New Squat in Budapest

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 stronger! Contact: More news and pictures:


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