Brain Bar – a festival on the future


by Eszter Révész
Budapest’s favorite festival, where the line-up includes politicians, writers, and climate activists, and the main stage welcomes heated debates, fresh thinking, and interactive discussions about our future – that’s Brain Bar. The festival offers this, and more by providing a youthful and creative atmosphere to exchange and develop ideas. Brain Bar’s success has been growing since its formation in 2015, and in the previous years has already welcomed Maye Musk, model, dietitian and the mother of Elon Musk; world-famous paleontologist, Jack Horner; and Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal, among their speakers.

This year, on 9-10 September, Brain Bar took place in Millenáris, a beautiful green area in Buda, attracting many people and numerous speakers from all around the world, such as David Sax, the bestselling author of The revenge of the analog; Katalin Novák, the minister for families and youth in Hungary; and Alan Rusbridger, British journalist and authority on the freedom of the press. Their rich agenda covered everything from climate change and geopolitics to start-ups and media censorship. The festival has got not only a real educative purpose, but prepares the youth for future challenges in practical ways by providing workshops on how to write an eye-catching CV, or how to level-up LinkedIn profiles. Brain Bar has always been able to maintain a great balance between fun activities and serious discussions. While strolling around one can find several sustainable installations, an analog playground, and even an eco- capsule.

Most of us wonder what our world is going to look like in a few decades and Brain Bar approaches this question from several perspectives. One of the most interesting, albeit disturbing discussions was between Balázs Orbán, the political director of the prime minister, and Bruno Maçães, a top expert in global geopolitics, on “The future of Europe: no-bullshit scenarios for 2050”.

As a starting point both of them ranked the three most important challenges for Europe, and agreed that the EU’s economic decline – losing competition with other great powers, like the United States, or China’s economy, – and military and security capacities are among them. “Europe is not in the game, we are talking but not acting,” said Orbán. He also mentioned migration as the most burning problem, while Maçães believed that staying united is even a bigger challenge. Neither of them mentioned the issue of climate change in their rankings, however, they didn’t deny that it is an important issue of the present and the future. Maçães supported the idea of geopolitical competition regarding climate change, stating that it would result in more action, and drew a parallel between the winners of industrial revolutions and the present energy revolution, “Whoever leads the climate revolution will be the next superpower.” Orbán said that “It’s not an extinction debate, it’s an adaptation debate,” as our climate has always been changing and humans have always learned how to adapt to these changes.

A shift is coming in the balance of power, we are moving to a “Eurasian stage”, and the new players are Turkey, Russia, India and China. The role of the United States and its decreasing power has been debated in the past few years, and Maçães warned us that “the US is becoming increasingly more distant, so we need to have a plan B, for when the US is no longer there.” The Hungarian government representative also urged European people and politicians to think outside the box, because since World War II, this is the first time, when the strategic interests of Europe and the US differ from each other. “It seems that the 21st century is going to be the century of Asia, of China,” said Orbán.

Lastly, to spark a debate, they talked about the role of religion in politics. “I think behind every religious discussion there is politics.” The Portuguese expert supported the idea of great diversity in Europe, he believed that we can learn from people with different ideas, and disagreed with the Hungarian government’s approach to immigrants. Orbán represented the general view of the Hungarian government and emphasized the importance of Christianity, the Christian values of Europe, and explained that Muslim immigrants are perceived as a threat to the continent, because we are unable to predict how they will change the European civilization.

The speakers were somewhat in disagreement about the future of Europe as well, although they both thought that the European Union will exist “as a matter of survival”. On the one hand, Maçães offered three possible scenarios for the future: Chinese Russian hegemony, being a dependency/colony of the US, or Europe becoming more united, and recovering its economy and military. On the other hand, the Hungarian politician argued that we have to differentiate between the public policies in which we want to cooperate with the EU, and those where we can be different and compete with each other. “The problem of the EU is that we want to do everything together in a homogenous way, but coexistence can also be a winning strategy.”

The key takeaway from this discussion was Mr. Maçães’ last advice “It is this moment when liberal ideas are collapsing, and we can search for new ideas. It is not the moment to go back to past ideas, and Christianity as an organizing principle.” He encouraged the younger generations to nurture new theories, to be brave, because we are living in a unique, historical time, when everything we knew is disappearing, creating a vacuum for emerging ideas.

The discussion between Orbán and Maçães is only one example of the many truly interesting ones at Brain Bar. The good news is that all of the presentations are available on YouTube, so if you are interested, it might be worth checking them out! The festival returns next year, offering free tickets for students and teachers. In the meantime, they also welcome applications to become a Brain Bar ambassador, a great opportunity to improve your skills and knowledge, and boost your CV for the future!

Day 1

Day 2


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