Almost a year after President Trump assured a stricken nation that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville riots, a law banning homeless people from public spaces went into effect in Hungary. At first glance, the two events seem connected only by the similarities of the populists–Viktor Orban and Donald Trump–who presided over them. They are also, however, united by the effects they produced: the politicization of public space. The Hungarian legislation and the turmoil caused by Trump’s moral equivalencies reveal how politicized space is not a distracting side effect of populist politics; rather, public space treated as a symbol of national identity is a defining characteristic of populism.
Swept under the rug in Hungary
On October 15th, a law a banning homeless people from Hungary’s World Heritage Sites and other public places went into effect. The law is the culmination of an escalating series of attempts to target the homeless, efforts which led Viktor Orban’s government to amend the Constitution to protect legislation passed last year from judicial oversight. At a time when Hungary faces a host of pressing challenges, from the migrant crisis to an escalating confrontation with the EU, Viktor Orban’s party is sinking an inordinate amount of time and energy into punishing the homeless. The question is: why the outsized investment for such a seemingly marginal reward?