Heaven turns in on itself – opinion

The Budapest Sun – 09.nov.2006 ( link original )

I’ve already seen many dead bodies in my life. I’ve played pool with convicted murderers. I’ve seen a guy being stabbed in the chest right at my side. I’ve got drunk with pirated whisky and hot beer. The list of bad things I have seen is not short. But I have never before come so close to seeing heaven turn itself into hell as I did while covering the recent riots in downtown Budapest.

Even though I’ve been living in the city for fewer than four months, and still feel a little like a lost foreigner, I felt ashamed seeing the places I had learned to like so much being transformed into a raging arena.

I can’t stop wondering how the ordinary Hungarian felt after waking up the day after the Oct 23 riots and seeing his country so badly shaped on the front pages of newspapers and TV shows around the world. As for me, as weird and selfish as it might sound, I had to explain to my pals back in Brazil that the Budapest they were seeing on TV was the same “beautiful and peaceful Bp” I usually mention in my emails and stories.

All of a sudden, all those nice, metropolitan places I walk daily – Astoria, Deák tér, Andrássy, Blaha Lujza and so forth – were filled with an unprecedented set of insane extremists and police officers fighting each other. Back in Brazil, scenes like these are not unusual. Actually, in some of the really huge cities, like Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo, it’s quite common, to say the least.

But we are not in Brazil. We’re talking about a country which impressed the whole world 16 years ago with a peaceful transition to capitalism, and has managed to be a peaceful and cheerful place since them. What brings tourists from around the world to Budapest is not only its natural beauty and thermal baths. There is also this whole feeling of being in a receptive and pleasant place, with receptive and pleasant people. It is what I like to call the “yellow feeling.”

I had believed I was quite aware of what was happening in Hungary, at least in a political point of view, since it has kept me a bit busy working for the Brazilian media.

However, when I saw a couple of very old fellows who fainted in front of me running from the cops and their rubber bullets, an officer being beaten by a couple of extremists, one masked guy protecting himself from the tear gas and being beaten by five cops all together, I realized I didn’t have a clue about what those people were thinking of achieving with such unnecessary violence from both parts.

Trying to explain the politics behind the riots is okay, but finding the real reasons might well prove difficult to pin down. And, just like Brazil, I’m inclined to say that most of those raging youngsters have no idea what they were trying to do, why they were there and the meaning of those red-striped flags. From this foreigner’s point of view, I would describe the recent riots in Budapest as being like a very bad trip.

XENOPHOBIC – The riots are gone (hopefully), but the bad images they have left behind are, unfortunately, still present in many people’s minds. What scares me even further than the physical violence is the spoken violence present in many racists and xenophobic speeches I’ve heard against Romanians, gypsies and other eastern European nations.

Although Europe is known worldwide as a highly xenophobic continent, the last thing a foreigner would expect to see in Hungary and nearby countries is xenophobic aggression against each other. But when it comes to real life, the sort that is not included in tourist guides and books, foreigners are usually wrong with all their pre-conceived ideas.

What most Hungarians, Slovaks, Romanians, Ukrainians and, indeed, all eastern European residents perhaps don’t realize is that, for the most part of the so-called “rich Europe,” everyone living in these countries is taken together as an “easterner” – and not in a very good sense.

In the end, when it comes to xenophobic tensions and from what I’ve been seeing for the past decades, it doesn’t really matter. Because, whether you are right or wrong, the result will be always the same: xenophobia is a pre-historic behavior, and its roots, consequently, are very deep.