Economic Disadvantage And The Slope Of Modernization In The Hungarian Nation

Ideologies of supporting Hungarian minority communities are not restricted to the national domain: although much less elaborately and explicitly formulated, images of poverty and under-development of ethnic minority communities are also included in these ideologies. The modernisation discourse is a global hierarchical classification system that measures positions according to their level of modernisation and civilization.

The system has an idealised Western Europe as reference point, while all other positions are measured according to their distance (belatedness) on the modernisation/civilisation axis. In the Hungarian national imagery, this modernisation hierarchy is also projected onto the Hungarian nation, creating internal East-West hierarchies: it states the heavy economic circumstances, economic and cultural underdevelopment and lack of civilisation of ethnic Hungarian minority communities residing in “less modernised” countries of Ukraine, Romania, Serbia. Based on common national belonging, the responsibility of Hungarians of Hungary should thus cover not only the preservation of national identity and culture in these minority groups, but also should take part in their material support, modernisation and development. The initiators of such philanthropic actions are middle class health-, education-, cultural professionals, entrepreneurs, managers all being able to afford to participate in the program. They have the financial means to offer donations, they have free time to do fund-raising, they have the material means and free time to offer accommodation in their homes, and to travel to great distances to visit the supported communities in their settlements. Encounters between donors and recipients all depend upon such material and time offers of the donors. The majority of the recipients are less wealthy: they are less educated, living in economically depressed rural areas in Romania and Ukraine, the majority of adults working on the secondary labour market, being able to afford large distance travels only as part of labour migration to Western Europe or Ukrainian and Russian industrial areas. Personal encounters of donors/volunteers and recipients often take place in localities in Romania, or Ukraine. Preexisting imageries of (economic) underdevelopment interacting with experiencing poverty on their journeys may intensely bring into the fore helping intentions and practices targeting poverty, and aiming for ’development’. The ideology of modernisation, poverty relief and development, moreover, also gains emphasis due to ruptures and tensions arising around the ideology of preservation of the Hungarian culture, described above. Focusing on underdevelopment and poverty-related needs implies self-evident and unquestioned philanthropic goals that enable the silencing of legitimacy problems challenging these programs.

The focus on poverty and modernisation implies not only material donations of money, or consumption goods, but also the reframing of the educational programs as contributing not only to the preservation of Hungarian culture, language and communities, but to their modernisation and social mobility of their members. In the words of one god-parent supporting a Csángó family in Moldavia: “The Hungarian House [the community building of the program in a Moldavian village] is equipped according to Hungarian standards. So there are computers, TV-sets, DVD, books. So kids there have more opportunity than others in public schools. (…) Without the program my godchild would have five percent chance for higher education diploma, now he has forty. So this is great news, because in a region without education opportunities we have the chance to mobilize a great pile of kids. (…. ) Even if they leave [the community], they would presumably support their parents and whatever, so not only those kids, but the whole region will be advanced at a larger speed than the normal. ”

18 May 2020
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