Hungary, summer 2019
I went to Budapest to attend a ‘Youth Activism, engagement and civic learning’ conference funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the culmination of an international project. I enjoyed hearing speakers from Lebanon, Hungary, Australia, Hong Kong and Spain and UK youth activists (Advocacy Academy, MAP Youth in Norfolk and the British Youth Council). I gave a paper on JtoJ as part of one of the parallel sessions and made new potential partners. We are now planning to bring our civil rights exhibition to Norwich in 2020 with MAP’s Youth Activists’ Network I’m delighted to say.
Thanks to Reverend Alexander Faludy I met András Léderer and Tsofia Moldova who work at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, an NGO watchdog organization that protects human dignity and the rule of law through legal and public advocacy methods. See:https://www.helsinki.hu/en/They described aspects of their work including being the only NGO allowed to visit asylum seekers shut away and starving in ‘transit zones’. It’s a crime for NGOs to help refugees in Hungary, yes really:
Because George Soros funds human rights groups, Orban’s government uses his face and name with antisemitic slogans about him and images of migrants from 2015 to try and win elections.
Ialso met Miklós Molnárwho has worked at Oltalom (means ‘Protect’) for 13 years which is part of the Hungarian Evangelical Church led by Pastor Ivanyi Gabor a leading critic of Orban. Oltalom provides a shelter and support for homeless people and refugees.
I went to the office of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, (TASZ) where I met staff members Balázs Bartakovics and Máté Zoltán.Once again, I was moved and inspired by the work they do including offering legal aid for cases involving rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly and Roma rights & disability rights. They run training programmes in rural areas and travelling exhibitions. You can see the range of their work: https://hclu.hu/
I spent a delightful day with Borbála Juhasz at Lake Balaton where we talked about her work with an organisation for women’s groups and her fascinating take on Hungarian history, politics, education, media, law and the changes since 1989.
Professor Ivan Berend was once President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences where our conference was held. He also advised Hungary’s socialist government on economic reform and was much admired. The Academy has since been taken over by Orban’s government and the 4,000+ researchers there will lose their independence. There were huge protests about it as there were against the ‘slave labour’ law which was of course passed.
I wrote to Ivan – a generous supporter of JtoJ, now living in the USA. As someone who was sent to Dachau aged 14 and dedicated to human rights, he was pleased I met Hungarians who are working their guts out to protect the right and freedoms their (elected) government are removing one by one. It was an unforgettable six days. Budapest/Hungary is beautiful but the history of authoritarianism, anti-semitism, anti-Islam, anti-Roma, anti-gay actions is deep.
Antal Örkény, a lecturer at the conference, shared research findings showing Hungarians have the most xenophobic attitudes in Europe while allowing the fewest migrants and those countries with the most migrants are the least xenophobic.
So much work to do, here, there and everywhere. Recent results of local elections have given the opposition some hope. Onwards in solidarity!