The first thing to understand about Hungary is that it is manifestly a free place. Anything you read about it in the media is likely to be a lie. Why is this? Because Hungary ranks high in the disfavour of the European Commission bureaucrats who seek to bend Europe to their will. Hungary is not for bending. Defiance is in its nature.
A week of travelling up and down the Danube brought me to various parts of the country, including rural areas and the capital, Budapest, which is one of the great cities of Europe.
The statues tell it all. They are images of martyrdom and defiance. Time and again the statues, plinths, and plaques commemorate hopeless rebellions, successful rebellions, wars of separation, heroes of resistance. This is not to say that Hungarians have always been wise, nor is it to say that they have had much tendency to unite with their neighbours in alliances. They could have done more to ally themselves with friendly powers and to act as better allies, perhaps. But they are not going to roll over and play nice with bureaucrats in Brussels.
The great Hungarian plain to the south of Budapest was under Turkish rule for a century and a half after the defeat of the Hungarian nobility at the First Battle of Mohacs (1526). In that time the Turks managed to depopulate the place. Whether through over-taxation, cruelty, bad management, or religious persecution, Hungarians were reduced to almost nothing in large parts of their country. They walked away, leaving behind a desert. Imagine Saskatchewan being deserted by its citizens, and villages once thriving being abandoned. That was Hungary under Turkish rule.
Today, on post-Communist Hungary, unemployment is 3%. Consumption taxes are high, income taxes are reasonable and taxes on business are low. The place is thriving. But every Hungarian is taught from day one that the survival of the nation is not guaranteed, that Hungary has known oppression , and has fought for, and often failed to obtain, its freedom. Think of the Hungarian revolt against Communism in 1956, the struggle with the Austrian monarchy in the failed revolution of 1848, or the wars against the Turks. People such as this are not going to submit to a bunch of Belgian pansies armed with regulations.