By: Marietta Le
Many citizen actions have been organized in the past weeks in Budapest in protest against the modification of the law that would punish “recurrent residing in public places” with an increased fine of €530 or imprisonment. The law is supposed to come into force by December 1, 2011.
Mate Kocsis, mayor of the 8th district forbade rummaging through garbage in the 8th district. Despite the fact that the ombudsperson for civil rights found the Budapest ordinance unconstitutional, hundreds of homeless people have been subjected to short-term arrest by the police in the past months on the grounds of the ordinance, and dozens of self-made homes have been destroyed by the authorities.
The drafters of the law argue that imprisoning homeless people is a “dissuasive” form of sanction. This is very cynical and ignores the fact that homeless people are often obliged to use public space to survive because of a lack of services, especially ones adapted to their needs. Framing homelessness as an offence subtracts the question of homelessness from social policies. It also constitutes a denial of state responsibility for what is often a result of structural problems and belies a culture of blaming homeless people for their situation.
The day after the law passed on November 11, a citizen group called Börtön helyett lakhatást (Housing, Not Prison) organized a sit-in protest in Máté Kocsis’ mayor’s office. (The mayor of District VIII is also the referee of the homeless issues to the governing party in Parliament.)
Index.hu news site’s video of the sit-in and the arrests with English subtitles is here.
A week later, a silent protest was organized [hu] in front of the Parliament. A photo gallery of Kettős Mérce is here. A ‘counter-post’ [hu] was published on Mandiner, also with a photo gallery of the same event.
Börtön helyett lakhatást group called for solidarity with the homeless by staying on the streets of Budapest on the night when the regulation is coming into effect (Night of Solidarity Facebook event [hu]).
KA Steve, an activist known for hacking the District VIII regulation, blogged the following onKettős Mérce [hu], stating that the modification will fail because citizens finally have to stand up and say no:
From December 1, 2011, thousands of innocent people may be sent to prison. This is not about disputable stances, abstract political questions, smaller or bigger shady dealings, ridiculous paintings [referring to the new Hungarian constitution which has been illustrated with paintings ordered by the special commissioner of the Prime Minister], and it’s not even about social justice. It can’t be repeated enough times: this is about the fact that innocent citizens may be sent to prison.
And this is our responsibility. Years later, our grandchildren will ask what we have done, but it’s eventually us who will have to account for our conscience. And saying “I ‘liked’ the news” or “commented on them” won’t be a satisfying feeling.
Today the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) started a campaign [hu] against the modification of the law, calling on citizens to write protest letters to the Minister of the Interior and to Máté Kocsis, the referee of the homeless issues.
The campaign goes with the following video that compares the price of two nights spent at luxurious Budapest hotels to the price of spending two nights on a public bench. It should not be evident, but, of course, the latter one is more expensive.