journeys at home and abroad
I caught the early train from Belgrade to Budapest. As we approached the border, I noticed people sheltering from the rain in odd corners of the landscape.
Serbian border control was sharp-eyed – one of the officers noticed my small navy Muji notebook in the carriage (those old-fashioned but companionable six-seater compartments) and asked whose passport it was.
Familiar from TV last year, the newly erected razor wire and high fences at the border were obvious as we passed. “It’s the religion, really”, said a Hungarian on the train. “They’re not Catholic and they don’t want to be.” It seemed that “religion” was a proxy for a compilation of “otherness” which included differences in language, food and heritage.
Using “religion” as the catch-all makes integration seem a much harder task, if not impossible. Learning a new language is an add-on, but changing your religion is a lot more fundamental. His second worry was terrorism. “We don’t know who these people are”, he said. “They destroyed their papers so we have no way of identifying them.”
In Budapest, the railway station that overflowed with refugees this time last year now has the usual mix of Hungarian passengers and tourists. The border with Serbia is heavily patrolled, using infra-red equipment, helicopters and increased personnel.
I walked down to the Danube and got talking to another Hungarian. The refugees have all gone, he said, they’re in a big village. I guess he meant the camp at Kiskunhalas, which is closed (because some of those held there are awaiting deportation) and has seen some unrest.
Budapest and the areas close to the Austrian border are doing well, but much of the south and east of the country are not doing so well economically.
Budapest is a solid city, a bit like Glasgow, and the Danube was beautiful.