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Bp marc 4.

An Account of the Third Circle in Budapest

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Hungarian Identity and Our Responsibility as Hungarians

Written by Boroka Beni


In the first circle with a homogenous group of pro EU participants our work was focused on ways to enhance communication between individuals who hold different views, to prepare members for the next phase. We also found that opinions regarding the EU and Hungary’s place in it are very diverse even among people who identify as pro EU citizens.

In the second circle with mixed participants (generally for or against the EU), the hottest topic that emerged from the group was “whether we want to live in a Europe with only white Christian citizens, or with a diverse population?” We found that the representatives of the two subgroups holding different opinions on the above mentioned topic spent their lunch break “building a nation”.

Based on the experiences of the previous two circles we decided to move in the direction of Hungarian identity and responsibility before focusing again on EU-related topics. Participants came from the first two circles and we also allowed newcomers into the group. To set the stage for conversations that appear to be difficult in public, and are most often portrayed as parallel monologues in the press, we began by integrating the group through a playful exercise focusing on our tastes, styles and personal preferences. (Such as: “Do you prefer the sea or the mountains?”, “Which one do you enjoy more, spring or fall?”) In the series of questions one serious issue was raised by a group member “whether we agree with the institution of capital punishment”, but by the time it was asked, the group was ready to embrace the diversity of opinions.

After collecting participants’ values, we established an integrated set of guidelines (based on the two previous circles’) to frame the dialogue. Members of the group were very engaged in this process and were ready to move into the heart of the discussion: “What does it mean to you to be Hungarian?” The diversity and depth of the responses was breathtaking! Feedback from participants has also shown that they were deeply moved by the sharing and the listening. It was an uplifting round indeed. Even though we have probably heard many of the opinions and emotions related to Hungarian identity before, the density of responses allowed us to surpass our individual perspectives.

The following topic we dealt with is organically linked to Hungarian identity: “What is our responsibility in building a Hungary we want to live in?” Responses to this question took a lot of time generating a great deal of frustration in the group. People started yawning and stretching and sighing. (The circle process generally allows participants to speak freely for as long as they wish. The opportunity to speak is passed on by the talking piece, going around in a circle.) Following a break of relief participants reflected that there is a need to limit the time each member of the group takes to respond to questions. They came up with different ideas to control the time, such as: “the facilitator should stop the person who speaks too much”, “we should develop hand signs to signal each other” or “we should appoint a time keeper”. At this point the circle keepers reflected to the group that the responsibility of not taking up too much of others’ time is the sole responsibility of the speaker (the person holding the talking piece), and that members of the group were looking for ways to control the dialogue outside, instead of taking responsibility for their time. The circle keepers firmly stuck to the role of the talking piece in the discussion, but as an experiment limited speakers’ time in a next round to find that by doing so the conversation may lose its depth. In summary, these discussions around responsibility have shown that in Hungarian communities the topic of taking personal responsibility in building a Hungary we want to live in – is a work in progress.

After talking a little bit about communities where we were comfortable and contented, and their characteristics, we again turned to sociodrama to address the issue of building a nation. Members of the group played the roles of representatives of a constituent assembly and discussed the form of government the nation should be built on. It was the beginning of a long conversation that we aim to continue and take further, to an EU level at the next circle.

Bp febr 5.

An Account of the Second Circle in Budapest

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With Euroskeptic and Pro-EU Participants

Written by Boroka Beni

In the project summary we had originally planned to have a homogenous group of euroskeptic participants in the second circle, in February (following a homogenous group of pro-EU participants in the first). However, as the recruitment process took shape, it has become clear that finding individuals holding euroskeptic views and asking them to commit to a three weekend process was more difficult than we had assumed in the beginning. A reason for this might be the fact that a dialogue circle sounds like a liberal methodology and Hungarian people with euroskeptic views may not feel comfortable entering this realm of discussion, even if the facilitators claim that all voices are equally heard in it. “Dialogue” is not only perceived as a liberal process in our country, but is also the name of a liberal party.

Other members of our international team of 27 facilitators faced the same challenge in terms of the composition of the second circle, so we made a decision that starting with the second circle we can hold mixed groups (with both euroskeptic and pro-EU participants) in order to have a sufficient number of participants. In the circle in Budapest approximately half of the group consisted of euroskeptic and the other half of pro-EU participants (previously screened in the registration process).

We began this circle by collecting personal values (as we did in the first circle) to find that the values mentioned and put in the center (on the center piece) were not so different from one another in spite of different opinions. We continued with the same consensus-building game (as we did in the first circle) to discover that participants put an enormous amount of energy into this process. (The group chose to spend 70 minutes with this exercise.) The piece we were building together in the center took different shapes, but there was a certain point in the game that many of us referred to as “grieving” in the discussion following the game. We had a dead body (played by one of the participants), then two women were crying together in the center and someone even put on slow classical music. Sadness and grief are powerfully represented in Hungarian culture, in hymns, folk songs, dramas, and other artistic forms. Hungarian history is also cumbersome with tragic events and lost wars. The recognition of the need to get passed these experiences could also have been the fuel behind the group’s theme of grief.

Our group of three facilitators has decided to focus more on topics related to the EU this time (more than in the first circle). We prepared the group for a role-play exercise by asking participants to look back to their personal experiences at the time when Hungary joined the EU (May 1, 2004). After collecting a list of concerns regarding the European Union in general and voting for the hottest topic, the group chose the following issue: “Do we want to live in a Europe with only white Christian citizens, or with a diverse population?” After asking participants to find their place on an imagined scale we split the group in two and asked the subgroups to prepare for a debate on television. One representative of each group then gave a short speech to support their opinion and answered some questions. We then asked members of the subgroups to switch places with one another to realize how difficult it was to put oneself in other’s shoes and how little they understood each other’s point of view. Finally we used the circle process to reflect on experiences in the role-play exercise and to move towards more personal stories about how our opinions have developed. Even though during the first day of the weekend many participants expressed their shock about opinions coming from others (such as: “The nation needs a strong leader, because dictatorship is more effective than democracy.”), near the end of the weekend, after hearing the stories behind the opinions and having spent some time together, building relationships, the group came to a level of intuitive understanding and members expressed the need to continue the discussion. We were happy to find that the two representatives of the two subgroups spent the lunch break sitting at the same table “building a nation” – as they said when they reported back in the circle. In general, the process was a fruitful experience for many of us, because we realized that our initial assumption that the circle can hold diverse opinions and lead to understanding even in polarized groups proved to be valid.


An Account of the First Circle in Budapest

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With Pro-EU Participants

Written by Boroka Beni

A group of committed men and women answered our call to participate in the first restorative circle in Budapest, in January, 2017. Committed to the Hungarian EU membership and to a dialogue process regarding issues related to this membership. In the circle process we collected participants’ personal values and practiced consensus-building through a game to discover that finding common solutions requires our active involvement.

Surprisingly, the collection of guidelines (answering the question “how will we talk to each other?”) posed a great challenge for this group. It was very tricky to find common ground, but by the end of the weekend we managed to do so. One interesting issue that came up in this discussion was whether empathy should be a requirement for all participants in the dialogue. One man stated that he cannot be expected to be empathic towards someone holding fascist views, for example. Nor Bolshevik views, added another. (A typical ideological split in our nation.) A solution for this concern was to accept all emotions as valid but not all views as valid. To give another example, many participants mentioned the difficulty to embody certain guidelines (such as patience, nonviolence, or respectfulness) previously put on the board, so members of our group decided to aim for these guidelines instead of feeling inadequate about not representing them. It is indeed an important shift in our perception to focus on the positive rather than dwell on the negative – widely needed in our country.

The function of guidelines, along with other tools in a restorative circle, such as the talking piece, is to decrease the power of the facilitators and give leadership to the group instead. Some participants repeatedly insisted that we, the facilitators continue to control the outcome, but we neglected to do so. This intervention (or the lack of) made some feel like the situation is chaotic. Quite normal in democratic communities, I might add.

During the rest of the weekend our team of three circle keepers was preparing participants to engage in dialogue with others holding different views. Some of this work was done through the topic of the EU and the Hungarian EU membership, and some through personal stories. We based this process on our previous knowledge and common experience that many Hungarian people become reactive (rather than remaining reflective) when it comes to controversial political, economic and social issues. Historically there is no common language in the Hungarian language to hold these difficult conversations. Two examples of the topics we touched are: 1)“Tell us a story where you strongly disagreed with someone and managed to understand each other in the end!”; and 2) after the visualization of someone who holds different opinions working with the questions: “Why do you assume their opinions are so different?” and “How could you respond to their opinions?” Participants were immensely involved in these exercises. Additionally, a conflict situation within the group spontaneously presented itself: one participant stated that she will not sit in the same circle with another, after discovering her association with a political party. Later on she even left the room. It was the refused participant (the ex-member of the refused political party) who went after her. The two women came back to the circle together in about twenty minutes, talking and laughing.

Finally, our understanding was that participants are excited about the upcoming circle and are looking forward to meeting people who hold different (euroskeptic) views. A motivation rarely experienced in contemporary Hungarian society.