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April 2017 – Restorative Circles for Citizens in Europe
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April 2017

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.