BUDAPEST — For African students studying in Hungarian universities, the recent wave of protests that swept across Europe in response to the killing of George Floyd in the United States was a reminder of the uneasy position they occupy in their adopted country.
Many have come to Hungary on scholarships to study in prestigious higher-education programs that offer them a temporary entry-way into Europe. The program, which is not widely known locally though it is funded by tax-payer money, has brought thousands of African students to the country’s universities on scholarships for the past 50 years.
So when a group of African students, along with other ex-pats and local Hungarians, gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Budapest in June in solidarity with anti-racism movements in other countries, few were surprised to see counter-protesters appear carrying signs that read “White lives also matter” and chanting “Hungária.” Although the small group of hecklers was peacefully dispersed, the incident is symptomatic of the lack of awareness of racial issues in the country and everyday taunts, they say.
“It happens every week, at least,” Maveens Okwudiri Okwunwa, a Nigerian communications student at Budapest Metropolitan University, said in an interview in central Budapest, referring to the racism he experiences living in Hungary. As we spoke, a man shouted “Ape! Ape!” at him in the background.
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Hungary’s decades-old scholarship program for African students is seemingly at odds with its more recent hardline position on immigration.
In European debates on the relocation of asylum seekers, the Hungarian government has blocked efforts to relocate refugees across Europe. It was also one of the first countries to close its borders and adopt unapologetic anti-immigrant rhetoric centered on protecting Hungarian Christian values from outsiders.