As you may have heard, Budapest held its annual Pride Parade yesterday under heavy security. And when I say heavy security I means heavy.
I didn’t join in the parade. I was watching the kids for the day and it was too hot to even think about putting them on a forced march through the shadeless streets of downtown. Especially since my closest gay friends said they were only going to watch from the sidelines. So I instead took the tykes to the mall and then to the fabulously green and cool Honvéd téri játszótér, on the northwest end of District V.
Around 5:00 p.m., as the parade was about to make its way up Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út, I decided to drag the littlins’ off the playground to meet their gay uncles at Becketts, on the corner of Bajcsy and Alkotmány utca, and check out some of the action.
As it turned out, not only were there heavily-guarded barricades set up to prevent pro-or anti-pride spectators from getting within a full block of the parade route, the riot police manning them (and in one case, “womanning” them) were apparently under orders to only let in residents of the immediate area. Which means I ended up having to drag two exhausted and hungry kids at least a kilometer out of the way before we were finally escorted by a trooper in full body armor to the front door of our building, which is on the parade route.
Which means I was mad – and still am!
Seriously. How fucked up is it that a simple gay pride march ends up turning the city center into an armed encampment where people can’t get within cheering (or booing) distance of the parade?
Okay, sure, we know that the authorities were concerned about anti-gay demonstrators attacking marchers. (The picture above is of scrum of far-right types at one such barricade at the corner of Szalay and Szemere, where the cops seemed to be taking one or more of the anti-gays into custody.)
But the resources expended creating a cordon sanitaire this removed from the parade route could have instead been focused on policing the route itself. Would the protesters really have dared to attack the marchers had there been a dozen cops on every block, plus extra units walking along with the marchers? Keep in mind that in addition to all these cops, the marchers no doubt outnumbered the skinheads and other gay-haters who turned out.
I would say that the authorities’ overreaction was due to three factors:
One, they were afraid of being accused of standing by and allowing the pride marchers to be attacked (as happened in previous years).
Two, there were afraid of being accused of standing by and allowing the pride marchers to be attacked, and then beating the living shit out of the skinheads, Jobbiks and others who attacked them.
Three, they simply wanted to ruin the fun for everyone. In a country where the passive-aggressive approach to dealing with problems is commonplace, I reckon that once the powers-that-be were forced by court order to allow the parade, they purposely decided to make the event as disruptive as possible. (“But you said you wanted a safe parade, no?”) And it worked; the taxi driver who ferried me and the wee ones out of the combat zone at around 10:00 a.m. was so upset about the traffic restrictions that I was moved to calm him down by changing the topic to trout fishing. (He had several fishing magazines in the car and in the end seemed to like fishing more than he disliked gays; I, needless to say, did not reveal my prejudice against carp.)
This crabby, take your marbles and go home attitude was vividly summed up in Mayor István Tarlós’s letter to a group of Euro MPs who wrote him about the parade. I’m not sure how much of the assholish tone of the letter was added during translation, though as one recipient tweeted, it more or less speaks for itself:
As usual in Hungary, today’s hot culture war story will likely be soon forgotten, as the political classes find something new to squabble about, especially if it can provide a better distraction from the decay and looting. But for me, I’ve already made a pledge to myself to march in next year’s parade, and I’ll be bringing the kids, too.