This morning I heard one of the right-wing organizers explain that his organization is a peaceful group of concerned citizens. They just want to defend family values. Their only aim is to stop the yearly gay pride parade in Budapest because they consider it a form of advertising for homosexuality. But they will never resort to force. The organization’s name is Rendszerváltó Fórum. And what do I see in the online edition of Népszabadság tonight? “The most forceful attack against the demonstrators came from Rendszerváltó Fórum’s meeting at Franz Liszt Square.” Well, well! The report continues: “On the square the demonstrators tried to break the cordon [the police had erected] and attacked the police, who answered with tear gas.” At the far end of Andrássy Street, on Heroes’ Square, hooded and often masked demonstrators attacked the policemen, using Molotov cocktails, rocks, eggs, whatever. Here the police used water cannons as well as tear gas. Because of the “battle” on Heroes’ Square the police diverted the participants in the parade off the main road. In order to make sure that they were not attacked after the parade was over, as happened last year, the police directed the gays into the old nineteenth-century metro that was closed to the public for the duration. That way they could leave the scene without insults or bodily harm.
However, some people were not so lucky. József Orosz, a reporter for Klub Rádió, was recognized at the Kodály Circle. His attackers first abused him verbally, but soon enough they became violent. He was hit on the head and on the shoulder. For a brief period he lost consciousness. According to Orosz, one of his attackers yelled to the mob: “Come here, you can spit on Orosz.” Orosz is a liberally minded reporter and hence often the target of the extreme right. Gábor Horn, the SZDSZ politician, was also recognized by three young guys who spat on him, poured beer all over him, and at the end slapped him around. Gábor Szetey, former undersecretary in charge of the reform of public administration and the only member of the government who openly admitted to being gay, was recognized as he was leaving the scene with Katalin Lévai, a MSZP member of the parliament of the European Union. They managed to survive the ordeal unscathed thanks to a police car that came to their rescue. The mob subsequently broke the window of the car, but the passengers were unharmed. Lévai, who is a great champion of equal opportunity in Brussels, was shaken. She expressed her total amazement at the behavior of the extremist demonstrators. The whole scene reminded her of what she imagined to be the mood at a lynching or a pogrom. She added that it was horrifying to witness the egg and rock throwing and the physical attacks. Something like that shouldn’t happen in a European city, she said. She will write a report to the socialist delegation of the European Parliament and also to the head of the organization dealing with gay rights.
How can this happen? Why is it that until two years ago these gay pride parades went off without any trouble? First and foremost, I blame Fidesz and its leader for encouraging “civil disobedience” against the “illegitimate” government. Fidesz often called people to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the government. And once a large group of people assembles trouble is near. Especially if there is alcohol involved. And it seems that alcohol is always involved. Yes, but one could say: this attack on the gays wasn’t against the government. By the end, however, the slogans were directed against Gyurcsány and his government, and the whole atmosphere reminded the reporters present of the September-October events of 2006. One of the favorite slogans was: “Gyurcsány takarodj, vidd a buzi haverod” (Gyurcsány get lost and take your queer crony with you.” I assume the rhyme pattern dictated using this Yiddish slang word in the singular. In any case, it is clear that even the presence of homosexuals is blamed on the government.
Another reason for the attacks on the gay parade is the lack of any serious penalty for bad behavior. Once force is used on the streets and the police are hesitant and the courts are too easy on the attackers and too hard on the defenders of order, these guys are no longer afraid. They know that nothing terrible is going to happen to them. They can laugh the whole thing off, they think it’s fun. Moreover, Hungarian law seems to have a very expansive notion of the freedom of speech. For example, courts ruled that throwing eggs is nothing more than expressing one’s convictions and that people throwing eggs or tomatoes are just upright citizens exercising their democratic rights. Thus the members of the mob were not even hiding their cartons of eggs. After all, you know, democracy, freedom of speech.
I’m not sure what can be done about all this but something ought to be. Tightening the laws concerning assembly and freedom of speech would be in order, but given the political situation it seems a very difficult task.