Budapest, summer 2015.
As well-documented by journalists from all over the world, Budapest’s Eastern and Western railway stations turn into packed sleeping and living quarters for thousands of young families and individuals traveling to seek asylum in Europe. The contention, of course, was the degree of freedom in their movement, the extent to which asylum claimants could ‘choose’ the country in which they register. Many asylum seekers were crossing Schengen borders first in Greece and failing to register (wilfully, alleged the Hungarian government), preferring to try their claim chances in a European country further west.
The slow political response led to the physical bottlenecks of people in the capital, as refugees could cross the Serbian border by foot or train, but found their onward journeys suddenly cut off at Budapest, leaving the floors of the Keleti railway station to sleep on for the night.
Fences, transit zones, detention centres and new laws were rapidly passed, and the sleeping bodies from the metro stations were replaced by evenly royal blue posters from the Hungarian government relentlessly rebranding refugees as the harbinger of the downfall of Christian European civilisation. The posters served an astute political purpose: they created an identifiable ‘alien’ enemy, unknowable and threatening, proven to be willing to break laws to reside in the EU. Those few brief weeks in September 2015 provided the Hungarian government with enough ammunition for the following three years and counting.
A series of referendum-like “national consultations” were initiated, all at taxpayers’ expense, from 2016, on the topic of whether Hungary wanted to accept “illegal migrants” (undefined), in 2017 whether Hungarians wanted to accede to the “Soros plan” to settle “illegal migrants” (the “plan” was never demonstrated to exist), giving rise to a wave of placards with George Soros’ grinning face with the words “don’t let Soros have the last laugh” stamped to the side.
Unlike the graffiti of resistance in Athens, the more common form in Budapest signalled messages more extreme than the Hungarian governments’, with anti-Semitic slander common. Offering some comic relief have been the posters from the Party of the Two-Tailed Dog, who turned significant funds to “counter-humour” government messaging.
The 2018 April national election season was marked by the same flavour: posters trumpeted Soros as a grand puppeteer, financing and secretively lurking behind opposition party candidates with his agenda; opposition candidates were in turn accused of seeking to dismantle the border fence and allowing “illegal migrants” to take over and change the “face” of Hungary forever. Stark for all the government poster propaganda remains the absence of refugees, illegal migrants or people who are “different” from the white normal…