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Every year thousands of people travel to the city of Zamárdi, on the southern shore of Lake Balaton, to attend some of Hungary’s biggest festivals. As the festival season slowly approaches, organizers of Balaton Sound and Strand Festival once again begin their talks with the city’s municipal government.

One of the main takeaways of the organizers’ discussions with the Zamárdi municipality is that proof of vaccination will be necessary for those in attendance.

The municipality has given Sziget Cultural Management Ltd. the licensing for Balaton Sound to be held at the end of June and beginning of July, and Volt Ltd. the licensing to hold Strand Festival in the middle of August.

The dates are not set in stone, however, since the pandemic situation creates uncertainty around all future events involving large in-person gatherings.

Coronavirus Could Once Again Cancel Festivals

Large gatherings were banned by the Hungarian government in 2020 to avoid the danger of the virus, and plans this year are being made with that in mind.

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Whole Festival Season Canceled in Hungary after Gov't Extends Mass Event Restrictions

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Zamárdi’s municipal government has emphasized that the festivals must follow strict coronavirus protocols. In case the pandemic situation is too serious, and restrictions are too severe, festival organizers can reschedule their events for 2022.

Gyula Csákovics, mayor of Zamárdi, told 24.hu that on the long-term the municipality is planning on “moving out” the festivals. He considers the one-year-long agreements to be a kind of “bonus” to give organizers time to find new locations.

It is also for this reason that the municipality did not sign the five-year agreement of Sziget Ltd. and chose not to continue holding the Be My Lake festival in Zamárdi.

The mayor has also emphasized the city’s agreement that “a number of those attending the festival must be in the possession of a vaccination certificate.”

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Tamás Kádár, executive manager of Sziget Ltd., said that Zamárdi will finalize their decisions for this year’s events in March. Kádár added that based off the government’s recent decrees, the chances of having a vaccination certificate by the summer are just as slim as before.

Zamárdi Grows Tired of Hungary’s Festivals

The locals of Zamárdi have become less welcoming towards festivals being held in their city, a stance made clear by Csákovics’ emphasis on anti-festival sentiment in his election campaign of 2019.

Regarding the subject, the mayor has said that “As long as festivals are held in the city, changes need to be put in place. […] Zamárdi is no longer just a catchy name, but a brand. I am convinced that we are now in a good enough position to set conditions.”

Complications With Vaccine Certificates

Two significant problems arise from the city’s requirement for festival attendees to be vaccinated. First, healthy people between the ages of 20 and 30 are unlikely to be inoculated before the festival season comes around. Second, the organizers of the events will need to find a way to check people’s health related information in a legal manner.

This could be a problem for Sziget Ltd., who received a 30-million-forint (82,547 euro) data breach fine for handling too much of its customers’ personal information.

Furthermore, based off the current vaccine passport debate, the fact that the vaccine is voluntary could cause a problem too. People who choose not to be vaccinated could argue that they are given unequal treatment by the government.

Based on the current pace of vaccinations, it seems unlikely that the majority of the country will be vaccinated by June or July, making the planned date of Balaton Sound especially dangerous.

The age group which is likeliest to attend such festivals is also at the very end of the vaccination priority list.

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After the government decree in 2020, the organizers of Balaton Sound made 2020 tickets valid for 2021 as well. Still, if the event is once again moved over by a year, it is safe to say that Lake Balaton will be overwhelmed with festival attendees in 2022.

It must also be considered that these events are not only popular among Hungarians. People from around Europe are known to frequent them annually.

Featured photo illustration by Boglárka Bodnár/MTI