Sunday 4 March 2012


Eszter Nemeth tells the students about the Fishermans Bastion
Hungary is a funny country. Even Hungarians revel in the fact that no-one can understand their odd language , totally unrelated as it is to any other. Apart from Finnish . And maybe Estonian. Then there's the weather. With the harshness of the winter over it seemed those thermal vests and extra layers wouldn't be neccessary. And then it snowed, temperatures plummeted. And then it stopped and  turned to shirt sleeve summer.

So this was the country chosen this year by the Globe-Trotting Sociology department of Somerset's  Richard Huish College for their study trip. Of course, it wasn't just the unfathomableness of Hungary that appealed to Sociology students, there's also been a lot going down there recently that has raised eyebrows around the world and which make the place ideal for further investigation.

Hungary has been through it all. Created by a fusing of Asiatic tribes in the 10th century and establishing a Nation on the Danube , then finding itself the frontier of Europe in subsequent invasions by the Mongols and the Turks, and then becoming the joint if not equal partner in the doomed Austro-Hungarian Empire, choosing the wrong side in both World Wars and recently forming part of the Soviet bloc during the Cold war, you wonder what else could go wrong.  Well, it seems Capitalism's not having such a great time there now either as the new 'liberal democratic' Hungary is being touted as potentially the next Greece as it's economy falters and the Conservative 'Fidesz' Government  comes under strong criticism for using their parliamentary majority to change the constitution to their advantage leading to mass demonstrations in parliament square , hunger strikers outside the state controlled TV station and declarations against Prime Minister Viktor Orban as the 'Viktator' . During recent demos over Christmas people were holding up placards saying 'Hey Europe sorry about our prime minister'. And if things weren't going badly enough, waiting in the wings are the extreme right wing  'Jobbik' party - who dress in uniforms and stage mass Nationalistic rallies around the place.
"Guarding the Presidential Palace"

The Richard Huish college flew out with Bridgwater International from Gatwick into the midst of all this. The extra incentive was a link with a Hungarian school so that they could meet up with students of their own age and get to grips with what was really happening in the country. The Tinodi Sebastian Gymnasium in the town of Sarvar was that contact. A link that had come about through the mutual twinning between Sarvar and Bridgwater with the Czech town of Uherske Hradiste. The project became a reality when English teacher Beata Kovacs agreed to help out.

Staying at the Hotel Touring in the Bekasmegyer district of Budapest, the group were in the midst of  acres of communist period tower blocs. The hotel was basically a converted one of these and was designated as a 2 star status.

For the 3 days in Budapest, the students from Sarvar came up by train to meet their English visitors and accompanied them around the city starting with a snow filled tour of the Castle Hill district of Buda where they visited the St Matthias church, the fishermans bastion, the Presidential palace-where they caught the changing of the guard-including a dangerous bayonet twirling display, and thereafter descended the hill via the 'Siklo' a funicular railway, then crossed the Chain Bridge to the Pest side of the river where they had free time in the Vaci street shopping centre.
"With Imre Nagy on his bridge"

The Hungarian Parliament is without a doubt the most impressive building in the city and the students had a guided tour of the place with the security guards putting on a special display of surliness virtually throwing people through the security gates. Well, there have been demonstrations here and accusations of authoritarianism, so it's probably a job without too much opportunity for cheeriness.

"Reagan notices a panda in his midst"
Outside the Parliament the students posed by the statue of Imre Nagy, the Socialist reformer of the 1950's , regarded as a hero by the anti-communists and such a threat by the Communists that they secretly tried and then executed him. Just around the corner the students posed with the statue of Ronald Reagan- who many in East Europe regard as the symbol of western freedom -despite being regarded by many in the West as in fact being the biggest threat to world peace during the 1980s. Oblivious, Reagan strolled smilingly through Liberty Square. Some of the students knew who he was.

St Istvans Basilica is another highlight of Budapest. Like churches everywhere it's free. Today there was a religious person telling people they had to pay. Deludedly many thought they had to , although in fact it was 'voluntary donations'.
"Inside the MTV building"

"Outside the MTV building"
The next day the students visited the MTV studios. Sadly (for them) not the MTV of popular music legend, but the Magyar TV. This is the TV station where Trades unionists are on hunger strike in protest about the pro-Government politicisation of the TV station . The students were treated to a glossy tour of the studios which didn't refer once to any dispute  and so afterwards they met with the Trades Unionists on strike in their tent outside the main entrance. The tent was bedecked with photos of Czech martyr Jan Palach, who had burnt himself to death in 1969 in protest against political oppression.

By now the weather had almost turned tropical - thus putting paid to the students hopes to go ice skating as the outdoor ice rink had melted and turned to slush. However, the Heroes Square area of Budapest is a very attractive setting and right beside the city park where the famous Szechenyi Thermal spa is situated, so some took advantage of that instead.

An evening in the Vaci area sampling the  nightlife ended up in the Hard Rock cafe - as an alternative to being lured into topless bars by street sleaze pushers, and a lively train journey back to the digs saw the new Hungarian 'no noise after 10pm' law swing into action as 3 mean looking black clad skinhead  railway Police angrily compelled silence. This didn't last however, as no sooner were they on the train than a Hungarian student got out his guitar and they all joined him in singing a tuneless massacre of 'Let it Be'.

Next day it was off to the town of Sarvar . But first a visit to the famous Memento park on the outskirts of the capital - a place where the grandest of the Communist period statues had been removed to as a kind of open air museum of anti-communism. So we bought an hours worth of anticommunism in the form of a guided tour for £3.57 each. One student won a red star for correctly guessing that you could fit 15 people into  Trabant before being told that the red star had now been made illegal in Capitalist Hungary.
"Memento park, Lenin hails a cab to get out"

A 2 and a half hour drive across the gently rolling plains of Hungary ended up in the town of Sarvar. Or to give it it's proper name, 'Mudcastle'. A town of about 15,000 people, once the home of the Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who had tried to preserve her youth by bathing in the blood of peasant girls, and a massive repository for turkeys and chickens, which had provided Bernard Matthews with much of his stock.

Richard Huish students stayed at the Hotel Viktoria - very modern, wifi in every room, a fitness suite and conveniently right next to the Tinodi Sebastien school and right in the town centre. They were made to feel at home straight away. The Mayor gave them a free tour of the castle and a subsidised visit to the massive and plush Spa  and swimming pool. Local independent councillor Szolt Nemeth treated them all to a free turkey dinner courtesy of his company Taravis.

The school laid on the most cordial of evenings, with music ,film and a quiz. The students joined in and ended up singing songs in Hungarian, competing for cream cakes and playing some game involving a football and human croquet hoops.
"Hungarian Communist leader Bela Kun pointing to the new Tescos"

The final day was spent in school doing a lot of actual sociological study - talking directly with students and facilitated by teachers. Students without doubt learned a lot from their visit.

The Mayor of Sarvar, Mr Kondora, gave a speech, the school choir sang the school song and students did a very professional presentation on tourism in Sarvar and  a promotion of the school itself.

The upshot of all this is we have a new link. In April a Hungarian delegation will visit Bridgwater and it is hoped this will be the start of more projects.

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