What do Turks think of Hungary

Cultural communities
"The Budapesters are less dismissive"

András Kováts | Photo: Hernád Géza

What is life like for people who have immigrated from abroad or from Hungary in Budapest? Does the Hungarian capital show itself to be very receptive and accordingly colorful? A conversation with the sociologist and socio-political advisor András Kováts.

Do locals and foreigners immediately catch the eye as separate social groups in the two million metropolis, similar to what happens in large western cities?

The classic form of spatially separated and socially isolated migrant quarters like in New York and North America does not exist in Budapest. Even the ethnic separation by country of origin, as is typical for Paris, for example, is not to be found here. So there is neither a Chinatown nor districts that are mostly inhabited by Turks and Muslims. The presence of these groups is particularly evident in the field of services and commerce.

Why are there no migrant quarters? 

Simply because not as many immigrants live in Budapest as in the western metropolises. They make up about 5-6 percent of the city's population, so they have not reached the level of population density that could lead to the formation of “self-sufficient” neighborhoods. The internal movements of the Budapesters, the national migration between Budapest and the rest of the country and possibly the resettlement of Hungarians from neighboring countries could create structurally different parts of the city. But they don't have a formative effect here because the social and cultural differences in Hungary are much smaller than in Western Europe, for example. For example, if someone moves from the country to the capital, the cultural leap is not so great that he necessarily needs his "fellow fate" around him.

Certain tendencies to use relocations from one area to the other as “upward mobility” can, however, already be observed? [1]

Indeed. The culturally less open lower middle class settles mainly in the residential parks on the outskirts, and there is another group of native migrants who are more receptive to the multicultural. You are looking for the colorful districts, many of them are located in Újlipótváros (Neuleopoldstadt [2]), in the vicinity of Király Street or in the inner and central Ferencváros (Franzstadt).

And what about the area around the student dormitories?

Indeed, they can become focal points of urban subcultures. An interesting example of this is the “Áron Márton” student residence in Óbuda, where the environment has changed slightly due to the increased presence of minority Hungarians from neighboring countries. Another, perhaps even better, example of this phenomenon is the downtown Central European University, which has resulted in the opening of snack bars, bookstores, and other stores catering to the special needs of American, Israeli, and Asian students.

Are the Budapesters hospitable? How do you feel about foreigners, about migrants from Asia and Africa?

The survey results suggest that the Budapesters are less dismissive, they are more likely to accept the settlement of foreigners than the population in the province, especially the villagers. This is a general phenomenon in European societies: In a big city, one more often encounters representatives of other cultures, here everyone is a bit considered a migrant. Our relationship with Asians and Africans is somewhat ambivalent: They are well integrated in trade, the economic and cultural life of the city, but subliminally discriminatory or sometimes even openly xenophobic statements are made in the local population. In short, we buy their goods, eat their food, dance to their music, but we don't like them.

What does that mean: the Kiez?

Kieze are typical urban structures: residential areas whose residents rarely leave their immediate surroundings because they can find all essential services in the surrounding streets. They do their shopping in the neighborhood, they go out there, they meet there - and this experience leads to the fact that communities with the same customs, festivals and goals gradually develop. Neighborhoods usually arise independently of the individual administrative boundaries. The term has changed many times: Originally, in the Middle Ages, it referred to individual parts of the settlement, often just individual streets, in which people of the same profession or servants of a different nationality lived (the word Kiez itself, for example, is of Slavic origin). Later mainly entertainment districts (such as St. Pauli and the Reeperbahn in Hamburg) were referred to with this word. In Berlin it is still used today in its positive meaning described above.

When looking for neighborhoods in Budapest, the first thing that might come to mind is a few streets in Újlipótváros.

Several social processes come together in Újlipótváros. The district is historically closely linked to Judaism, and although this connection has been strained by the most terrible human tragedies, it still shapes the atmosphere in the district. In addition, a kind of “Jewish Revival” can be observed in the young and middle generation of the middle class who prefer to live in the hills of Buda. Although the members of these generations are fully assimilated, many of them are rediscovering their Jewish roots and choosing to settle in the part of Újlipótváros that has Jewish traditions. Then there is the settlement of the cosmopolitan rural youth with liberal views. Today the district is experiencing an impressive upswing due to the growing together culture of Jewish identity and the liberal Hungarians.

And then there is the former, historic Jewish quarter in District VII, in Erzsébetváros (Elisabethstadt).

Correct. The area around Király, Wesselényi and Kazinczy streets could become the second inner-city neighborhood with Jewish traditions, but the custodians of tradition are also in the minority there. On the other hand, one can observe the settlement of Israeli migrants in both quarters, who further enrich the social composition of these parts of the city.

Where do the poorer groups of native migrants end up?

They are mainly located in Józsefváros (Josefstadt, 8th district), in Kőbánya (Xth district) and in the prefabricated housing estates in the outskirts.

Many migrants live in Józsefváros and traditionally there are many Roma.

Although the area around Orczy Square and Kőbányai Street is considered a Chinese trading center, the Chinese do not live there, but rather scattered around the city, so no Chinatown has emerged there. The Roma got stuck in Józsefváros and Kőbánya as a result of their multiple disadvantaged social situation. Many migrants from sub-Saharan Africa live in the vicinity of Blaha Lujza Square, which also belongs to Józsefváros. This is certainly not a coincidence, because their material situation is anything but rosy.

What is the situation of the Chinese and Vietnamese migrants like?

80 percent of the Chinese migrants in Hungary and 90 percent of those from Vietnam live in Budapest. The number of Chinese people fell sharply. In the 1990s it should have been around 40,000, today they count only 10-12,000. The number of Vietnamese living in Hungary is not much more than five to six thousand. The Chinese are characterized by a strong transnationality: Although they learn Hungarian better or worse, they do not lose their contact with their homeland. Your children go home for the holidays, possibly also to study and study, and the adults commute back and forth between China and Hungary. A cultural integration can only be observed among the second generation Chinese, with whom one can already identify a mixed Hungarian-Chinese identity.

What can be said about the Muslims in Budapest?

This is an interesting phenomenon: Turkish snack bars are springing up like mushrooms on the edge of the city center, on the Great Ring and in its surroundings. Even so, neither the Turks nor the Arabs focused on a particular district as a residential area. In Újbuda (XI. District), where they live perhaps in a slightly higher density than in the other districts - there is also the only prayer room of the Islamic Church in the Hungarian capital - the district administration has prevented the construction of a mosque.

The “German” Budapest

The Germans are the largest national minority in Hungary. The majority of the Hungarian Germans live in western Hungary, besides larger German groups live in the settlements around Buda (Budaörs, Solymár, Pilisvörösvár –Wudersch, Schaumar and Werischwar with their old German names) or in southern Pest (Soroksár and Pestszentlőrinc) Maintain traditions, operate German-speaking schools and cultural institutions and maintain close relationships with the German partner cities as well as with the former displaced persons and their descendants. Several hundred German students and managers (the latter with their families) live in the Hungarian capital, who previously had no ties to Hungary, but who “fate took to Budapest”. As in many major European cities, there is also a primary and secondary school in Budapest financed by the German state and run in the form of a foundation: the German School Budapest, together with the Thomas Mann Gymnasium, welcomes you in one of the many green areas of Buda, on “Schwabenberg ", your students.

[1] In Hungary, people drive “up” from the country to the capital and from there “down” to the country - a linguistic testimony to Budapest's dominance.
[2] The districts of Budapest's inner city along the Great Ring were expanded parallel to the Vienna Ring and mostly named after Habsburg rulers: going from north to south, Leopoldstadt, Theresien-, Elisabeth-, Josef- and Franzstadt are next to each other.