Usually weekends are quiet on the Hungarian political front, but today an MSZP extraordinary congress is being held behind closed doors and it’s also the day for the Gay Pride Parade. As far as I could ascertain, the socialists are still meeting and therefore I can’t give a full account of today’s proceedings. Zsolt Török, the party’s spokesman, periodically informed the reporters of what was going on. The impression the journalists gained was that up to now it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. There are very deep divisions within the party leadership. There are a few very noisy people who keep talking about “turning left” without ever explaining what they mean. On the other side there was Ferenc Gyurcsány who named those whom he considers “dishonest people.” According to most people, this in-fighting is not good for the party. Which side will come out victorious? At this point I couldn’t even fathom a guess.
So, let the socialists fight it out among themselves and let’s instead talk a little bit about the “Revolution of the Clowns.” According to commentators who are not exactly friends of Viktor Orbán something really important happened Thursday afternoon and night. The beginning of a united and wide front in defense of democracy. Because, let’s face it, Orbán has begun a systematic dismantling of the democratic institutions that were established after 1989. He is no longer even hiding his intention to perpetuate his own regime even after he is gone. A week ago he gave an interview to an Austrian tabloid, Neue Kronen Zeitung, in which he made no secret of his plans. He boasted about his intention to tie the hands of not only the next but the next ten governments. That is forty years.
But some Hungarians have different ideas about his fate. The following picture was taken by a young American of Hungarian extraction who happened to be in Budapest:
The reference is to an Orbán speech from 2006 that was leaked. He was talking about possible illegalities committed by Fidesz activists during the campaign silence. Orbán told them not to fear. Fidesz will hire good lawyers and that will be the end of it.
How many people were there and who were they? Estimates vary widely, from a few thousand to 35,000. The reason for this discrepancy is that it was an ongoing affair starting at 4:00 p.m. and ending late at night. We do know that almost 20,000 people “withdrew” the votes they cast last year for Fidesz. As for the composition of the crowd there were naturally a lot of trade union members, but young people were well represented as well. Clearly, the demonstration was not only in defense of narrow professional interests but was also against the kind of regime Viktor Orbán is building.
Most people comment on the contrast between this free-flowing, playful, and happy gathering and the Fidesz super-demonstrations where the crowd listened to the leader’s speech as if in a trance. This demonstration for the first time managed to gather people from all walks of life. The earlier big demonstration on March 15th organized by the Facebook group was mostly a gathering of intellectuals. This time the same Facebook people joined trade unions workers, pensioners, and everybody who cared to show up. When HírTV, a right-wing television station, announced that there were only 2,000 people at the demonstrations when the real numbers were a multiple of this figure, the crowd became furious.
The organizers gathered bits and pieces of old Orbán speeches which clearly showed the discrepancy between Orbán’s words while in opposition and his actions now. If Fidesz and Jobbik supporters were screaming on the top of their lungs two years ago: “Gyurcsány, takarodj!” (Gyurcsány, scram!) anti-Fidesz demonstrators kept yelling: “Orbán, takarodj!” There were several not very flattering pictures of Orbán. Here is one:
I’m pretty sure that Viktor Orbán finds all this very difficult to swallow. He is simply not accustomed to such a display of displeasure with his person. For his entire political life he has been surrounded by admiring fans. Moreover, he is being shielded by his staff. I’m certain that from here on Orbán will not appear in public too often.
So, the opposition is not only steadily growing but is becoming united as well. The only thing that is missing is a party they would feel good voting for.
The crowd lasted late into the night when they marched from Alkotmány utca across the Danube on the Chain Bridge all the way up to the Sándor Palace. As you can see, even at that late hour the crowd was impressive:
And then there was the Gay Pride Parade today. According to descriptions there were about 1,500-2,000 demonstrators and about 500 counter-demonstrators. The procession started at the end of Andrássy Street and ended at Alkotmány utca and Kossuth tér. The gays and lesbians were not only commemorating the events in New York at the Stonewall Bar but were also protesting the discrimination against them in the new Hungarian constitution. The counter-demonstrators gathered at the Oktogon but the organizers of the parade outwitted them. Conspiring with the police, they changed the route to avoid the Oktogon. As usual, the parade was colorful:
It looks like a happy and friendly affair. According to MTI people along Andrássy út who were sitting in outside cafés were smiling and waving at them. The same thing couldn’t be said of the counter-demonstrators. Here is one of them:
It must have been very frustrating for the members of this group to realize that they had been outfoxed. They stood there for hours and the procession never arrived.
There were a lot of policemen but their presence was not oppressive. I must say that the current police chiefs of Budapest seem to have slightly larger brains than their predecessors. All in all, everything went off much better than I expected based on the experiences of the last four to five years. As a radio reporter introduced his conversation with a colleague on the spot: “Let’s see whether we are closer to Vienna or to Belgrade, Kiev, and Moscow.” Well, not quite Vienna yet.