by Monica Nica
A last minute change introduced a detour in our route between Zagreb and Belgrade. The name of this fortunate twist is Pécs, in Hungary. Although we only spent 17 hours in the European Capital of Culture of 2010, they were filled to the brim both with challenging debates and soaking up some local traditions.
Even though they sometimes needed a push to take the discussion forward, the Hungarian participants had fruitful and interesting debates on all three questions they received: What are the advantages/disadvantages of mobility? Do you imagine yourself working in another country? What is the best way to defend your interests as a young person?
On the mobility matter, the advantages brought up were similar to what was mentioned during the discussions we had with youths from other locations: job/education opportunities, cultural sensitivity, self-improvement, breaking down stereotypes, to cite just a few. In the disadvantages corner, one point stood out among the usually mentioned ones: ‘losing your national identity’. What Leila Abbas meant with it was the fear of one having to relinquish his/her own culture, the fear of a ‘European melting pot’ which would erase the existing cultural differences. A strong attachment to national identity was present throughout the debates on all three questions, although twined with a criticism of the Hungarian government to the same intensity, if not even greater.
Working in another country was regarded by most participants as a short term option. Both types of arguments – pro and against working abroad – boiled down to how despite the dissatisfaction with many things, it is better to live and work in Hungary. For them, a good reason to work abroad is to gain experience which can be later used back in one’s native country. An even more powerful expression of their national attachment came in the form of a reason against working abroad: ‘leaving your country is a kind of selfishness’. Zoltán Bagoly mentioned one Hungarian saying which can help to better understand how they feel about ‘abroad’: in other countries ‘fences are not made of sausages’, in a literal translation. Considering how kolbász (sausage) is one of the staples of Hungarian gastronomic culture, one can easily grasp why sausage fences are regarded as the crest of well-being. Going beyond the tastiness of the aphorism, what Zoltán was trying to convey with it is that they think they have an undistorted view of how things are abroad. Despite the situation in Hungary not being satisfactory, abroad it is not much better. Someone said, to the approval of the rest: ‘as a nation we are too proud to confess that we can learn from other nations’.
The literature on youth participation says that young people prefer alternative channels of action to influence decision-makers. The Hungarian youths confirmed this when they mentioned the best ways to defend their interests: peaceful protests, student organisations and social media campaigns. Although they also brought up establishing relationships with officials, most of the options represent new forms of engaging with the political. When asked why they did not even consider engaging with formal politics they said it is because politics in Hungary is a realm of corruption. Politicians are very protective of their seats and joining their ranks would entail becoming like them.
Knowing perfectly well the feeling of nausea when thinking about how politics is carried out in my own country I could comprehend their stance. Time and the European Union’s influence were two of the cures prescribed by the participants to alleviate the state of affairs in the national political arena. Given that their results are slow and unreliable, I further asked them what can we do now to meaningfully influence policy-making if engaging with formal politics is not a viable option?
A bottom-up approach still remained the preferred course of action. Associations like AEGEE, they said, have an important role, especially through the patronage which alumni can provide to the initiatives of current members.