Dance parties aim to boost Hungary birth rate

Worried about a dropping population, government sponsors parties over the weekend to combat declining marriages.

Sofia Dance Week rehearsal - Negativ Variete
Marriage rates have been dropping in Hungary for more than a decade, worrying the government [Reuters]

Budapest, Hungary – Peter Vamos is 33-years-old and looking for love. This Hungarian student has hopes of finding a wife and starting a large family.

“I have a dream… I want many children,” he said, as his voice trails off, his eyes well up and his hands tremble. 

He apologises and explains it is an emotional topic. Sitting in a cafe in downtown Budapest, he explains how Hungary’s struggling economy is making him question how many children he can have, although he admits he wants as many as possible.

“You need to be in the right place and [have] the right person for that and I have neither.”

The Hungarian government says it wants to help young singles searching for that special someone. Over the weekend, the government held dance parties across the country to help Hungary’s youth meet in the hopes of eventually finding a mate. The programme, called “Are you free for a dance?” is an attempt to stop the population decline and boost birth rates.

Difficulty establishing connections

The Minister of State for Social, Family and Youth Affairs Miklos Soltesz said: “Youngsters who are attending universities are getting married later and later and generally for them establishing connections is more difficult than it was 10 or 20 years ago.”

He explained that part of the problem is that crowded “loud discos”, which are becoming increasingly popular, do not give young people much space for talking or dancing.

On Sunday evening, people gathered at the National Dance Theatre overlooking the Danube River. While many of the attendees were middle-aged or older, the dance floor eventually filled up with dozens of young people getting down to music from Tom Jones, Bolero and others. Instructors showed off their moves with a mix of ballroom, swing, ballet and folk dancing in full costume.

According to Soltesz, about 5,000 young Hungarians took part in the parties across the country. The government is so pleased with the results that a similar event is being planned for autumn.

However, some cities were not so successful in attracting the targeted group of Hungarians. In the southern city of Pecs, local media reported that elderly women and families with young children mostly attended the event.

But back at the Budapest party, 23-year-old engineering student Balazs Koncz is single and ready to mingle. “I’m not looking for love but if something will come, I won’t refuse it.”

Emmigration concerns

Koncz says he appreciates these dance parties, adding that women are becoming more closed off to talking to men they do not know because of safety concerns.

The amount of people who immigrated to Germany in 2012 increased by 30 percent from the year before. For decades the Hungarian population has been declining. From 2001 to 2011, the population decreased by 200,000 to about 9.9 million,

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“You can go to discos or you can go to pubs but you don’t really have a chance to get in touch with someone who you didn’t know so far. If someone is trying to open a conversation, [most] of the time they are refused.”

Sunday evening has proved a little more fruitful for him: he’s walking away with one girl’s email.

Koncz says that while he is keen on having children in the future, it likely will not be in Hungary. He is considering moving abroad when he starts his career. He is not alone.

Emigration along with low fertility rates are leading to dwindling population numbers.

More and more Hungarians are leaving the country, often times for better job prospects.

The amount of people who immigrated to Germany in 2012 increased by 30 percent from the year before.

For decades, the Hungarian population has been declining. From 2001 to 2011, the population decreased by 200,000 to about 9.9 million.

Marriages are also on the decline. In 2001, there were 4.3 marriages per 1, 000. In 2011, there were 3.6.

Economic drivers

According to associate professor of sociology at Budapest’s Corvinus University, Attila Melegh, that downward trend in population is expected to continue.

He says Hungary’s low fertility rates are partly because of the rising education of women, as well as their increasing participation in the economic market, drawing them apart from roles they earlier played in the family.

Another factor is the media which promotes these cultural changes, explains Melegh. “This is a very powerful mix, so basically nobody can stop it.”

Melegh says the dance parties are an attempt by the conservative government to influence changing attitudes towards the family unit and to promote a culture of childbearing.

“To weigh any significant impact would be, I think, rather futile. I think basically what this government is trying to do is that it is trying to change course… so they want to have an alternative discourse.”

He says Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, which is aligned with the Christian Democrats, has been pushing a conservative family agenda.

According to a state news agency report, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Hungary’s family policies have somewhat alienated the country from other parts of Europe and added that the government will introduce another programme later in the year to encourage births.

The country’s constitution, which was introduced by the current government, states that the family is “the basis of the nation’s survival” and that Hungary will encourage citizens to have children.

Soltesz says the dancing programmes are one way to help “society in forming their way of thinking or their way of seeing family and life”.

The dance parties over the weekend cost the government approximately $45,000 – rather a small amount for a big cause.

‘Populist’ campaign

Many youths who attended the dances are still planning on leaving the country [Al Jazeera]

But Vamos isn’t convinced. “This is just a populist media [campaign],” he says. “Just for the show. This is not a real solution.”

He, along with likeminded activists, planned a small demonstration at the government-sponsored party in Budapest to oppose a controversial section of the constitution, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

With a pink feather boa in hand, Vamos went to the party along with other demonstrators and started to dance with a same-sex partner during a performance. A dance instructor quickly pushed Vamos off the dance floor while a security guard ushered away other activists.

Vamos did eventually get a chance to finish his dance. When members of the audience were invited on the dance floor, the instructor who initially shoved Vamos away came up to him and his partner to point out some moves.

Vamos, however, was still sceptical if young people could meet that special someone in such an environment.

“It would be much, much better… to organise such events where you can meet without any show and government pressure. …where you can meet in a free and relaxed environment, not like in the focus of all the media cameras” he said. 

Source: Al Jazeera