Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
From Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Serbia
(Good photos courtesy Tim Hyde)
(Bad photos are by me)
This is Part 2 of The Hungary Games. You should be getting this on Tuesday morning. I'll send Part 3 Tuesday afternoon.
Parts 4 & 5 will go out tomorrow, but on Thursday we'll do a regular Mullings dealing with domestic politics. The series will conclude on Friday.
Thank you, all, for your nice comments about Part 1.
This business of Hungarian police harassment came home to roost when we traveled to a border crossing on at a motorway in Latenye. There were four in our travelling party. Aside from Tim and me, we had our driver/producer/translator/fixer a woman named Gabriella (Gaby) Zahoran, a Hungarian living in London; and Juli Haller, a Warshington, DC-based attorney who is a first-generation American of Hungarian extraction, who is fluent in Hungarian..
Tim and I had press credentials which I had produced on-line. We were representing the Barrington News Service (Barrington Worldwide, LLC is the official name of my company) out of Washington, DC.
The creds are as official looking as they need to be. Tim looks the part of a news photographer and I can pass for a reporter. As luck would have it, we weren't playing roles, we were actually doing those jobs.
These creds came in handy a number of times. Coupled with the words "Washington, DC" they kept us, more-or-less, out of trouble.
In any event, there had been issues about us walking freely at migrant processing stops, talking to whomever, and taking pictures of everything. The Hungarian police were very wary of anyone taking photos of them so we were careful to keep them out of camera range.
At Latenye, however, the police were aggressively opposed to our being there. We found a line of about 10 buses that had been staged to move migrants who were bused across the border on a four-lane motorway from Croatia for the next leg of their journey. Latenye is not far from the "Three Corners" where Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia meet at a point in the southwest corner of Hungary.
Tim was taking photos of them while Gaby and I sought out someone who could tell us what the procedure was going to be if and when migrants showed up. There were no aid workers that we could see, so we went up to anyone who looked like a civilian.
Two cops - a man and a woman - swaggered up to us and began telling us that taking pictures was not allowed and that we needed permission to be there and we'd better get moving if we knew what was good for us (or something like that). Gaby didn't get to do what she does by running away in tears, so she engaged them in rapid-fire Hungarian insisting we were American reporters from Washington, DC who had every right to be here and to interview whomever we liked.
The woman insisted on looking at Tim's camera and he showed it to here with the strap still around his neck so she couldn't take it away. She insisted on seeing the pictures he had taken so he sat in the front seat of our car, out of the sun, and went through the dozen or so photos of the buses.
"Delete," she said in English. Gaby wanted to know why and the cop said, again, pictures were not allowed. "Delete," she said to Tim. He pressed the "Delete" button on his camera and moved to the next bus picture. "Delete," she said again. And again. And again. Tim dutifully pressed the clearly marked button on his camera and moved back to photos we had taken early in the day - well out of this woman's jurisdiction. "Delete," she said.
Gaby told here those photos had been taken with a policeman watching us from five feet away. "Delete," she said. Tim pressed the button. Back and back and back he went. "Delete, delete, delete," she said at each one.
She insisted he go back to the point at which the deleting had begun. All the photos were still on the digital card. "I don't know what I'm doing wrong," Tim said with a whine in his voice. "I've never deleted on this camera before."
As this was going on, someone had called a superior officer who must have said something like: "You idiots! We are trying to look better in the eyes of the world and you are hassling these reporters? Tell them they can take their pictures of anything they want except they have to get the permission of people whose faces they show. And do it right now!"
I suspect this is the case because a policeman came running up to our car and spoke into the policewoman's ear. She pulled herself up to her full height and repeated the instructions - not about being an idiot - the part about who we could photograph and we thought the siege was over.
Not. So. Fast, buster. She demanded out passports and methodically stood at the front of the car and went through them page-by-page. After looking at all the visa stamps, she took each passport and held every page up to the sun to see if they had the appropriate watermarks. I think she must have seen this in a espionage movie and wanted us to know that she might have been overruled on the photos, but she still knew what she was doing, boy.
After the "DELETE" episode, I interviewed a man who was presented to us one of the bus drivers. He explained that the migrants arrived by buses at the border. They were taken off, and given a quick look-over by medical staff, and then transferred to the previously photographed buses behind us for a trip to the railway station.
"They are treated very well," he said. "And, they are very well-behaved." Two policemen go with them on the buses and tell them what they can expect, he tells us.
I asked him what the common language between the police (Hungarian) and the migrants (everything but) was. He didn't know. "How can they tell the migrants what is going to happen, if the police don't speak Arabic and the migrants don't speak Hungarian?"
He looks at me blankly and I determine this guy had been briefed on what to tell me, but I had veered off script. Thanks, anyway.
Meanwhile, the female cop reluctantly returned our passports and we, not seeing any migrants on the horizon, set off to another destination. Juli asked why the delete key had not worked. Tim explained that, as a safety feature to avoid deleting a photo by mistake, you have to press two buttons simultaneously. He was furiously pressing the "Delete" key, but assiduously keeping his finger off the second button.
As often happens in these situations, by the time we got the car turned around and headed out we were laughing ourselves silly over the whole encounter.
But we were four well-to-do Westerners with cell phones and a full tank of gas in a modern four-door car. I thought about just how funny that would have been if we had been a family with two small kids being hassled by a woman cop just because she could.
Not all that amusing.