Budapest, Hungary – It’s Friday night in Budapest, and while most people are making their way downtown towards the Hungarian capital’s notorious pubs and clubs, we head the other way, for a storm is brewing in the Eight District, and one of its flagship venues: Aurora.
This once rundown and rough neighbourhood, famed for its prostitutes, homeless people and drug users, has since changed its reputation and is now the main hub for the city’s emerging alternative and bohemian scene.
From Café Csiga and Hintaló bar to the hustling and bustling of Gólya, the Eighth district now caters to locals and expats alike who have been chased out of the city centre by topless drunk tourists and rising prices. Amongst its cafes, bars, clubs and other hidden art galleries lies Aurora, a local Budapest-based multi-purpose community centre providing subsidized office spaces to a dozen NGOs which has now been pushed to the brink of closure by continuous government and far-right attacks.
Founded by the Jewish NGO Marom, Aurora aims to support small and medium Hungarian civil organizations that are active in social and human rights in Budapest and beyond, and to create a free and pluralist community house which provides a safe space for marginalised and oppressed minorities. Today, more than 120 organisations use its infrastructure to host meetings, talks, lectures, film screenings and workshops.
According to organisers, the community house is unique in its role as it is the only space in Hungary which provides a platform without censorship for organisations and ideas labelled hostile by the government. This, however, makes it an obvious target of authorities in the country.
Botond Sára, the Eighth District mayor and member of Fidesz even emphasised Auróra’s oppositional stance in a press release urging the house’s closure. In fact, in the last two years, authorities conducted a police raid, closed the bar down for three months and the garden permanently citing administrative reasons. Far-right organisations have also visited the house to harass its community in person.
‘We wanted to create a safe environment for civil organizations,’ said Adam Schonberger, director of Marom Budapest, to CNN, ‘by doing this we became a sort of enemy of the state.’
A recent series of articles released in pro-government media also emphasizes the Jewish background of the organization, calling it the ‘Hungarian general headquarters of George Soros’, the bogeyman of the far-right movement and the governing Fidesz party. ‘This anti-Semitism have by now become commonplace in pro-government media when attacking civil society and dissident organizations,’ claim organisers.
After several failed attempts by local government authorities to close down the community house, the municipality recently forced Auróra to close the bar after 10pm under the pretence of neighbour complaints. For organisers, this latest ruling endangers the sustainability of the community centre which, with government funding blocked, is financed through its ground-floor bar, Auróra Kiosk, providing almost 70% of its entire revenue.
Yet, it is after 10pm, and this is exactly where we are heading, for Auróra won’t let itself be intimidated that easily. Live music, a crowd of people bringing their own food and drinks, it was hard to tell that the house was fighting for its survival. But the word was on everyone’s lips: ‘A new ruling was upheld by the Metropolitan Administration Court of the city, dealing a possibly fatal blow to the house and its diverse community’…