Hungary’s Sziget, the fifth biggest music festival in the world, celebrated its 27th year between August 7 and 13, attracting more than half a million visitors. Besides offering various artistic and cultural programmes in the Hungarian capital, the festival continued to stand up for its values and build bridges between cultures.
After a record-breaking year in 2018 (with more than 565,000 visitors), this year’s Sziget Festival welcomed just over 530,000 Szitizens from 100 countries worldwide – still a decent number for a festival that kicked off with 43,000 visitors in 1993. Held, as always, on Óbuda, the biggest of Budapest’s island on the Danube, the festival brought together more than 1,000 different artists, performers and activists from all around the globe, including Martin Garrix, Macklemore, The National, Post Malone, Ed Sheeran, Twenty One Pilots, Florence and the Machine and The Foo Fighters.
The first night saw Ed Sheeran on the main stage and was not without incident. The number of people wanting to see the English star was so big (over 100,000) that it took at least an hour to leave the festival (in ordinary circumstances, it should take no more than 10 minutes). The famous K Bridge, the main entrance and exit to the festival, shook as people streamed across trying to leave. Fortunately, the bridge did not collapse and nobody was hurt.
The Island of Freedom
One of the best features of Sziget is that it keeps you busy all the time. Aside from world-known artists performing every night, there are so many events during the day that it is quite often very hard to choose: sports, art classes, dance lessons, exhibitions, theatre and games. Particularly popular was Hungarikum village where visitors could get to know Hungarian folk music, art, dance and culture.
Once again, the festival was not just again partying until sunrise: close to 50 Hungarian and international NGOs, institutes, youth associations, rights advocates and civic organisations were represented at the festival’s so-called NGO island, introducing themselves and engaging with the young Szitizens.
Without a doubt, the most remarkable feature of the festival is its Love Revolution campaign. Sziget, which is also referred to as the Island of Freedom, is spearheading several social causes including the promotion of human rights, diversity, freedom, peace, tolerance of sexual minorities and environmental issues. Each day, activists took to the main stage to stand up for these causes and call on other Szitizens to do the same.
“I have hope in the future and the young people who understand the problems and have the power to change the world,” Jane Goodall, an 85-year-old ethologist and environmentalist whose speech was listened to by tens of thousands of people, with many of them specifically arriving for the occasion. “Together we can do it and together we will do it,” the United Nation’s special envoy for peace stressed, encouraging the young to protect animals and the environment.
This year’s theme was the fight against climate change through the Green Sziget concept. “The festival is getting more and more environmental-friendly, which is shown in both small things such as paper straws and recyclable cups, as well as bigger concepts, such as ecological campaigns,” Enikő Koncsik, a longtime festival attendee told Emerging Europe at Sziget. “In its most sustainable year to date, Sziget prevented the use of 1.5 million disposable plastic cups and 600,000 straws,” the organisers claimed.
Sziget also took the lead in expressing support for the LGBT+ community. However, not everybody in Hungary approved. Specifically timed for the first days of the festival, Coca-Cola launched a #loveislove billboard campaign to promote the equality of sexual minorities. Hungary’s ultra-conservative politicians and pro-government commentators were quick to come out against the ads, with some of them calling for a boycott of the soft drink. This had no effect on Sziget since both the festival and its attendees continued to push for a culture of love and acceptance, which was great to experience in a country whose government is infamous for its less-than-tolerant rhetoric.
The festival was closed by a marathon, two-and-a-half hour set by The Foo Fighters, which ended with the amazing sight of the crowd raising a fan in a wheelchair up in to the air: he was then called by the band on to the main stage.