Budapest (AFP) – Disgusted by the state of their economy and the quality of their politicians, Hungarians are abandoning their country in droves. An election in April is unlikely to lure them home.
Agnes left her job in a multinational company in Budapest in 2012 and bought a one-way ticket to Brussels.
One day she might return to Hungary but for now “the ubiquitous corruption, suspicion, bad humour and lack of perspective” are not tempting her to pack her bags.
“I could have lived with this if I’d seen a possibility for change in the country’s political, economic or social climate,” said the 39-year-old press officer, who only gave her first name.
“That possibility does not exist.”
While their neighbours in Poland and the Baltics left in droves after the fall of the Iron Curtain and again after they joined the European Union, Hungarians mostly stayed put.
But the 2008 financial crisis kicked off a wave of emigration that has steadily grown ever since.
In 2012 alone, 17,000 Hungarians applied for a British National Insurance number, compared to just 14,000 in the three years to 2010.
By the start of this year, some 500,000 Hungarians — around one in 20 — were living abroad, according to government figures.
Some 300,000 had moved to Britain, 100,000 to Germany, 50,000 to Austria and the rest were scattered around the 28-nation EU.
That is comparable to the mass departures of Hungarian history — the exodus to the United States in the early 1900s, and the 176,000 who fled in the wake of the 1956 uprising and its brutal suppression by Soviet tanks.
“The trend is everywhere. There isn’t a family that hasn’t been touched,” said Endre Sik, an analyst with social research institute Tarki.
Most worrying for the authorities is that half of those leaving are under 30, according to the institute. Hungary is losing its best and brightest young minds to the rest of Europe.