Hungary’s thrifty Greeks say relatives at home can tighten belts too

By: | Published: July 17, 2015 11:42 AM

Greeks living in the Hungarian village of Beloiannisz since the 1950s sympathise with relatives back in Greece struggling with the country's debt crisis, but also think they could have been more thrifty.

Greeks living in the Hungarian village of Beloiannisz since the 1950s sympathise with relatives back in Greece struggling with the country’s debt crisis, but also think they could have been more thrifty.

Their sleepy village near the Danube river south of Budapest was built for some of the thousands of refugees who fled Greece after their side lost the 1946-1949 civil war against a right-wing government backed by the United States.

Hungary, led during the Cold War by Moscow-backed communists, welcomed in the left-wing refugees. Construction started in 1950 and more than 400 squat terraced houses were quickly built in what was called Gorogfalva (Greeks’ village).

The village was later named after Nikos Beloyannis, a communist leader and Greek resistance hero during World War Two.

There were 1,850 inhabitants back then but most have since returned to Greece, many in the 1980s when exiled refugees from the civil war were allowed to return.

Some 200-300 still live in Beloiannisz and many work in local industries or in nearby Budapest. The village has a Greek Orthodox church and street names written in both Hungarian and Greek. Many residents still have relatives living in Greece.

Sztefopulosz Dimitrisz, a 78-year-old former welder who came to Hungary as a teenager when his family fled Greece, plays with his two grandchildren in the central village square.

He gets by on a pension of 120,000 forints ($422.98) after 43 years of work while his relatives in Greece receive pensions worth twice as much, he said.

“Greeks have not lived the way we have lived here … they lived more freely, and went out with their families for dinner, did not cook at home,” Dimitrisz said. “So now … they will need to tighten the belt somewhat, and be patient.”

In the nearby cafe, the radio plays Greek music. The shop assistant also comes from a Greek family.

As she makes frappes, the popular Greek froth-topped iced coffee, Nikolau Efdokia, 45, says Greeks are hard-working but may have lived beyond their means and will have to pay a price now that their country is on the verge of default.

“While here in Hungary, we’ve had austerity for years, and we’ve had to tighten the belt year after year, they have to cope with it all at once now,” she said. “That’s why it is so painful for them.”

Hungary imposed strict austerity measures in the 1990s as the country adjusted to the end of communism in 1989 and return to capitalism. This averted a meltdown and led to faster growth.

The 2008 financial crisis again hit the country badly and it had to ask for an International Monetary Fund bailout and cut costs. Now its finances are stable again but life for many Hungarians is still hard.

“The Greeks got a fair amount of money … and now will have to pay it back somehow,” said Szonja Dimopulu, who works in the post office for 230 euros a month. “It will be tough for them, just as it is for us here.”

There are some who believe the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras cheated the Greeks by passing a package of tough austerity measures, even though a majority of voters rejected them in a recent referendum.

“I feel very sorry for the Greek people. They may have made a mistake as they had received lots of loans and have not repaid them,” said Zsuzsanna Vasziliki Gregus, 33. “But regardless of this, I don’t think that people, a nation can be cheated like that.”

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