Tuesday morning had an early start as we checked out of the hostel and made our way to the last meeting in Budapest with Aron Demeter from Amnesty International Hungary. Luckily for our suitcase-carrying selves the place of the meeting was a mere ten-minute walk from the hostel, located in an old, beautiful building in the square Ference ter, a central meeting point in Budapest.
Impressed by the venue, unwittingly photographing and failing to notice Aron, the person we were there to meet.
The meeting with Aron was organized and hosted by the amazing Veronika Karsai from Impact Hub, who gave us a great welcome and joined Aron in the meeting. Aron told us about his and Amnesty Hungary’s current focus on the shrinking space of civil society, mentioning the recent “Stop Soros” legislations against NGO:s and describing it as something entirely unprecedented within the EU. NGO:s receiving funds from outside of Hungary have to register as foreign-funded organizations, placing them under suspicion, as well as pay a 25% tax of any money used to “back migration”, making it very difficult for organizations to inform refugees about their legal rights or in other ways work for the protection of human rights for refugees and migrants.
Despite this frightening development, Aron described working with an NGO in the current climate as interesting and inspiring, focusing on the people around him who were standing up and fighting for their rights. He stressed the importance of education and how Amnesty Hungary is attempting to set up smaller groups throughout the country, addressing local concerns first.
Veronika, Aron and us.
James asking the tough questions
After the meeting we went out to wait for the minibus to come and pick us up. Some local pastries and 45 minutes in the cold later the bus finally arrived. I was lucky enough to sit in the front next to the busdriver that turned out to be a very nice Serbian man from Belgrade, our destination. We were intrigued to ask him questions about his country and he answered very honestly and patiently. In the beginning we asked about the city, what food and drinks he recommended. As a vegetarian maybe it would be hard, he said, since the Serbian people like to eat “meat with meat”. The questions we asked turned more and more political and his answers usually started with “You have to understand one stuff…” and followed by his view of Kosovo, the US, European Union the war and Serbian history. I am so grateful for this conversation, it was one of few moments we got to talk casually with someone without it being a meeting. What he said and the opinions he expressed was also confirmed later in the meetings we had, but the referens and his genuine feelings behind what he said made it easier to understand the conflict from the serbian peoples perspective on a humane level.
When we asked about the situation with Kosovo he said “You must understand one stuff. Its like if you have an apartment (Kosovo) where you and your family (Serbian people) has lived forever. Then all of a sudden somebody else from outside of the family (Albanians) moves in. Its okay for a week or two but this person stays, and after a while claims that it is his place. He calls someone (USA) that forces you and your family to leave”. But you know, it’s just politics”.
Many interesting conversations and a border control later we finally arrive to Belgrade and our beautiful apartment. We split up into teams and some went shopping while the rest stayed resting. Then we cooked under the leading of chef Nickella and made Guyanese food, homemade flatbread with curry. While eating we shared some interesting stories from our lives and it turns out that the group members are some of the most interesting people in the world? One has been struck by lightning, another partied with Channing Tatum, a third fell on live TV, one can shake her eyes, another had lunch with ERIC SAADE (!). Other stuff were also mentioned but they should probably stay in Belgrade…
Lovisa Jakobsson and Embla Holmgren