Failure or not? Strike and demonstration in Hungary

My political "nose" is pretty good. I was almost sure that neither the strikes nor the demonstration from six to eight o’clock on Kossuth Square in front of the Hungarian parliament would be as successful as the organizers hoped. They were talking about a general strike, but relatively few people took part in the strikes. Some of the railway employees stopped work for six hours. Out of the thousands of school teachers only 150 followed the lead of one of the smaller teachers’ unions. Out of the 150 or so hospitals in only one did the doctors and nurses stop working for a while. At the BKV, the Budapest public transportation system, there are twenty-seven trade unions!!! (Every time I hear the number I have to check whether I heard right or not! But yes, I did hear it right.) Out of the twenty-seven only two took part in the strike: for two hours between four and six o’clock in the morning!! Thus, the people of Budapest barely noticed that there was such a thing as a BKV strike. Over and above these there were a few energetic people who decided to drive out with their cars, and here and there they slowed traffic by blocking one side of the highways. Perhaps, in addition, in one county there was a strike by bus drivers on long-distance buses.

If the strike wasn’t exactly a great success, the demonstration can be called a real flop. The trade union leader of one of the trade unions at MÁV (Hungarian Railways) feverishly recruited over one hundred civic organizations to support the demonstration. The Fidesz actively supported this initiative. Telephone calls and SMS messages were sent to Fidesz supporters (it is handy to have a database even if it is illegal in Hungary) to come and demonstrate. An interesting medley of organizations participated–from Catholic mothers to the communist party. The hope was to have at least 50,000 people demonstrate. Instead the the numbers were about one tenth of this: 5,000. The demonstration was supposed to last two hours, but the crowd, made up mostly of older people, started leaving the square after an hour. Meanwhile the red and white striped flags of the extreme right began to show up and about 1,000 people, mostly youngsters and well-known faces from past disturbances, remained and began their usual games, throwing bottles and rocks, setting garbage cans on fire, attacking policemen, kicking and otherwise damaging cars. Some of them tried to stop a streetcar; when it couldn’t brake as quickly as the demonstrators expected, they dispersed fast enough. Many of the "brave" demonstrators wore masks. The whole thing was over in record time. By now the Hungarian police have had quite a bit of experience.

The trade union leaders keep saying what a great success the "Day of Solidarity" was, but what else can they say? The long-distance bus drivers swear that there will a nationwide strike, but somehow I have my doubts. The trade union leaders of MÁV say the same thing: there will be another, even longer strike, but again I’m not sure whether such threats will actually translate into action.

In the case of the MÁV it will be especially difficult to organize another strike because the government has once again postponed the decision to close some of the underutilized lines. The newest plan is to introduce bus lines between the villages that until now had been connected solely by rail. The stations were often outside of the villages, and the passenger first had to walk (sometimes a couple of miles) to reach the station. The buses will arrive in the main square of the village, and therefore they will be more convenient. They will be faster and the fare will be cheaper. The railways and the buses will compete with each other and then we will see, they say.

As for the unpopularity of the government: it is sinking lower and lower. While some of the MSZP parliamentary members think that slowing down the reforms or even stopping them will result in rebounding popularity for the party and the government, in my opinion the opposite is true. The more hesitant, the more frightened the MSZP members look and act, the worse their own sympathizers’ opinion about the party and the government will be. The government looks weak and impotent. I am convinced that bolder action is necessary.