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The way for cities today to protect their values is by “tearing down walls and building bridges”, Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony on Wednesday told an international conference focusing on democracy-building. In his remarks to the event entitled Budapest Forum 2023 – Building Sustainable Democracies, the mayor said: “Preserving our planet and sustaining a society built on mutual respect and dignity is not solely the task of urban progressives”. He called for opportunities that create unity “between us all” to be explored in practice.
Karácsony also called for dialogue and establishing contact with one another which required rejecting hatred and division. He said the main topics on the conference’s agenda included the future of democracy at a time when authoritarian populism was on the rise and fundamental democratic values were waning.
Karácsony called Budapest “one of the last bastions of liberal democracy,” adding that liberal-led democratic cities such as Budapest were a target of authoritarian populists seeking to make its operation impossible through financial and legal measures. “The Budapest Forum is a celebration that we can resist such attacks,” he said.
While populist regimes, he said, attacked liberal democracy, immigrants and minorities, they also attacked climate science and vegetarianism. Populists, the mayor said, sought out and attacked groups in society for whom the EU’s long-awaited and ambitious green transition would cause difficulties.
Karácsony highlighted the importance of genuine debate and real dialogue in a world where social media “have reduced our attention span to only seconds and our interactions to likes and dislikes”. At the conference, a video interview was shown with Canadian author Margaret Atwood who discussed the issue of a state’s power of control. The two-day conference is being attended by 81 speakers from 24 countries, the director of Political Capital Institute, one of the organisers, said. The event has been co-hosted by CEU’s Democracy Institute.