Day One – Philosophy, history & activism

Posted on Thursday, August 30th, 2018

Lauren Chaplin reflects on the contrast between Budapest’s ruin bars and the rapid growth of its far right.

Walking through Budapest’s tourist quarter, and watching stag parties and hen-dos vie for the largest bill in the ruin-bars that line the streets, there is little to indicate to passers-by that Hungary finds itself in the clutches of far-right fervour. Fidesz’ Victor Orban and his anti-migrant, anti-Roma, and anti-Semitic rhetoric have captured the national imagination, while Fidesz’ populist ascendancy is shadowed by the influence of Jobbick, an equally terrifying political force.

“Fidesz’ Victor Orban and his anti-migrant, anti-Roma, and anti-Semitic rhetoric have captured the national imagination”

The René Cassin Fellows headed straight from the airport to the Israeli Cultural Institute, an airy building nestled in the heart of town, to begin our time in Budapest by gaining a better understanding of what is driving the ascendance of the Hungarian far-right. There, Dr Gabor Balzas, Professor of Jewish and Israeli Philosophy at the University of Jewish studies, gleefully played provocateur, questioning how universal human rights could reconcile with communitarian ideals which solely promote the interests of distinct cultural groups, such as the Jews or the Roma.

Next was a brief history of the rise of the far-right from Aniko Feliz of the Tom Lantos Institute. Aniko situated the anti-Gypsy and anti-refugee sentiments pervading Hungarian society within a wider culture of ‘consumer ethnocentrism’, which uses neo-Nazi music festivals, skin head aesthetics, and social media as a means to depoliticise political ideology, transposing it into an easily accessible lifestyle choice.

“those we had heard speak … combined their academic interests in politics with tangible action”

Our final talk of the day was delivered by activist and academic Eszter Susan at the Aurora Centre, an NGO hub and social space. Expressing her concerns eloquently, Eszter spoke of the hostility faced by social justice groups in the capital, recalling the police raids and attacks on funding the Centre has been subject to.

“there is little to indicate to passers-by that Hungary finds itself in the clutches of far-right fervour”

We ended the day individually, each given space to reflect on what we had already learned and the expectations we had for the rest of the trip. What struck me most about those we had heard speak was how they combined their academic interests in politics with tangible action, actively daring to realise a better, less discriminatory future for young Hungarian minorities.

Thursday 24th May 2018