On Friday, 30th October squatters occupied Centrum,
formerly the Uttoro Aruhaz (?pioneer shopping mall?),
a vast former supermarket in the centre of Budapest.
Teams of people connected water and power, built
kitchens and loungerooms, and redecorated walls that
were covered in 1980s porn with art, posters, and
slogans in Hungarian, English, Spanish and Italian. An
exhibition of found objects from the space includes
transparencies of communist propaganda and ancient
safety messages. Days of cleaning were followed by
evenings of intense discussion. Within a week the
space was converted into an infoshop, cafe, cinema,
gallery, freeshop, library and residence.
The building has been here since the end of the 19th
century and was a supermarket from that time until
2001, since then it has been empty. Budapest squatters
are, in part, campaigning for their right to housing.
There are many abandoned buildings in Budapest and
30,000 people are homeless; with winter approaching
the lack of housing is life-threatening. In addition
the squatters are working to create a social and
cultural space and a place to organise established
projects such as food not bombs, indymedia, and other
cultural and political collectives.
Centrum squat opened its doors to the public on
Sunday, 7 November with a cafe, music performance, and
screening of films about squatting and the history of
Budapest as well as exhibitions about the building and
other vacant properties. With a warm reception from
neighbours and the community the occupiers had high
hopes of staying in the space. Many representatives of
mainstream and independent media were invited to the
opening and the squatters made the nightly news and
front-page news in both major Budapest newspapers with
very positive stories about the opening of a much
needed cultural centre.
On Monday morning the squatters presented their case
to a representative of the owner of the building, a
buildmanages empties. His response was generally positive
and he agreed that the squat was important, but, not
surprisingly, claimed that the building is condemned
and unsafe and has to be evacuated. The squatters are
attempting to negotiate for use of the space based on
getting an independent safety consultant as well as
legal assistance to prove to the local government,
which is legally responsible for declaring the
building unsafe, that it is habitable, but the council
does not sit until after the eviction.
Security guards have been posted to the building and
the squatters have been given a deadline to leave by
Thursday morning. As I write the police are trying to
establish whether or not the squatters have permission
to be here, and examining the passports of all
present. Negotiations with the owner will continue.
This is the first squat in Budapest in many years.
People here are just beginning to understand how the
system works and how best to go about occupation and
defense. They are also rapidly learning the skills
needed to transform abandoned buildings and organise
autonomously, and it has been a very empowering
process. The media campaign has successfully
introduced the idea of squatting to Hungary. With
numbers here being small there is little chance of
physically resisting eviction by the Hungarian police.
The squatters are fighting for this space as much as
they can but eviction seems certain. In that case
there are plenty more empties in Budapest and the
squatters here have made good contacts with media,
local government and organisations such as architects
campaigning to preserve the historic Jewish quarter of
Budapest. The lessons learned in the occupation of
Centrum will make the next ten squats ten times
More news and pictures: http://indymedia.hu/
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