Yesterday, I went on my second Gay Pride Parade in Budapest. Whereas last year this was an experience which I found very strong. For almost the entire walk we were pelted with eggs, tomatoes and a few stones from those to whom the whole thing was an affront to what they believed was the nature of being "Hungarian". I was physically frightened for much of the time, knowing that, had the protesters succeeded in bypassing the very tight cordon of riot police then serious injury was a real possibility. This did not happen - although there were running fights between right wing crazies and police, tear gas, and a few petrol bombs at places outside the line of the march. Most shattering of all for me, however, was the sheer irrational hatred of those who protested. I could not comprehend their motivation - for how could the expression of love between human beings possibly be a threat to them? But clearly it was.
This year, however, passed without such incidents. Last year, only the direct route of the march was cordoned off but this year the cordon was extended to city blocks. In fact, much of the centre of Pest was a no-go zone for anyone apart from police. Metro lines were closed and dedicated trains provided to transport the people on the parade. Nowhere we went were there any protesters to be seen or heard - apart from a few token ones at the beginning of the march. These latter were, perhaps, allowed in order to give the ex-prime minister Gyurcsany a chance for a good photo-op as he strode up to them, smiling, stood for a while accepting their abuse and then disappeared as fast as he had come, surrounded by a bevy of bodyguards. (I may be overly-cynical here but I think not. During his time in office Gyurcsany took full advantage of the threat of rising neo-nazism in order to maintain his own authority.)
Well, the parade took place in empty streets - the only witnesses being the police, press and television, and a few waiters and other employees whose fashionable places of business had been temporarily closed.
Terrifying as the last event had been for me there was, at least, a sense of reality to it. This year simply felt very strange. It was like walking through a ghost city, guarded by faceless and silent phantoms in riot gear. After the parade finished we entered the major metro station in Pest past lines of these phantoms and boarded the train to the place where we could disperse safely and merge into the general population. Anti -climax does not fully express what I felt. It was eerie - like being in a zombie movie of some sort.
However, the fact is that the authorities were in a dilemma. They had to guarantee the safety of the participants. But what it meant, in practice, was that in order to protect the freedom of assembly of a comparative few they had to curtail the freedom of movement of a substantially greater number of others. They were under, furthermore, international scrutiny - many embassies of major countries, including the US, having pledged support for the parade. My worry about all this, and it was expressed by others, is that the net result could present the rabid right with a major propaganda opportunity. Discontent here has led to the electoral success in the EU elections for a far-right party dedicated to restoring their particular vision of Hungarian identity. On the other hand, to have disallowed the parade would have given a green light to the bullies and bigots.
Others felt the parade to have been a complete success. The fact that it happened at all being the main thing. Those people whose sexuality is unacceptable to a vocal and violent minority have asserted their right to full and equal citizenship and had this right defended, at great financial cost, by the state of which they are citizens. That, however strange and slightly unsettling the parade was to me, is the most important fact.
Photos from Ukgaynews.org where a further report can be read