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HUNGARY: A Country Living for Its Future

October 25, 2010

HUNGARY: A Country Living for Its Future

I recently visited Budapest, which is a fascinating city. In just a few days I became charmed and impressed with Hungary and its people. Unlike some other European countries, Hungary seems focused on creating a better future for its citizens rather than living in its past. Many proud European countries have histories steeped in military conquest, expeditions to distant lands, and cultural achievements. Their identities seem centered on past accomplishments. Hungary does not seem to be weighed down by past glory and excessive nationalism. Just the opposite; Hungarians seem humble and focused on building on their strengths, overcoming weaknesses, and learning from their past rather than dwelling on it.

However, they seem to lack self-confidence. I sense this from my many interactions with Hungarians in hotels, restaurants, markets, stores, and on the street. At a conference, a Hungarian participant became very offended when a speaker commented about the “downtrodden” demeanor of many older Hungarians. Repeatedly, we were reminded of the same accomplished Hungarians, such as Joseph Pulitzer and Franz Liszt, and Hungarian inventions such as the ball point pen and Rubik’s Cube. All of this seemed to emanate from a sense of insecurity, rather than pride in the nation’s accomplishments and identity. Yet this is a country that should be proud and feel good about the path it is on.

Until I prepared for this trip and arrived in Budapest, I knew relatively little about Hungarian history, which is probably true for the great majority of Americans. I believe Hungarians see this time in their history as a tremendous opportunity to flourish as a nation like never before. Hungarians are still recovering from a combination of Nazi influence in World War II, communist rule, and Soviet domination which just ended in late 1989. This may account for the observation made by the conference speaker. Those were very difficult and dispiriting times. In prior centuries, Hungarians were ruled by the Mongols, Ottomans, and the Hapsburgs of Austria.

Today, Hungarians are in the midst of rebuilding, refurbishing, and discovering what works for them as a nation. Eighty percent of their capitol, Budapest, was destroyed near the end of World War II, mostly by the retreating Germans and advancing Soviets. Yet I did not detect a trace of bitterness but rather a desire to renew and lead themselves to a brighter future. This seems to be a serious country with a deep sense of purpose and a desire to grow. They are building on, not living in, their past. They are not allowing it to be a burden or weighty pride that keeps them from spreading their wings, or a regret that they are not now what they once were. They went through that after World War I, when two-thirds of the country was awarded to neighboring nations in the Treaty of Trianon. The Hungarian national psyche was crushed. Hoping to regain lost territory, they allied themselves with Hitler. I believe they learned that a resentful reaction does not help them move forward constructively.

I’m not sure if Hungary’s leaders have a clear vision for the country’s future. It seems to me like they are experiencing growing pains as they steadily come into their own. I hope there are not new dark clouds on Hungary’s horizon, as some anti-Semitic splinter groups are now exerting themselves. As Hungarians weather today’s economic challenges and move through this period of renewal, hopefully they can do so in an inclusive and positive way. That’s one of the keys to developing a stronger and healthier national identity. Perhaps they need to embrace some guiding national values and then be true to them.

I left Hungary with a very positive feeling. I am impressed with their evolving national culture and spirit. There is momentum, vibrancy, and refreshing energy that’s especially apparent in young adults. You can feel their optimism and belief that their best days are ahead of them. I think they are as well for both Hungarians and the country as a whole.

Like all countries, Hungary has its challenges. They are a maturing parliamentary democracy focused on creating a better future for themselves and contributing positively in international arenas. They seem to be making progress on many fronts.

Hungarians are learning what they are all about today and what they can become. This is a nation with incredible potential. It’s an example for all of us — as individuals and communities — for how to learn and grow from past trials and tribulations, and become stronger and more successful as a result.

Steve Weitzenkorn

Steve Weitzenkorn, Ph.D., is a learning innovator, organizational advisor, experienced facilitator, and lead author of Find-Fulfill-Flourish: Discover Your Purpose with LifePath GPS – a book, tool kit, and workshop series focused on guiding people toward more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

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