300 Metres

A few months ago, I was fortunate to be invited to speak at a conference in Budapest. Organised in the context of a European project with partners in Greece, Spain, France, Hungary and the UK, the event used art to open up dialogue about migration, and especially with migrants. There was a wide range of practice, experience and ideas, but everyone shared a fundamental belief in human dignity and equality.

This video captures the spirit of the occasion.

The Ariadne Project is now complete, and the partners have just published a handbook for artists, educators and trainers interested in the role of art in intercultural dialogue.

In their own words, ‘It contains some theory about art and adaptation, case studies about implemented art workshops for migrants and in the final chapter some games and exercises that we used during the project.’ It is available in digital format in five languages here.

Two days before the start of the conference, a Hungarian MP, Marton Gyongyosi, had called in parliament for the state to draw up a list of all Jewish citizens. His far-right party, Jobbik, is currently the third largest in terms of parliamentary seats.

I remembered the poignant memorial to the Jews who were drowned in the Danube in 1944: a line of empty shoes along the bank.  It is 300 metres from the Hungarian Parliament, where Gyongyosi spoke. That is how far we have come in 70 years: 300 metres.

Shoes on the Danube Promenade - Holocaust Memorial (Photo Nikodem Nijaki)
Shoes on the Danube Promenade – Holocaust Memorial (Photo Nikodem Nijaki)

I was asked about those events, among other things, in an interview after my conference speech, and an extract from that video is now online too.

Across Europe, people face unemployment, falling living standards and uncertainty about the future. Now we shall learn whether the historic efforts at reconciliation and reconstruction since 1945 have inoculated enough of us against the simplistic answers of demagogues.

I know which Europe I want to belong to.

One comment

  1. ‘300 metres’ sends chills up my arms, my spine, makes the blood run cold. As an honorary Jew (so honoured by French friends who were hidden from the Nazis when we were all little children) I know that if I had been there, then, beside the Danube, and in those shoes as the mother of half-Jewish children, we would all have been drowned or packed off to the camps to be incinerated. We must never commit the sin of forgetting, or of failing to resist.

    As for migration, I am put in mind of a conversation I had a few years ago with an Ethiopian flag-seller at a kiosk in Dulles airport. He had migrated to the USA and was happy there. One could buy from him small flags of just about any country in the world. What we agreed was this: there should be no artificial barriers. People should live where they want to live.

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