Meet Eszter Hajdu

Eszter was born in Budapest in 1979. She is a film director, a trained media expert, sociologist, and so much more. But more important, she is a BRAVE woman who captures on camera sensitive realities about the most vulnerable groups in our societies.
Along time, Eszter has produced many documentary films, most of them being awarded both nationally and internationally. By far, Judgement in Hungary (2014) is one of the most viewed and awarded documentaries in her career, that was screened in 48 countries and won 19 prizes. Within Judgement in Hungary, Eszter is telling the brutal story of a series of murders that targeted Roma families by documenting every trial day for three years.
She believes that coming to know and accept others is a key to find harmony within ourselves and with our world. She regularly focuses on people and groups who are excluded within the society. By introducing us to individual lives and their dramas, her films in fact depict larger social issues.

The revelatory moment

Many years ago, she was working for a radio station, where she insisted on producing a special report on a social project. The project started in Tarnabod (Hungary) and it was addressed to homeless families that would benefit of houses where they could start a new life. Eszter wanted to tell the story of these people’s integration into the life of the community and the development of the project. But for some reason, the radio decided that they lack the capacity to prepare it. And that was the moment as she decided that she will make it anyway, with one single camera and one cameraman.

The bumps in the road

Eszter could be described as resilient and persistent, and she doesn’t give up easily. She manages to stick to her goals and save them for later. Failures are understood by her differently: they are only temporary and serve as a kind reminder that she needs to be patient until the perfect opportunity comes.
When it comes to talk about Roma community perceptions, she would like to change the narrative about the so-called Roma-issue in Hungary. By accepting and promoting the idea of a Roma-issue, one can only emphasize the idea that there is something wrong about the Roma community and we have problems that need to be solved. She would rather talk about the extremist-issue and how this problem can be solved, how we could change the mindset of people who are full of hatred and prejudices. And this is not an easy endeavour as everyone holds prejudices to a certain level, so we all need to work consistently to reduce them.

Extremism explained to a 5-year-old

Eszter advocates for simple and clear wording that would make both an adult and a child understand the essence and the risks of extremisms. The first level of awareness begins with understanding that each individual is different from others in many aspects. And there is absolutely no reason to spread hate just because we are different.

Confessions of a restless activist

She describes herself as being stubborn and fully determined especially when she deals with sensitive topics that trigger prejudices in society. The more a subject is avoided by or hidden from the public opinion, the more she will use all her resources to document it. But more important, curiosity keeps her driving because she always wants to find the story behind the story.
And maybe Eszter’s path would’ve been a different one if it wasn’t for her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, who taught her to be positive, tolerant and focused in order to make the world a better place for everyone.

Coping mechanisms

Emotional stress is rather common when she documents shocking stories that reveal the dark side of human nature. “Judgement in Hungary” has been extremely challenging because she had to document for three years the sordid details of a serial murder that targeted the members of a Roma community. Despite this emotional burden, Eszter devoted herself to the documentary and suppressed all emotional shocks in a very professional manner, because she wanted to deliver the complete story for generations to come. Her mission and dedication serve as an emotional liberation.

Some thoughts for undecided activists

Eszter knows that activism has strong roots in the family. If one does not grow up in a tolerant environment, most probably they will have a hard time later in life to even recognize when someone else is assaulted based only on their belonging to a minority group.
She is not a huge fan of pointing out to her audience that „this is wrong” or „this is right”. Because what is morally right is obvious to everyone: if someone has the patience to think about it deeper. She is quite confident that if someone becomes a bystander of a racist action, and is emotionally affected by it, it might lead to an inner reflective process that in the end leads to the right choices. Even if people are provided with practical advice, if reflectivity is missing, chances of success are low.

Challenge your inner activist

Eszter thinks that one of the problems is that young people who decide to join extremist groups, perceive themselves as victims too. And in order to overcome this self-victimization, they try to oppress other groups who then became victims of their violence. If the self-esteem of these young people could be strengthened, we could make a change.
Further, if we can somehow establish positive emotional connections between radicals and minorities on an issue they all can relate to (as they are the same age, might have the same difficulties and problems: having an ill parent, losing a loved one, no work opportunities), prejudices would fade away.