BUDAPEST, Hungary — In Hungarian, there is an expression that anti-Semitism is like a hidden spring, often imperceptible yet omnipresent, a source that can be tapped by demagogues, polemicists, and politicians. It is a dangerous source, Adam Schönberger explains, for when it is tapped, it can cause a flood.
Schönberger is a veteran Hungarian activist and co-founder of Aurora, a café and community center operated by Marom, a Jewish youth-group that he also directs. When we meet there on a Monday evening in late August, Aurora, located in Budapest’s Eighth District, is buzzing. Opposition activists type away on laptops in a corner near the bar. Old Hungarian men and young German tourists drink beers beneath walls plastered with posters and stickers — calls for a slam poetry contest, radical anti-war slogans, exhortations to veganism. In the courtyard, the organizers of Budapest Pride, Hungary’s largest LGBTQA+ event, are taking a cigarette break.
Aurora is a space that defies easy definition. More than just a bar and café, it is a venue for underground music and parties, an occasional art gallery, a meeting place for activist groups, home to the offices of human rights NGOs, and a prayer space that hosts regular Jewish services. During the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, when thousands of asylum seekers were stuck in Budapest, barred from continuing on to Western Europe, Aurora became a shelter. “A lot of families lived here temporarily,” Schönberger tells me. “It was one of the major clothes storage [points]. It was one of the centers.”
“We said there are no concerts until this situation is solved. This place will be a shelter until we find a place for these people,” Schönberger recalls. “And we were the only Jewish organization that did that — that actually addressed the issue.” Other Jewish groups shied away from publicly aiding the refugees, he says, “because it was too political.”
With its combination of radical, queer politics, punk sensibility, and secular Jewishness, Aurora sits at the fault-lines of contemporary Hungarian politics. Under the regime of Viktor Orbán, elected with a super-majority in parliament for a third consecutive term, Hungary in the midst of a dramatic slide into authoritarianism. Eszter Susán, who co-founded the space with Schönberger, says Aurora “is one of the last bastions of resistance.”
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