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A magical thing happened last week in Budapest – Europe became one notch more erratic and even less predictable. Viktor Orbán, the democratically elected leader of Hungary, in a befittingly authoritarian fashion, passed new legislation on Tuesday, April 4, reflecting its maker’s fondness of political control of science. The legal amendment was fast-tracked, with only a few hours given to lawmakers to seal the fate of academic freedom in the country. It was also tailor-made to fit the long-standing desire of the Central European University, one of Eastern Europe’s top-level universities, located in Budapest, to collect its things and beat it. Leaving behind such a gash in liberal values, that given time it can swallow Hungary, the European Union and, eventually, Uranus.
Renaming streets following the collapse of communism in Hungary
In the next edition of our mini-series marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in many parts of Central and Southeastern Europe, we hear from Dora Vuk about growing up in post-socialist Hungary and memories of the socialist era.
The moment I was asked to write about my impressions of the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism, I was forced to realise that my feelings, memories related to this occasion, and the stories I had heard from my parents and grandparents about communism were more complex and ambivalent than I had thought before. So I decided not only to highlight the significance of the subsequent transition in our lives, but also to use scraps of thoughts to present my impressions of the so-called "socialist era" and the last 25 years.
As I originally come from a small Croatian community settled at the Hungarian border with Croatia, most of the scenes appearing now before my eyes are in a particular way related to this minority population and its life in a period characterised by totalitarian policy, and in another, a more free one after that came later. I remember my grandmother and one of her memories from her childhood after the Second World War – when, during the realisation of the state ownership programme, the Hungarian Secret Police (ÁVO, after 1956 ÁVH) took all of her family's agricultural land, animals, and cereals. Once, when the police came, she had to hide in the attic with a basket of corn to ensure that they would have the necessary amount of food to survive the winter.
|Photo: Danielle Harms; Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Old ladies singing carols at Budapest's Christmas market
In the run-up to the winter holidays, E&M's little series about Christmas traditions in Europe continues. This time around, Ana Maria Ducuta takes us inside traditions in Hungary and her mother country Romania, where the Christmas period actually starts in mid-November.
Christmas. The magical word that brings so much profit to merchandisers and supermarkets, making people so eager to buy and spend their money on useless things who somehow compensate for all the bad things that happened throughout the year. The new consumerist dimension of Christmas has basically drowned out its magical meaning and emotional attachment, making it a celebration of irrational spending. But for centuries, Christmas traditions were not only a way of carrying and conveying a message through generations, but also a moment of introspection and the chance to step into an alternative universe, where we find our identity in the customs and traditions of our ancestors. After all, it's all about understanding people's souls. And that is what traditions do: they carry a little piece of soul and identity across time. Christmas traditions are different across Eastern Europe, but they all carry a very important meaning that should remind us that each Christmas could be a re-birth and a new beginning, if only we’d take the chance to search for and find ourselves. In the former Eastern bloc, Christmas was not celebrated during the communist period which lasted until early 1990s (1989-1992) but after democracy was restored restored, Christmas traditions regained their place and importance. Let's take a look at what happens in Romania and Hungary.
Christmas is a magical time everywhere in the world and Hungary is no exception. Hungarian Christmas starts with the celebration of Advent, which starts four Sundays before Christmas. Meanwhile, front yards and tables are decorated with advent wreaths with four candles. Every Sunday before Christmas, one more candle is lit until the last one, which is lit on Christmas Eve, the most important evening in Hungarian Christmas traditions.
As the new year began, tens of thousands of Budapest's residents rallied against the politics of the Hungarian government. Prime minister Viktor Orbán, once "a national hero," who was supposed to offer Magyars "a new social contract" is now more well known as 'Viktator', "a disgrace for the nation." The main European newspapers don't usually pay too much attention to this beautiful country over the swirling Danube but now seem unable to publish an article without mentioning 'the destruction of democracy' and the 'violations of the human rights' perpetrated by the governing Fidesz party at the moment. The Hungarian Forint exchange rate is at its lowest level since the turn of the century. This is a bitter sign of the state's nosediving economy.
Quite a lot of things to face for one nation, even one so experienced in surviving "the rough ages" (as it says in their passionate national anthem).
The most controversial act of the Hungarian government so far is the implementation of the new Constitution. For some (including the author) it contains some inaccurate provisions. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored that the previous constitution was dictated by Stalin in 1949 and then only partially changed in 1989 (by the undemocratic assembly of the day), and was the subject of constant political violations during the last 20 years. In the light of these facts any critics should be a bit more careful. To me it seems that the new "Hungarian basic law" doesn't necessarily lead the country towards an autocratic regime.
I cannot agree with new E&M author Simon's opinion a few days ago that the absence of the word 'republic' in the new (or the old, in fact) name of the country means the restoration of monarchy. When it comes to the President's right to dissolve parliament it's the same in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland; and we are not claiming these countries are under tyranny.