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Tessza Udvarhelyi’s TED talk, the fourth Hungarian talk at an original TED conference (i.e. not a TEDx event), is available on video.

A magyar bejegyzésért kattints ide!

At the TED Conference on Democracy, 14-15 November 2023 in New York City, 21 organizers and activists working for a just future spoke about the systemic changes and community action needed to rebuild or strengthen democracy around the world.

Tessza Udvarhelyi is the founder of the School of Public Life community learning centre and the housing advocacy group The City is for All, a central figure in the Hungarian housing movement, and currently the head of the Office of Community Participation of the Józsefváros Municipality.

Watch the full speech here!

The full speech is available in English at this link and in Hungarian at this link.

The TED Democracy website can be found here.

A short summary of the speech:

Tessza Udvarhelyi talks about the history of the dismantling of Hungarian democracy and what we can learn from it to build a stronger democracy based on community action and standing up for our interests. We should not talk about the last 10 years of the dismantling of Hungarian democracy to show it as a sad and regrettable example for ourselves and for other countries. But to learn from it: democracy does not work by itself, and no one else will build our working democracy. To make change, we need people who stand up for their communities from the grassroots, and we need politicians who are committed to democracy. And we also need to never take the democracy we live in for granted.

She likens it to a frog in boiling water, as Hungarian democracy is gradually eroded around us. She talks about how we have slowly accepted political changes previously thought unacceptable, such as criminalising homelessness, making LGBTQ people second-class citizens in many respects, and introducing the ‘Slave Law’, which legalises the extreme exploitation of workers.

The only way to counteract the dismantling of democracy is to rebuild it on more solid foundations. Tessza Udvarhelyi uses the examples of The City is for All, the School of Public Life and the Office of Community Participation of the Józsefváros Municipality, the organisations she founded or initiated, to show how they are working for our democratic future today and over the past 10 years.

Quotations from the speech:

„»Democracy is not a noun, but a verb. It only exists if we do it.« This is the slogan of the School of Public Life, an activist school that I co-founded. We believe that democracy is not about consent but about dissent – it is not about being a big happy family where everyone loves and agrees with each other. If there is conflict, struggle and change, there is a space for democracy to exist. It is always in the making. And we are the ones making it.”

„I also often get the question: why are you still here? My answer is very easy: this is my home, this where I belong. This is where I was fighting for social justice and democracy before this regime came to power and this is where I will continue to work for the same things even after they are long gone. If you ask
government propaganda about me, I am a public enemy and a foreign agent who is trying to destroy Hungary. This is why I have been targeted, harassed and smeared over the past 10 years. If you ask me about the government, they are a bump in the road. A Himalaya-size bump, but one that we will definitely overcome.”

„Let’s go back to the metaphor of the boiling frog: Have you ever felt like this frog? Why is the frog not doing anything? Where are the other frogs and why are they not doing anything? You can never just be sitting around and wait for democracy to work miraculously on its own. It will not. And you can never wait for somebody else to make democracy work for you. They will not. Only you can make it work by
standing up, organizing and pushing the boundaries of what is possible politically.”

Further information: info@kozeletiskolaja.hu, +36203818996 (Tessza Udvarhelyi)

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