I was originally planning to write something about Hungarian education because I know that a lot of you are interested in the topic (as am I), but I somehow knew that the Hungarian Gay Pride Parade would not be as peaceful as we all hoped. Here's an update on what happened.
In Hungarian the Gay Pride Parade is called "Procession of Gay Dignity" (Meleg Méltóság Menete), and I must say that as far as I could see it was a very dignified walk all the way from Hősök tere to Erzsébet tér. That is a fairly long route. Here is a map that shows in red the areas the police blocked off from those groups who were likely to be troublemakers. So you can see that not only was the route sealed off but the neighboring streets as well. However, outside cafés along the route remained open, and large numbers of customers greeted the marchers enthusiastically. There were about 1,000 participants including former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and his wife; Tamás Bauer, former SZDSZ member of parliament; Mátyás Eörsi, SZDSZ MP; Péter Kende, writer; and András Léderer, former president of SZDSZ's New Generation. In addition there were representatives of Amnesty International, Democratic Charta, and other civic organizations. This was the first public appearance of the former prime minister since his resignation in March. On the picture you can see Gyurcsány, his wife, and Tamás Bauer.
The parade was supposed to start at 1:30 p.m. but it began an hour late because the participants wanted to join another demonstration organized by the Austrian anti-fascists. Dozens of people carried an enormous rainbow-colored flag in the parade. Apparently it was about 60 meters long.
I'm not sure how the police managed to keep the anti-gay groups outside the cordon but they were successful although trouble started even before the parade began. It was a relatively small group at Hősök tere but loud enough. First they used all sorts of four-letter words against gays and Jews, and when they discovered Gyurcsány in the crowd they had a few kind words for him as well. The police who until then hadn't been paying much attention to these guys at last intervened and removed them from the scene. However, farther down the road there were a few hundred demonstrators who tried to break through the cordon at Octogon. Again, they didn't succeed.The participants apparently weren't even aware of the upheaval outside the cordoned off area. By 4:30 about 300-400 people gathered at Deák tér where they attacked the police, and here the police had to use tear gas. The crowd began to disperse but unfortunately they then lingered in neighboring streets, including Dohány utca where the famous Budapest synagogue is situated. One can imagine what happened afterward. They called the Jews all sorts of names and tore down posters advertising the Jewish Summer Festival. All this was done while these savages were carrying Hungarian flags. How patriotic. Not far from Dohány utca there is the Astoria Hotel where another group gathered that began going along Rákóczi út to Corvin Department Store whose flat roof is used for all sorts of parties. Apparently some of the gays were planning to hold a party there. While about 150 people were gathering in front of the department store battling with the police, on Deák tér about 200 people were throwing bottles and rocks at the police and broke the windows of at least one car. Altogether 11 people were arrested. Some of these "gentlemen" apparently beat a young woman who wore a T-shirt identifying her as a participant in the parade. She was waiting for the street car when three men appeared from the underground passage in front of Astoria and, without saying a word, began to beat her. Because of the blows the woman fell on the ground. So, for good measure they kicked her several times. She suffered head and arm injuries.
One poster the marchers carried I simply loved. It says: "Set a good example for Slovakia on how to treat minorities." Indeed, they could think about this a bit. And one more thing. I was having a fairly heated discussion with some people in Hungary about today's events. They claimed that the media exaggerate and I who don't live in the country simply fall for the media presentation and overstate the problem. After all, the whole thing was not much. It was over in no time. In other parts of the city one didn't even know what was going on. The latest acts of vandalism were not directed against gays; this particular parade just gave them an opportunity to make trouble because they are trouble makers. They are looking for any excuse. I tried to explain that, although it is possible that someone living in Óbuda or Svábhegy didn't notice a thing, unfortunately the world was not oblivious. Both countries and individuals tried to exercise moral and political suasion before the parade. The thirteen embassies did, Whoopi Goldberg did, the Canadian MPs did. Let's not lessen the significance of all this. The picture that is emerging of Hungary lately is not flattering. A country where the extreme right is making great strides, where the political culture is unspeakably low, and where corruption is all too often the norm. In addition to this trouble, thanks to the country's president Hungary is having serious problems with her neighbors. Let's not kid ourselves by saying that in a country where 1,000 peaceful marchers must be defended from barbarian skinheads by 1,000 riot police everything is just peachy pie and we are just exaggerating.