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Hungary: “How Many Policemen Does It Take to Arrest A Homeless Person?”

“How Many Policemen Does It Take to Arrest a Homeless Person?” was the title of a post on October 11, 2011 [hu] on Kettős Mérce blog [Double Standard], which included a video showing eight policemen arresting a homeless man in the District VIII of Budapest.

In fact, it was Attila Kopiás, blogging under the name of KA_Steve [hu], who pretended to be homeless and, with the help of Kettős Mérce's bloggers, recorded what happened after they had called the police and reported that there was a homeless person on a bench of a District VIII square.

The issue generated a huge debate after the mayor of the district, through a referendum, had banned homeless people from public spaces in September. Bloggers followed the cases happening in District VIII and published an order [hu] prosecuting a homeless man for “sitting on the stone with some of his fellows.”

The regulation literally forbids “staying in public space as a lifestyle.” Attila Kopiás told the bloggers of Kettős Mérce in an interview that he tried not to lie to the police, so when they asked him if he stayed at a public place “as a lifestyle” he replied that “it had happened before that I slept in a public place”.

He told Kettős Mérce:

[...] I didn't have any elaborate strategy, I was simply disgusted by the fact that people are not punished for their acts but for their condition. The idea came from me feeling an urge to do something against this unfair system. In addition to this, my mind was not able to accept that in 2011, in Hungary, it can happen that one can be arrested and handcuffed for notorious sitting/lying on a bench. [...] I reckoned with nobody taking care of me, and I simply wanted to see what really happens. [...]

Commenting on the action, KA_Steve raised the question of what differentiates someone having a picninc at a public space from a homeless. Reflecting this, a version of ‘Picnic in May’ – originally a painting by a 19th-century Hungarian artist – started to circulate on Facebook, published originally by the Tumblr user Prolidepp.

KA_Steve called for action on his blog [hu], sharing legal ways to protest the regulation that punishes those who live on the streets, move a trash can or engage in begging.

Attila wrote this [hu] on Kettős Mérce:

[...] But I want them [the homeless] to know there are people who stand up for them. The way we all want someone to stand up for us when we are in trouble.

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