Health, Class and the Post-State-Socialist Semiperiphery
A new genre of social critique is emerging in Hungary: taking photographs--like this, this, this, this, or this, for instance-- of the depressing to outrageous to dismal conditions in hospitals run under the aegis of the national health care system. Participation in the national health fund is obligatory for anyone earning incomes in Hungary, except of course those toiling exclusively in the underground economy. Nobody knows how the funds collected from all gainfully employed are actually spent. There is no transparency concerning management; head doctors are masters of life and death. Nor is there any effective unionization in the health sector. Doctors are widely seen as 1. outrageously corrupt (essentially accepting untaxable, unaccountable cash bribes, reflecting the patient's state of despair and the thickness of their wallet, in exchange for better, faster, less painful, etc. treatment) or 2. gone already to the UK or elsewhere in western Schengen. Or 3. losers, of course.
Things have recently reached a new low. Not one, but two hospitals--one in Budapest, the other in the county seat of Székesfehérvár, about 60 km from the capital--have expressly banned patients and visitors from photographing the unacceptable, wildly unsanitable and untenable conditions purportedly on account of the possibility that such photos, if they were to find their way to the internet, might harm what hospital management seem to think of, in some odd modified state of consciousness, as "the good reputation" of said hospital. As if the dilapidated, sadly underfunded hospitals had any such thing as a "good reputation". This is particularly interesting as the National Data Protection and Freedom of Information Agency issued a binding statement in June, 2019, declaring such bans patently unconstitutional.
I am particularly interested in this petty managerial decision as it offers a prime example of class politics in the semiperiphery. For those sociologically minded, in a nutshell:
- As for Weberian / Bourdieusian views of class: The wealthy and the privileged have easy access to superb care in clean and well run private establishments, located either in Hungary or elsewhere, depending on their conditions and/or preferences. (Remember, Vienna is a 2.5 hour train ride, Berlin, Munich or Zurich are each less than 90 minutes' flights from Budapest.)
- For those of us interested in more antagonistic, vaguely post-Marxian notions of class--well, the owners of the capital that operates most of the economy of post-state-socialist Hungary---almost exclusively Big Capital located in west Schengen--never set foot in the country where their profits are made .Ergo they have their global super-elite health care "at home," in western Schengen-Land. As for the few Hungarian oligarchs and the high-level managerial staff who serve both sets of owners--see the point about Weberian / Bourdieusian class, back to square one.
UPDATE: This piece has been translated and published in Bulgarian on the website Diversiya here.