Here I will give a recent example of the insidious nature of the Orbán regime. According to the new constitution’s Article VIII(1) “Every person shall have the right to peaceful assembly.” Nice and democratic, isn’t it? Surely, nobody could find fault with it. But let’s see how freedom of assembly works in practice.
March 15, the national holiday celebrating the outbreak of the 1848 revolution and war of independence, is approaching. If you recall, last year a Facebook-organized group called One Million for Freedom of the Press, lately nicknamed Milla, organized the largest pro-democratic demonstration up to that point. (It was subsequently surpassed in size by the anti-government crowd who gathered in front of the Opera House to protest the new constitution on January 2.) According to reports the Milla demonstration last year, appropriately held on Szabad Sajtó út (Free Press Road), was larger than the official celebration in front of the National Museum where the government hired young people to enthusiastically applaud Viktor Orbán’s speech.
Surely, the Orbán regime didn’t want a repeat performance this year, especially since Fidesz support stands at its lowest ever: 16%. The normal place for the official celebration of March 15 is the National Museum and Kossuth Square in front of the parliament building. But this year they announced to the Budapest police that they also want to celebrate at Ferenciek tere, Március 15-e tér, Erzsébet híd, the area around the office of the MPs (Fehér Ház), the road to the Vár, Horváth kert in Buda, the National Theater, and the area around the Művészetek Palotája. Here is a map from the blog orulunkvincent of the areas claimed by Fidesz.
But this is not the end of the story. Naturally, the City of Budapest, now under Fidesz leadership, also has to celebrate. So came Lord Mayor István Tarlós’s demands for places of celebration: the whole of Andrássy út, Deák tér, Hősök tere, Clark Ádám tér, Blaha Lujza tér. The areas reserved for the city are marked in blue.
Then naturally there are the areas where demonstrations cannot be held because they would seriously intefere with the traffic flow of the city. These are marked in green.
And finally, if you look very hard, you can find a small little speck on the following map in white on the Pest side of the Szabadság híd that would be big enough for a gathering of about 5,000 people.
To add insult to injury, the government reserved these spaces not only for this year but also for next year. This is how democratic rights are honored in practice in Orbán’s Hungary.
Ágnes Vadai (DK) held a press conference yesterday condemning the undemocratic practices of the government. After all, the government is hindering the free exercise of one of the basic democratic rights laid down in the constitution. Vadai didn’t mince words: “While Viktor Orbán piously defends himself in the European Parliament and while the Hungarian media portrays his performance there in a positive light, saying how polite he was … what is happening here is an outrage … The triple junk [bóvli] prime minister excludes the opposition from all symbolic squares of March 15.”
MSZP reacted similarly. Zoltán Lukács, deputy leader of the parliamentary caucus, released a communiqué in which he also connected Viktor Orbán’s performance in Strasbourg and the stark reality at home. “Viktor Orbán yesterday in Strasbourg lied to the members of the European Parliament about Hungarian democracy and today he takes away another right of the opposition. It is clear, and this is not the first time, that Fidesz is behaving in a cowardly fashion.”
But the best answer came from the Milla Group. “Following the example of our great leader, we announced our intention to hold our customary demonstrations on March 15 and October 23 on Szabad Sajtó út for the next 100 years.” The request was signed by Péter Juhász, the group’s spokesman, who told the Budapest police that in case “his health might be impaired sometime down the road, he assures the authorities that he will appoint someone else to represent the group and take responsibility for the proper conduct of the participants.”
This is what Milla’s letter to the Budapest police looked like:
And this is just the first page of the opus. One must admit these guys have a good sense of humor. However, they will not be satisfied with making fun of Orbán and his government. According to Péter Juhász, they are ready to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. And they have every chance of winning their case there.