On Monday, Tímea Szabó, founder and associate president of Párbeszéd party, raised her voice in the National Assembly against the government’s action to donate protective gear to neighboring and Balkan countries. As she listed the recipient countries and the volumes of different types of gear donated, loud applause broke out in the room.
She could not finish her speech due to the applause, but apparently her point was that it is irresponsible to donate in times when the country is running low on such resources and does not have enough for its own citizens. While this was her stance, the applause by the ruling parties’ representatives was meant to recognize the generosity of Hungary and the respectful cooperation with our neighbors in these difficult times.
The Hungarian government has donated protective gear to several countries in recent weeks, targeting mainly but not exclusively areas where Hungarian minorities live. Despite continuous delivery of large numbers of consignments to Hungary, there is a threat of shortages in domestic supplies, not to mention the uncertainty of future needs in the middle of the coronavirus crisis. Donated volumes are clearly of different scale compared to the volumes imported and produced locally, but one can, of course, argue that every single missing mask or pair of gloves may jeopardize our safety and abilities to mitigate risks of contamination.
The situation is at least controversial. Priority number one obviously is the safety of our own citizens, foremost the doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who fight day and night against the epidemic under great pressure and in dangerous circumstances. Compromising their safety would undoubtedly be misconduct.
Another intriguing question is the real motivation behind these actions of generosity. Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said that helping Bosnia and Herzegovina was in our interest because the country is “on a migration route, therefore it is important that the country continues to do everything to stop migratory trends.”
One can also note that it has become a ‘standard’ to donate among countries, as a sign of solidarity. While Hungary is donating to Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, consignments of protective gear and material for manufacturing face masks arrived from Turkic Council countries. Although I have not made a mathematical calculation to evaluate the sum of this give-and-take equation, it is probably not a good idea to be stuck just on the recipient side of this collaboration.
In order to come to a comforting conclusion to such a perplexing and complex issue, it usually helps if one takes a step backwards and looks at the arguments from a wider perspective.
Priorities of needs do matter when we draw the border of communities and define ‘we’ and ‘others,’ simply because our responsibility for ourselves is higher than for others. But we Hungarians all know that the Hungarian Nation is not bound to the borders of Hungary. When we help neighboring countries, we help Hungarians as well.
Solidarity is a very important human value that should not be abandoned when the situation gets dire. On the contrary, solidarity becomes ever more important in times of need. Acts of generosity should be sincere on the other hand, and not based on interest. First and foremost though, we have to demonstrate goodwill.
Featured photo by Nándor Veres/MTI