Her black and pink acrylic nails pinched my reddened shoulder as she reached for my backpack. She took the load off my shoulders before letting out her own.
“American. You came all this way?” she asked me as I sat down in her yellow cab just outside Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport. “I have been dying to get out of this city, but I must work every day. Every day I drive.”
I didn’t ask why. She continued.
“I’d trade with you if I had enough money to hop on one of these planes,” she pointed to the aircrafts taking off beside us. “Even the buildings—they’re so old. The people—they’re so grumpy. Fuck this city,” she laughed.
I laughed, too. Awkwardly. I’d long anticipated my arrival—her words threw me for a loop.
We drove along the Danube Diver, snaking through the Buda Hills to the west and the Great Plain to the east. Floodlit by Budapest’s largest structure and Hungary’s tallest, the glowing gothic revival Hungarian Parliament, the river bisects the capital into two once-separate regions—the placated peaks of Buda and the pulsating Pest.
Together, they’re one fin-de-siècle city with two idiosyncratic personalities linked by eight bridges; art nouveau, baroque and neoclassical architecture; an affinity for goulash; a wealth of thermal medicinal baths, copious ruin bars, a national identity estranged by centuries of conflict and reform and a je ne sais quoi hype that, like a vortex, garners fixated idolatry of backpackers from all corners of the globe.
…That, and a legitimate minority of people who would say that rape is sometimes justifiable.
I asked her about violence against women in Hungary—if that had anything to do with her longing to leave. She sighed and handed me a pamphlet of sights to see in Budapest.
“Don’t let me ruin your weekend,” she joked.
But it’s not a joke. The unsettling truth: More than a quarter of Europeans think rape can be justified in some circumstances, according to a new Eurobarometer study released by the European Commission. A total of 27 percent of the nearly 30,000 Europeans surveyed said so.
Respondents from eastern European countries, including Hungary at 47 percent, were most likely to say that rape is, indeed, acceptable in the case of being drunk or on drugs, wearing “revealing” clothing, agreeing to go home with someone, not clearly saying no or physically fighting back and other scenarios.
Of course, these statistics do not describe the population of Hungary in its entirety. Local 39-year-old teacher Gabor Szabo of Budapest says, “In my opinion, Hungary is one of the safest places in Europe and domestic violence is present everywhere, to tell you the truth.”
Nonetheless, more than 40 percent of respondents across the E.U. said that harassing women in the street by making sexually offensive jokes should not be illegal—some noting that it’s not even deemed wrong.
In regard to less public domain—the workplace—48 percent of Hungarians said that “touching a colleague in an inappropriate way” should not be considered unlawful and most agreed that sexual harassment against women is “very common.”
“I am deeply shocked at hearing this,” says student Eszter Forintos, 22, of Budapest. “What bothers me more is that, often, it is the victim who is considered to be wrong in these situations.”
One in five of the survey’s respondents said women often fabricate or exaggerate abuse and rape claims and another 17 percent added that women provoke violence.
While one in three women in the E.U. have experiences physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15, and 70 and 74 percent of respondents agreed that domestic violence and sexual harassment, respectively, are common in their countries, perhaps it’s because of the aforementioned attitudes that 88 percent of victims do not report such offenses to police.
The study’s authors acknowledge the need for wider education and awareness across the E.U., particularly on issues surrounding consent, concluding that “there are still Member States where there is considerable work to do in addressing perceptions about gender-based violence.”
Justice commissioner Vera Jourova has said that €10 million would be given to local NGOs to help prevent gender violence and to support victims, adding that the European Commission would monitor implementation of an E.U. “victim’s rights: law that was adopted last November setting out minimum rights for victims of crime.
In Hungary, the highest coordinating government body for gender equality, the Council of Equal Opportunity of Men and Women, has not convened since 2010 and its portfolio has been delegated to the Demographic Roundtable.
In May 2016, the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice completed a country mission to Hungary, meeting with Hungarian decision-makers, advocacy experts and activists. Frances Raday, chair of the expert group, later delivered a statement recommending that “the positive legislative and institutional measures taken to prevent domestic violence should be accompanied by the development and implementation of a comprehensive national strategy, a unified database for analyzing numbers of complaints, restraining orders, prosecutions, convictions and sentences, in cases of gender-based violence, and should bring about the ratification of the Istanbul Convention as soon as possible.”
The Istanbul Convention is a landmark treaty of the Council of Europe that opens the path for creating a legal framework at a pan-European level to protect women against all forms of violence, as well as prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence in general. Likewise, the Istanbul Convention establishes a specific monitoring mechanism that’d ensure effective implantation of its provisions.
Until then, some Budapest said they are fed up with the city’s “poster politics” and want to see tangible change in their city and their country alike.
We arrived at my destination just nearby The Octagon, Budapest’s busiest cross-section. Posters plastered a bank hugging the street corner adorned with holiday décor. They read, “All the members of the Hungarian government are men. Are you afraid?”