That’s the question that seems to be on a lot of minds these days, as Hungary edges increasingly closer to the edges of democracy. The situation is attracting attention from political commentators such as Paul Krugman of the New York Times and the Contrarian Hungarian is posting regularly with updates on what’s going on. The Irish Times published a piece and Ireland’s Newstalk radio had a 10-minute section on the goings on here last week, too. President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso and Hilary Clinton have both approached PM Viktor Orbán airing their concerns at the none-too-gradual, and ever quickening erosion of democracy. But to no avail.
Tonight, as Orbán and his VIP guests apparently entered the Opera House via underground tunnels to celebrate the new Hungarian constitution – one that was written and passed into law without any public consultation or referendum, the manifestation of an intention that was never mentioned in his election campaign – an estimated 100,000 people gathered in the street outside to make their voices heard. Among them some hundred or so Árpád heads were kept under close watch by the police. I couldn’t tell you what they were saying, but there was no denying the venom with which they yelled. There is some consolation to be had in that their numbers were small and contained. But the fact that there are people in this country who feel like this is scary.
I wonder what it felt like to be inside, listening to the anger and frustrations of thousands of citizens, knowing that some of them had voted you into power? How safe can Orbán be feeling? Or does he care? More to the point, do I care?
I loathe the term ‘expat‘ but have resigned myself to being one. When I’m not in Ireland or elsewhere, I’m in Budapest. I love it here and I really don’t want to move. Yes, I’ll admit that the situation is getting a tad worrying and I’m more than a little concerned about talks of Hungary losing its EU membership. Far-fetched as it might seem, I’m beginning to have nightmares about getting a knock on my door at 4am (but that could also have something to do with my currently reading Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44). I’m also beginning to be more and more conscious of being a foreigner. Three years after I moved in, someone finally updated the doorbell list and I was horrified at the fear in my gut when I realised that my name was on there – advertising to the world where I lived. Am I losing my reason? Perhaps. Perhaps the drama queen in me is rearing her head and imagining all sorts but that didn’t stop me taping over my name. Why draw attention to myself.
I know this is irrational. I know, too, that I don’t want to leave Budapest. And tonight, I’ve realised that in choosing to stay, it’s not enough to stand idly by as Orbán & Co chisel away at a democracy that was hard won. Be it just adding to the numbers on the street at the next demonstration, or reposting articles on what’s happening here so that friends abroad know what’s going on – I have to do something. Being an expat doesn’t exclude me from the ramifactions of what could happen if this continues. I’ve been told that no matter how long I stay or how hard I try, I will never be more than a tourist. However true that might be, it hurt to hear. Yes, Ireland is and always will be my home. I will always be Irish. And while Hungary is a home from home, I have no desire to be Hungarian. And it could well be argued that I should butt out – it’s not my fight. But just as I didn’t listen to those who suggested I incorporate my company in another country, believing that if I choose to live here, I have duty to pay taxes here, then if I choose to stay, I have a duty to get involved. So when standing 10 metres from a mob of chanting yobbos who I know would like nothing better than for me for me and every other foreigner in this country, and our associated institutions and organisations, to go home, I felt not fear, but anger. The words of Martin Niemöller came to mind:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
The coming months will be interesting. As a growing audience around the world watches and waits to see how the story evolves, liberal voices like Klubrádió are being silenced. When they are all gone, who will be left to speak out? Now is a time to believe in miracles.