Today, our journey took us to the city of Debrecen, the second largest city in Hungary. Home to approximately three hundred thousand Hungarians, Debrecen is considered the regional center of the Northern Great Plain region of Hungary. Upon our arrival, I was immediately struck by the unique flavor of Debrecen. Lacking the hustle and bustle of cosmopolitan Budapest, and the slow pace of life in Pecs, Debrecen was a breadth of fresh air – not too big and not too small.
Our morning began with an early meeting at the Theological Academy of Debrecen. Our guest speaker, Elod Hodossy-Takacs, provided us with a general overview of the role of religion in Hungarian history and culture. Following the presentation by Elod Hodossy-Takacs, we split off into two groups to discuss social issues facing two of Hungary’s largest disadvantaged groups: the homeless and the disabled. These discussion were followed by site visits to a homeless shelter and a disabled children’s home respectively.
I was part of the group that split off to discuss the plight of disabled children. Following a quick visit to the Great Church, we made our way over to the Immanuel Home, an institution run by the Great Reformed Church. There, we met with several of the children’s health care takers: volunteer church parishioners, priests, and special education teachers and took the opportunity to interact with some of the disabled children. As we made our way through the facilities, we learned that the state of Hungary’s healthcare system for disabled children is in dire straits. Despite the explosion of economics development since 1989, social development has lagged for the most part in Hungary. The Hungarian government has for the most part largely ignored social issue of disabled children, leaving the majority of the work to social institutions like the Church and other charitable institutions.
Following our discussion sessions, we ate a delicious lunch at the Csokonai Restaurant, a local eatery well known for its awesome Csokonai soup. We scarcely had time to digest our meal before we were whisked away to a presentation by Zoltan Abadi Nagy, former president of the University of Debrecen, on the current state of Hungarian higher education. In stark contrast with the pessimisitc presentation by Tibor Frank on Hungary’s “unstoppable” brain drain, Dr. Nagy expressed great optimism regarding the fostering and retention of Hungarian Academic context. Although he acknowledge the presence of brain drain from Hungary, he encouraged us to take a step back and examine the situation from a more global perspective, noting that the majority of Hungary’s brain drain are to countries within the European Union, most notably England. While the loss is regretable, Dr. Nagy emphasized the importance of a regional outlook. This was reinforced by a great sense of confidence that Hungary’s increased exposure to globalization and integration into the European Union will stimulate academic, and economic reform suitable for sustainable progress.
Having listened to Dr. Nagy’s points, as well as Tibor Frank’s pessimistic arguments, I found myself pensively contemplating the state of Hungary. For all the progress that Hungary has made in these past two decades, there is still much work to be done particularly in the social realm. Despite all the speculation of the experts we’ve met, the future remains uncertain, especially when considering taking into consideration the volatile political climate in Hungary. Only time will tell how the rest of the story will play out. Peace out.