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hvg.hu

Most Hungarians oppose renationalisation of privatised companies, but they are even more set against further privatisation, according to a HVG survey carried out by Medián in September.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the population largely supported the market economy and that went with it. But the social costs of transition have taken their toll. Medián's data show that the population took the dimmest view of the market economy in 1995, the year of the Bokros austerity package. Between 1991 and 1995, the proportion of the population which thought it acceptable for major state companies to fall into (foreign) private hands declined significantly. Belief in markets determining wage rates and in the right to fire less enthusiastic workers also fell sharply during this time.

It seems that there are three fundamental reasons for public disquiet over privatisation over the past decade. The fear of unemployment is perhaps the most important of these. Even today, a majority believes that working for a state company is the safest option and that employees of foreign companies are most likely to lose their jobs (even though this risk factor is counterbalanced by higher pay at foreign-owned firms). But signs suggest that society no longer believes that state ownership is the main answer to job insecurity. Now that the largest companies have passed into private hands, it would seem that public opinion has made its peace with the idea. The nationality of capital no longer seems to matter - few respondents drew a sharp distinction between private ownership and foreign ownership. This shows that people look to the state, and not to owners, to cut unemployment by regulating the market.

Another reason for the unpopularity of privatisation could be that it is seen as fostering corruption. In 1997, people believed that economic, employment and political considerations had less influence on privatisation decisions than corruption. The situation has improved somewhat since then: economic considerations are the most important, a majority believes - who offered the most money - but almost half of respondents continue to believe that corruption has a big role to play in the privatisation process.

And the third reason for reservations about privatisation may be that many do not know which companies remain in state hands and which are now privately owned, making it hard for them to assess the benefits or drawbacks of privatisation. The most striking example of this is the fact that a majority believes that the market-leading (and publicly quoted) OTP Bank is still state controlled.

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