There’s Budapest and there’s Hungary. Ákos and Adam both moved to the capital after growing up in rural, conservative Hungary. Known as an attractive and liberal city, Budapest stands in stark contrast to the nationalist policies of the country’s government. These two young Hungarians told us what it means to be 20 years old and living under this authoritarian government.
“When I arrived in Budapest, it was like a culture shock.” Ákos’s big move to the Hungarian capital ten years ago marked the beginning of his new life. Originally from a small village in southeast Hungary, the 29-year-old LGBT+ activist grew up in a conservative family. “My grandfather ran for local elections with Fidesz, Viktor Orban‘s party. He is one of his huge supporters.”
Although his current mandate as prime minister started in 2010, the nationalist and conservative leader Viktor Orban had already held the post between 1998 and 2002. In April 2022, he won a fourth consecutive term of office. This means that, at the age of 20, young Hungarians have known him as the head of government for half their lives.
An invisible LGBT+ community
In Ákos’s family and at school, homosexuality was a taboo subject: “I know some teachers who ended up on the government media front pages just because they talked about LGBTQ topics.” So he waited until he “left the nest” and headed for the big city before coming out to those closest to him.
Today, he has carved out a place for himself in the capital’s wide activist scene, working alongside an LGBT+ association. And there is plenty to be done: two years after the law banning the dissemination of content deemed to promote homosexuality and gender change came into effect, LGBT+ activists like Ákos are still suffering the consequences. The law has heightened discrimination against the LGBT+ community in a country that is already “no longer considered a full democracy” by the EU.
The dominance of the conservative and traditionalist model
In one of Budapest’s residential suburbs, Adam experiences a completely different reality. However, he doesn’t feel considered by his government, either. The reason? He doesn’t want children. “In Hungary, you have to start a family in order to receive government support. If you’re over 25 but don’t want children, you’re left to your own devices,” explains the influencer and aspiring TV anchor.
This traditional, conservative model is being heavily promoted on social media by the Orban government as a response to Hungary’s falling birth rate and brain drain. Over the last ten years, more than half a million Hungarians have left the country to study or work abroad, according to Deutsche Welle. But that’s neither in Adam nor Ákos’s plans. “I feel really useful here,” Ákos explains. “I wouldn’t be an activist if I didn’t see the huge potential of my country.”
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