Hungary…Where Are You Going?
Budapest. Could it be more beautiful? thriving? welcoming? At least to the tourist, euros in hand.
This city was the reason I started on this journey. A book – Katalin Street by Magda Szabo – spoke to me, told me I had to return. This, my third visit. And it was all that I remembered, and more. More construction, more tourists, more prosperous.
It’s been more than thirty years since my first trip to Hungary. Then, it was dipping its toe back into Western culture. Wanting more contact with the West, and its money, many of the stringent economic and personal austerities had eased. Everyone wanted the US dollar, and we were approached by every type of Hungarian offering us improbable amounts of zlotys for American currency.
Five years ago, Budapest was booming, at least to my eyes. There was construction everywhere, new building as well as infrastructure renewal. And while the Revolution of 1956 might be ancient history to us, it was never far from the minds, and hearts, of those with whom we came in contact. It gave me pause – for surely we left these people in the lurch. But with the fall of Communism in 1989, compared to its neighbors, Hungary’s transition was relatively calm. The country had experienced considerable inflation, its citizens trusted that better times were to be had with another system. Now they’re part of the European Union, far ahead of their eastern neighbors.
And, indeed, Budapest has prospered. On this trip, even more building, more infrastructure upgrades, tour groups everywhere, riverboats filled with tourists two and three deep in the Danube. Things seem to be going their way. The days that we were there were filled with sunshine and blue sky and streets crowded with commuters and shoppers.
And then. For isn’t there always a “then.”
We were there during the week before their elections. Some we talked to were concerned that their right-wing anti-immigrant Prime Minister would be elected for a third term. He won, and since then there have been massive demonstrations in Budapest against what protesters call an unfair election system. Of course, like finds like, so most of those I talked to, including one man who had organized an action group to help those immigrants stranded in the city, were appalled to see their country head in this populist direction. Sound familiar?
I know, a lot of political thought on a vacation. But, for me, politics is everywhere these days. None of us have the luxury or privilege not to be involved.
Oh, Hungary, have you, like so many of us here in the U.S., forgotten those times when we reached out to help those needing a hand? Is the world now building walls instead of lengthening our tables? Who are we becoming? Where are we going?