Why so few young people among the Budapest protesters?

April 1, 2015

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High school and university students were conspicuously absent from demonstrations taking place in Budapest over the past six months.  This is difficult to understand given that it is the future of Hungarian youth that is most threatened by bad decisions on the part of the government, although a number of governmental measures undoubtedly affected the whole of society rather than a certain age group.

Budapest Beacon journalist Adam Lestyansky created a simple questionnaire that could be completed on the internet in which he asked young people their reason for staying away from demonstrations and their plans for the future.  The same number of males and females responded. 20 percent of the respondents were between the age of 18 and 23,  45 percent were between the ages of 23 and 30, and 35 percent were between 29 and 35.

Nearly three-fourths of respondents said they had not taken place in any of the demonstrations. Of those who had, 41 percent protested against the internet tax, while only 16 percent attended the “Spring comes, Orbán goes” demonstration at the Kossuth square.

24 percent of those who had never participated in a demonstration said they had no time to protest beside their job or studies.  20 percent said “there’s no point in demonstrating, nothing ever changes”.  16 percent said they have no interest in politics. 12 percent said they were afraid of being stigmatized or losing their job. Only 4 percent of young people thought governmental decisions have nothing to do with them.  16 percent cited other reasons.

When asked if there was something for which they would be willing to demonstrate, most of them said they would raise their voices against the internal politics and foreign policy of the government, while others mentioned the Sunday shops closure, education fees, corruption and the brokerage scandal. The names Viktor Orbán, János Áder, László Kövér or Péter Szíjjártó appeared in many answers. On the subject of whether they planned to stay in Hungary or go abroad, 55 percent of students in higher education and 52 percent of students studying to become professionals said they planned their future in Hungary.  This means that nearly half of the university students and professionals surveyed are considering working abroad.


Two thirds of the respondents had already completed their studies. Most of them worked in Hungary.  Only 15 percent worked abroad.  Nearly 19 percent of them have no job. Among those who are working abroad at the moment, 77 percent do not plan on moving home. Of those working abroad one-third would move back to Hungary if they could earn more.  25 percent said they would not move back under any circumstances. Approximately the same number said they would return to start families.  12 percent said that a change of government would be enough to get them to return to Hungary.

Protest organizer wasn’t surprised

Over the results Zoltán Vajda told the Budapest Beacon: “For the past 3 years it was typical to have less young people at the demonstrations, though this changed at the internet tax protest.  On the 15th of March we saw most ages of society representing themselves.”

The organizer of the demonstrations against the nationalisation of private pensions, and one of the authors of the 19 points referendum proposal, believes “young people have their opinions, but perhaps it is our task to make them believe that standing up for issues they believe in can produce results, and seeking success abroad in not the only alternative. We just simply have to believe this country can be viable, too.  Going abroad for people over the age of 40 is more difficult.  Maybe this is the reason they’re more active.

“An entire generation has grown up since the change of the regime, and they only have a second-hand experience of our old world. Many of them speak foreign languages, so they have no problem with living abroad for a few years. One of the biggest sins of the last 25 years is the fact that young people were not taught that as responsible nationals they can and must get involved in common issues,” stated Vajda.

Are young people more active abroad?

A Hungarian living in London who asked to remain anonymous told the Budapest Beacon “I don’t know if young people here would have hit the streets for anything, but their situation is not so bad here to really do so.” He said the Brits prefer striking, which helps highlight problems, and is considered “normal.”  He said he did not participate in demonstrations against the Orbán government organized by the Hungarian community in London for lack of time, but that he was willing to protest in the future.