The mosquito is the most dangerous animal in the world, but it is not the animal most of us imagine with fear. I heard an American political adventurer (my term) being interviewed on the CBC radio show, Ideas, use this example to clarify the difference between what is frightening and what is dangerous.
During the last war in Iraq, he had moved there and lived in a small town in the countryside from where he thrived financially by supplying the CIA with information. The CIA could easily have set up an agent to do what he had done, but they had taken the view that it would be too dangerous. There were very real dangers in Iraq at the time but living in his countryside Iraqi community was apparently not one of them. The general point is that what we view as dangerous and frightening may not be dangerous (and conversely what is not generally frightening such as a mosquito, may actually be potenially very dangerous).
I am in Budapest on a working holiday with my partner Gail. You have probably learned through the media that thousands of refugees from Syria and other parts of the Middle East have been trying to escape the strife, death, and destruction in their homeland by seeking refuge in Western Europe.
One of the main train routes to Western Europe crosses Hungary, and the current government here has had a reactionary stance to immigration and is resistant to supporting this mass movement of people. Refugees have had clashes with police when attempting to board trains heading West.
Before coming here, various friends and family expressed their concern about us travelling to a country that is in ‘political upheaval’. The main precautions we took were firstly to enquire personally with our landlord about any concerns we should have (we were due to arrive at Keleti Station), and secondly to disembark from our train at Kelenföld Station rather than Keleti from where news footage was originating.
Here are some of my impressions the day we travelled to Budapest. There were no immigration stops passing from Germany into Austria then Austria into Hungary by train. Disembarking in Budapest, there was no indication to us that anything out of the ordinary was occurring, and in the downtown area, this has been the case the whole time we have been here. One exception was a protest march, which seemed to involve about 500 people.
Keleti Railway Station is two short subway stops from the apartment we have taken in the Jewish District downtown. Gail and I visited Keleti on the afternoon of September 12th. Despite our anti-climatic experience up until this point, I still had some anxious thoughts heading to the station. Was there a mass of people there that we could be swept along in? Were there young police officers who might overreact? Would police try to confiscate cameras or arrest us for using them?
Here are a few photos of what we experienced in Keleti Station on that afternoon. As shown in the first photo with Gail in the foreground, Keleti is attractive from the outside. Below ground, a modern looking subway station joins this older looking train station. The second photo was my first sight of evidence of the refugees. By my estimate, there were about 250 in the station.
There was an abundant amount of wrapping garbage on the floor, some of which was being cleared while we were there. In the background you can see iron bars blocking access to trains by the refugees. There were about 30 police who seemed well behaved. The fourth photo shows the bars closer up. While we were there, a group of about 30 refugees were escorted up to a train.
The strongest emotional experience Gail and I had was of potentially being a voyeur into someone else’s misfortune. You didn’t want to stay around too long unless you were doing something to help. This internal discomfort has been the largest and only significant conflict I experienced in Budapest.
The refugees seemed to like being photographed, and the police had no apparent objection to it. The man with the cigarette who seemed to have some boys in his care smiled broadly at me a second or two after this shot. NGOs were set up in an outdoor section of the station.
The last photo was taken within 100 feet of the first but looking to the left of the station. The banner illustrates that the politics of Hungary is complex as it is in most countries.
No question that the lives of some refugees are dangling by a thread or could be, and no question that this a significant event on the world stage for a host of reasons. But for any particular person, there can be a big difference between what is frightening and what is dangerous. I think the greatest danger to me in Budapest is crossing the street because I sometimes misread the unfamiliar placement and functioning of traffic signals.