I had a long chat today with a woman who gave her insights about the cultural implications of political changes in Hungary. She said that under communist rule, prior to 1989, people were not free to travel or do many other things, however, because no one could work to gain more wealth than others, everyone was equal. There were no jealousies and everyone was friendly and trusting with all others: good neighbors. Also there was no crime at all and the arts flourished (I've heard this from a Pole as well). Since 1989 crime has increased tremendously and people are not as neighborly as capitalism has set them climbing over each other to gain more wealth.
Now, about the European Union, which Hungary joined in 2004. She said that "globalization" has been a disaster for Hungary because, first, produce and other household goods come from other countries now and the local farmers can't compete on price so are not surviving well. She actually won't shope for groceries at the local store and pay more and feels badly about it (sound familiar ..."Buy American"). Also, many of the medical doctors have gone to "Western" countries like Germany to work for higher wages. It is impossible to have an elective surgery in Hungary without waiting at least 6 months because the remaining (and largely less competent she said) doctors are busy with emergency surgeries. This is why Hungary, along with Spain, Greece, Iceland, and other EU countries have recently been bailed out financially more than once by other stronger EU countries...but that is now stopping - thus the huge protests in Greece. Some predict that the EU will be disbanded within 10 years.
When I spoke with Germans about this 5 years ago they were worried about "cheap" labor coming from the lesser developed countries, like Hungary, and taking their jobs. It will be interesting to see what happens and whether or not the EU is self righting, as happened in the US somewhat after we lost Detroit to Japanese car makers and had cheap labor immigrants take the jobs Americans were afraid of losing but in the end didn't want to do (like migrant farm workers or hotel housekeeping).
Update - I got a different perspective from a taxi driver and a student I met on the train. They said that the country is improving due to EU membership, partly because of a new metro system and tram system that are planned. The other EU countries want to upgrade transportation in all EU countries for easier travel. These guys also thought the economic problems were mostly caused by the recession of past few years and that now Hungary is seeing economic growth again, largely due to tourism. I did my part! Spent more that a few Forint in the country :-)
I heard a few similar comments while in Slovenia - the inflation is huge since the adoption of the Euro. I'll learn more when we head to Greece in a week...