Many years ago, in a previous lifetime, I had arranged to meet some friends in a bar in Alaska to play darts. I showed up to find them all hanging around outside. Apparently a customer who had had too much to drink (a customer who also had a Northern Irish accent), had made some obscure threat involving explosions and ashtrays. The building was evacuated and the cops were called. It was a bomb scare of sorts in a small town at the edge 1990s America.
The first thing that struck me was my friends’ complacency. I pointed out that if there was a bomb and it did go off, the door to the pub wouldn’t be much protection. I suggested moving across the street, preferably behind some parked cars. It all came to nothing in the end but the inane idea that by simply removing yourself from the premises you’d not be affected by the blast stayed with me.
Earlier this week, I landed in Budapest airport. I came through customs into the arrival hall at Terminal 2B. There were police everywhere, shepherding those waiting to one side, clearing a pathway between me and the door. Had I any illusions about my own importance, I might have been flattered. Instead I simply assumed that someone who was important in the Hungarian grand scheme of things was coming behind me.
I went outside to see more of the same. People were being corralled to the right when I wanted to go left to catch the 200E bus. I could see people waiting at the bus stop so I knew I had time. But progress was halted by two policemen who told me I couldn’t go there. I couldn’t walk the 40 metres to the bus stop because the area had to be cleared. There was a security alert.
I ran through a mental list of security threats. If it were a dangerous criminal, surely they would be handcuffed and escorted. If it were a pending arrest, the arrestee would hardly be armed, having navigated airport security before take-off. If it were a bomb, surely the whole area would be evacuated. Then I remembered that night in Alaska.
But no. These were trained policemen, not dart players on a night out. Surely they’d have more cop than that (pun intended). The bus was idling and I was anxious. I’d already had an unscheduled night’s stopover in Belgrade and I wanted to get home. I argued some more, pointing at the bus and the people and the empty 40 metres that separated us. And then they caved.
They said that if I crossed the road, and walked down the pathway on the opposite side, I could get to the bus. That would put three car widths between me and whatever security threat I was being guarded against. I didn’t need a gilt-edged invitation. I ran. I made the bus. And then I spent the entire journey to Kobanya Kispest marvelling at the folly of human nature.
Today I read that Russian intelligence agents are increasingly active in Hungary, because of what’s going on in Ukraine. Apparently they’re working in ‘semi-secret and clandestine operations’. This comes as no great surprise really. Hungary is the EU’s last post before hitting the Ukraine border and is now a buffer zone where Eastern and Western powers are attempting to get to know each other a little better.
And then I remembered … a flight from Moscow had landed just before mine. But then a flight from Ireland had landed just after. I wondered which one posed the bigger threat.
First published in the Budapest Times 16 May 2104