Following Prezi at the Budapest Pride Parade 2017

Researching ‘alternative entrepreneurship’ in Hungary entails engagement in a changing political landscape.  Prior to this year’s Pride Parade, during which we are shadowing employees at Prezi, there has been some turmoil in Hungary. Several large protests have been held against a bill targeting foreign companies and organizations passed by the ruling party in Hungary, Fidesz. In the taxi on the way from the airport we can see billboard posters funded by Fidesz with the smiling face of famous investor, George Soros that say “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh.” The bill also forces NGOs to a more rigorous bookkeeping, which may become difficult for smaller NGOs such as WeAreOpen, an NGO spin-off from Prezi that seeks to improve diversity in the workplace. 

It also seems like the Pride parade is going through some important changes this year. The Pride organization has tried to change the way in which the parade is cordoned off. The last years, the parade has been closed off to the public, and the police have secured an area of two blocks on both sides of the parade. This made it virtually impossible for outsiders to see what was going on behind the barricades, and the carnivalesque protests thus lost their impact. This is why Budapest Pride advocates “a cordon-free march” this year. WeAreOpen, which is responsible for the companies officially participating in the parade, has usually been more careful than the organizers of Budapest Pride when it comes to prodding confrontational actions such as this. Nevertheless, their official position is that they stand behind Budapest Pride in their demands. 

In comparison to Prezi’s early marching at Pride in 2009, it is this year visible that Prezi has come far in its promotion of openness at work. Marching over the Danube on Széchenyi lánchíd , the CEO and co-founder, Peter Arvai, tells us how he struggled to start a movement for openness among companies in Hungary. He needed other companies, and their CEOs, to join. Now, over 1000 companies have joined to speak up about openness at work. Nevertheless, there is much more to do, Peter adds, since you never know how this works in practice. At least, what we can observe is that groups of employees are allowed to march together at the Pride Parade, which includes playing around with huge balloons with logotypes on, hopefully without being bullied for their support of openness back in the office. And indeed, the whole parade seems a bit more playful than our last time at the Budapest Pride, in 2015. There are no organized counter-demonstrations this year, and only a handful far right activists with shaved heads and black clothes are spotted. This year, people are allowed to come up to the cordons, and even enter the parade if they wish. A limited audience also seem welcoming—we see a few onlookers who wave and smile to the Pride marchers. The parade may not be completely “cordon-free,” but this year’s march is a step closer to the goal.  

One of the employees we interview is particularly engaged in activities and preparations for the march. This employee-activist says that he identifies as gay, and that is why it is important for him that his colleagues understand the history and political importance of the march. He knows about Prezi’s campaigns against discrimination in the workplace, and the CEO’s engagement in the LGBTQ issue—the employee-activist has had several meetings with him regarding Prezi’s involvement in the Pride parade. Still, he says that he feels that far from all employees at Prezi grasps the importance and implications of Pride. For the founders of Prezi, the Pride Parade is as event less about diversity management at work, and more about carving out a movement of acceptance of diversity among other companies. But the employee-activist wants to again put LGBTQ rights on the agenda within the company. On his own initiative he therefore organized a workshop at the office about the history of LGBTQ rights. While the workshop was very popular among his colleagues, another activity that he organized did not raise much interest: a banner workshop. In comparison to Prezi’s first years at Pride, it is now WeAreOpen that orders most of the flags and banners used in the parade. This means that employees rarely bring their own banners to the march. The employee-activist would like to change this to enforce people to raise their own voices and craft messages that matter more to them, as individuals, and adds that he hopes to engage more of his colleagues in these activities next year. 

Film screening for the Roma in the Prezi office

Another reason for visiting Prezi this time is the screening of our second videography about the Roma in Bag called “Prejudice - Alternative Entrepreneurship Institutionalized”. Prezi has invited the Roma from Bag to their House of Ideas – a large indoors amphitheatre at the Prezi office in Budapest where ideas are supposed to meet and be taken further, according to Juli Pecsi, a driving force behind Prezi’s social value creation since 2008. The videography portrays and investigates Prezi’s renovation project: each year, the company renovates buildings in a underprivileged community, and several times they have returned to a community in the outskirts of Bag where the majority identifies as Roma - and are interpellated as such by various state agencies. Prezi engages in Roma communities as they want to highlight the inequalities and discrimination that Roma people face. As researchers, we aim to portray the complexity of the situation in Bag and the organization of Prezi’s engagement. In the videography we try to avoid highlighting one single message, to open up space for various interpretations that lead to discussions. A prominent theme of the videography is also that people engaging in the renovation project, Prezi employees as well as Bag inhabitants, experience the engagement in different ways, just as we do.

Before the screening, we enjoy a buffet of Hungarian and Roma delicacies together with people that we had filmed during a cold rainy day in Bag back in 2015. There are tensions in the air – we are nervous about how the people from Bag will react when they see themselves in the film. And maybe they are nervous as well. As many of the people from Bag don’t speak English, a Prezi employee is translating the film into Hungarian during the screening. The tension is soon relieved when the film starts – when someone in the audience is seen on screen soft laugher breaks out and comments scatter. One woman says that in the beginning of the screening, she was first embarrassed because viewers get to see the run down houses in Bag. Later during the screening she did however become more and more proud of her village due to the progress the Roma community visibly had made. As a response to that, another woman raises her voice in the auditorium and asks “So when are you coming back to make the next film?”


David Redmalm and Annika Skoglund

Photos: Helena Fredriksson and our Budapest film team