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Sziget Festival Visitors: Island of Freedom in a “Dictatorship”?

Fanni Kaszás 2018.08.14.

In the wake of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s huge electoral victory in the country’s April 8th elections, many international observers have published articles expressing a great deal of concern regarding what they have described as the corrupt, demagogic, and xenophobic practices of the ruling Fidesz government.

We asked some foreigners at the Sziget Festival what kind of news – if any – they’ve heard about Hungary and whether they believe the country is on its way to becoming a dictatorship. With our article it’s clear that tourists aren’t necessarily judging our country based on what they read in the news, but instead form their opinions based on personal experience. So let’s see what the festival goers have to say about Hungary:

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This topic has also been discussed on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, where host John Oliver praised European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for calling Prime Minister Viktor Orbán a dictator, saying it’s “not an exaggeration.”

As previously reported, Sziget festival is in full swing, with more than 500,000 visitors expected throughout its seven days – most of which are from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Germany. With Hungary getting greater media coverage in western news, we were curious about what young people from other countries think of the country’s politics. We asked some foreigners what news they’ve heard about Hungary and whether they think they’ve arrived in a country on its way to becoming a dictatorship.

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New Zealand and the United Kingdom

Most of the people from New Zealand and the United Kingdom I spoke to had only heard about the refugees prior to coming to Hungary and were only familiar with this part of the country, saying that “the Sziget Festival is surely free.” One of them added that they find the National Tobacco shops a bit strange. I had a conversation with a couple of British girls who said that if Hungary were a dictatorship, then the taxis wouldn’t be able to scam foreigners like they got ripped off last night.

photo: Sziget Festival Official


So, after speaking with some New Zealanders – who have heard literally nothing about the country, not to mention Hungarian politics – I found a Swiss group who were surprised by the fact that we have a strict ruler, asking: “No sh*t, a dictator? What’s his name?” One of the guys heard that Hungary has a far-right government and that Prime Minister Orbán considers migration to be a serious security risk. However, now that he had a chance to visit the festival and see the country in person he still thinks that Hungary has a “Hungarians first” attitude, while in Switzerland, diversity is key.

photo: Sziget Festival Official


Next, I met a girl from Germany and expected that she would have seen everything in the newspapers from the Stop Soros and Brussels campaigns to corruption scandals and PM Orbán’s name next to Erdogan and Putin’s. However, just like the others, she claimed to have never heard anything about dictatorship in Hungary. However, she was familiar with Merkel and Orbán’s meeting a month ago. Her Hungarian friends told her about the April election, Fidesz’s two-thirds majority and the fence in the southern border of Hungary – but she added that she solely came to see the festival and has only experienced this part of the country.

photo: Sziget Festival Official

Although Hungary now has a greater news coverage and western media often mentions Orbán on the same page with Putin, Filipino President Roberto Duterte and Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, young foreigners at the Sziget Festival haven’t heard very much about Hungarian politics and don’t feel that they are visiting a country on the verge of becoming a dictatorship.

featured photo: Illustration (photo: Kata Major / Rockstar Photographers)