The 2023 Budapest Business Journal Wishlist

Analysis

As has become a tradition in recent years, the Budapest Business Journal invited a variety of people from across Hungary, some of whose voices would not normally be heard in our pages, to offer us their wishes for 2023.

Teachers are a Precious Resource, and Hungary’s Future

Public education in Hungary is in crisis. I live in Szombathely, a town of70,000 people in prosperous western Hungary, yet in my school, wedon’t have an IT teacher, and theonly math teacher has decided to quit next year, as she told me, because of the poor working conditions.

Across Hungary, teachers are overloaded, very underpaid, and disrespected by the government and the population. The education system is unsustainable as is; if we don’t have a math teacher next year, which is highly likely, we won’t be able to do the final matriculation tests.

The situation is similar, and often worse, all over Hungary. This is why students, teachers, and parents have been demonstrating against government inaction for months. Yet the authorities are ignoring us, and the problems of the Hungarian education system keepgrowing.

In my view, teenage students should not be organizing demonstrations; we are at school tostudy. However, in this situation, we have no alternative but to try to make the government see sense because the problems go beyond aserious lack of teachers.

As a result, together with the teachers, we have drawn up a list of nine demands for the government. These include, for example, that the public media present our grievances ina fair and accurate way. Our protests, often involving thousands ofpeople, are typically ignored by thestate-owned media.

We have asked editors several times to publish our demands, but we only achieved this when, after six months of campaigning, we organized a protest in front of the headquarters ofstate television.

Another example is the free choice of textbooks. Since the “education reforms” of about a decade ago, teachers have been limited to using just one (sometimes two) textbooks per subject. However, the quality of these books is usually very poor, and the so-called “unified curriculum” sometimes feels like a random heap of knowledge. Because of this, teachers have to create worksheets for us, and this is from their own money.

In addition, many state schools, as opposed to those run by churches, are seriously underfunded. At my school, there is not enough money to buy smart boards. More fundamentally, there is not enough money to even keep the buildings safe. This year, the ceilings in six different schools across the country collapsed.

Thus, in 2023, my wish is that thegovernment starts to listen to anddeal with the requests of the Hungarian people, students, and teachers and to solve the problems of the Hungarian education system for thesake of future generations.

Ákos Bozai is a high school student andactivist in Adom, the Movement for an Alternative and Student-Oriented Education

Tame Inflation and Strive for a Revival ofGrowth in H2 2023

Last year was a “disaster” in many respects, even if households were, in many cases, able to ride out the economic storm for most of the year thanks to the money pumped into the economy earlier.

Supply chain disruptions coupled with the return of consumer demand caused price rises. In addition, energy prices, especially natural gas and electricity, sky-rocketed across Europe and further fueled inflation.

As if this were not enough, drought and restrictions on grain exports from Ukraine also added to the inflationary pressures.

Traditional monetary policy responses were really inadequate to cope with the combined effects of these movements, and in any case, the central banks acted a bit late or were slow to respond, which didn’t help.

However, in the second half of 2022, central banks accelerated their interest rate hikes, and most economies began to cool down. The hope was to ease the situation in economies with tight labor markets, to reduce real wages (thereby increasing competitiveness), and to increase productivity, since productivity improvements usually help to curb inflation and avoid the monster of stagflation. As a result, some economies could experience a deceleration of inflation by the end of 2022.

It is a commonly held view that many European economies will see a decrease in economic output (GDP) in the first half of this year and that in the second half at the latest, inflation will begin to fall significantly, simultaneously with a return to economic growth. I believe Hungary will most probably follow this pattern, although, of course, huge uncertainties remain in such forecasting.

Therefore, my wish for 2023 is to really achieve a significant deceleration of inflation, to have only a small painless quarterly recession in the first half of the year, and to see a genuine return to economic growth in the second half in both Hungary and the world.

József Miró is an equity analyst andstrategist with Erste Investment, Hungary.

Leaders: be More Open-minded. It’ll Help Everyone and Your Bottom Line

This year has been full of unexpected twists and challenges for everyone. I hope that many of you have not only seen the downside but have also experienced the power of joining forces during turbulent times.

I have had the privilege of working with many companies in 2022, and Ihope that the positive change I have seen will continue into 2023, with many people realizing that there is strength in our differences andthat, if we can harness this strength, we can not only survive acrisis but thrive.

My wish is that leaders and decision-makers will be more open-minded in 2023. More open-minded to receive feedback and opinions that are different from their own and work on their feelings, reactions, and unconscious biases.

Since today’s world is increasingly more globalized and interconnected, workplaces should take advantage of the diverse range of skills individuals from different backgrounds can bring.

I wish more leaders would realize that by ensuring a diverse workforce whose members feel they belong, that they are an equal part of something big and are integral to the company’s success, then the leaders themselves will be able to thrive as well.

But recruiting women and underrepresented talent is not the same as retaining them. If companies want to keep them in the workforce, they need to provide, for example, equitable opportunities to advance careers, equitable access to resources and training, and equitable pay.

Open-minded leaders offer a seat at the table, and they mean it. They know hiring or promoting more underrepresented talent into leadership positions, perhaps to meet quotas orto “perform” for the press, won’t patch equity holes inthe employee lifecycle.

Biases around gender, skin color, sexual orientation, age, and disabilities make it hard to see opportunities in employing talents who are different and also in attracting a diverse customer base.

This kind of thinking will result in more employee engagement, better bottom lines, and more satisfied customers.

Gabriella Bódi is a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant and co-founder of [eureka] Consulting and Games, a Budapest-based organization development company.

American Turns to Hungarian Literature for his Inspirational Wish

For my wish for 2023, let me start with what a Mór Jókai character once said: “What is mine is all gone, what will be mine is far off, and what should be mine is nowhere.” I invoke this as a mental trick to start with low expectations. When light appears at the end of the tunnel, it’s all the moresatisfying.

My Hungarian is good enough for many things, but not for a social gathering after a few hours of brain-scrambling. Recently, I meant to offer a hug to someone but inadvertently offered to kill her. Opposites in Hungarian can sound surprisingly similar. Never mind (if you’ll allow me to progress from Jókai to Gyula Krúdy) that love is separated from murder by the narrowest of margins; opposites are supposed to meet only in dreams, not in the real world.

And yet Antal Szerb writes in the last line of his most famous novel, “While there is life, there is always the chance that something will happen.” The precise diction of this sentence makes it appear neutral; “something” could be good, orit could be bad. Yet I find this simple sentence to be incredibly uplifting. The invocation of life makes it so.

Let’s allow the wishes of old Hungarians to lead us into 2023 with this passage from Krúdy’s Chronicles:

“Springtime has always promised some wondrous change, for every one of us would like to change our life – an act that winter’s one-note song of somnolent, silent snowfall never inspires. Springtime arrives – and sorrow departs. We go for long walks, or leave town and travel far, far away where we may meet someone, man or woman, whose voice will redeem us, calm and harmonious, so special, renewing our outlook on life, a voice so wonderful to hear. One who tells us what we are here for, how to be happy, where to go, what to think, andhowtobe good.”

Robert Brooker co-founded the New York Bagel chain in Hungary in 1992 but left in 1995 to study for an MBA. His first book, an English translation (with Zebulon Erdos) of Gyula Krúdy’s “Book of Dreams,” was published in 2020. He has just completed his latest book (co-authored with Ádám Erdész), Albert Kner: a Hungarian Artist in Industrial America, which will be published in 2023.

More, Better State Support for Ukrainian Refugees, Please

For the past 10 months, my wife and I have been driving to Ukraine to deliver medical supplies, food, warm clothing, and other basic necessities to refugees, both within their own country and here in Hungary.

We have seen the devastation in Kyiv, Irpin, and Bucha when delivering supplies that friends and family in Hungary and the USA have contributed. We have feltthe misery and experienced first-hand the traumas people are going through from attacks earlier in theRussianoccupation.

We are more than willing to continue our efforts, quietly and privately, to the best of our abilities. But, sitting here in our warm house, three days after Christmas, we’re wondering why the volunteer sector in Hungary is needed to supply Ukrainian refugees who have made it across the border with their basicdaily needs?

Hungary has received financial support from the European Union, so why is there a need for a food bank for refugees in Budapest?  Why did my friends and I have to buy clothes and warm blankets for refugee families who have been here for almost a year?

When I was still in the USA, I met and worked with a 1956 Hungarian refugee. He had been given language training, health care, and food assistance by the U.S. government as part of his settlement package. Is it too much to ask that refugees in Hungary be given similar treatment that Hungarians received when they were refugees?

My wish is that Hungary supports refugees here better. There should be language training, food assistance, access to basic healthcare, and help with jobs. Right now, it seems that the open-door policy is getting people out of harm’s way. But just keeping them from getting bombed is not enough. Our experience has been that there is too much reliance in Hungary on the volunteer sector, and the official assistance that exists is too fragmented.

When the war is over, most Ukrainians will go home, just as many 1956 Hungarian refugees have now returned. Will Ukrainians remember only that they were safe?  Or will they remember that they were welcomed with all that life requires?

Gene Brown originally hails from California, and Marylin Ball-Brown from Kansas, though they lived their married life in the Pacific Northwest, latterly in Washington State. Afterretirement in 2013, they settled in Veresegyház, 25 km northeast of Budapest.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of January 13, 2023.

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