An abandoned generation? Pragmatic? Calculating? Apolitical? Streetwise? Uncultivated? For older generations, the arrival of the next often represents some kind of end - something is lost with the new generation. But of course the new generation is just different. hvg.hu spoke to sociologists, teachers and cultural studies researchers about the generation born at the time of the regime change as its members prepare to enter adulthood.


© Végel Dániel
For the generations that grew up under the previous regime, the regime change represents a dividing line in their lives. Independence, changes to the political and economic system, the arrival of freedom and the establishment of democratic institutions were indeed a turning point that meant something for everybody. But now a generation has grown up that never knew the previous regime. They barely relate to 1989, or if they do, they do so only for personal reasons, since that is when they were born. They are the children of the "new" Hungary. This generation is now coming of age.

"I don't know if Hungarian society has ever known a generation that was left to its own devices as much as this one," says the sociologist Kalman Gabor. More and more young people are spending more time in education and are becoming independent earlier on, while they enter into working life and have children ever later. Their environment is also changing: family and school play a lesser role, while the media and consumption are becoming ever more central in shaping young people's attitudes. There are more opportunities open to them, but this goes with a degree of uncertainty. Expanded opportunities lead to more experimentation, meaning risks are ever greater. "They don't get any help because adult society, families and schools don't understand their desires and needs," says Gabor, explaining why the young frequently have trouble with the institutions that exist for their benefit.

The sociologist does not agree with suggestions that this is an "apolitical" generation. They are not indifferent, but their attentions are focused on non-traditional forms of expression: demonstrations, building occupations and even terrorism. But the adult generation is reluctant to take all this seriously. Adults do not understand and do not react, making it easier for these misunderstood young people to drift towards radicalism. This is not a unified generation with a common ideal. "This is a very divided generation: the gap between different social groups is growing wider, rather than diminishing," Gabor says. Some groups have no opportunities, while others are just reinforcing their advantage.

Their value system also contains surprises. They are alarmed by a globalised world and they are less tolerant than their elders. There is a conservative shift taking place: families and private life have acquired greater value. These young people are not reacting against their parents' "conventional" value systems, but seeking to adopt it themselves. But new lifestyles are also emerging. It's trendy to be single, since people are having children much later.

"When I was at college in the mid- to late-1980s, the world began to change around us. It was possible to demonstrate on the Chain Bridge, to show off the bruises from policemen's truncheons in the halls of residence, to be a hero. The old system was still in place, but we could laugh at is. It was a Happy time," says Gyorgy Broszman, deputy director of the Mikszath Gymnasium in Paszto. He says that while his generation liked "to do things together," to create things, the current generation "was born into a consumer society and their relationship with the world is very different, much more individualistic."

Like empty hard drives (Oldaltörés)

"They are driven by an incredible thirst for knowledge, they like to hear the old stories about Trabants and goulash communism," Broszman continues. "Their heads are like empty hard drives. You can install anything there." This makes it hard for him to teach children to be selective in their acquisition of knowledge. "If I tell them to look at the Nazis' economic policies, then I don't know if they'll read an essay by Romsics or an extreme right website, and whether they'll be able to tell the difference between them," he says.

Often, they are looking not for connections, but for practical ways of passing exams and writing essays effectively. "They are focused on success and on getting ahead," the teacher says. They see history as just another part of the syllabus. They obtain information through other channels. Broszman says reading is evolving: the internet has displaced much of what their predecessors would have read.

The young are alarmed by the future, by a lack of money, and so they want to learn languages to succeed abroad, working less for money, so as not to depend on their parents, he says. "But they are not wondering what will happen to their mother when she is elderly if she is several thousand kilometres away." Broszman sees a certain prudishness that goes hand in hand with Gabor's conservatism. "You can't tell them some of Janos Pannonius's more ribald stories," says the French and history teacher.

What are taboo subjects for 18-year-olds? "They laugh if you talk about gypsies. they know it's not allowed, but it still makes them laugh. They talk more easily about Jewish issues, because World War II is a long time ago. They achieve what they want, but I worry about them. Of course, many prove that they can hold their own, and maybe this is just the traditional moaning of the elderly," Broszman says.

Things might be different in a technical school in the capital. "They come to us with average grades, and most aren't even interested in getting better grades in their final exams. We are seeing a decline in technical education. We can't run an entrance exam any more, for example. But they do care about technical knowledge and competently executed work," says Denise Riba, who teaches history to trainee car mechanics in a Budapest technical school.

"They are aware of the opportunities they have," she says. All her students have a vision of their career, she says. They know that their profession has a market value and they frequently have a place waiting for them in the family business. They see the European Union as an opportunity, but they are not making any serious efforts to learn languages.

Riba finds that home is the biggest influence for these young. Their opinions of the previous regime derive entirely from discussions at home. Far-right ideas are making headway in this generation, she says, citing discussions of Hungary's particularities in class.

Many sympathise with the Magyar Garda, and many express nationalist, anti-gypsy or xenophobic views. At the same time, this does not always affect their relations with their gypsy or Chinese classmates. "Many come from lower, poorer social groups," she explains, describing the "classical sociological case." Teenagers see poor gypsy children in their class and conclude that gypsies never work and leach off society.


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