1. I like Budapest in the summer. (inside joke)
2. The “Free Democrat/Socialist” coalition continues to tax people into the ground. Visited my father-in-law yesterday for a late lunch where he works, and it was clear from a quick top-of-the-head cashflow analysis that his business would not only be doing well, but would even be worth Anna and I taking it over from him… except that he’s paying so much in the way of taxes that he can barely make any profit. (And this situation is one that is widespread: the big international businesses can negotiate tax breaks, but the Mom’n'Pops have to either engage in the legally murky ‘tax dance,’ or else go out of business).
3. Regarding the people, rather than the government, you can see generational improvements. The average lifestyle is still kind of 1970s here (being in Budapest gives one a very unrealistic image of how people are actually living, because it’s where 70% of the nation’s wealth is concentrated), but the younger generations seem to be figuring out how to hit a stride.
4. The government is having trouble with the Estonians, because Gyurcsany (sorry, my browser doesn’t seem to do accents today for some reason), as a former leader among the young communists, is understandably close to the Russians, and the Russians are messing with the Estonians. This is creating problems vis-a-vis the “Finno-Ugric” peoples’ conference this year.
5. And the Hungarian government is going to be in for the rude shock of its life: as Slovakia neglects the southern districts because of the imminent adoption of the Schengen Plan in Slovakia and Hungary, Hungarians in Slovakia will more or less be able to rebuild links with Hungary. In theory, that means Hungarian economic and political influence. In reality, matters are going to be a bit more complicated, because the Slovaks have a sensible economic plan, including a flat tax (oh, if we could only be so economically smart in America…), and Hungarians, as one of the most-heavily-taxed peoples of Europe, are already going to Slovakia to buy cars, etc. The difference is something like a 40% discount — enough to justify the trouble. The writing on the wall is clear: Hungarian companies that can do so are going to relocate to Slovakia. The same pattern holds throughout the region. Yuschenko recently proposed a gas pipeline (this is significant: Hungary’s relatively open gas market, notably more open than the cozy one-on-one deals typical for the region, could potentially make it a real energy player in Europe) and significantly improved autonomy for the Hungarian minority there… but it’s similarly likely that if Ukraine (already ranked as “free” by Freedom House) can keep it together, they’ll be making economic moves tailored to growth. Serbia is anybody’s guess, and a “cultural freedom” bill is in the works in the European Parliament, due, if I understood what I was reading and watching correctly, for a final vote in September. But Romania has also, more or less, signed onto an economic-growth platform.
If the Hungarian government doesn’t start looking towards growth, rather than being obsessed with debt levels, it is likely to gradually become an economic backwater dominated by the Hungarian minorities in the surrounding countries.
6. Good news. The Gypsies are finally choosing to assimilate. Not that there aren’t still serious problems with law enforcement — like many minorities in modern societies, Gypsies are in a complex position, involving lenient criminal sentences for crimes that would put other citizens behind bars, organized crime (which occasionally breaks out into open warfare between gypsy bands as they struggle for control over gold and diamond smuggling, kidnapping girls for forcible prosecution, etc… the last battle being in Heves this week), and, I have to admit, some outright social discrimination. I personally could care less about race — except where Gypsies are concerned, having lived on the second-worst street in the 8th District, and having come out on the wrong side of some of their social predators. I generally can’t stand the folks, but I have a real soft spot for any Gypsy willing to risk being completely disowned by all of his or her relatives in order to assimilate to non-predatory social values. So it is particularly heartening in Budapest to see slow but sure signs of assimilation, as the “we tolerate prostitution” zone has meant that the crooks and schmucks more or less stay within a single district, and slowly but surely the rest of the Gypsy population is making its way into the workforce. This includes, by the way, occasional clear signs of interracial dating going on (since the Gypsies originate in India, and have generally not assimilated, they are not difficult to spot). This is Good News(tm), and literally centuries overdue… I’m going to see if I can keep my ear to the ground to see if I can pick up on any specific success stories.
7. Am going to Transylvania soon: we found a brand new, totally unknown wall-painting. Woo-hoo!