A referendum will decide the fate of Budapest’s party district

Inner city Budapest, specifically the area that during World War II served as the Budapest ghetto for as many as 70,000 Hungarian Jews, is today party central for scores of British men on stag weekends and other western European millennials who take discount flights to the Hungarian capital, in search of a cheap getaway. The area attracts some 150,000 to 200,000 party-goers each weekend during peak season. But the bars and night clubs aplenty in Pest’s inner core may soon have to shut down at midnight, thanks to a local referendum scheduled for 18th February 2018, proposed by Jobbik politician János Stummer. The largely elderly residents of Budapest’s Bulinegyed (party district, in Hungarian) may vote ‘yes’ to a proposal that would require all bars, restaurants and clubs to remain closed between midnight and 6 AM. It’s not hard to tell that this would spell the end of the district as a party destination.

Hungarian march in the party district with a banner that reads: “Enough. Silence.” Photo: Népszava.

It’s no secret that life in this district is often intolerable for the elderly residents who have called it home for many decades. Budapest Airport is now served largely by discount carriers, particularly Wizz Air and Ryanair, and this often makes Budapest a cheap destination for a ‘quick and dirty’ holiday, as well as a hen or stag night. And while some of Budapest’s main boulevards are dead as a door knob on a Friday night, just venture into any number of dimly-lit side streets in the inner city, and this is where you will find a bustling, ‘anything goes, ‘ alcohol-drenched, generally obnoxious and tawdry land of bars, night clubs, hostels and western visitors who have little regard for the city they are visiting and for their residents. According to many who grumble about this state of affairs, the area is starting to resemble Bangkok, though this comparison is undoubtedly overstated.

While many residents may be nostalgic about a quieter time in their neighbourhood (the area began to take off around 15 years ago), it’s also worth remembering how this part of Budapest looked like before its transformation into a hip, youthful party hub. The streets behind and around the Dohány Street Synagogue were grim, dirty and economically disadvantaged–at night home to prostitution, drug deals and petty crime. It was a tired neighbourhood, home to an older population who lived in poorly maintained apartment buildings pockmarked by old bullet holes, with few restaurants, cafés, bars or shops of any kind. This was not at all a destination for young Hungarians or foreigners in search of a lively Friday or Saturday night. The local population was ageing and dwindling, leaving scores of half-empty buildings. In 1960, the 7th District as a whole was home to 120,000 residents. By 2001, this had fallen to 64,000.

It was the rise after the year 2000 of a quintessentially Hungarian phenomenon, the so-called “ruin bars” (romkocsma), that began to breathe life into this part of the 7th District. Interestingly, it was alternative Hungarian cultural groups and “underground culture” that began this transformation a little over 15 years ago. But today, most of these circles have moved on to the more affordable and still mostly run-down 8th District, as gentrification and businesses catering to foreigners have taken over their previous haunt.

Gentrification has not led to a rise in the district’s overall population (in 2011 it stood at 56,000, and was more diverse than before), but it has led to renovated and restored buildings, funded through private investment and commerce and the opening of new hotels, hostels and entertainment establishments. It is a good destination for the visitor inclined to party into the wee hours, but not a great place to live. In recent years, the behaviour of many western European tourists has been particularly cumbersome.

One letter to would-be visitors goes like this:

“We understand. You want to have a good time, but you need to understand that this is a place we have been living for centuries, and we plan to do so in the future as well. Our streets are not your toilet (…)It happened to me personally several times that you walked up to me, and pointed to your junk, asking if I was interested in having sex with you. Well to be honest, you didn’t quite used the same words. When I excused myself, telling you, that I maybe wish to finish the conversation with my mom first, you got offended that I didn’t work the same way the girls you saw on the movies you consume. Eastern-European girls are not (just) porn-category. So no, we are not part of your party. (…) This is not a beach town. Please-please wear T-shirt when you are crawling on the streets. It’s not that hot, and well, neither are you.”

The Ryanair passenger looking for a cheap Eastern European thrill may be disappointed if the party district vanishes after the referendum–although there is a good chance that it will simply move next door, to the 8th District.


  1. StrandedinSopron says:

    An interested dynamic is that many of the pubs, night clubs, restaurants in the 7th are owned either directly by members of the Fidesz mafia or *businessmen* (ie out and out criminals) close to the 7th District Fidesz grouping. There is a Fidesz majority on the 7th District party. Fidesz, as we know, are the ultimate in populist politics particularly in scaring old folk but the hordes of muslim terrorists apparently massing on the Hungarian borders.

    Old peoples’ life is being made a misery by these drunken scum (sorry there is no other polite word for these morons) who descend on their neighbourhood every weekend. Yet it was a Jobbik rep who has decided to take on the local mafia in calling for a referendum. Why? Work it out for yourself.

  2. A great idea to shut the fleshpit. The British party goers are, on the whole, nasty, aggressive, foul-mouthed pigs who bring nothing but cash and condoms.

    I often meet them at the airport as I commute — they are regularly abusive to me, and I’m British — they are generally abusive to the flight crew. It was beautiful to see these ‘tough’ guys, who”d been abusing a young woman flight attendant all the way from Luton to BP, get arrested on landing, by some very large Hungarian coppers.

  3. So, Erzsebetvaros (?), become St.Pauline ? That happens when they are so eager to attract any kind of money with trash entertainments. But do not have there the so called self-government (onkormanyzat)?
    The District council has ordinances. If not, can call for any kind regulating those kind of entertainments. Is it not their sworn duty to the public they obligated to serve? May be they need to do what Monaco is doing !
    To attract better clientele and greater income, not trash !

  4. I own a flat in the 7th and would like to present another vantage point. Budapest is a university town, and students study, live and party in the inner districts. They bring a tremendous amount of revenue to the area. The real estate market has boomed, rents are high as are sales. This benefits elderly residents who can cash out and move to pretty much anywhere. People keep making a killing when they sell.

    I am sympathetic to the problems however. Keep the party in the pubs and nightclubs. Enforce current laws on public noise, lewdness etc, but leave the businesses alone.

    Finally be suspicious of Jobbik. They represent Neo Nazis, homophobes, and are anti EU. They believe in returning the borders to pre world war one, and believe in Hungary for the Hungarians (code for antisemitism, anti Roma sentiment).

    • You were not obtuse at all. the 5th is probably worse since the tourits, businessman you go out there, have more money than students and young people. Vaci utca is one huge tourist trap, and is rife with corruption as you said. Hungarians are sheepish and complacent-they don’t protest and simply put up eith Orban and his mistruths. To be fair, the opposition is mired in in-fighting; Fidesz just plays the game better. Additionally MSzP is not even close to being corruption free. Who suffers…. the population…Eastern Hungary is a disaster. My apologies for going off topic.

  5. StrandedinSopron says:

    “But do not have there the so called self-government (onkormanyzat)?
    The District council has ordinances. If not, can call for any kind regulating those kind of entertainments. Is it not their sworn duty to the public they obligated to serve”

    Maybe I was being too obtuse in my previous comment but as I was stating the onkormanyzat in the 7th is controlled by Fidesz and many of the “party businesses” in the 7th are either controlled directly by Fidesz people or *businessmen* with close connections to the party. That is why the 7th District Local Government hasn’t done anything to date on this; why it is a Jobbik rep pushing through a referendum.

    Similar situation exists in the 5th District with Rogan’s mob who run Vaci, or at least pull in numerous bribes from the various mafias and criminal gangs who own the cafes, pubs and *nightclubs* there. There are about 15 nightspots there which are on the various embassys’ warning list (in terms on intimidation of customers, excessive overcharging etc)- only one has been closed in the last 5 years and that only because of a story from Swedish tourists hit the international media.

  6. OK, Lost in Sopron;
    But than just how the hell can your nazis stay in controll if the majority of the population of those stated districts are not satisfied ?
    Do not they need the vote of most of those residents to be so politically entrenched in the control of those district?
    A city like Budapest, would have no zoning ordinances? No local government at all?
    Nothing seems right about this story.
    Just like the entire country, IF one follow the reports on these sites, nothing makes common sense!
    You contradicted your own statement.

  7. SZKITA:
    The article stated these are mostly elderly residents. They just want to live their lives without being disturbed, not to move around to profit on real estates.

  8. StrandedinSopron says:

    “But than just how the hell can your nazis stay in controll if the majority of the population of those stated districts are not satisfied ?”

    Well, the 7th District is quite large, reaching as far down as the Varosliget and the “Party District” is a relatively small part of that district. The amount of older residents

    And actually the “nazis”, as you refer to them, actually did lose the 7th District at the last parliamentary election but they still control the local government and are able with small-time bribes (planting of trees, landscaping, painting of public buildings) to keep the rest of the apathetic district relatively happy.

    To be clear, the local 7th K. MSZP were also notoriously corrupt when in power and Jobbik are undoubtedly a neo-nazi party (although on the ground, there is a wafer-thin difference between them and the local Fidesz in terms of beliefs and policies) but the 7th District Fidesz have taken the level of corruption to untold levels.

    Regarding “zoning ordinances”, “civil responsibilites” etc, this is Fidesz we are talking about. If they are not happy with a law, then by hook or usually crook, it will be changed.

  9. Referendum is a method by the population when major and national issues need to be decided by the general public.
    In case of local matter, that the local law-enforcement unable to solve, or can not handle, the population need to pressure the local governing council to take the necessary and proper action.
    That should not be complicated as all local council members want to be re-elected. They have to perform and satisfy the need of the voters, OR, they will become unemployed after the next election. That is the weapon in the hand of the local voters.
    That is indeed very simple to employ,unlike to start, finance and conduct a successful “referendum”.
    Referendum is over-shooting the target.
    And can easily fail.
    What than ?

  10. What’s the last date to register for the “referendum”?
    If it’s 90 days prior, than it is likely already too late.

    So, to file a law-suit against the police for failure to enforce, let’s say the noise ordinance, may be the only and best bet.
    Good luck !

  11. But if the “referendum” fails, it will be license to turn the entire district to a bordello.

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