, the Hungarian government announced efforts to boost the population. It’s chosen method, encouraging Hungarian women to have more babies. While at first glance such a policy may seem completely innocent and obvious, looking more closely at its cause and effects, it may have less innocuous intentions than you think.

Introduced as a reaction to the right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s desire for Hungary to become non-reliant on immigration while still boosting its population, the policy will exempt women who birth 4 or more babies from paying income tax for life, excusing them from paying back loans of up to £27,400.

Hungarian women are having less children than the EU average and Orban believes the parties policy is the best way forward for the country, stating “We do not need numbers, we need Hungarian children”. These words indicate that this controversial policy may have a rather bigoted ideology at its heart.

Previous policies looking to tackle the country’s population issue have been seen in recent years. Proposed policies, also by Hungary’s current government, the national-conservative right-wing party Fidesz, led by Orban, have included the CSOK scheme. The scheme attempted to address Hungary’s demographic crisis by offering a housing grant and loan scheme to those who promised to have babies.

Struggling with a declining birth rate for over twenty-six years, Hungary are no strangers to this concern. It is however undeniably ironic that the current PM Orban, who opposes immigration so strongly, is likely one of the reasons why the country so desperately needs a boost. Since Orban’s return to power in 2003, young and educated Hungarians have been outflowing West, leaving their home country behind in search of greener pastures (and less dictatorial leaders?). It appears Hungary’s educated youth are just not seeing their future in the xenophobic state he is set on building.

In 2011, Hungary spent 9.3% of government expenditure on children’s education. With potentially more children to educate, this percentage will only grow and educating children is a long, laborious and most importantly, expensive process. Migrants can contribute to a country’s work force almost immediately, albeit paperwork can take a few weeks (maybe even months) and there is sometimes a language barrier to overcome, but this timescale is nothing compared with the sixteen odd years (at least) it takes before a new born baby can join the work force and start contributing to the economy in a Western society.

In her podcast The Guilty Feminist, comedian Deborah Frances-White draws comparisons between the two primary methods for growing a population. The most obvious, having babies, but perhaps equally as important in today’s political climate, encouraging free-movement with a welcoming immigration policy. She explains that while refugees might take a while to learn the language, cross over their qualifications or learn a new skill and get on their feet, this is also the case for babies, who, she jokes, “are just useless refugees”. Surely a baby is a far less efficient choice for population growth, having a bigger drain on the environment and the economy before reaching an age and skill level to be able to give back to society. Comparatively, immigrants, wryly pointed out by Deborah, are primed and ready for the workforce.

While there is a comedic tone to Deborah’s comments, there is still undeniable truth in her critique, that taking an anti-immigration stance on the basis that migrants and refugees put strain on the economy is weak and hypocritical, because babies do just the same and right-wing governments never seem to mind them.

It is not environmentally or internationally responsible for the Hungarian government to implement a policy urging the women of its country to be having four or more babies each. It is not only an unsustainable policy but one which ignores the growing issue of displacement facing people from developing countries across the world, which should arguably be a concern felt by the entire global community. The Hungarian government are looking inward not outward, putting cultural preservation above a concern for the entire planet.

Such xenophobic policies as this risk making migrants feel deeply unwelcome within nations they settle in – much as Brexit has done to migrants in the UK – and fosters poor international social responsibility. Although the numbers of refugees migrating to Europe has decreased since 2016, 2018 still saw over 76,000 arrivals to the EU from countries including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Tunisia, to name just a few.

As always, I must also stress the environmental strain which the policy will have. A study undertaken at Lund University in Sweden found that having children is the single most destructive thing an individual can do to the planet. The overall CO2 emissions that each individual will produce throughout their lifetime is huge, with figures from a 2006 Guardian blog evidencing that, at that time at least, the average Hungarian was producing 5.88 million tonnes of carbon throughout their lifetime.

The Hungarian government is acting negligently, ignoring problems facing the wider world to instead focus on keeping Hungary full of Hungarians. In concerning times such as these, where climate change is coming for us all, no matter our geographical location or cultural history, does this not seem like irresponsible behaviour from a national leader?

Cosmopolitanism is the ideological argument that all human beings belong to a single community. It frees individuals from the local, provincial and national boundaries in which they are traditionally kept, viewing humanity as possessing a shared morality which binds us all. While many people may feel differently, that it is the strong cultural and national identities which creates cohesive communities, this mentality will not help us solve the world’s biggest problems, like protecting the planet and helping those who are seeking refuge or a better life abroad.

Ultimately, we are all human beings and in my opinion the future of our planet is a concern that must be treated from a cosmopolitan world view. Policies like the one Hungary has introduced show a total disregard for this need to respect our world and our foreign neighbours in need of help.

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