Hungary, the country where life really becomes more expensive

In Budapest (Hungary).

At the entrance to Hungarian supermarkets, posters have been unmissable since 1is february. Below a red “stop” sign, a list on blue background indicates the ceiling at their level of October 15, 2021 prices for powdered sugar, type 55 wheat flour, UHT milk 2.8%, cooking oil made from sunflower, certain pieces of chicken and pork leg. On November 9, the government added eggs and potatoes, locked in at September 30 rates. A decision that is not unanimous: producers fear selling at a loss and small traders believe they are at a disadvantage compared to large areas.

As with other foodstuffs, the main supermarket chains are limiting purchase quantities for fear of shortages, while exceptional inflation is affecting Hungary. Between the months of October 2021 and 2022, the price increase reached 21.1%a record value since 1996. Over the same period, food inflation rose to 40% in the countryEuropean champion of the classification.

According to the national statistics office KSH, the price of eggs increased by 87.9%, those of bread by 81.4%, dairy products by 75.4%, cheese by 74.7%, butter by 71. .6% and pastes of 58.6% in the space of twelve months.

“Less meat and good bread”

The government also freezes the price of fuel at 480 forints (1.17 euros) per liter since November 15, 2021, has frozen interest rates on bank loans since last December 24 and continues to control energy prices below 210 kilowatt hours of electricity and 144 cubic meters of gas per month. But these measures fail to stem the inflationary escalation, which began last fall and was fueled by gifts from the power in place before the April elections, during which Prime Minister Viktor Orbán won a fourth term in a row.

The difficulties of the national currency hardly help the situation. In September 2019, reports KSH, 1,000 forints could buy 4 liters of milk, 3.2 kilos of bread or 25 eggs. Three years later, this sum only covers 2.2 liters of milk, 1.3 kilos of bread and 14 eggs. The executive points to the war in Ukraine and European retaliatory measures against Russia, accused of worsening inflation and the energy crisis. posters for a «consultation nationale» controversial, launched in mid-October, even tackling straightforwardly, representing them with a bombthem “Brussels sanctions” who “ruin” the Hungarians.

A journalist with the liberal weekly HVG, Mercedesz scans the rise in prices every month and imposes restrictions on herself out of necessity. “Each year, I gather ten to twelve people for a traditional Saint-Martin dinner, where you eat goose [le plat partagé lors de cette fête ayant lieu le 11 novembre, ndlr]. This time, I replaced the goose, which was way too expensive, with salmon, which was more affordable. In October, I wanted to make a beef goulash, but ended up opting for more economical game. Overall, I buy less meat and less good bread in my favorite artisan bakery, so as not to waste»she says.

“We only go to Lidl and Aldi”

The context reminds him of the time of «Bush Package» (“Bokros package”), drastic austerity plan decreed by Finance Minister Lajos Bokros in 1995, five years after the collapse of the Magyar communist regime: today, municipalities restrict the activities of theatres, swimming pools, libraries and museums; the largest hotel in Hungary, the Danubius Hungaria, stops receiving customers a priori until the end of February; Cinema City theaters only open in the afternoon on weekdays; the thermal baths of Budapest inflate their tickets to spend the winter; the administrations reduce the heating at the request of the executive.

“With inflation and the weakening
from the forint, my husband and I have
100,000 forints less per month
on hand to buy
groceries and pay our bills.”
Melinda, teacher

At the end of September, the government even froze 284 infrastructure projects across the country (schools, medical or sports centers, roads, energy renovations, etc.), to relieve the national budget. These difficulties did not, however, prevent the authorities from buy the local branch of the telephone operator Vodafoneto throw a think tank in Brusselsof extend Russian pipeline Druzhba to neighboring Serbiato launch yet another one-sided and costly “national consultation” or to invest in nine chic hotels in Transylvania with taxpayers’ money.

The citizens themselves are stunned by inflation. Melinda, a teacher, now avoids certain brands and pays extras to make ends meet. “We no longer go to Spar and Auchan, only to Lidl and Aldi. But even so, the receipt costs 8,000 forints [20 euros, ndlr] more than before. With inflation and the weakening of the forint, my husband and I have 100,000 forints [245 euros, ndlr] less a month on hand to buy groceries and pay our bills. To compensate for our losses, I agree to supervise private camps during school holidays and I give private lessons outside my working hours., she details.

Recession and timber rush

For Katalin, an editor, saving her wallet means reducing her purchases of vegetables and adding rice and pasta to her dishes. he asked or potatoes. Judit, she still buys everything but rations the quantities as much as possible so as not to let anything expire or rot. Inflation even touches the sacrosanct ten o’clock (10 a.m. snack) for school children. While the majority of parents gave their children a little money to afford a little something, many of them now prepare homemade sandwiches or pastries if they have enough time.

“Shopping at the Penny Market costs me 17-18,000 forints compared to 10,000 beforecalculates Fabien, French architect and father of a family, settled in Budapest for a long time. I take sausage instead of ham, I eliminated the little extras like a packet of surimi and I switched to rolled cigarettes. “We only go once a month to our favorite Vietnamese or sushi restaurant, instead of once a week. The end of the month is more or less close to zero, so we count what we spend, but trying not to make the girls feel the difference too much.

After twelve years of growth, Hungary is also showing the first signs of a recession likely to worsen in the coming quarters, notes an analyst at ING bank. In the meantime, in the provinces, households are rushing to wood and the solar panels to avoid astronomical gas and electricity bills. Three employees of an oil exploitation in the region of Baranya, in the south-west of the country even went so far as to steal more than ten thousand liters of crude to heat their homes. A famous Magyar proverb states that the Hungarian “plays while crying”. The maxim has rarely been as appropriate as it is now.

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