A Coloured Man in Budapest
February 7, 2016 § 1 Comment
As a brown expatriate living in Hungary’s capital my experiences in this city are markedly different from those of my white brethren. I dislike bringing up the race card but you and I both know that racial sentiments continue to simmer beneath the surface, and have done so over the last 12 to 15 months in Europe. In my case I tend to be met with a mixture of awe, amazement, suspicion, and on very few occasions with contempt.
Let me clarify: the awe and the amazement stem from a sense of disbelief amongst locals that a man with my background (see About) would travel half way across the world to live in their city. As the conversation progresses it becomes evident to them that I’ve been trotting the globe for a good two and half decades. Hence the awe piles on.
Now to the suspicion and contempt. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year you’ll be aware that Europe has been exposed to seismic social and cultural shifts. The appalling underlying divisions among European nations have been exposed, and the supposed dream of European unity is now scoffed at by many (see Cologne & the Cultural Divide). Along with the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia, Hungary has done its utmost to hurl refugees across the border into the welcoming, but now overburdened arms, of the Austrians, the Swedes, and the Germans. This has been accompanied with demagoguery and fear mongering on their PM’s part; with excuses such as ‘the need to preserve the Christian values of our states’; ‘prevent the Islamization of our society’; and the idiotic ‘we’ve never been an immigrant society’. (Anyone who’s ever looked up the history of this country will be able to ridicule that last statement. Only when Hungary became a Soviet satellite did migration truly cease; due to its geographic location it was for centuries a crossroad for cultures and peoples.) And there are three other factors to consider: economics, social homogeneity, and history. It’s plainly evident that former Soviet spheres of influence have performed meagerly since independence (although that is changing, but more on that in a separate post). When you combine fiscal woes with closed borders and leaders pandering to populist feelings, you have a noxious atmosphere of anti-immigrant/ anti-foreigner sentiments. In my case these aren’t manifested overtly, apart from the rare instances of contempt that I’ve had to deal with, but I am nonetheless conscious of their presence.
At this point I should probable reassure my Hungarian readers, and others too, that I hold no grudges. In fact the five years I’ve spent living in this city have been extremely enjoyable and no where near as trying as you might have presumed. With most natives that I’ve interacted with I’ve been met with civility, generosity, and kindness. But that racial prejudice exists in the minds of many is a fact and something that I am acutely aware of. And it is in this regard that Hungary continues to lag behind the rest of the world.