Demonstrations planned for October 23 in Hungary

One good piece of news: the electoral committee tonight threw out forty-three referendum questions that had been submitted by individuals. But this is not the end: there are seventy more, I assume among them the MSZP’s and the Fidesz’s questions, that will have to be decided.

Tomorrow the Fidesz will start collecting the requisite 600,000 signatures for the three referendum questions–concerning tuition, hospital fee, and co-pay–that have been approved. Viktor Orbán boasted that they would be able to collect these signatures within forty-eight hours. On the one hand, this announcement is designed to show the extraordinary support the Fidesz has. On the other, I’m sure that Orbán wants to announce the successful completion of this task on October 23 when the Fidesz plans to hold a rally. Rumor has it that the only reason they are able to collect so many signatures in such a short time is because they already have a large database that they have been collecting for some time. (Fair enough, and a tougher job in Hungary than in the U.S. since Hungarians don’t have to declare themselves to be either a member of a particular party or an independent in order to register to vote.) In any case, even when the signatures are collected, the electoral committee still has to certify each signature’s validity. According to experts in such matters it is wise to collect at least one-third more than the necessary number of signatures because a goodly number of the collected signatures turn out to be invalid. That is, close to a million signatures in forty-eight hours. Quite a feat!

Until yesterday I was fairly optimistic about October 23. I was almost sure that the disturbances of last year would not be repeated. I based my optimism on several factors. First, it seemed to me that the extreme right’s activity was in decline. Or, to be more precise, the numbers they managed to bring to the streets had dwindled. Second, I hoped (and often, with regard to the Hungarian police, this hope is closer to wishful thinking) that the police are better trained and better equipped than a year ago. Third, I sensed that the extreme right doesn’t feel the support of Fidesz behind it.

Today, I am somewhat less optimistic. Fidesz is not satisfied with a mass meeting in front of the Astoria Hotel. Orbán plans to lead his people (perhaps as many as 100,000 or more) through the Károly körút-Deák tér-Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út to the House of Terror on Andrássy út. Part of this route (between Deák tér and Astoria) is where the worst battles between the mob and the police took place a year ago. That the Fidesz picked this particular route is provocative. The Budapest police are worried about the Fidesz demonstration because of the long route and the possibility of extreme elements joining the crowd.

One thing is sure. More and more people are holding their breath, but Ferenc Gyurcsány is not afraid. There were rumors that he might not attend all the events of the day, but the government spokesman denied these rumors. However, just to give a taste of the atmosphere in Hungary. In Balmazújváros yesterday morning people found the following two sentences on the wall of the MSZP’s office: "Traitors, band of filthy thieves! You will be hanging soon!" No wonder that some people on these national "holidays" get into their cars and drive somewhere where life is more peaceful: abroad or in the countryside. Anywhere, just not in Budapest.