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Join the walking tour – discovering multi-ethnic Budapest on foot (Part 2)

23 March 2011

Kit Dorey, who interns in MRG’s Europe office, Budapest, shares his experience from one of the activities organized to mark this week. See Part 1.

March 20th: The 8th District

The overlooked 8th District was our destination for the second of our guided tours celebrating minority Budapest, for the EU Action Week Against Racism. Overlooked because it is mistakenly presumed by many (tourist and Hungarian alike) to be not worth visiting and devoid of historical interest. The aim of our tour today was to demonstrate that this is simply not the case and, in addition, to meet, in person, representatives of the most numerous minority populations in this region of the city.

Our tour guide Zoltan Nagy

A sizeable group met at ten o’clock this morning, at Blaha Lujza square, the square that was the destination of many of the immigrant populations that began to arrive after 1989, including those from Africa and East Asia. We began by heading straight into the heart of the 8th district, going directly to Köztársaság square, the scene of uprisings in 1956, and the historical setting of a thriving Jewish community, the synagogues of which were dismantled long ago. One of the most tragic aspects of the 8th district is how few synagogues actually remain, in an area that used to host several in each locale. The open space that exists now does not provide much evidence of the thriving markets and settlement blocks that used to fill it up.

It was in this setting that we stopped to talk to Bela Radics, who had accompanied us for the first part of the tour. Bela is an independent Roma rights activist, who took the time to tell us all about the victimisation of his community. The majority of the Roma population in Budapest live in the 8th district, and it is not wholly a coincidence that this is the area of the city that gets the least attention from authorities when it comes to development. Bela spoke to us about the persistent lack of political representation and opportunities that continue to affect the Roma. It was a great opportunity to question an experienced activist in the field of Roma rights, and it was a stark reminder of the difficulties facing the largest minority group in Hungary.

The alter of one of the synagogues we visited

Another excellent opportunity for a face to face discussion was provided by Zoltan, as we were taken to see the synagogue on Teleki square. In contrast to grand synagogue that lies in the centre of the capital, this one was located in a converted apartment within a residential block. Set up at the beginning of the 20th Century by Jewish communities emigrating from Ukraine, Poland and Russia, the decor has not changed since then. The beautiful old benches, books and altars were breathtaking, and, after the men donned their skullcaps, we were able to sit in the pews as our host, Gabor, told us about the history of this place of worship and the revival of Jewish identity in recent years.

We then made our way further away from the city centre, paying attention to the examples of art nouveau on the walls of the buildings that we passed. Our tour culminated with the Józsefváros Market, also called the Chinese market for the high proportion of Chinese-Hungarian shopkeepers there. In clear view of the Chinese University of Budapest, the market is the business place of Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Turkish, Arabic and Roma stall-owners, and is one of the best places to go if you want an overview of the minority and immigrant populations of the city. It is a great shame that it exists so far away from the administrative centre of Budapest and the life of most of the citizens, but an excellent place to stop for some noodle-soup, which is exactly what many of us did as soon as we reached the end of our excursion.

In contrast to yesterday’s tour, which was a valuable insight into the historical influence of minority communities, today was very much about the present . The 8th district is home to a lively symbiosis of many different communities, and the tour we embarked on today showed clearly that it deserves to be seen as a precious and vital aspect of the capital, in a way that it is currently not by the general population.

Our last tour, on Wednesday, will focus on the downtown area of Pest, the home of Serbians, Roma, Romanians, Jewish and Turkish people, both past and present. These tours were developed and delivered by Minority Rights Group, Szubjektív Értékek Alapítvány, and Rockhoppers (please view if you are interested in exploring minority Budapest further!).

Stay tuned for news of tomorrow’s exhibition, for “Comics Against Racism”, to be held at the EU-pont in the Millenáris after 7.00.

Continue to Part 3.

This article reflects the sole opinion of its author and does not engage MRG’s responsibility.