By Hakeem Babalola
On that summer night, Dan P and Prince had gone to Café de Rio at Petofi Híd in Budapest to enjoy themselves. At the gate, two muscular men - apparently bouncers - stopped them. The two gentlemen were refused entry while other party goers got a warm welcome. Dan P and Prince demanded to know the reason for being fenced. The bouncers’ explanation deeply shocked these two Africans.
"It's an instruction from the owner not to let you in," said one of the bouncers. "Two days ago, police came here looking for three black men in connection with drugs, so we have been instructed not to let blacks in. Now go away."
On the same night, Krizta, my Hungarian friend and I went to the same Café de Rio. I was also refused entry while Krizta was greeted with a smile. She could go inside but not with me. Being terribly shocked, she declined and insisted on going in with me. I guess she had never seen such unfair treatment of a person or group on the basis of prejudice - in her life. She was so much disturbed that Daniel, Prince and I had to calm her down. "But they can’t do something like this," she kept saying.
Unlike Daniel, Prince and Krizta, I was not struck with fear of any kind. Why should I? After all, I had previously exposed a similar club named Hully Gully (now closed down) for refusing entry to Africans under the pretense of a private club. In those days Africans had to pretend to be American or British before they were allowed entry into Hully Gully. So I was not even angry with the bouncers; they were simply doing their job. Besides, I was in no mood for their brainless gabble.
But I made desperate attempt to speak with the owner. The issue at stake was so sensitive and thus required more than mere muscle power, hence my desperation to speak with someone with less muscle. Our attempt to reach the owner proved abortive. Meanwhile we passed the night at Zöld Pardon - the Club at the other side. As much as I tried, I couldn't get it from my mind, especially when I had been allowed entry into the same Café de Rio a week before.
Still overwhelmed by the intensity of such discrimination, Krizta took it upon herself to make sure something was being done. She sent a protest letter to the media; contacted National Ethnic Minority Ombudsman and other Human Rights Organisations. She seemed to be offended more than three of us put together. "Her reaction and that of people like her," said Prince, "is what keeps us going in this country."
In order to re-test the entry policy, I went to Café de Rio again. Alas, the situation was the same. Although as intimidating as they look, at no time did the bouncers result to physical abuse. They were just not in the mood to see dark faces. They were even generous enough to give me their boss telephone number. It was genuine but each time I called the boss, he "banged" his mobile phone. He was such a difficult man, and even threatened to deal with me should I persist in my "stupid" story. So I had no choice than to believe the bouncers.
Now let us examine the reason stated by the security guards for refusing entry to "blacks". The excuse sounds so implausible at first that I wondered if the security guards could be telling the truth. Just because law enforcement agents were looking for three black men, then they must be looking for all black men in Hungary! We need to tell this man that his irrational decision is offensive to "blacks" all over the world. Or does he think insulting "blacks" is so mundane that no one would raise an eye brow?
I am not sure whether the owner of Café de Rio would likewise instruct the bouncers to fend off all white people, had the police were looking for three white men in connection with drugs. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I wouldn’t mind if anyone had been refused entry on the suspicious of causing trouble. I sense the owner of Café de Rio must have been waiting for an opportunity like this in order to carry out such bigotry message. Thank God people like him are not at the helm of affairs, otherwise all of us blessed with dark skin would be languishing in jail by now.
But we should enlighten him that racial prejudice is always a delicate issue; it calls for sound judgement rather than hypothetical reasoning. He must also be told in plain language that his presumption was not only wrong but un-called for. In case of ignorance, we should as well educate this man about the fact that, same race does not necessarily connote one people. Therefore, his supposition that all "blacks" are criminal is unjustified.
"The thing worries me, and I am disappointed," groaned Prince who has lived in Hungary for twenty years. "It’s simply discrimination. Enough is enough."
Eriksson, a Swede who spoke to me after witnessing the situation, puts it succinctly: "You mean they refused you entry because of your colour? They can’t do that in Sweden. The place will close down if you can prove it."
A Nigerian living in Sweden agrees with Eriksson's statement. "Yes o! It will be closed down," screamed Adeola Aderounmu. "Or you guys will be smiling to the bank by now. But sometimes sha, Swedish bouncers can be ridiculous. Where they have dress codes, you just also need to know how to make them not to have excuses. And sometimes, there's something called Legitimation - valid ID."
Well, the Hungarian constitution specifically outlaws any form of discrimination in private enterprises open to the public. Yet discrimination against minorities at some nightclubs is not a new complain heard at City Hall. "But I can’t imagine a situation like this," said Balasz Endrenyi, an officer at the Mayor Office. "It’s unbelievable that such thing is happening."
The founder of Mahatman Gandi Human Right’s Movement, Jibril Deen, was not surprised to hear such discrimination. "Of course that’s their usual song," he said. "Our disco is a private club."
Katalin Korda, a secretary at the National Ethnics Minority Ombudsman was taken aback when she heard the story. "It’s astonishing, she said, "to refuse someone because of his or her skin colour. It’s an insult." Unfortunately, the National Ethnics Minority Ombudsman has no official power to open investigation against private persons, according to its lawyer, Katalin Haraszti.
To some people such discrimination is both hypocrisy and immaturity. "The whole thing is a child’s play," groaned Dan, who is a naturalised Hungarian. "Imagine they don’t want blacks in their Café but they play black music. Isn’t it hypocrisy?"
Author’s note: The first incident happened in the summer of 2002 and nothing has changed since then. Every time I pass through Café do Rio, the experience lingers in my memory. Budapest Sun, the only English newspaper at the time refused to publish this article. It is the reason I parted with them.