by Claudia Hyde
Our second day in Budapest was a deep dive into modern-day
Hungary and the lived experiences of marginalised groups. Behind the striking
architecture, picturesque landscapes of the Danube and buzzing metropolitan
life of Budapest, we set out to answer the question: what is the reality facing
minorities under Orban’s government?
The first destination was MiraDoor – an intercultural community space created as a result of collaboration between Open Doors Hungary and Mira, a charity which aims to support refugees and migrants in Hungary. By running cultural events, MiraDoor aims to bring people from different backgrounds together and to celebrate the diversity in Budapest. We met with their dedicated team of volunteers who are passionate about supporting young refugees and migrants in Hungary.
However, like many organisations in the sector, Hungary’s political climate has created significant challenges. In October 2015, the Hungarian government decided to close its borders to refugees and migrants, causing Hungary’s refugee population to decline. Moreover, as part of a package of xenophobic measures, the government passed a draconian law in January 2018 which targets organisations and individuals that provide assistance to refugees and migrants, threatening imprisonment for those that refuse to comply. Although there have been no prosecutions under the law to-date, the law has created uncertainty that makes forward planning and fundraising all the more challenging for organisations like MiraDoor.
This sentiment was echoed at our next meeting with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. Named after the 1975 Helsinki Accords, the Committee forms the Hungarian chapter of an international network of human rights organisations that protect individuals from abuses of state power. We were welcomed to their offices by Andras Lederer, who leads the Committee’s work on refugees. Andras talked us through the situation on the ground for refugees arriving at Hungary’s borders, and the appalling detention conditions they are subjected to. The backlog of cases pending before the European Court of Human Rights brought by the survivors of these abuses underscored the necessity of the work that frontline human rights defenders like Andras are doing.
After lunch, we reconvened at the Israeli Cultural Institute to meet with Bogi, an LGBTQ+ Roma activist, and Adel Onodi, an activist and model who was the first transgender woman to appear on the cover of Elle Hungary. Bogi and Adel shared with us their experiences of being LGBTQ+ in Hungary, where hate speech has become commonplace. Even in parliament, the speaker recently compared same-sex marriage to paedophilia, and this is supported by the narratives of the media in Hungary, which is now almost 90 per cent owned by the government. Furthermore, the government recently suspended the process of legal recognition of gender identity, meaning that many trans people in Hungary now cannot have gender confirmation procedures. It was a sobering reminder that, although rights are hard won, they are easily removed.
We ended the day by visiting the Aurora Centre, a cultural and community centre located in the 8th district of Budapest. An important part of the city’s music and art scene, it also serves as a hub for Hungarian NGOs, and as such, has come to symbolise everything the Hungarian government is against. The centre has been pushed to the brink of closure by far-right attacks, police raids and even a smear campaign in the press. However, Adam Schonberger, the centre’s director who hosted us, remains defiant: with a strong community rallying around it, Aurora’s continued survival is a testament to the efforts of Jewish, Roma, LGBTQ+ and other groups who have come together in a powerful act of resistance.