TRAVEL WEEK: Vienna and Budapest
From 10/6-10/11 my Urban Studies Core Course traveled around Vienna and Budapest. This post is a highlight on BUDAPEST. Although I will describe our experiences in Vienna further in the coming weeks, I wanted to start off with Budapest. It twas, hands down, my favorite city that I have visited thus far.
Budapest – POLITICS, HISTORY, AND URBAN LIVABILITY
Politics, history, local/international businesses, educational/research institutions are all integral pieces that makeup an urban fabric. This post, I’d like to touch on history/politics/religion in Hungary. Our first evening in Budapest, the President of Turkey was visiting so the streets were shut down, police were roaming, and our class became quite delayed on our way to our dinner cruise on the Danube. The police were managing protests/opposition against Victor Orban (populist Prime Minister known for being anti-migrants, a soft-fascist, responsible for the corruption and degradation of Hungary’s democracy). Those that disapproved of the Fidesz (Orban’s political party) or President Erdogan were not allowed on the sidewalks. Whatever happened to peaceful protests and freedom of speech? This night and the government practices that followed are a good representation of how politics have been shaping the city of Budapest and the quasi-autocracy in Hungary.
Views on the Danube …!
So how does this experience tie into to my analysis of Budapest? Well, in order to answer the following questions – how do we make cities livable? Equitable? How do we revitalize urban areas? – I think that we must first address political stability. If media is in the control of the state and businesses can’t succeed without the favor of Orban, then how can we even tackle issues like affordable housing, sustainable development, and crime?
Let’s dive into that scene through the three activities integrated into our tour:
BIKE TOUR BUDAPEST
On our bike tour of Budapest, we were quick to learn that Budapest is not representative of all of Hungary. The grand parliament, touristy/party ruin bars, the romantic Danube, and the smoggy haze breaking up streams of orange light during sunset paint an idealistic picture of the city. Perhaps the following quote summarizes these sentiments well:
“Parliament is simply a decoration for a one party state” — Szelenyi
While Budapest is elegant, much of the rest of Hungary lives in poverty. Average salary is approx. ~8000 euros annually. Nonetheless, our guide showed us around the highlights of the city – the Parliament, Heroes Square, the Opera House, etc.
We were introduced to the history of Hungary. Pre WWI, the country was a part of the Austian-Hungarian empire. After choosing the losing side of the war, the country had to forfeit 2/3 of their landmass and half of its population which is still a point of contention for many Hungarians. Again, during WWII, the country sided with Germany as an Axis Power (during the 1930s, Hungary relied on trade between Germany and Italy so they were economically inclined). They participated in invasions of the Soviet Union with Germany, but attempted to create an armistice with the Soviets… which led to German occupation in 1944. The country was “liberated” by the Soviets in 1945, which marked the transition to communism.
Pictures from the bike tour! I hope you all are incredibly impressed with my biking skills. Truly difficult to bike and take pictures at the same time. Especially appreciate the pic of our class as we roll down into Heroes Square!
Fun Fact — All the most important buildings are 96 meters tall (Parliament and St. Stevens Church – representing that religion and politics can LITERALLY be placed on the same level of importance).
HOUSE OF TERROR
This museum provided a history of Hungary from German to Soviet occupation and a look at the country during fascism and communism. Because the building was used for detainees, prisoners, and interrogations, the building also is a memorial to all the victims from this period in time. What was the most striking to me was how recently communism dominated the lives of Hungarians. (But I suppose this is true for communist regimes around the world). The newsreels presented propaganda from that time were truly brainwashing and slightly terrifying. Communism makes sports for the people! Students work hard in school because they compete against each other to win the “Best School Award” from Hungary! And all this scrap metal that people are collecting are examples of how everybody can work and contribute to society at large! Also, videos of annual liberation marches at Heroes Square (while knowing that I was at that very same Heroes Squares <24 hours ago) are chilling.
These transitions of power are even evident in the languages the people speak. Everyone speaks Hungarian, but the oldest generation learned German (for trade/economic purposes), the middle-aged generation learned Russian (Soviet occupation), and the current youngest generation learned English. Wow.
The effects of German and Soviet occupation still have lingering effects in city of Budapest today.
*Sorry, no pictures were allowed in the House of Terror.*
GENTRIFICATION IN JEWISH QUARTER
To my American readers: I hope you have registered to vote for midterms elections! If you took anything away from this post, I hope it was that the state of Hungary provides warnings to the rest of the world for threats against democracy. ESPECIALLY since Steve Bannon, has been in Europe building “the Movement” which is apparently working to spread Orban’s politics.
So much of urban planning is dependent upon the collaboration of local actors — politicians, educational institutions, non-profits, the citizens… that if almost all actors are controlled by the same person it will be impossible to make meaningful change in neighborhoods that positively impact the community. Obviously. Totalitarianism isn’t for the people. But, still.
WE ALSO DID FUN CLASS ACTIVITIES ON OUR TRIP ** Pics in the Gallery :)