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Racism in Budapest

First, let me apologize for the prolonged absence. The busyness at uni got crazy and the university presidency took a life of its own.  Now I’m back despite the burnout and the zombie-like status of my sleep regime. Despite all these recent (chronic) hurdles, I actually got some inspiration to write today.

Why? The reason is this:

Today, I took my normal routine to the university – take the Yellow Metro line from Opera (the center of town) to Deak Ferenc Ter (the connection of all transport in Budapest). It was a normal day, but it didn’t turn out to be that. A Hungarian women in her mid-40s started speaking to me in a not-so-friendly tone. I usually just ignore it or smile, but the reaction of the gentleman’s face next to me made me realize that it was probably a bit serious.

I asked him what she was saying. He deciphered, “You are the reason for the problems in my country. Go back to China to the rice fields where you came from.” At first I laughed and then proceeded to tell her (through the Hungarian man) that she should go back to the 15th century where she came from. And that I wasn’t Chinese actually. I’m American, albeit from Vietnam.

You may think this is some rarity in Europe. I have news for all of you reading this. This is not the first time this has happened to me. In fact, this is the 6th time since September. And it’s from all ages, big and small, men and women, rich and poor. It really broke my heart because this is Europe. One would think that this line of ridiculous thinking didn’t occur here, but it does.

What is the huge puzzle is that it only happens to be IN EUROPE! It’s never happened to me in North America, Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, or Sub-Saharan Africa. NEVER. And I can’t seem to understand why. Thinking it was just me, I asked my other non-white colleagues. They have all experienced the same thing in Budapest. This is the EU. This is Europe.

But after backpedaling, I realized that it’s also happened to me in other countries – East, West, North and South (and some of it led to altercations and spiting, all those nasty things associated with blind hatred).

The fact is that identity, ethnicity and nationalism is still raw here. Sadly, this is not simply a one generational thing. It’s going to take much more work – much more than simple tolerance, but rather, the political and social will to truly bring people into the community – whether by forums, public discussions or at least saying hello at the minimum.

Have you experienced racism or acts of discrimination abroad?

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  1. i met some very caucasian Americans there who were who violently discriminated against in Budapest. One guy had his leg broken.
    They seemed to think much of it had to do with the very high unemployment rate.
    My biggest problem there was dealing with people who were seriously drunk.

  2. Hungary is a beautiful country, but it does have some serious racism problems, and intolerance doesn’t extend to only non-white and/or non-Hungarian foreigners. Hungarian Roma face some pretty apalling discrimination, too, despite the illegality of it all.
    I’ve also noticed that this stuff seems to be worse in Eastern Europe than in Western Europe.
    As for racism, I’ve never experienced anything overtly connected to my errr…..whiteness, but I have been threatened for my nationality, mistreated by authorities, shouted at, and ignored. In certain places, I’ve also recieved some odd comments by people who figured out my exact ethnic composition.
    Oddly enough, my non-white American study abroad classmates weren’t treated any differently from my white American classmates from what I recollect. Basically, if we were going to be mistreated, it was as an amorphous blob of Americana.
    Also, having lived in Australia, I can tell you it is every bit as bad as Eastern Europe, maybe even worse.

  3. “My biggest problem there was dealing with people who were seriously drunk.”
    True words, my friend.

  4. i have just come back from a short break away with the girlfriend to the beautiful city of budapest,and my god it is beautiful.however,my girlfriend being asian and me being white got some very unwelcome looks and some words were said.i did not know what they were as i cannot understand hungarian,but knew they werent nice. people would stop,turn and look.we went ice skating and was a class of 30 school children aged bout 7/8.every child was just staring at my girlfriend. i dont know what is wrong with these people.it seems to me that these people are stuck in a timezone. and see it as a shame as the city is so beautiful. still my girlfriend was strong and ignored it or as she told me “i know how to stop them starring,i’ll keep looking at them back till they stop” haha. budapest…. get with the time!!!!

  5. Hi, thanks for posting your experience. i am a german with hungarian ancestry and appalled by recent news on the burgeoning of hungarian racism.
    unfortunately, racist and anti-samitic views have been held in hungarian society for a long time.
    the country is in need of some serious reeducation programs if it is to assume an acceptable role within the EU.
    you can hardly imagine how much (latent and obvious) racial prejudice you are exposed to when you speak the language (as i do) – it hurts even when you do not belong to a despised minority.

  6. I happen to be a medical student in Budapest….and as a black individual, I can’t state how much hate I have received. Take a look at this video of an African American medical student being beaten by security guards at a Budapest club “cafe del rio”. The security guards allowed all his white friends in and told him to leave,he didn’t understand why and insisted on an explanation. Cafe Del Rio is a club known for its discrimination acts…..so many reports have gone to the authorities to no avail.