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Good morning, and welcome to Around the World, Here at Home. Today, we’re back in Europe, in a country that once served as a Christian kingdom wedged up against the expanding Ottoman Empire. Then, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which collapsed during World War I. Today, Hungary is landlocked, but still boasts the Danube river, which flows through rolling country hills and the beautiful city of Budapest: Hungary. And that’s where Dr. Lazslo Kovac, a professor of genetics at Missouri State University, grew up.
“I grew up in the middle of the country, which is a flat land—horticulture, mostly—people grow grapes, fruits. And it was an agricultural community. My dad is a tailor. He had a little shop—which is unusual in a communist country. He had his own little company,” Kovac said.
Life, he said, was determined largely by the lifecycle of the grapevine: pruning, covering the vines to protect them from frost, tying up the grapes, and spraying them.
Kovac came to the USA for education; he started a Master’s program at the University of Missouri, then finished a doctoral program and post-doctorate work. And he watched the Iron Curtain of Communism fall from Missouri.
“I was a grad student at the University of Missouri watching on the television how the Hungarian government opened up the border to Austria,” Kovac said. That was an opening for East Germans to travel to West Germany, he said.
“It was amazing. It was just unbelievable to watch on the television Hungarian soldiers taking off the barbed wire between the Hungarian-Austrian border. It was just hard to believe,” Kovac said.
Kovac said Hungary doesn’t really have “a minority issue,” because essentially, everyone’s a minority.
“It is rooted in our history. We have always have people coming in and out of the country, and settling. And a lot of times it was the result of a fairly violent history. There were wars, and people died,” Kovac said.
Modern-day Hungary was a crucial piece of battleground for the expanding Ottoman Empire, which encroached into Hungarian territory. Hungary, Kovac says, has often been a crossroads between East and West, North and South.
His parents are retired, and Kovac says it’s nice that Hungary has socialized medicine for their sake.
“I can see both the positive and negative sides of [socialized medicine]: the medical system is not as good. My dad was in the hospital recently, and I could detect some errors. But at the same time, people don’t have to worry about paying for medical service,” Kovac said.
The quality may not be quite as good, he said, but the accessibility is universal. “And that gives people the peace of mind,” Kovac said.
Dr. Laszlo Kovac teaches genetics at MSU in Springfield. This has been Around the World, Here at Home on KSMU.