Demonstrations and a speech–nothing has changed

I must say that I was happy to see that Ibolya David, chairwoman of Magyar Demokrata Fórum, today in Napkelte (Sunrise) spoke about the state of the Hungarian police force in terms almost identical with my own in yesterday’s blog. It also seems that Sándor Friderikusz in his program (aired today but recorded yesterday afternoon) on ATV found it alarming that neither the Hungarian legal system nor the police force is capable of handling the current situation. The founders of Hungary’s Third Republic were far too optimistic about the future: in their worst dreams they couldn’t imagine a day when skinheads would send their fellow Hungarians to Auschwitz or when well-dressed older "gentlemen" would spit into the face of one of the parliamentary members and gleefully discuss the revolting results. Hungarian law has no remedy for solving a situation when the most numerically insignificant minority can completely paralyze a city. The law governing the freedom of assembly doesn’t just allow demonstration on a fixed spot but also permits lengthy trips of demonstrators from point A to point B. Yesterday’s organizers picked two points on the Pest side very far from each other, which meant closing down main arteries in an already normally congested city. Their numbers at the beginning were around 150, but as they wended their way through the city they picked up more sympathizers until they amassed a crowd of about 4,000. At the end, as I predicted, not much happened: speech after speech, boredom, people leaving, a few people wanting to enter the parliament building but of course they were not allowed. The spitting was repeated. This time, the victim was a young SZDSZ member, Péter Gusztos. The police looked on and did nothing. When asked, the new spokesman (actually spokeswoman, whose name I haven’t yet managed to learn) answered calmly that an act such as spitting into a person’s face falls under the aegis of "free expression of opinion," and therefore the police don’t have to do anything. Of course, I am just amazed. No, more than amazed. I can’t believe my ears. I am outraged.

In any case, yesterday’s attempt at a change of regime failed. The protestors were expecting about 20,000, and instead there were only about 4,000, and these 4,000 quickly experienced internal dissension. One group became sore because another group was too meek and mild. They considered their own failure at blockading ministries and the parliament itself due to the other group’s cowardly behavior. If only they had been a bit more forceful, everything would have been different. And they were ready to act today. If the regime didn’t fall yesterday, it would surely fall today. Well, if it is at all possible, today’s demonstration was an even bigger flop. Only about 150 people gathered in front of the MTV (Magyar Televízió) building with the intention of reading a petition on air. MTV took the petition and put it on its homepage but refused to have it read live on television. Then about 60 skinheads appeared on the scene dressed in black, and the "milder" group fled, crying "provocation." The brave skinheads ran away in the face of a significant police presence.

Tomorrow the Magyar Gárda tries its luck at fomenting revolution, this time in front of the building of Magyar Rádió. Given all the publicity surrounding its formation, it will be interesting to see the response to its demonstration.

And now for the speeches. Viktor Orbán, very wisely, I think, didn’t organize a "peaceful demonstration" near those whose intentions were less than peaceful. That is what he did a year ago on October 23. He purposely picked a place very close to Kossuth Square (in front of the parliament building) that fostered the mingling of so-called peaceful demonstrators with the mob. His choice of site for the Fidesz demonstration last year was, let us say (echoing his description of his meeting with Sarkozy), "strange." It took place in front of the Astoria Hotel where two very large, heavily trafficked streets meet: Kiskőrút and Rákóczi/Kossuth Lajos utca. The Astoria and its surroundings played no significant role in the 1956 revolution (except for the fact that I lived across from it and the first Soviet tanks I had the pleasure of seeing decided to park in the middle of that intersection). I can’t imagine that the choice of this place was not calculated with some ulterior motive.

This time the Fidesz supporters didn’t gather on the street. Only about 1,200 invited guests were allowed to hear Viktor Orbán’s speech. The video of the speech is available on HírTV (a right-wing Hungarian CNN). It seems that Orbán’s only hope is a successful referendum. According to him, if enough people vote and if the no’s are in the majority, then Gyurcsány’s government must resign. But why? Because the majority of the people don’t want to pay 300 Ft as co-payment? Or because the majority of the people want to buy non-prescription drugs only in pharmacies and not over the counter outside of pharmacies? Surely, this wouldn’t be the case even if the referendum were valid and successful from the point of view of the Fidesz. I understand that Orbán wanted to give munition to those who will be voting at a future referendum, but for the time being we don’t even know when or whether this referendum will take place. Gyurcsány promised a vigorous campaign against the Fidesz proposals. So all sorts of things can happen as far as this referendum is concerned.

The only point in the speech that I found telling was a sentence in which Orbán said that the "coalition parties are outside the boundaries of democracy." This for me reaffirms the supposition that Orbán tried to explain to Sarkozy that "this is not a democracy," a statement that prompted Sarkozy to get up and leave about five or ten minutes after he arrived. After hearing this, I’m sure that the newspapermen’s intelligence of the conversation was correct. As for MSZP reaction to Orbán’s speech: "old politician, old story, no program." A lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.