This year’s Summer University, organised by the Party of the European Left and transform! was held in Budapest in the traditional working class area of Ujpest at the outskirts of the Hungarian capital.
The hosting party, the Workers’ Party of Hungary 2006, made a tremendous organisational effort, providing comfortable working conditions and a productive atmosphere for exchange and discussions. Approximately 200 leftists – activists, militants, politicians and intellectuals from all over Europe – participated at the event. We were even able to welcome a speaker from Ecuador.
The main topics were alternatives for Europe, peace, democracy and international solidarity – the Friday sessions had a focus on Central and Eastern Europe, as the Summer University was held in the region.
So, this Summer University could be seen as an attempt to bridge the gap between “Western” and “Eastern” European countries, as well as that existing within the Left. It could also be envisaged as trying to overcome Western-centrism in mainstream academic discussions and within the discussions of the political Left. For the analysis of Europe’s current situation, it is essential to cover the experience of Eastern and former state socialist countries. This includes the brutal neoliberal transition and total marketisation that took place nearly thirty years ago now, as Veronika Susova-Salminen pointed out in her contribution during the workshop on Authoritarianism and Democracy in CEE.
Gender justice in terms of the composition of the panels was surprisingly satisfying, with 44 female speakers and moderators compared with 28 male colleagues and comrades on the panels. There was one feminist/women-specific seminar every day, as well as a feminist perspective included in several contributions.
Topics of panels, workshops and seminars were: Europe in the new globalisation era, eco-socialism and ecofeminism; consequences of the Brexit vote; reflection before the visit to the Georg Lukács Archive; European integration: impasses and alternatives; the past 20 years in local government, challenges and corruption with the former mayor of Budapest’s District IX; different roads for the Left in Europe – with an intervention from the Minister of Labour, Social Security and Social Solidarity of Greece, Efi Achtsioglou.
On the second day, during which the focus was on Central and Eastern Europe, topics were: social and democratic rights in Hungary; the EL’s European campaign against human trafficking; public services, health and education; election systems, authoritarianism and democracy; social media strategies; the rise of the Right and of authoritarianism in Europe and CEE; the situation of women in Central and Eastern Europe; and the Visegrád Group.
On Saturday, the topics were Left alternatives to EU politics on refugees; the presentation of the Marseille Forum; peace politics for a Europe on the verge of militarisation; struggles to end violence against women; unity of the Left in Europe; and migration, the rise of xenophobia and criminalisation of solidarity.
Feedback showed that the variety of topics may have been too broad and that there was a lack of possibility to go into further depth with certain topics in workshops.
The cultural and sightseeing programme was exceptionally rich and diverse:
The opening was accompanied by the Ságvári Choir, and transform! presented the exhibition “Colours of a Journey – refugee children drawing their past, present and future”. In the evening, Hungarian singer Attila Tapolczai performed a concert.
A boat trip on the Danube, a visit to the Holocaust memorial site and a visit to the Lukács Archive, which is under threat of closure, were also organised.
The “Fire at Sea” documentary on refugees and islanders of Lampedusa was shown.
A PowerPoint presentation on the neighbourhood area where the venue was located was given. A commemoration and protest event was also held in the nearby Liberty Park at the statue of the Soldier of the Red Army, guarding the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic. Jobbik, the extreme right party in the area’s local council, made the appeal to rename the Liberty Park and remove the statue. The FIDESZ party agreed to this.
Experimental theatre director Eva Brenner from Vienna and Belgrade-based director Ivan Pantelic presented a lecture demonstration with video projections of their forthcoming production to be staged in Vienna in autumn: “Our Marija/Belgrade at Midnight” – political theatre between East and West, based on a play by Isaac Babel, on the October revolution.
The final evening’s dinner and farewell party took place in a typical Hungarian restaurant, “Csárda” – with a band playing international folklorist and workers’ movements’ songs, as well as a show by “Csárdás” dancers.
Find the conference programme with speakers here.
Find selected speeches attached on the right (folder will be completed continously).
See the online version of Czesław Kulesza's contribution: Polish Left: Mistakes of the Past and Challenges of the Future