It’s not like the cops here are unusually violent – they don’t have to be. The true terror of the police in Nyócker is rather that the usual violence that necessarily accompanies the centralization of political power is so casually received. Népszínház utca has become a militarized border zone to the rest of Budapest with armed patrols of men called “rendőrség” keeping the poor, dark-skinned, and needy at bay. If you are white and look like you have a few forint to rub together, your social visa is assumed to be valid and you are free to move about. If not, you had better have your passport ready for inspection.
I walked home from the 7th last night with a couple of my neighbors whom I hadn’t met before. I met them on Rákóczi when they first asked me for some money and then a cigarette and on both attempts came up dry.
“You don’t have any money?”
“Nope. I’m a student. I left my money in that bar there,” - my weak and highly misleading line that politely denies cash without refusing some basic sociability.
“Are they students too?” one of the boys asked pointing to my drinking companions whom I had met earlier that night.
“Yeah, but they’re German.”
I helped them communicate their request to my Western European friends and after taking a victory drag from their hard-won Pall Mall, they asked me where I was from. I introduced myself and added my name to my origins.
“Are you guys from Budapest?” I asked in turn.
“Nyócker!” one of the boys proudly responded, “Real Nyócker gypsies!”
They told me their names and I gleefully revealed that we were neighbors. As it turned out, we all lived just off Népszínház around the Turkish market. It was three in the morning and I was on my way home so I invited them to walk with me.
After a couple swigs from their truly terrible semi-sweet red wine, some fond mutual quizzing about the landmarks of our little corner of Nyócker - “Ismered ____?” “Igen! De jó!” - and a re-christening of each of us in turn – for the rest of the night they would be known as ‘Superman’ and ‘Batman’ and I, of course, ‘Spiderman’ - the conversation turned to the darker side of the greater Népszínház area: the heroin, the methamphetamines, etc.
We stopped in front of the right-wing élelmiszer and briefly entertained the idea of another drink. At first I outright refused on principle, saying to my companions in my limited Hungarian that I don’t want to give these “Jobbik Nazis” any money and tried to express my surprise that a couple of guys who self-identify as gypsies would go anywhere near the place.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Batman said, “We understand, but also we want to drink.”
“Good point.” I admitted, but it didn’t matter anyway because I didn’t have enough money for any drink worth sharing.
We walked around a bit more, deeper into Népszínház and took a turn around Mátyás tér conversing as best we could given my awful and inebriated Hungarian. Finally, turning towards Köztársaság tér, and consequently my home, a couple of eager-beaver cops came up behind us and demanded to know what we were doing there.
“We live here!” I responded – I should have asked what they were doing there.
They demanded to see our IDs. I asked why but my traveling companions shot me a pleading look which I interpreted as something like, “Please, please don’t piss them off…”
Staring at my ID the cop, with annoying incredulity, asked, “You live here?”
This made my gypsy buddies laugh but I wasn’t really feeling the humor.
“Yes, it is a nice area!” I replied loudly and indignantly, “Look here’s the Tesco and there’s the park, we have two great bakeries right there, Texas Söröző, Turkish market… I love it here! I love Népszínház!”
The cops began to search our pockets one by one, of course finding nothing of interest. While one of their grubby hands was rummaging through my change pocket I exclaimed, “Come on, this can’t be normal. Is this normal in Hungary?”
The asshole looked at me with amazement,
Finally, as his partner finished investigating Superman’s matchbox, looking very much like a monkey with a Rubik’s cube, I asked once again for my ID card. Finally reunited with it, I shrugged and shook hands with Batman and Superman wishing them a good night and thanking them for the company before leaving them with the empty-handed police.
We were stopped and searched because a white guy was hanging out with some gypsies in an area where that sort of mixing is not allowed. However, even had I not been there yesterday, I’m certain that Batman and Superman would have been stopped and searched that night anyway. This evening I watched three more gypsy-looking fellas get stopped and harassed by cops on Népszínház. It is endemic, it is systematic, and worst of all, it is banal. ACAB.