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Budapest: East, Central or West?

The central question to our project is “Where is Europe heading?” For many young people,
this is inextricably linked to the question where their own country is heading. In a country
with a troubled past—and a lot would say also present—such as Hungary, this is not always an
easy question to answer. This is why AEGEE-Budapest organised a discussion evening on the
position of Hungary in Europe, linked to the visit of Europe on Track’s Team Blue. Is Hungary
part of Eastern Europe, Central Europe, or something else?

For almost all considerations except geographical ones, participants came to an agreement
that Hungary has been firmly rooted in Central Europe since the Middle Ages. Ample examples
of this were given from the work of Hungarian historian István Bibó, claiming the presence
in historical Hungary of numerous factors coming from the West, but not adopted in the
East. These include what he calls “small circles of liberties” (i.e. free cities able to develop
independently from, and at a much faster pace than the surrounding countryside) and the
connected concept of a citizenry in between nobility and clergy on the one hand, and peasants
on the other.

But where does that leave Hungary and the rest of Central European countries in the EU?
Was it a logical move for them to join the EU in 2004, and was it a good decision to accept
all of them at the same time? Are the differences between the old EU-members and these
ex-communist countries not too big to bridge? Peter (19, International relations): “The EU
is the best thing that happened in the 21st century, so once freed of the artificial situation
after WWII, it was normal for us to join the EU.” Not everybody is so happy with Hungary’s
accession though, says Arpad (26, International relations). “We lost our leading position in the
region.”

So how do they look at further integration in the EU, leading perhaps to even less control over
their future? For Roland (22, International relations), the key to success lies with the people,
rather than with institutions. “We need to use our opportunities. We did of course suffer a lot
in the past, but now we are responsible for ourselves and the state cannot solve everything for
us. And also the EU will not solve all of our problems.”

In order for people to take up this responsibility and tackle their problems, the first thing Nikki
(20, Social sciences) would change if she were in charge, would be to improve education,
“giving people a more equal position to get started in life, without having to rely on the state
for everything.” But more on the quality of education in our next post from Zagreb!