Two days ago, the Washington Post submitted a very sexy byline that was something like “Hungarian police stopping all non-white passengers in blatant racist profiling”. It really got me hot, mostly because #1) I deeply detest headlines that are nothing more than a way to catch our attention, as if we were really that dumb; and #2) I felt it was stamping an issue that people in the United States simply do not understand with ink that is particularly, sensitively American and not Hungarian. In other words, it wasn’t good journalism.
I’ve been in Budapest for almost two weeks now, and can tell you that all anyone is talking about, and all you see on the news, is this huge humanitarian crisis of migrants passing through Eastern Europe.
I am not a typical tourist. I don’t want to be. And I don’t begin to believe everything I see on TV. So I went to Keleti palaudvar (the main train station in Budapest, where the migrants are being housed), today to see what the real story was. Was this dangerous? Maybe, but I didn’t think it could be too bad and you know me: I had to go. I couldn’t stand to not see the people and their situation, nor the Hungarian reaction, with my own eyes.
Here are a couple of NON POLITICAL observations about what I saw today. 1) those people look tired, man. Really tired. 2) They also look pretty resilient. They know, I think, that harder times await than detention in a train station. 3) The Hungarians look tired. Really tired. And pissed.
The migrants have taken over a park that was only recently renovated. The fact is that Hungary is poor. They are just 30 years from Communism. Budapest has been destroyed and rebuilt no less than four times. The Hungarians are very proud of every bit of their city and country that is made even a little nicer, and the migrants have moved in like squatters with laundry hanging from railings and trash everywhere, sleeping in the middle of the floor so that you literally have to walk over people to get to the trains. There is a camp for the refugees, where they are supposed to be registered before heading out into the EU, but they are mostly at the train station. While other Europeans are welcoming the migrants, Hungarians are saying they feel bad, but not bad enough to greet the newcomers with open arms. And anyway, the migrants have made it very very clear that they do not want to stay in Hungary. They are headed to Germany, Sweden and other prosperous countries. Most people are saying this disaster should be the responsibility of US/UK/France as they have created or perpetuated war across the Middle East. I just try to stay quiet and listen when the palinka starts flying and people start talking….
I arrived at the start of loud protests, which when I came back here to the hotel were being broadcast on BBC and CNN. I saw the douchebag news reporter on TV several times at the train station. After walking about uselessly, he plopped himself down in a director’s chair on the periphery of the protest and then waited for the story to come to him. I can tell you that what I saw on TV was not what I saw in the station…
Unlike La Douche, I wedged myself right into the middle of the melee, until it got a bit rowdy and the police were screaming and we all got pushed into the street, at which point I climbed up onto a ledge and watched it all from my perch.
There was a group of 50 or so young men, with a couple of older men, screaming “We Are Human” and “Germany”. They were elated, caught up in the moment, not angry. The Hungarian riot police–about 15 or so–stood on the edge of the crowd, ready but waiting in case of anything. Truthfully, I think there were more TV cameras than “protestors”.
Eventually, a train came and the migrants rushed it, cramming into every single space possible. But the conductor announced that there was not a scheduled train going to Germany, and that the one they were on would not be leaving. I figured that was a good time to go. Some folks were getting very upset–mothers and fathers holding onto babies and purchase tickets and the last of their money. That is a recipe for danger born of desperation.
I was the only female in the melee–there was a girl technician but she stood away from it all holding a mic as if she needed to have something to say but there wasn’t much she could think of that hadn’t already been mentioned. TV news made the event look like it was huge, as if it took up most of the station terrace. Yes, there are people camped out both above and below ground, yes, they are body to body. The Hungarian PM says there are about 2200 people in the train station.
This massive migration is a huge and very divisive issue for Europe and it will be interesting to see how things go in the weeks to come.