Friday, September 30, 2016

View from my apartment on Hajos Street on a warm night in Budapest a couple of days ago.

This Sunday Hungarians will take part in a National Referendum regarding refugees seeking asylum in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe. They will vote on the European Union's plan to spread the burden of immigration to all member states including the Balkan states who have rejected increasing the number of refugees allowed into their respective countries.  They have built fences and closed their borders.

Hungarian Prime minister Victor Orban is staking his reputation on the fact that Hungarians will reject the EU plan, and not allow the further immigration of refugees.  He has appeared on television and radio stations telling everyone that a "yes" vote in favor of increasing refugee immigration will destroy Hungary as well as EU members such as Austria, Poland and Croatia.  The only answer he says is a "no" vote.

This is the only way to continue the Christian and cultural tradition of a nation, he argues, whose values and history are opposed to the values and the aspirations of refugees who have entered Europe. Playing on the fears of a population in which over twenty percent of its citizens are retired seniors, living in many cases in poverty, he says the country is too small and economically weak to absorb refugees who would not be gainfully employed, having to rely on the generosity of the Hungarian government. He tells the people that the refugees are similar to an economic albatross, wrought with potential terrorists and criminals. It is an example of the politics of fear.

He fails to mention that the vast majority of the refugees who have entered Europe primarily from war torn Syria are women and children fleeing for their lives.  As one of the most cruel wars in the modern era, its devastation and outright murder of women and children is beyond understanding. Russia's defense of the war criminal Assad, who only a couple of years ago used nerve gas against his own people brings in the Balkan and Putinesque need to reestablish their political influence in the world.  This increasing need for Russia to assert itself politically and psychologically throughout the region has planted seeds of nationalism among other Balkan countries who are becoming increasingly fearful of losing their identities.  The idea of foreigners coming into Europe fuels these ancient and pent up emotions.

The "no" advertising campaign of the Orban government has been relentless.  The country is full of massive billboards in every small village and town advertising the "no" vote.  Letters and pamphlets are mailed door to door and the campaign has escalated to a feverish pitch in the newspapers and media.

For the referendum to be valid they require a minimum fifty percent vote and the Orban administration is campaigning relentlessly to achieve that number.  Should the numbers fall short it would be a big embarrassment for the government and  Orban's European agenda.  Many people are planning to boycott the vote in order to ensure its failure.  After speaking to several taxi drivers lately they have all said it is the duty of all Hungarians to vote "no" to preserve their culture and keep refugees out of the country permanently.  We will know the results on Monday.

Orban has modeled himself as the savior of Europe.  He has become the symbol of rejection and defiance for refugees fleeing for their lives.  He has laid the seeds of doubt implying that with the influx of refugees Europe and Hungary will be fundamentally changed forever.  Indeed there is speculation that he has political aspirations to lead the EU and succeed Donald Tusk and further promote his agenda, not only building barbed wire fences around Hungary but around all of Europe.

The agenda is painfully similar to Trump's Mexican Wall.  Trump has used the symbol of the wall as a mechanism for the disgruntled and the disenfranchised to find someone to blame for their problems. Indeed Hungary has always had a history of this.  Anti-antisemitism has always been a problem here and in the Balkans.  Hungarians were willing cohorts of the Nazis during WW II sending record numbers of Jewish people to their death.  The building I now live in in Budapest was once part of the Jewish Ghetto and during the war certain residents were rounded up by thugs, taken to the banks of the Danube and shot, their bodies falling in the ancient river never to be seen again.  This took place a few feet from my apartment on the third floor.  Its difficult to imagine such things actually happening.When I step out of my front door and as I look to the left down the long interior balcony its hard to believe that people were dragged out at gunpoint in the middle of the night and made to walk half a mile to the Danube where they were executed. Another shameful and unspeakable part of our history.  Hungarians somehow always need to blame someone else for their problems.  During WW II it was the Jews and now it is the refugees.  The current immigrants are mostly women and children.  By sending them back we are essentially killing them in a subtle fashion.  And so Hungarian fascism continues and thrives today seeking new avenues of hatred.

A few days days ago on one of the busiest streets in Budapest a bomb went off around ten in the evening.  An awkward surveillance video shows a man in a white hat throw a knapsack at two patrolling police officers.  The video does not show the injured police personnel.  The buildings near the bombing were suspiciously empty and no mention was made in subsequent days about the condition of the police officers.  Their families or loved ones were not interviewed.  All information was sketchy and suspicious.  Some have speculated that the bombing was a hoax designed to frighten Hungarians and scare them into voting "no" in Sunday's referendum.  Is this sort of thing possible? Sadly in Hungary anything is possible in the political realm. Hungarians are fully aware that they are being manipulated by politicians and by the media and have become victims of exhaustion.  They are used to accepting the inevitable and lament the idea that positive change is nearly impossible.  In many ways, the cold war has  never ended and continues here and now, disguised in many forms of deception.

There is speculation that if the referendum fails that the Orban government will have to resign.  That is unlikely.  A more inevitable scenario is that Orban's ambitions to save Europe will be quashed forever.  In that sense the referendum's failure will have achieved a positive result.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Syrian Children

Syian child and Mother at Budapest Railway Station

I suppose deep down its really about the children.  Its unlikely that mothers and fathers and entire families would risk death in open boats crossing the Aegean sea were it not for the future of their children.  Surely their children are foremost on their minds.

During the Holocaust in the Budapest Ghetto women were asked to undress before they were sent away because they were known to have children hidden inside their skirts. Mothers asked them to be quiet and as they moved through lineups with little ones hiding inside their dresses.

At the borders of Hungary, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia leaders are saying no to the persecuted children of the world and their parents.  The Hungarian prime-minister Orban has repeatedly said that Hungary is a Christian country and yet he ignores the principles of Christianity, such as love your neighbor and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  He forgets that Hungarians were not always Christians and that at one time they were barbarian horseman riding across the Carpathian planes in search of food and plunder. Instead he insists that the good life people enjoy in Hungary and Europe is something that was fought for many years and heaven forbid that Syrian immigrants fleeing from holocaust should have a share of this hard fought prosperity.

Ironically none of the refugees want to stay in Hungary--they just want to move on.  They sense they are shunned.  Recently Syrian children and their parents were met with tear gas and water canon at the border which had been strung with the latest and the sharpest barbed wire in history.  Instead of barbs the new wire contains rectangular razor blades every few inches.

Orban's insistence on driving the immigrants back after initially welcoming them with food, shelter and train passage to Germany from Budapest is not without political motivation.  He appears to be catering to the far right Jobbick Party which preaches anti-antisemitism and extreme nationalist views.  They are not unlike a Hungarian version of German skin-heads and pseudo Nazis.  Sadly they are able to garner twenty per cent of the vote in Hungary mostly, and ironically among students at universities in Budapest and other large cities in the country.  What does this bode for a country long isolated by language and history from western Europe and above all America who welcomed Hungarians fleeing persecution in 1956.  There are noticeably less tourists walking down
Andrassy Street these days, the cruise ships are less full and the baths are empty of tourists.

September 25th, 2015.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Syrian Refugees in Budapest

Syrian woman and Child

Tonight at the Keleti Railway Station in Budapest hundreds of Syrian Refugees were lining up in front of the train platforms  neatly guarded by blue clothed Hungarian policeman. They were waiting to board the trains heading west  into Germany and other parts of Western Europe escaping from the terror and civil war in their homeland.  

They were all mostly exhausted and tired looking as if they had not changed clothes or bathed properly for weeks.  Although well fed the tiredness in the faces of the mothers was heartbreaking.  The children were laughing and playing oblivious to the massive journey from which they had survived--many fleeing on precarious boats crossing the sea from Turkey to Greece.  Others walking across Macedonia and beyond into the Carpathian basin with all their meager belongings wrapped in cheap bags and suitcases and sheets tied together in small bundles.  

One of the young Hungarian policeman played with two of the children who were given a small horse on wheels to play with  by a Hungarian mother who brought toys to the station.  

This memory was not unfamiliar to me because as a child I too had left Hungary during the revolution and crossed the border into Austria in the arms of my mother and father.  

These memories rarely fade from children and as I looked on I too had to hold back tears. This horrendous journey will always mark the minds and hearts of thousands of child refugees fleeing with their parents from a violent and war torn country.  Let us pray these memories will one day help them  change the world for the better.  

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Man and Pigeon on Hastings.

Driving down Hastings I looked to my left and saw a man looking out of a window near Hastings and Hawkes.  A Pigeon perched quietly on a ledge in the hotel room next door.  The man was looking out down into the sidewalk looking for someone perhaps a visitor a dealer who might be waiting quietly on the corner.  Perhaps he was the dealer himself and was looking down to meet his connection.  We will never know. 

Hastings is trying to clean itself up.  New buildings are being built and restaurants are coming in changing the place forever.   No one who actually lives there can afford to eat in these restaurants.  They do not even have the desire to eat there.  People wander through, the young and the avante garde, the ones who ride bicyles without helmets, the ones who see themselves as artists renting squalid studios hoping to become a part of the grundge and the landscape of suffering that is much of the life down there.  But these new ones do not suffer.  Nor have they known suffering or the agony of having lost their families and their possessions time and time again.  But its cool to be there and its great to be a part of Vancouver's SoHo.  Perhaps its not that bad.  Perhaps just one day one of them will get off their  bikes and buy someone a cup of coffee. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Just on the fringes of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver one can view the gentrified nostalgia laced coffee shops just around Abbott Street.  The man in the window wearing shorts and out for lunch eating a bowl of onion soup seems content and resigned to who he is.  Anyone wearing a broad hat in a photograph is interesting.  The car in front is actually a speed cycle underneath. This  gives the image a retro look as does the metal chair in the room.  As Gary Winogrand and his like have always said there are photographs everywhere, just waiting.  I agree with that.  This one was there only for a second however.