Government of Hungary not helping those in need, says Dialogue for Hungary co-chair Timea Szabó

January 21, 2017

“First they stop heating one room, then they stop heating two rooms, and in the end they only heat a single room, and try somehow to survive the winter.”

Translation of “Viktor Orbán’s work room got 4 billion Ft but there isn’t 3 billion Ft for social firewood” published by liberal print weekly Magyar Narancs on January 20.

Dialogue for Hungary (PM) has begin distributing firewood in the countryside.  They are going to places where social firewood is given to the mayor and his intimates.  We spoke with party co-chairman Timea Szabó (pictured).

How did the project begin?

Dialogue for Hungary (PM) decided a few years ago to reconsider the goal and means of opposition politicizing because we see that the Orbán government disregards every social and opposition feedback and sweeps away every initiative within parliament.  We are deliberately breaking from concentrating exclusively on legislative work, that is submitting bills and proposed modifications.  For three years we’ve publicized the It is necessary to do something! (Tenni kell!) program.  Within that framework, I volunteered as an assistant nurse at a hospital so that I might experience the problems of health-care first-hand and be able to offer help.  Since then a number of our members and activists have performed similar volunteer work.  In addition, this is our third winter of distributing 150-200 warm meals on Saturdays to homeless people.  In addition to that, this winter our politicians and activists are cooking for elderly people living on their own.  Several weeks ago when I saw that the municipal distribution of firewood was delayed yet again this year, I got the idea of taking this matter into our hands and trying to provide direct assistance by taking wood to needy people.  After I issued a statement, I received more and more personal requests from various settlements.

What did those who wrote to you consider to be the main problem?

Most were disabled people living on 30-40,000 Ft (USD 110-140) a month, but there were also a lot of parents of young children.  Many indicated that they were left out of the firewood distribution, and that in their settlement only the mayor and his chums got wood, or that the village simply did not receive enough wood.  In response to our request a large amount of donations arrived in under a few days.  This is terrific because we can help with the actual involvement of people.  We give them feedback through the Dialogue for Hungary web pages and my own page, posting photographs, and this way they can see that the aid is going to a good place.

What do people do where there is nothing to burn?

They are not able to solve their problem in any way, and that is the big problem.  What happens then is that they start limiting their homes, which are tiny to begin with, from a heating point of view.  First they stop heating one room, then they stop heating two rooms, and in the end they only heat a single room, and try somehow to survive the winter.

One of the places you visited yesterday was Tiszakeszi in Borsod county.  What did you experience there?

The couple on disability we helped only received wood on the first occasion, and only half of what was promised.  They received nothing the second time.  Somehow they didn’t get any, but the mayor’s relatives had piles of it.  A system of minor royalty has been formed in this as well.  Social firewood has become a kind of mercy to be bestowed on people,  those who belong to the mayor’s circle of interests or friends.  Those who are truly poor, who have no one to lobby their interests, do not.  I do not claim that every settlement is like this because there are mayors who go about this in an honest way and really try to distribute what little firewood they can.  But their hands are tied because the local governments are in an unbelievably difficult situation.

Wood was also distributed in Egyek in Hajdú-Bihar county.  How was the action group received?

They were very grateful.  Here is one of the older gentlemen we visited who did not receive firewood at all.  He is 68 years old living on disability.  Earlier he ran a book store, lost his job, and hasn’t found another since.  He wrote that he goes to the library to warm up, and that he had written to many places to ask for help.  It is inconceivably easy to fall down in Hungary today and to lose one’s footing in a manner from which, without external help, it is impossible to get back on one’s feet.  It is necessary to help these people.  We mustn’t leave them to their own devices.  They don’t want to receive pointless support.  Rather, the situation is that a large part of the country lives in a situation of extraordinary vulnerability and poverty.

If I am correctly informed, you submitted a proposal to parliament calling for a doubling of the support for social firewood.  What’s the situation there?

I submitted a proposal to modify the national budget, which is supposed to be put on the agenda of the appropriate committee within 30 days of the start of the next session.  If all goes well then it will support it and at least go before the National Assembly.  Unfortunately, there is little chance of this because the Fidesz-KDNP assemblymen do not support any opposition initiatives, even though I am really talking about a small amount of money.  With several billion forints it is possible to help many hundreds of thousands of people.  It is inconceivable that 4 billion forints (USD 13.8 million) can be spent on Viktor Orbán’s workroom but that there is not 3 billion forints (USD 10.3 million) for social firewood.   The most outrageous thing of all is that while the government beats its chest about the mandatory decrease in household expenses, the price of firewood has doubled over the past six years.  We know that the poorest characteristically heat with wood, nearly one million people, so once again the government does not and did not help those most in need.

Do you plan further distributions?

Dialogue for Hungary member organizations continue to receive requests, so our intention is to continue through the end of winter.  We plan to go to a different settlement every week.