Her short hair is spicy and her fashionable denim-fur outfit is striking. She immediately catches our eyes as she approaches us. We meet Zsuzsanna Iricsek, member of the Budapest Pride Organisation and Art History student. Her looks spark our interests: this activist lady looks like nothing to mess with. Looks may be deceiving though: her provoking appearance turns out to veil a very friendly girl.
She apparently became more free-spirited after living in Berlin and London for a while. This made her realize she had to do something about the LGBTQ situation in Hungary. We interviewed her about her mission.
You were led to the Pride-Organisation by your experiences in Berlin and London, that there is the possibility of an open-minded society?
No, of course I knew about more humane states and societies, but for me it was an important step towards activism to actually experience and feel the differences between the Eastern (or in my case let’s just say wider Hungarian) and some Western European social norms, let’s talk about the political regulations or the everyday activities and relationships. I think being an LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer) person or being a member of any other minority is more often discriminated and oppressed between the Hungarian borders than in some other countries and cities I lived in. It’s quite liberating and inspiring leaving the still living past, 19th century national-romanticism and christian-conservativism, behind, to be part of a community where, for example, it is totally natural to be a lesbian, to be who you are, without experiencing any disadvantages.
What do you do in your Pride-Organisation? To get an idea of your work?
Budapest Pride is a feminist, anti-racist organisation, working for LGBTQ rights. All of our members are activists, who dedicate their free time to enforce basic human rights in a heteronormative, masculine-orientated and highly hierarchized society, where oppression of the minorities (due to their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or ethnicity for example), inequality before the law, and even everyday sexism are key and really problematic issues. Our main aim among strengthening the LGBTQ community is to raise political awareness and put pressure on the processes of legal legislation. As the situation of the sexual minorities is especially difficult in the cities outside of Budapest, we lay extra emphasis on the integration of these areas.
And what do you do exactly?
We organise a one week long festival, the Budapest Pride LGBTQ Festival during the summer, with workshops, discussions, parties, quiz and OpenMic nights and other cultural programs, like exhibitions, theatrical plays, literary reading nights – just to name a few. On Saturday, at the end of the Pride week we have the Pride March, which is one of the most visible and awareness raising protests during the year. Also, we hold our Budapest PrideLGBTQFilm Festival in November, with the screenings of award-winning and alternative short movies from all around the world.
We also participate on Sziget Festival, at the moment it is the only place and time where and when you can get same-sex married during the year – as unfortunately it is still not allowed legally in Hungary.
Can you tell us a bit more about the march? Is it for example different from the Pride march in Amsterdam?
To be honest I have never been to the march in Amsterdam, but as far as I can tell the differences – according to some videos and documentaries I have seen -, the march at Budapest was less colourful and free-spirited in the last couple of years. We had to face extreme-right counter protesters, so the members of the LGBTQ community and its allies had to walk between cordons. I believe the worst year was 2008, when stones (!) and eggs were thrown to the participants, some chemicals were poured over them. It is really scary. Unbelievable. And outrageous. Fortunately the situation eased a little bit after, by 2013 the number of the participants also doubled if I compare it to the previous year, about 80 000 – 10 000 of us were dancing and having fun on the march. But the cordons remained, organised far right wing protesters remained, and being aware that many people had to stay away because of their fears from the neo-Nazi groups or because of their fears from being recognised by their relatives, friends, or workmates shadowed the otherwise great atmosphere.
Is it hard to organize the Pride March? Are there problems which are made up?
As I mentioned we have to face right wing counter protesters every year, and unfortunately the safety of the participants was not guaranteed by the police last year after the march either, some people were seriously beaten up on their way home. This is a really important problem we have to deal with and find the solution. The root of another issue origins in the fact, that the Pride march became one of the biggest – and by some forces unwanted – political demonstrations during the year, and we were banned several times by official bodies.
Does it still happen that they are denying the march?
Yes, under the current political circumstances it is a question of every year.
And what are their reasons to deny it?
According to the official answer we received in 2012 from the Police Headquarter of Budapest: the Pride March heavily obstructs the traffic of the city, and the transportation cannot be organised and solved on an alternative way. Interesting fact, that another mass demonstration and march – called Bekemenet -, organised on a similar route, but with the participants of the current government’s sympathizers was accepted easily earlier in that year. Just to make it clear: Budapest City Courthouse officially stated afterwards, that banning the Pride March by the police was a direct discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
What do people in Budapest think about the Pride?
As far as I can see it, of course there are thousands of people who come to the march, because they think protesting and giving a visibility to the LGBTQ issues is an essential step to make towards equality. They come to show their values, to point out the deficiency found in recent legal and social practises, and to show their support to the LGBTQ community and often other oppressed groups. Meanwhile many of them thinks it is a great opportunity to have fun. On the other side, the message of the counter protesters is quite clear, aggressively shouting “animals”, “faggots” and “you should go to prison” – I don’t think this needs any explanation. Maybe a bit less visible but still very serious and living problem is the opinion of those, who say “they don’t care about anyone being gay or lesbian etc. as far as they do it between four walls”. I think in a less oppressive society there shouldn’t be anyone who is forced to and remains in “the closet”.
After all the stories about oppression, we part on a positive note though. Zsuzsa speaks out her hope for the LGBTQ situation in Hungary. Especially in smaller, personal circles, understanding and tolerance is growing. The friendly girl we met earlier opens up again. Affected, Zsuzsa tells about her deeply religious grandmother that fully accepted Zsuzsa’s sexuality. We wish her a good edition of the new Budapest Pride.
The Pride week will be from the 27th of June until the 6th of July. The Pride march in on the 5th.