The hardest thing about living in Hungary is the official government ideology of hate. Lots of people in nearby countries also embrace Orban’s intolerance toward the refugees; the Polish ambassador told me last night that 80% of Poles said they would like Orban to be their prime minister, too! It isn’t difficult, living in this ugly atmosphere, to understand what happened to Jews and Roma people here during World War 2.
Fortunately good people also come from Hungary, although they are in the minority here, according to all the polls. When a thousand weary Syrian refugees walked along the M1 highway to Vienna, not trusting any more what Hungarian officials told them, villagers came out to feed them trays of pogacs, the traditional salty Hungarian pastries. During the height of the crisis at the train stations in August, many Hungarians resisted the official propaganda and threats of legal action against them, to bring food, clothing and blankets for the hundreds of thousands of refugees coming from the war zones in Syria, Afghanistan, and parts of Africa. Volunteers from Hungary and the CEU community (students from over 100 countries, including Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, you name it) developed, through Facebook, a Migrant Aid civil society response that has saved people’s lives.
Together they developed some clever hacks, like figuring out if you unplugged the Exit signs and Coke machines at the Keleti train station, you could find some electricity for the power strips that volunteers brought so the refugees can plug in phones. Phones? Yes, the refugees desperately needed to contact their family members, to use the GPS apps to figure out where they were going, to get information about what was safe and what wasn’t. Some news trucks also allowed them to use their generators to recharge batteries. CEU volunteers provided and staffed free Wifi hotspots, a flow of translators, sandwich-makers, and hardy souls who took sick and dirty refugees into their own homes, so they could bathe, eat and sleep before starting up again the next day.
Austrians braved criminal liability to drive across the border and pick up the most desperate cases, bringing them back for free, across to safety in Vienna. Hungarian, Bulgarian, Russian and other traffickers were hanging out at petrol stations along the route through Serbia and Hungary. Local taxi touts were charging 200 Euros to drive from Szeged to Budapest (where the refugees thought they could catch a train to Austria), a trip that should have cost a tenth of that amount. Hungarian media, which are in the thrall of the government, were told not to broadcast images of refugee children.
It’s funny that German anarchists were among the best organized volunteers who showed up in Hungary, providing food and rapid responses to the constant changes in policy that kept making things worse. The Hungarian government finally mobilized the Knights of Malta and one or two other officially sanctioned charities to help carry babies and refugees in wheelchairs across rural ditches in remote fields during the starless nights at the height of August’s crisis.
This may be the most documented movement of refugees in history; everyone in the train station wanted to show the volunteers their pictures, to share, across the language gap, exactly what they had already gone through. Now this swollen river of human misery is out of the headlines and sights of busy Budapest, because the new refugees have been diverted to march through a tiny corner of Hungary that is far from the capital. But we aren’t fooled. We are just working on cleverer ways to nudge the policy makers and deliver the essentials. Stay tuned for more reports, as hundreds of thousands more Syrians cross the Hungarian border, in hopes they can quickly leave this country that has officially told them they are unwanted scum, terrorists, and job-stealers. Official Hungary seems to have learned nothing from its own history and the Holocaust. It is profoundly ironic that Germany is now the promised land for these desperate people. Let’s hope a better solution can be found– before Germany’s official hospitality is used up, too.