That is what some of the demonstrators thought at the huge demonstration in front of the Hungarian parliament building. Others sent Viktor Orbán packing and on the picture below he and his two-thirds majority are shown the “red card,” which is the indication that a soccer player who committed a foul must leave the field.
The demonstration began at 2:30 p.m. but MTI reported on the event for the first time only shortly after 3:00 p.m. At that time they announced that the square was almost full and that the demonstration was staged in defense of democracy, social security, human rights, and the rights of workers.
In the same article MTI repeated an announcement from the office of the government spokesman, published earlier, in which the office reiterated that although every trade union and civil organization has the right to demonstrate, at the same time “the cabinet deeply regrets that some of the trade union leaders don’t represent the interests of the people but put their own political ambitions ahead.” For good measure the government’s position was made clear: it doesn’t matter how often these organizations demonstrate, Viktor Orbán and his cabinet will not change their minds. They will go ahead with the “renewal of the country,” and the work on the new labor code and other cardinal laws will continue.
MTI’s second report on the event was filed at 6:00 p.m. From it we learned that the organizers read a manifesto “in which among other things they demanded putting an end to the continuation of retroactive laws, the revival of social dialogue, the right to strike, and the reestablishment of the old system of early retirement for policemen, soldiers, and firefighters. What followed was a brief description of some of the speeches. The summary did mention that “at the end of the speeches the audience many times demanded the departure of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.”
According to other sources there were 50,000-60,000 people present representing more than 100 trade unions and civil organizations. The demonstration was certainly more than an ordinary trade union demonstration that usually demands better wages or better working conditions. Both the speeches and the posters sent political messages. “I admit if I make a mistake,” read one poster referring to the many unacknowledged mistakes Viktor Orbán has made. Another poster demanded “Real democracy for Hungary!”
Newspapers reported that the organizers have nine demands:
We demand a fair and equitable tax system!
We demand a halt to retroactive jurisdiction!
We demand the reestablishment of the institution of dialogue between employers, employees, and the government!
We demand that any change in the labor code should be made only after consultation with the employers and employees!
We demand the restoration of the former regulations concerning early retirement in the services!
We demand an equitable transition for changes in the laws concerning pensions. New regulations should affect only those who are now entering the workforce!
We demand that any changes affecting employees’ careers should be done only after consultation with the trade unions!
We demand the restoration of the right to strike!
We demand a stop to the violation of the rights of the trade unions!
Someone recited Gyula Illyés’s famous poem “Egy mondat a zsarnokságról,” which can be read in English as well at that link. We mustn’t forget that this poem was written during the darkest days of the Rákosi regime. On the lighter side, the organizers asked people to bring empty orange juice containers from which they built a wall which was torn down to the tune of Pink Floyd’s song “Another Brick in the Wall.”
Among the speakers there was a university student. According to her the whole law on higher education from the first word to the last is “nonsense” which deprives tens of thousands of youngsters from attending college. Viktor Orbán finding himself with so much power “has lost his mind,” but he should face the current situation. The fact that the university student associations were represented is an important development. Until now universities and colleges were strongholds of Fidesz and these student associations provided a steady stream of young party leaders.
The pensioners were also represented because it is becoming increasingly likely that there will be changes in the laws governing pensions. The older generation is becoming fearful that their financial security is being threatened by the Orbán government. The speaker on behalf of the pensioners emphasized solidarity between the younger and older generations.
The revelation that emerged from the U.S. cables that Viktor Orbán had informed members of the diplomatic corps that they shouldn’t take too seriously what he says is doing serious damage to Orbán’s by now quite shaky reputation. One of the speakers, the leader of the firefighters, talked about the disappointment many people feel today. A year and a half ago they voted for Fidesz because they believed what Viktor Orbán said, but if they “had known that one doesn’t have to pay attention to what he says, we wouldn’t have to be here today.”
I don’t think that this demonstration will achieve anything in the short term, but the fact that more than 100 trade unions and civic organizations managed to create a Hungarian version of the Polish Solidarity movement signals that something is brewing.