In Hungary, the fences of the absurd

By Jean-Baptiste Chastand

Posted today at 5:00 p.m.

This border was photographed from all angles in the summer of 2015. In the midst of the migrant crisis, the Hungarian nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, decides to build a 4-meter-high fence all along the border that separates his country from neighboring Serbia, from where tens of thousands of refugees flocked from Syria or Afghanistan, after having crossed Greece and the Balkans.

As Germany opens its doors wide, this fence becomes the symbol of the refusal of immigration that this small country of central Europe and its leader make a point of embodying, suddenly becoming the heralds of all the extreme rights of the Old Man. Continent. Images of hundreds of migrants colliding with this fence and with Hungarian police forces are circling the world, before the flows eventually dry up.

The absence of “enemies”

Four years later, in 2019, Rafal Milach returned to survey these tens of kilometers of fences, which now extend to Croatia. For this Polish photographer, who has specialized for ten years in observation “Propaganda mechanisms of corrupt contemporary democracies and authoritarian regimes”, this closure embodies the excesses of Viktor Orbán who, since 2010, has gradually turned his back on the rule of European law.

“The architecture of the borders is the most obvious thing to document of these governments which try to follow a nationalist ideology by provoking the fear of the migrants”, explains the photographer who, too, is well placed to know the excesses of Polish power, an ally of Hungary.

In Gara, the border between Hungary and Serbia.

By documenting the Hungarian surveillance system in all its details, lit by a flash, Rafal Milach accentuates the absurdity of a fence, which now bars the Danube plain, against an “enemy” less and less visible, the routes migrants having gradually turned away to other countries. “I spent two weeks along this border and I did not see a single person, apart from border guards and villagers”, says Rafal Milach. In places, the fence turns into simple rolls of barbed wire now eaten by vegetation.

His observation was completed with a visit to a salon where Hungary touted all its equipment for guarding the border. “There were scenes of pacification of riots in refugee camps”, remembers the photographer. Under his lens, the Hungarian police and military find themselves playing a junk war.

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