Hungary seems to attract more and more immigrants, which might mean a small compensation for its emigration, though it cannot compensate the decrease of population, which is mainly due to natural causes. Apart from the flow into the country by ethnic Hungarians from the neighbouring countries, the country seems also to become more popular for people from Western-Europe. A considerable amount comes from the ‘Low Countries’, also known by the acronym BeNeLux (Belgium-the Netherlands-Luxembourg), also pronounced as a word: Benelux. This combination of three countries was founded in the 1950s as a kind of predecessor of the later European Communities; as a political or monetary union it is not very much in use at the moment, but its name is still used for denomination of the three countries. The term Low(er) Countries / Les Pays-Bas (French) is normally used for The Netherlands, but originally was referring to many small states, which at present make up these three states; ‘Nether-lands’ means nothing more than ‘Lower Countries’. The Hungarian name ‘Német Alföld’ might be geographically correct, but – by translation - is never used in Germany or the three Low Countries, probably due to political reasons….
This article focuses on that group of Belgian, Dutch and Luxembourg citizens emigrating to Hungary. First of all, it analyses the reasons for migration. As it will turn out, there are both push, and pull factors. These factors sometimes differ between the groups of migrants, as well as their purposes. The research does not only deal with permanent, ‘real’ migrants, but also with people buying real estate for semi-permanent or temporary staying. Actually, it is about all citizens from the Benelux countries staying in Hungary for longer periods of time, and / or having real estate properties in Hungary.
Another issue to be dealt with, is the period of migration to Hungary. As the study shows, ‘time’ is an important factor, as the migration from the Benelux countries is a phenomenon especially increasing in importance since the mid-1990s.
As the author, who is in person part of the group making up this research, was notified by some villagers in Baranya county that it seems like ‘the Dutch’ – as they tend to be called all of them by Hungarians, despite their country of origin – seem to be present already in each settlement, this was never heard from people living around Lake Balaton, or the western parts of Hungary; there, the locals mainly talked about the Germans and Austrians. So, there seem to be differences between the countries of origin of the migrants in Hungary in geographical spreads. The fourth section of this article discusses these differences between the Benelux citizens and other nationalities in Hungary, as well as some differences between the three states.
The next step is the total number of migrants in Hungary and as it shows, it is very difficult to define this number. Nevertheless, a study is made, which also forms the base for the next part, focusing on the geographical spread over the country. As will be shown, the division within Hungary is far from equal, with especially the south-western part of the Hungarian Republic attracting a lot of ‘Lowlanders’.
Finally, some trends will be discussed, as well as a perspective for the future. This might include an official minority status for the mainly Dutch speaking community.
There can be many reasons for foreigners for deciding to emigrate to Hungary, whether temporarily, permanently or just for holidays. After buying a house myself in one of the highest settlements in the county of Baranya, I heard that the locals thought this was probably because of the increase of the sea level. At first, I thought they meant it as a joke, but actually I met this presumption many times, as well did fellow countrymen, wherever they bought something in Hungary.
It is true, as far as The Netherlands is concerned, that about 30% of the country is below sea level, where about 60% of its population is living; of course, water might scare us. And yes, rising water levels have changed the shape and borders of the country over the centuries. But almost all Dutch are able to swim…. For the Wallonians and Luxembourgeois it does not matter at all, since they live on a higher elevation. But as a matter of fact, this is not at all the reason behind emigration. I still do not know which caused this general believe in Hungary that the climate changes scare the Dutch so much, that they are thinking of emigration, just to be sure. Some documentaries on TV-channels like Discovery might have strengthened this general idea, or perhaps it was a good joke of a Dutch comedian. No, in reality, I never met one migrant telling me that his push factor was the raise of the sea level. As most inhabitants of the Low Countries are ‘down to earth, standing with two feet on the ground’, they realize that the danger will be later, perhaps – or: probably, without interference – in 75 or even more than 100 years. Despite the fact that the former eldest person in the world was a Dutch woman who died at the age of 115, and who was born in the same region as the author, most Dutchmen and Belgians do not count on reaching the age of 110 years or over.
However, there are reasons for emigration, both push and pull factors. These differ from person to person and are related to individual circumstances, of course. They also differ between generations and for different purposes, as e.g. buying a holiday house for temporary residence, temporary migration for work or study, or permanent migration for other reasons, among them going in retirement.
To start with the push factors, for people looking for a holiday house in Hungary among the most important are the climate of these West-European countries, with relatively few hours of sunshine, the lack of space in most parts of the Benelux, due to high population densities, as well as the dream of having a house with a nice garden and some ‘living space’ around, without having neighbours immediately around. Such is difficult to find in the three countries and when it is available, it will be unaffordable for a lot of people. Also the ‘rushing’ society makes some people need to have a place of rest every now and then, which might be difficult to find for them in their home country.
The people looking for a holiday house are from all generations, from around 20 to 70 and over.
For people who think of (semi-)permanent emigration, among the push factors are also the lack of space in most parts of the Benelux, high prices of housing, increasing costs of living, complaints about overregulation by the governments, the climate again, and an increasing number of tensions somehow related to the multi-ethnic and urban societies; at least, that is the response in interviews with emigrants.
The group of permanent emigrants is more age and generation specific. One group consists of young families, who would like to start a new life. They are in a significant number of cases from suburbs and satellite towns and their greatest push factor seems to be that they are ‘sick of standing each day 3-4 hours in traffic jams’ and consider their life in an average apartment or row house and their office job quite boring. Especially when their children are still quite young, or when there are no children yet, it seems to be easier to choose to emigrate. Other families wait with the move when their children just left the house, to live on their own. For both types, the impact of popular British, Belgian and Dutch TV-programs showing people who decided ‘to turn the wheel of life’ seems to be quite big and many people start dreaming of their own small camping, bed&breakfast, fishing pond, horse farm, gallery etc. In most cases, for them the money isn’t a push factor, but in some cases it is, especially if they cannot afford life anymore, or only very hard.
The other group consists of pensioners, or people who will have pension in a couple of years. In a lot of cases, in the Benelux they are the generation with the money, since they have their own house, which increased enormously in value, they do not have to take care of children anymore, and opposite to other countries, like e.g. Hungary, there is no real tradition of parents supporting their adult children with buying a house, car or other expenses; the children and grandchildren might receive some gifts and small help, but they should not count on it at all. And the parents do not move to the children when they are older, or vice versa. For those pensioners, the push factors are especially the climate, the lack of space and a growing concern on loosing traditional values, degeneration of society, increasing crime rates and a general feeling of not being happy. However, these push factors for senior citizens do not seem to be very strong, in most cases it are especially the pull factors, that makes them to decide to buy a second house, or even to sell everything. In most cases, these people still hold a property in their home country, too, though this might be a smaller apartment.
There are pull factors, as well, differing from destination to destination. For Hungary, among the most important pull factors are the relatively low costs of living compared to the Benelux, the attractive climate, especially with springs, summers and early autumns with a lot of sunshine, the very low prices of real estate – among the lowest in the EU! – and the huge space, like big gardens, large sheds and stables etc. From individual perspectives, the factors will diver, but especially for senior citizens it counts, that even with a small pension from home, they can live very well in Hungary; they could have their own gardener if they would like and they can go each day to the local restaurant. When, especially in The Netherlands, selling their apartment or row house, and buying or renting a smaller one, they can buy a large detached family house or villa, or renovate an old farm estate and even have a swimming pool, if they like. What also counts, especially for regions like the Mecsek is, that especially Flemish and Dutch people are fond of forests and hilly and mountainous landscapes; that is what lacks at home. They do not need to see the sea or a big lake, since that is not considered to be ‘special’, as there are a lot at ‘home’. The fact that houses in Hungary normally have a large garden, offering some opportunities for a flower and vegetable garden and even having some fruit trees and grapes is also a strong selling point, as well is the lower population rate and the presence of large natural parks, wild parks, and the like.
At the same time, Hungary is considered to be still quite a modern country and especially since it became part of the EU, it attracts even more people, since they also consider it to be a good destination for investments. In general, people from the Benelux think rather positively about Hungary, perhaps they are more positive than about some neighbouring countries, especially on the Balkans. Hungary has the reputation of being a Western country, rather developed, with friendly inhabitants. The fact that after the Wars and in 1956 many Hungarians came as refugees to the Benelux states and integrated very well – a Hungarian refugee even became Secretary of State in The Netherlands in the 1980s, for example – probably also contributed to that image, and at the same time the Dutch and Belgians feel very welcome in Hungary.
Since Hungary developed a lot especially the last two decades, with new infrastructure, shopping malls and health institutions and famous spas, as well as because of the quality of life in relation to the low prices and absence of traffic jams and the like, in combination with a ‘slower life rhythm’, the country becomes more and more attractive for permanent residence by retired people, comparable with the Mediterranean region.
For migrants who come for work, the biggest pull factor is the developing economy and the fact that especially Budapest became an important centre of the region in Central and Eastern Central Europe. Quite a lot of Hungarian companies were purchased by foreign companies or started a joint venture, which also attracts migrants.
Despite the fact this small ‘wave of immigration’ to Hungary is by far not comparable with those in the previous centuries – like the immigrations of Germans – especially after 1990 the number of foreigners, non-ethnic Hungarians increased in Hungary. Before the Wende, there were quite view people from the Benelux countries living in Hungary. Of course, the international relations between the countries are centuries old and always some people have been living in Hungary; originally it where especially migrants for family reasons, which between 1945 and 1989 especially meant the emigration of the Hungarian part of the family to the other state. Further on, there were some diplomats and people working for international organizations and companies. After 1989, the first to migrate to Hungary or to buy a holiday house were ethnic Hungarians, who emigrated before. Germans followed, since they knew the country quite well, especially the area of Lake Balaton, where they spent holidays before, too. The first ‘real’ Belgians and Dutch to buy a house were people who also enjoyed holidays in Hungary before and who became enthusiastic, or people who had ethnic Hungarian friends who bought a house and who followed the example. Of course, from the early 1990s onwards, also investors bought properties; for own purpose, or to led to tourists or foreign workers. The back then even lower prices made it very attractive, since the Dutch guilder and Belgian frank were, just like the German mark, very strong and worth a lot in Hungary. It has to be stated that in general the Dutch came earlier and in bigger numbers than the Belgians; this may be related to a more pioneering spirit, or the fact that there were no Hungarian real estate agents active in Belgium. The first couple of years after the change of regime, allowing foreigners to buy properties, attracted also some farmers and project developers, but the numbers were still quite low. Since the second half of the 1990s, the migration has been increasing and still seems to increase each year, as Hungary becomes more popular and the difference with the high prices in countries such as Portugal, Spain and France, as well as nowadays Czech Republic and Turkey increases. As mentioned before, the entry to the EU in 2004 also boosted the wave and some people are speculating about the introduction of the euro in Hungary, which might increase prices of real estate; therefore, they are interested to buy now.
With the recent international credit crises, future is not sure and may decrease the purchase by foreigners of real estate. On the other hand, with less money to spend, for more people Hungary becomes an interesting cheap alternative for the unaffordable dream of having a holiday house in the Mediterranean.
The spread of the Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg citizens differs from that of other foreigners in Hungary, as we will see in the next sections. First of all, the Austrians are especially located close to the Austrian border, in the western part of the country. For people from the Benelux this is not very important, since they have to travel over 1,000 kilometres anyhow, so another 100-200 further does not matter too much; it is too far for driving at the end of a Friday afternoon, which is the attraction for Viennese people owing a house close to the border. As for Germans the region of Lake Balaton is very popular, this also counts less for the Lowlanders. Of course, there are quite some, but by far not as many as the residents of their ‘big neighbour’. Especially for Dutch people, Lake Balaton is, despite its climate and of course its green environment nice, but not very special; there are many deeper and even bigger lakes ‘at home’. Lakes like Balaton, Lake Velence and the lakes around the village of Orfű close to Pécs are popular for spending one or two days, but most people do not need to have a holiday house here. What also counts, is the fact that prices of real estate are here normally higher than elsewhere and as even the Belgians say, Dutch customers like to save money, so buying a house somewhere else and travelling every now and then to the lake is a popular alternative.
As Germans and Austrians also like spas, Dutch, Belgians and Luxembourgeois lack a tradition of a ‘spa culture’, despite the fact that the town giving its name to spa in English happens to be located in Belgium…. As a matter of fact, most health care insurances in the Benelux do not pay for a treatment in a wellness centre or spa. There, residents see it as something nice to do once in a holiday for a couple of hours, not for a whole week. Therefore, spa towns are not overloaded with Benelux people, either.
Some English and even Irish are discovering Hungary now, but despite the fact the country offers almost everything they need, including cheap beers, wines and other spirits, sunshine, pubs, clubs and culture, it lacks a sea coast; only for a few of them Lake Balaton and the beaches of Siófok offer some compensation, but it is still no sea. As mentioned before, for the Dutch and Flemish this is not a problem, since they are looking for forests, hills and mountains, as well as unspoiled nature. A real sea side is not needed, although having a house not very far from a small or medium size lake, or a river like the Danube or Dráva is nice.
For this reason, most Dutch and Flemish who are not bound for their work to Budapest or another city, can be found in the Southwesth and North of Hungary, as will be discussed later. Apart from that, they are also in the East of the country, on the Great Hungarian Plain (Nagy Alföld) around Kecskemét, Cegléd and Lake Tisza. Here, no other foreigners are to be found in large numbers, but the flat landscape with small woods is familiar for the ‘lowlanders’ and it gives a feeling of nostalgia, since it looks like ‘home’ about half a century ago. Having a small farm in the middle of the fields or forests is for some people a dream from childhood, which can be found in Hungary for a very low price.
This also shows the difference not just between other countries and migrants from the Benelux, but also between them; the pattern of spread is not the same for all three countries. The East of Hungary mainly attracts Dutch and some Flemish, the same counts for the North of the country, though it seems that the Flemish are following their Dutch colleagues. Luxembourgeois are apart from around Budapest, hardly to be found in Hungary and this is not just due to the small population of about half a million of the Grand-Duchy. The same is the fact for the Wallonians, they are also hardly present in Hungary, apart from business. And even in business, there are not too many, as there are not very much Belgian, let alone Wallonian companies active in Hungary.
First of all, the language abilities of most Wallonians makes it more complicated to migrate to Hungary or to buy a holiday house, since French is not widely spoken in Hungary and they have difficulties with English and German, not to say the Hungarian language. Those French speaking foreigners buying a house in Hungary are in quite a lot of cases people of Hungarian ancestry, who speak Hungarian.
Another reason is, that the landscape that the Flemish and Dutch like so much, is quite alike the Ardennes in their home region, and thus less attractive. Besides, if they are looking for a holiday house, they can go to France, where many regions also offer the same landscape, it is much closer and the people speak the same language.
Altogether, probably over 90% of the Belgian population in Hungary will be Flemish. It is interesting to notice that the division between the provinces of origin of both Flemish and Dutch people seems according to study to be rather proportional to the number of inhabitants of that province, thus the spread over Flanders and The Netherlands of people living in Hungary is equal; people from all regions come to Hungary, both from the big cities and the periphery. Nevertheless, people working in Budapest are in a lot of cases originating from a large city in their home country, since they worked for an international company at home, and people having a holiday house seem in a disproportionate number of cases to be originating from satellite towns, as mentioned before. But these satellite towns can be found across the countries.
The differences between Dutch and Flemish in connection to their spread becomes each year smaller and their numbers are relatively the same, too; there are about 23 million Dutch speaking people, out of them being 70% Dutch and 30% Flemish, which is more or less the same as the division between them in Hungary. As they speak all of them Dutch, in Hungary they are referred to as ‘Dutch’ (‘Hollandok’) all of them by most locals, whether they are Dutch or Flemish. In a lot of cases, for the Hungarian population only the colour of their car license plate – yellow-black or white-red – distinguishes them.
The total number of Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg citizens residing in Hungary is not known. Reliable estimations do not exist, as the Hungarian National Statistical Office normally does not distinguish between these ‘West-European foreigners’ and most of them are residing only temporary. So, people spending a lot of time in their holiday house, up to over six months a year, mainly in summer, are not counted, if they are not registered in the municipality where they are staying. Especially in Budapest, quite a lot of Benelux citizens work for international companies or institutes, as well can they be found elsewhere in the country. For the Luxembourgeois, their number might not reach 100, but it can also be slightly more. The number of Belgians working in Hungary including their families might be a couple of hundreds, but also over 1,000. For the Dutch, their number would be more, but it is still a guess whether they are less or over 1,000.
According to some rough estimations by the Netherlands Embassy in Budapest and according to the Honorary Consul of The Netherlands in Pécs , the total number of Dutch people spending a considerable part of the year in Hungary would be around 5,000. This would include expatriates, permanent residents and people owning a holiday house, including their families. The number is based on a total number of contacts of the Embassy, addresses, meetings etcetera. However, it is admitted that the number can be very well higher or lower.
This article uses another source for counting the total number of migrants from the Benelux. First of all, due to his profession related to real estate, as well as working as a Dutchmen in The Netherlands and Hungary on a research institute, the author gathered information from his private network and that of friends and acquaintances for making a study. But most and for all, there is another useful help. On a voluntary base, Dutch speaking people in Hungary can sign up in a database on the internet. Here, people can be with their given names or anonymously on a map with dots representing all Dutchmen, Flemish residents and Hungarians who are able to speak Dutch. The map therefore does not distinguish between Dutch and Belgian citizens; the total number of Hungarian citizens not also having Dutch or Belgian nationality on the map will be low, since the Dutch language is rarely spoken in Hungary by people. The database and the author also get information by other routes, from insiders and other informational sources, as there are telephone books, internet forums and the like. The database includes all people who consider themselves to have anything to do in Hungary and who own properties or rent a house for a longer period of time; it does not include people who come every year for holidays in Hungary, without having something of themselves. It does, however, include some people who own properties – whether houses or building plots - just for investment and who may hardly or never be in Hungary. And, of course, it also includes people permanently living in Hungary, semi-permanently or people spending a lot of time in their holiday house. People who own more properties in different towns or villages, may be counted double, for both settlements. Finally, it only gives an indication of the total families, not the number of persons, since all families are counted as one.
Therefore, the total number is not a strong indication at all. But as it can be expected on the quite large total number, the spread over the country could be indicated by this, as there does not seem to be indicators that people living in a certain area will more be detected on the map, than from other regions. The project started in late 2006 and by now it is quite well-known among Dutch and Belgian people, due to the fact that it is linked to many web forums and it is promoted and stimulated to put one self on the map, anonymously or by name. However, especially among expatriates and other people living in or around Budapest it might not be known very much, as they have their own web forums and seem to be underrepresented on the map, as we will see in the next section.
So, the map is mainly an indication for the spread of the Dutch speaking community in Hungary, which allows an interesting analysis. But it also may give some indication of the total number. In October, 2008, a total of 655 families were registered in the database. The number or Hungarians speaking Dutch will be only a couple of dozens or so; when taking out double counting, too, the total number will be probably between 500 and 550 families. This might give an indication of between 1,500-2,000 people, as relatively a lot of people are families with children. As discussed before, the amount of Dutch people in this sample would be around 70%, i.e. around 1,000-1,400, whereas there would be around 400-600 Flemish people.
It is difficult to guess how much would be the total number of Dutch speaking people in Hungary, but if the sample would encompass about half of the people or 40%, the number of 5,000 might be true, but then including Belgians and even Luxembourgeois rather than just Dutch citizens. But these are, opposite to other minorities living in Hungary, not just residents, but all people living in Hungary every now and then.
This total number would be enough to fill just one small Hungarian town, but as we will see, in fact they are spread over the country, leading to the situation that in certain parts of the country in almost each village a family of the Benelux can be found and in some settlements even over a dozen of them.
The division of the Dutch-speaking community can be found in Figure 1. The database does not distinguish between the Hungarian counties, but divides the country in a couple of regions. Partially, these are the same as the regions used for regional development policy and statistics in Hungary, but for a couple of areas, a special distinction is made. For example, Lake Balaton and its surroundings is considered to be one area of attraction to the migrants, despite the fact the settlement is located in Somogy, Veszprém or Zala, which would lead to a split up when the large regions of Hungarian statistical division would be used. The same counts for the region around Lake Tisza in the East of Hungary. The northern part of Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok county, on the edge of the slopes of the Mátra mountains, is part of ‘North-Hungary’, though administratively spoken, it would be the ‘Northern Great Plain’. Table 1 summarizes:
As one can see, South-Transdanubia is by far the most popular among the Dutch and Flemish people and therefore for the whole Benelux. Its share in the total is over 57%, which is even without the Somogy shore of Lake Balaton. It are especially the sub-Mediterranean climate and the hilly and mountainous landscapes with a lot of forest, attracting both permanent residents and people buying a holiday house. At the same time, the prices are relatively cheap, at least cheaper than around Lake Balaton and in the western part of the country. Also the city of Pécs is attracting people, due to its fast economic growth and the attention it gets for being Cultural Capital of Europe in 2010. This region is also popular as a holiday destination for tourists from the Benelux, and after spending a couple of years on a camping or in a holiday house, people start to think of buying something themselves. In some places in this region, there are even some campsites owned by Dutch or Belgian people. It also helps, that there are quite some brokers and real estate agents active on the Dutch and Belgian markets that are located in Baranya, Tolna and Somogy. Within the region, in Somogy especially the settlements between Kaposvár and Balatonlelle are popular, with quick access to Lake Balaton, the spa of Igal and all shops and services in Kaposvár, while the prices are very low, due to decline of the home population. To mention a couple of very popular settlements with several Benelux families, among them are: Ecseny, Somogygeszti, Polány, Szentgáloskér, Igal, Andocs, and surroundings. Another sub-region attracting people is south of Kaposvár, in all directions, especially between Kadarkút and Szigetvár, as e.g. Patosfa and Lad.
In Baranya, the most popular places are in the Mecsek, as well as in a circle around Pécs (in sub-urban villages such as Kővágószőlős). Orfű and its lakes is famous and in its surroundings, many Dutchmen and Belgians can be found, who are attracted by the scenic landscape with mountains, lakes, forests and the vicinity of Pécs, including settlements such as Abaliget, the spa of Magyarhertelend, Bodolyabér, Husztót, Szentkatalin, Hetvehely and Bükkösd. Many foreigners can also be found in the Eastern Mecsek, in villages such as Mecseknádasd, Óbánya and Apátvarasd (all around Pécsvárad) and Magyaregregy, Szalatnak, Hegyhátmaróc (around Komló and Szászvár) and Szárász; in this last village, on a population of around 60, living in 30 houses, at least 6 or 7 homes are in Benelux ownership. They can also be found in the neighbouring Völgység-Hegyhát area, in villages such as Alsómocsolád, Ág en Gerényes. It continues in Tolna, at the slopes of the Mecsek and in the Tolnai dombság and surroundings; especially in the micro-region of Bonyhád, there are many people from the Benelux, due to the attractive landscape, large traditional ‘Schwabian’ houses of good quality, offering a lot of space for little money and its very friendly population. The fact that quite a lot of people speak German also helps, of course. Settlements with a lot of ‘Hollandok’ include Váralja, Tevel, Závod and Nagyvejke - all north and west of Bonyhád - and Grábóc, Cikó, Mőcsény and Mórágy - east of that district town -, in the direction of the Danube and the Hills of Szekszárd. Around this capital of Tolna, some more migrants from the Benelux are to be found, for the rest they are mainly absent in Tolna, due to its open and flat landscape, not being very attractive to the Lowlanders. In Somogy, however, there are people to be found in almost all parts, except for the Southwest. However, around Tamási and in the Koppány valley in Tolna, there are also Dutchmen and Belgians and the town of Simontornya is very popular, since there is a Dutch camping and the vineyards are very nice from a Dutch point of view: great wines, nice hills and close to Lake Balaton.
But let us turn back to Baranya. In general, this is by far the most popular and well-known county in the Benelux, together with the bordering parts of Tolna and Somogy. A lot of Dutch can also be found in the Zselic region, north of Szigetvár. This town forms, just as Bonyhád and Pécs, one of the centres of the ‘Benelux community’ in South-Transdanubia, as many supermarkets and all types of shops and services are available, as well offers the town a nice atmosphere. Just as in the Mecsek, here people from The Netherlands and Belgium can be found in almost each settlement, of which the most populated are Ibafa, Boldogasszonyfa, Szentlászló, Mozsgó, Somogyhárságy, and Vásárosbéc; this last settlement, including its parts Dióspuszta and Zalasor, forms the décor of the intro of a famous book in Dutch about the history of Europe in the 20th century and thus became perhaps even more famous abroad than in Hungary, where people might know it for the ranch of the famous singer Ferenc Demjén. In Baranya, another popular region is in the south, around Siklós/Harkány/Villány, offering the best climate, great wines and good services in well-developed settlements. But whereas Harkány welcomes a lot of German guests and house owners to its spa, the Dutch-speaking community does not seem to be willing to pay high prices in a spa, they rather drive there every now and then. Some people can be found close to the Danube around Mohács. Finally, the villages close to the Dráva river (in the Ormánság, around Sellye and south of Szigetvár, such as Sósvertike, Felsőszentmárton and Kemse) also tend to attract some migrants the last couple of years, since its flat landscape feels like nostalgia to Dutch and Flemish people, and due to the very low economical development, prices are very low; this always attracts Dutch people, since according to history, it where them to teach the Scottish how to save money.
Nowadays, about half of the settlements in Baranya will have at least one Dutch or Flemish family owing properties. But their total number is still very low compared to the total population.
The second popular region in Hungary is Lake Balaton. Here, they can be mainly found at the southern shore, in Somogy, with some around Keszthely/Hévíz and up to the west. To mention a couple of popular villages: Balatonszentgyörgy, Balatonkeresztúr, Balatonmáriafürdő, Cserszegtomaj. On the east side of the lake, in and around Balatonfőkajár, recently quite a lot of Benelux families found a holiday home. On the northern shore, there are hardly Dutchmen or Belgians, except for a couple around Badacsony. Probably, no broker in this region was active on the Benelux markets and in general, migrants tend to follow fellow-countrymen, as they also do when migrating to Spain, France or America; when there are no other people speaking the same language, it is difficult to ask for help or to communicate.
Besides, despite the decline of prices during the last couple of years, the area of Lake Balaton is still expensive in comparison to other regions, like Inner-Somogy. People in The Netherlands and Belgium normally have a small garden and since land is cheap in Hungary, they dream of having a large plot, which is cheap on the countryside, but expensive close to the shore; when available at all, because most houses around the lake are located on very small plots. These objects are more popular among Germans. By far most Dutchmen and Belgians having a house in this region do not live close to the shore of the lake, but rather 10-15 kilometres in the inlands, where prices are surprisingly cheap, as around Tab and Lengyeltóti.
It will not be a surprise, that the region of Budapest and Central-Hungary (Pest county) also houses quite a lot of people, around 10% of the total Benelux population in Hungary. This figure is probably higher in reality, since especially expatriates and other people who work temporary for a company in Budapest, will not sign up in the database. The spread within Budapest is quite equal over Buda and Pest, with some people living in outskirts or in towns such as Érd and Diós.
Some others live far in the north, in the Börzsöny, close to the Slovakian border; some Benelux citizens can actually also be found on the other side of the border, in Southern Slovakia. In Hungary, some Dutch are to be found in the village of Bernecebaráti and in Legénd.
Quite a lot of people can be found in the eastern part of Pest, especially between Cegléd and Nagykőrös; here, some Dutch brokers are active and the prices are relatively cheap, while Ferihegy Airport is not so far. For the rest, its attraction is the fact the houses are located in the outskirts, on small sandy roads (dűlők) offering a lot of privacy, with neighbours on far distance. The disadvantage of difficult access does not count very much, since all foreigners have a car and they normally come only in summer, when roads are relatively good. Of course, in the winters it is much more difficult. Especially in Csemő quite some families from the Benelux can be found, as well as in surrounding villages such as Kőröstetétlen, Kocsér, Jászkarajenő and Nyársapát.
Going a little further to the south, in the Southern Great Plain, most people can be found around Kecskemét and Tiszakécske. Just as around Cegléd, the tanya houses on the puszta are the most popular, with very low prices and a lot of space around the house. Up to 6,000 square metres, foreigners can buy a house here outside the built-up area; more is not allowed, due to state regulation in Hungary, protecting the agricultural lands. In order to prevent high prices by speculation of foreigners, these can only be owned by private persons of Hungarian nationality. In practise, it shows that this means quite a high reduction of investments in properties in Hungary by investors, whereas it is not proved at all that this ban has much influence on the prices; there is so much arable land available in Hungary and elsewhere in the European Union, that it most likely would not change the prices a lot if foreigners or limited companies would be allowed to buy agricultural lands and vineyards.
Other regions with some Benelux citizens are around Bugacpuszta, in Kiskunmajsa and in Pálmonostora. For the rest, in Csongrád and Békés, there are hardly foreigners of West-European origin. In Bács-Kiskun, Dutch and Belgians can be found, but Austrians, Germans, British and other foreigners hardly ever ‘cross the Danube’ for buying property.
The Northern Great Plain is the region with the smallest number of migrants from the West of Europe. Some are scattered in some villages in the counties here, sometimes due to family relations. The landscape is flat, with few forests - comparable with peripheral, not very popular parts in The Netherlands -, winters are cold with a lot of wind, summers are (too) hot and the settlements consist of modern brick houses, which all look rather the same; at least to the eyes of the immigrants. For the rest, it is not an area attracting tourists, prices are not extremely low, and at the same time there are not many foreign companies.
A little more to the north, around Lake Tisza, since a couple of years the Dutch and Belgian pioneers settled down, too. They probably followed a broker dealing with this region, or he followed the pioneers, or probably was one of them. As mentioned before, the Dutch are not afraid of water and they only should take care not to live too close to the river, which is notorious for its devastating floods every couple of years. The artificial lake behind the dam in the Tisza offers a lot of possibilities for tourism and after opening a camping by a Dutch family, fellow countrymen followed. The total number is still not very high, but still increasing. Some settlements with Benelux citizens include Abádszalók, Tiszaderzs, Tiszaszentimre, Borsodivánka and Szentistván.
The region of Northern Hungary also attracts quite a lot of Dutch and Flemish citizens. Including the northern part of the Jászság, it is around 7,5%. Its attraction is mainly the landscape, well comparable with the Mecsek and Zselic in the Southwest of Hungary. Especially the Mátra and Bükk mountains are popular, with nice forests, caves, spas and wildlife. Its disadvantage is that its climate is not sub-Mediterranean, with shorter summers and colder springs and autumns. On the other hand, prices of real estate belong to the lowest of Hungary, once again attracting especially the Dutch people; for 10-12,000 euros finding a small house, renovating it for another 10-12,000 and one has a cheap but nice holiday house in a beautiful area. With the extension of highways, the region is quite well accessible, also from Budapest Airport. But it seems that it will never be able to compete with South-Transdanubia, as development of the region is low and a lot of villages are very poor; around old mining towns it is in the eyes of West-Europeans a rather backward area, which is proved by statistics.
Popular areas for people from the Benelux are between Pétervására and Salgótarján (as e.g. the village of Zabar), north of Hatvan and Aszód (e.g. Erdőstarcsa, Erdőkürt), and in and around Szilvásvárad, Ózd, Borsodbóta (with a Dutch campsite) and Putnok. More to the south, the village of Jászszentandrás also has quite a lot of foreign citizens, especially on the small bungalow park just outside the village, close to a thermal spring.
Going back to the west, in the area of Central-Transdanubia, the number of people from the Low Countries is, again, rather low. Some can be found around Lake Balaton, a few in the Bakony forest. Some others live near the Danube Bend, especially people with family or work in or around Budapest. An investment company from the Benelux set up a holiday park and therefore, some people have a holiday house there. The same counts for Lake Velence, and therefore most Dutch and Belgian people in this region can be found here (in Gárdony, Velence and surroundings), as well as in the village of Vajta (on the border with Tolna), with another camping in Dutch ownership.
Finally, in the most western part of Hungary, in West-Transdanubia, a lot of Germans and especially Austrians can be found, but the number of people from the Benelux is low. Some work for international companies close to the border or in larger towns such as Szombathely, Sopron and Győr. Apart from the shores of Lake Balaton, there is no real cluster of Benelux people; they are scattered over the three counties. Only in the village of Sajtoskál, close to Bükfürdő, there are some mixed Dutch-German and Dutch-Hungarian couples.
Does all of this mean a Dutch-Belgian invasion? It may look so, on the first sight, but when taking a closer look, the numbers are still very small. Probably, most people are to be found in the city of Budapest. On the map and in the database, there are less than 10, but the total number probably exceeds 50 families or singles. For the city of Pécs, the number is round 10, but including temporary students, this number will be probably even a little higher. Cities with Dutch and Belgian companies or joint ventures, like Debrecen, Győr, Szombathely, Kecskemét and Székesfehérvár probably also house some Benelux families, although their number is unknown.
When taking a closer look at the small towns and villages, first of all, Simontornya in Tolna is a famous example. Since the late 1990s, especially after a publication in a Dutch national newspaper, about a dozen or even more Dutch families bought a wine house in this town, or started to build one. Their number increased within short time, after they spent time on a local Dutch camping. In Simontornya, the hill they are living is sometimes referred to as Holland Hegy, though on a population of around 4,500, the total number of Dutch people is still below 1% - and they are most of them not even living permanently.
In the Baranya village of Boldogasszonyfa – including Antalszállás and Terecseny, also belonging to the municipality – there are at least 9 Dutch and Belgian families. Half of them are to be found in the local Petőfi Sándor utca; for this reason, it is locally also known as ‘Holland utca’. But again, a total number of less than 10 houses in Dutch (including Flemish!) hands in a whole village, most of them only used for holidays or during the summer months, with a total population of the village of around 500, their number is still little.
Other villages with around 10 houses or plots in Benelux hands include Balatonfőkajár (Veszprém), Csemő (Pest), Orfű (Baranya) and Szentkatalin (also in Baranya). This last settlement is also interesting, since in this municipality with around 150 inhabitants, there are around 10 Dutch families - no Flemish, yet. This is not very much, but most of them have a house or plot in the small part of the municipality, called Karácodfa. On a population of around 20 Hungarians, about half of the houses and plots is owned by Dutch and German citizens, some of them of Hungarian origin. They are coming for holidays, or staying permanently. This settlement was always home to minorities, which can still be seen in the family names of the inhabitants, so a situation of a Hungarian (Magyar) minority in this settlement would not be a new experience. Besides, the locals seems to get along very well, since the foreigners renovate the old houses, build new ones, paint everything and have nice gardens. This stimulates the development of the tiny village as a whole.
It is interesting to notice, that especially the Dutch and Belgians, together with some Germans and other foreigners, can be found in very small settlements, belonging to other villages, so-called ‘pusztas’. Examples include, apart from Karácodfa, Kán (part of Hetvehely), Gorica (belonging to Bükkösd), Pusztakisfalu (to Lovászhetény), Vadásztelep/Jägercsárda (in the forests next to Apátvarasd) all in Baranya, and Németsűrűpuszta, part of Andocs in Somogy; ‘Hollandsűrűpuszta’ would be a better name. These places are almost abandoned by the local population and are now rediscovered by foreigners; after they are settling or renovating a holiday house, one can notice that also Hungarians from cities nearby, such as Kaposvár or Pécs are buying properties and also using it for holidays, weekends or to spend summer. It seems like the immigration of foreigners, like Germans and Dutch, is stimulating them, since they have the feeling the place will develop and it would be a good investment.
But apart from this, there seems to be an absolute ‘winner’ at the moment in attracting people from the Benelux: the very friendly village of Tevel, in Tolna, attracted the last decade at least 17 Dutch and Flemish families. Still only 2-3% of the total number of houses and population, of around 1,600. Some Germans and ethnic Hungarians from abroad are added to the number of foreigners, but after all it is an authentic village, where all nations seem to mix very well. Some Dutch and Belgians are living here permanently, some half of the year, other come for holidays or are planning to do that within a couple of years. What is the secret of this municipality? Apart from its nice and green environment and big, traditional Schwabian houses, it might very well be the fact, that Tevel originally consisted of a German majority, who was in large numbers chased out after WWII. Their houses were afterwards populated by Hungarians who were expelled from Bukovina, Slovakia and other former Hungarian regions. Almost all people in Tevel have grandparents who were born somewhere else, in what is now ‘abroad’, others saw family emigrating to Canada, Australia and Western Europe. Probably they know what it is to be somehow ‘foreigner’, or of different background, and they respect the differences very well. The same may count for the surrounding villages of Tevel, such as Nagyvejke, Závod and Kisdorog. All this makes the newcomers from the Low Countries feel quickly welcome and ‘home’. The fact that the village is located in a hilly area, far above sea level, might also offer a save feeling, as the locals think; this is an advantage, but for sure not the main ‘selling point’ of Tevel!
Over the last couple of years, mainly in the 1990s, the people who bought real estate in Hungary were familiar with the country; in most cases, it was their holiday destination for a longer period and they dreamed of having a house in the country, for holidays or after going with retirement. These persons could be called ‘magyarophiles’ or ‘hungarophiles’. The last couple of years, it are also people who do not know Hungary or who have been only once or twice at Lake Balaton or in Budapest. As mentioned before, they are attracted by the country for several reasons. Hungary still is a very good alternative for emigrants from the Benelux. Apart from this, there even seem to come some people from South-Africa, speaking Afrikaans. This language is an old and simplified form of Dutch; although they are not from the Benelux, they may join the community of Dutch speakers in Hungary, as both Dutch and South-Africans can understand each other.
In general, despite the present credit crises, or perhaps even because of this, Hungary probably will attract even more people in the nearby future, since quite a lot of people from The Netherlands and Belgium bought a house to be used as a holiday house now, but who plan to move (semi-)permanently after going in retirement. Especially the number of ‘real migrants’ will increase by this trend.
The spread over the country and the number of people will also depend on the brokers being active on the Benelux markets and who all will have a region in which they are specialized. As long as prices will stay low or at least relatively low, Hungary is still be able to compete with countries such as Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia and even Spain and Turkey for certain people. Even with the expected raise of prices, it is still a well-affordable destination. Opposite to Romania or Bulgaria, the country is on relative short distance from the Benelux – 1 day of driving - and with the extension of the highway network, it will be even better accessible. Also the opening of new regional airports, and having connections between the Benelux and airfields such as Balaton Airport in Sármellék, Pécs-Pogány and in future perhaps Siófok-Kiliti, Debrecen, etcetera, might influence the number of migrants and their division over the country. Recently, this can be seen already around Balaton Airport, which is served from a German airport (Weeze) located just 5 kilometres away from the Dutch border. Cheap airlines, such as Easyjet, WizzAir, RyanAir and SkyEurope offer good alternatives for driving by car and it is likely that the developments will be comparable with those in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey.
At the same time, a trend is that more young families emigrate to Hungary, starting a camping, bed&breakfast or a totally different business. Their children will grow up in Hungary and some of them might go back to the Benelux, but others might stay and eventually have their own family. This finally will lead to a new mixture of a minority population in Hungary.
This brings us to a final point. Although the exact number of Benelux citizens or Dutch speaking community is not known, their number will exceed for sure the number of some official minorities in Hungary, such as Armenians (around 600), Ruthenians (around 1,000), Bulgarians (1,300), Greeks (2,500), Polish (2,900), Serbians (3,800) and within a couple of years it may be the same as the Ukrainians (around 5,000).
The ties between Hungary and ‘The Netherlands’ as a kingdom and it predecessor republics, including Flanders, go back for centuries. Just to mention some things, already in 1676, the famous Dutch admiral, Michiel Adriaanszoon de Ruyter, saved a group of Hungarian protestant and evangelical priests from the galleons, for which a statue is erected in Debrecen. The famous Hungarian philosopher and scientist János Apáczai Csere studied in the mid-17th century at many Dutch universities, such as Franeker, Leiden and Utrecht; he became a doctor in 1651 at the Dutch University of Harderwijk – where a statue for him is erected - and married a Dutch wife, Aletta van der Maet. In The Netherlands, she (and he) might not be known very well nowadays, in Transylvania many people know his story and Dutch relationship. János was not alone, in those days many Hungarians studied at Dutch Universities; the Stipendium Bernardinum offered good opportunities since the 16th century for protestant students to study in The Netherlands, where this was possible, opposite to Hungary. Among them was also Miklós Misztótfalusi Kis. They normally returned to Hungary, sometimes with a Dutch spouse.
The Austro-Hungarian House of Habsburg possessed large parts of the Low Countries, especially in present Flanders. As a matter of fact, the present border between The Netherlands and Belgium is mainly an artefact of the old borders of the Habsburg possessions. Dutch tradesmen visited Hungary several times, as well came Hungarian tradesmen and scientists to ‘Hollandia’. The Protestant Church in Hungary co-operated with its Dutch counterpart, not just during the Reformation. Until today, quite a lot of Hungarian protestant churches have a partnership or friendship relation with a church in The Netherlands; this especially counts for protestant churches in Transylvania and Trans-Carpathia or Carpathian Ruthenia, both former Hungarian territories with ethnic Hungarians living at present.
During WWI, Hungarian refugees came to The Netherlands, back then a neutral country. Afterwards, some of them re-migrated, others stayed; both formed mixed families. The same happened during WWII and just after, with a larger number in 1956. At present, there are around 10,000 Hungarians living in The Netherlands and many of them are part of a Hungarian Club; they are spread all over the country. In Belgium, their number is estimated to be just a little smaller. Quite a lot of municipalities in The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg have a sister town in Hungary. Hungarian as a language can be studied both in The Netherlands and Belgium, and the Dutch language is taught at some Hungarian universities.
Opposite to e.g. the Chinese, who are larger in number in Hungary, but who lack a century old tradition of living in Hungary or vice versa, the Dutch speaking community does have long ties with Hungary. Since they are bigger in number than many other minorities, and have longer traces in Hungary than e.g. the Greeks, there would be a strong argument of recognising the official minority status to them in Hungary. This would include the acceptation of the Dutch language in settlements where their population would reach the minimum level. At present, that might not be reached in general in the country, but it might already within some villages and probably will do so even more in future. As a symbol of the long Hungarian-Dutch friendship and as a proof for the respect for each other’s culture and history, such an official status should be stimulated, as it would strengthen the ties and increase co-operation and acceptance from both sides in Hungary. That it might also invite more people to migrate and by this mean an economical stimulant should not be a reason for decision, but would be an additional advantage!