A lot of people showed up yesterday at the pro-government demonstration in Budapest. Busloads came from all over the country as well as from abroad: from Romania, Slovakia, and Serbia. The organizers expected at least 100,000 people and by all accounts it seems that they achieved their goal.
First of all, about the organizers: they belong to the Hungarian far right. Admittedly, they didn’t officially commit themselves to Jobbik, they still support Fidesz, but the ideology they espouse is as far right as it can be in Hungary. Readers of Hungarian Spectrum should be familiar by now with the name of Zsolt Bayer whose antisemitic outbursts I have mentioned often enough. He is one of the founding members of Fidesz who works for the also far-right Gábor Széles, a billionaire who spends his money keeping up an unprofitable newspaper, Magyar Hírlap, and an equally unprofitable television station, Echo TV. Several people associated with the Széles media empire were among the organizers in addition to another far-right newspaperman, András Bencsik, editor-in-chief of Magyar Demokrata, who was actively involved in the organization of Magyar Gárda, the paramilitary organization of Jobbik.
The organizers and demonstrators used the language of the far right, although this language is not very different from the voice of Viktor Orbán himself. I could come up with hundreds of examples when the prime minister of Hungary, who is now practically begging for money from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, attacked both of these institutions and whipped up nationalistic sentiment in defense of Hungary’s sovereignty. Jobbik burned the flag of the European Union; Viktor Orbán just removed it from his office. The message was clear.
There is a thought provoking short article in Népszabadság about the “Peace Walk,” as the organizers decided to call this pro-government demonstration. Miklós Hargitai, the reporter, noted that this large demonstration was not exactly organized on Facebook. By yesterday afternoon, the pro-government Facebook group had managed to get only about 900 signatures; even a mediocre Schmitt joke will get more than that number of “likes.” Hargitai was also struck by the average age of the demonstrators: they were practically all over 60. A Japanese tourist thought that the demonstration was organized to call for higher pensions for the elderly.
Not exactly a young crowd
The people who took part in this Silly Walk, as Andor Jakab called it, most likely haven’t noticed that the “economic war of independence” is over. They think that two-thirds of the electorate are still following Viktor Orbán. The demonstrators were most likely people who are not negatively impacted by the new tax laws, whose savings were not nationalized, who don’t fret over the details of the new labor laws, and who don’t have to worry about exorbitant college tuition fees. These people most likely receive their news from MTV, Kossuth Rádió, Echo TV, Magyar Nemzet, and Magyar Hírlap, and therefore they are blissfully ignorant of what is going on abroad and at home. For example, they never saw the huge demonstration in front of the Opera House or the demonstration of the high school and college students at the “Educatio” Exhibition because these events were not reported in the state-owned media.
It’s no wonder that Viktor Orbán refused to give a speech to the crowd. The ship of state he is steering and about which he so often speaks is in the middle of making a U-turn. But these innocents don’t realize that yet. Orbán couldn’t go there and tell them what they wanted to hear about “the war of independence” only two days before he will have to go to Brussels and lay down his arms. The crowd wanted to hear something else, something that Orbán promised but was unable to fulfill. It seems that he didn’t learn anything from what his nemesis, Ferenc Gyurcsány, said in Balatonőszöd in 2006: let’s stop promising pie in the sky because we cannot deliver it.
The demonstration showed that Viktor Orbán today, just as in the past, is able to gather 100,000 people on the streets in the name of nationalism and in defense of “sovereignty.” But what will happen in a year from now? And yes, even the opposition was able to organize a demonstration that was almost as large as the Fidesz-Jobbik crowd was yesterday. But what does all this prove? Not much. Orbán was capable of organizing similarly large demonstrations between 2002 and 2010 while in opposition, but he lost two elections in the interim.
Attila Mong, the reporter who was sacked by Magyar Rádió because of his protest against the new media law, wrote an interesting article entitled “For Orbán, against Orbán” in which he states that if a clear answer had been given to the question of Hungary’s true situation vis-à-vis the European Union this gathering could have turned into an anti-government demonstration.
Meanwhile the country’s financial situation is so desperate that it doesn’t really matter what Viktor Orbán says at home, he is ready to accept practically any condition in order to receive the much needed loan from the IMF and the EU. The Fidesz leadership knows that the demands of Barroso will be tough. As one Fidesz politician told HVG, “What else does the Commission want? To restart KlubRádió?” Perhaps he is not very far off the mark. Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, wrote a letter to Tibor Navracsics in which she specifically mentioned the case of KlubRádió.
Yesterday’s demonstration was followed by another of a different stripe today. This time the crowd gathered in an attempt to save their favorite radio station, Klubrádió. Admittedly their number was only a few thousand but the sight was still impressive.
Let It Ring Out! The slogan of Klubrádió
There are only a few days for the Hungarian government to find a solution. Let’s hope they will have the good sense to give in and allow the only opposition radio to “ring out.”