How Hungary’s Systemic Corruption Made Me Learn a Lesson for Life

And leave my home country for good.

Eszter Brhlik


Photo by Ervin Lukacs on Unsplash

My mom was crying.

She’d just received a call from the town’s best elementary school, where I was supposed to go in September. The school accepted another kid instead of me because the family had more connections. No, they couldn’t take me anymore because there was no more space left in the classroom.

I was only six years old, but the system’s corruption had already impacted the course of my life and deprived me of quality education.

Fast forward ten years, and I applied for a scholarship in the conservative school where I spent ten years of my life. The funding was only available for one person, and the requirements were pretty straightforward: excellent end-of-year results, participation in national competitions, and being a Slovak minority.

I was the most likely candidate, and everyone knew that.

All facts spoke for me receiving the scholarship. My grades were slightly better, and I won more competitions than the others. My family belongs to the Slovak minority, and I went to the Slovakian kindergarten and school in the town. I have Slovakian roots.

Everything implied I’d receive the grant. My teachers and everybody who read my application and compared my results with the other candidates unambiguously agreed.

The only problem was that my parents didn’t have connections in the government, and they openly criticized our ruling party, FIDESZ, while my competitor’s family lived in line with the state and enjoyed the privileges thereof. Rumors had it that the other girl’s mother threatened the director of my school: if her daughter didn’t receive the scholarship, the school would face serious consequences.

But with the naivety of my teenage soul, I couldn’t believe things worked this way. I was certain of winning the scholarship.

But that’s not how this story turned out.

I didn’t receive the scholarship.

Every year at the school’s closing ceremony, before the children are released to enjoy the summer vacation, the school leadership announces the winner of this scholarship. I knew…