The Hungarian police force: do they know what their role is?

As far as I can see, the Hungarian police force has completely lost its way. They are not alone. The reporters who normally show up on political shows on television are also confused. By now, one gets the impression that it was not the police who were attacked by the mob a year ago, but the "poor, innocent, peaceful demonstrators" who were attacked by the police. For no good reason. This myth was created by Krisztina Morvai’s Civil Legal Committee (Civil Jogászbizottság), a so-called independent organization that is supposed to defend those whose rights are violated by the authorities. In fact, this committee seems to be the instrument of the political right. At first, everybody who saw the mob attacking the police on the streets of Budapest just laughed, but soon enough myth became "reality." One hears only about the civilian victims, not a word about the almost four hundred policemen who were injured by these so-called peaceful demonstrators. Beside the media, the courts also assist in this mythologizing. More and more policemen are being accused of brutality, and one never hears about those who committed crimes on the other side. Those few demonstrators who were found guilty have received reduced sentences on appeal. Some people claim that this analysis is lopsided: it just happened that the court calendar is somewhat skewed and the policemen’s cases were handled first. We will see.

All this is accompanied by a total shake-up of the police force. New police chief of the country, new police chief of Budapest. One hears about this reorganization and that reorganization, disciplinary actions, and demotions. At the same time, because of new rules concerning retirement age and benefits, more and more seasoned policemen are retiring because it is more financially advantageous for them to retire now than at a later date. I also heard a policeman phoning György Bolgár inform the listeners that the policemen believe that the big wigs will not defend them, so when threats are expected, like today, they will call in sick. Otherwise, they might end up in court. In short, total demoralization.

I never heard the new police chief vigorously defend his men until yesterday, when at last it occurred to him to recall the almost four hundred policemen wounded by "the peaceful demonstrators." The spokesmen for the police force also seemed to be completely unable to react properly to the accusation that it was the policemen’s responsibility to distinguish on the spot between peaceful demonstrators and the not so peaceful ones. Nobody seems to question what on earth peaceful demonstrators were doing among rock throwing gangsters.

One could also ask why the police didn’t do something a week ago when a few people attacked parliamentary members leaving the building late at night. The police chief’s answer, to my mind, was inadequate. It seems that the MSZP-SZDSZ parliamentary members didn’t find it satisfactory either. Today, on the anniversary of Prime Minister Gyurcsány’s by now infamous speech, when disturbances were expected, they called in the police chief and the minister responsible for the force to make sure that similar inaction would not be repeated. Yet, from what I heard of today’s events, some people again got close to the cars of some parliamentary members. This time they were just yelling: "Traitors, traitors," but–oops–it turned out that their intelligence was faulty. The traitors, after all, were not traitors: they were Fidesz and Christian Socialist members. All forgiven! They are the good guys.

Put it this way. It is a good thing that these far-right trouble makers are losing steam and nothing serious happened today. I am not sure whether the police could have handled it properly.