ACCEPT PLURALISM Hungarian Launch Event
Tolerance in present day Hungary (?)
Round-table discussion with civil society actors
21st January 2011
Venue: CEU, 1051 Budapest, Nádor street 9. I. Popper room
About fifty people from various backgrounds but mainly from the civil society participated at the round-table discussion organized to provide a forum for NGOs that are working in the different fields of the ‘promotion of tolerance’.
At the first session of the ACCEPT PLURALISM launch event six NGOs participated at the round-table. The aim was to discuss the ‘state of tolerance’ in present day Hungary and share their experiences. The NGOs are active in the field of tolerance education; they offer their services to schools as informal education.
The discussion started with the question of how the changes of the last couple of years have been perceived by the civil actors, how they have reacted to the rise of a more radical public sphere. The NGOs concluded that there are mainly two types of schools that they meet during their work. One totally refuses to let informal education on tolerance enter their institutions. The other is the opposite: they are happy to receive help on such ‘sensitive issues’. There are various motivations behind the refusal and apparently fear is one of the major causes. When the general attitude of the school management is not hostile to the issues of tolerance, then they avoid dealing with these delicate questions or inviting NGOs to help them to address these themes because they are ‘afraid’ of the reactions of their wider social surroundings (parents, local government, etc.). So they rather choose to hush up on these issues, in other words, as one of the participants said, there is no civil courage. On the other hand, those who finally decide to deal with tolerance issues are very pleased to have professional assistance from the specialized NGOs. This is, they said, is mainly due to the fact that teacher training in Hungary lacks education on how to approach questions related to minority groups and social, cultural, ethnic, religious diversity. This led the discussion to another crucial point that is the role of the state in tolerance education. Some thought that the type of education NGOs provide cannot be incorporated in the general curriculum. Others were arguing that the aim is to make all these grassroots activities part of the mainstream as much as possible.
At the second session of the event representatives of web-sites on tolerance issues shared their views on how they see the current situation in Hungary. They all agreed that in the early 1990s, right after the political regime change, the general climate was very radical, it was a time characterized by open anti-Semitism, anti-Gypsyness and xenophobia. The second half of the 1990s brought a more moderate climate. In the middle of the 2000s public discourse seemed to have taken a complete turn and with the rise of the extreme right hate speech became an accepted norm and it also entered the mainstream media of both left and right. The participants of the discussion disagreed on how the forums of the ‘alterative media’ (internet web-sites and communities) can and should influence the mainstream media as to how to deal with and talk about minorities. One side said that the general climate is so hostile today that the civil society and the small internet sites are helpless and weak to counterbalance the mainstream. The other side believed that their role is not to enter the mainstream media. They have no means to do that but also that is not their aim. They are convinced that there is a huge number of people who are constantly looking for alternative ways of expression and thinking and they find this in internet communities. Many of the social activities today take place through the internet so there is a sizeable ‘tolerance seeking community’ that refuses the mainstream. Therefore, it is crucial to continue providing these forums and (re)creating the ‘language of tolerance’.
09.15 – 09.30
Presentation of the ACCEPT PLURALISM project – Jon Fox (School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol)
09.30 – 11.00
I. Round-table: Tolerance in education – the education of tolerance
Participants: AnBlokk, Artemisszió Alapítvány, Ec-Pec Alapítvány, HAVER, Zachor Alapítvány, UCCU Informális Roma Oktatási Projekt
Moderator: Viola Zentai (director, Center for Policy Studies, CEU)
11.00 – 11.30
11.30 – 13.00
II. Round-table: Alternative forms of political participation – the use of internet: community web-sites for tolerance
Participants: Roma Sajtóközpont, Sosi net, coMMMunity, RomNet
Moderator: Zsuzsanna Vidra (research fellow, Center for Policy Studies, CEU)