The siege of the Hungarian Television Station, September 18, 2006

For those of you who are either not familiar with the fateful events of the fall of 2006 in Hungary or don’t remember all the details I should state again that there were two distinct phases of the riots. The first took place on September 17-18 and the second at the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the 1956 Revolution, an occasion attended by scores of foreign dignitaries.

Every time the topic of these riots comes up Fidesz supporters like to make a sharp distinction between the “peaceful demonstrators” of October 23 and the next few days and the criminal elements who laid siege to the Hungarian Television Station on September 18. However, immediately after that bloody night on Szabadság (Liberty) Square Fidesz politicians insisted that the siege was a spontaneous outburst of justified indignation. At the same time they accused the government of purposely sending the ill-equipped policemen into harm’s way, thereby compromising the opposition that supported them. One thing is sure: the violence that characterized the siege and the characters who took part in it didn’t rock the government. According to a Medián poll taken before the siege, 52% of those asked thought that Gyurcsány should resign. After the siege, only 45%.

First let’s examine how “spontaneous” the gathering was on Kossuth Square on the evening of September 17, right after the release of the incriminating lines from Gyurcsány’s speech. Initially the police noted only 20-30 people, but minute by minute more people came from all directions. To the police it looked as if recruiting were taking place, most likely through cell phones. Eventually there were at least 1,000 people, if not more. Soon enough they even had loudspeakers and managed to put together a podium. Speaker after speaker kept repeating parts of Gyurcsány’s speech. It began to rain and somebody distributed yellow raincoats used at Fidesz gatherings. The demonstration was peaceful at the beginning, but eventually some of the people broke the cordon the police had erected.

This “spontaneous” demonstration was illegal because it had not been registered with the police. The police leadership, especially Péter Gergényi, the police chief of Budapest, misjudged the situation by declaring it part of the campaign season for the municipal elections. During such times spontaneous gatherings indeed are permitted. Gergényi talked to József Petrétei, the minister of justice, and his deputy Ferenc Kondorosi and informed them that there was nothing to do. “Let them let off some steam.” He predicted that the demonstration planned for the following day would also be peaceful. Petrétei happily agreed. According to Debreczeni, the real culprit of this story was the incompetent Petrétei, in civilian life a professor of law at the University of Pécs who, according to his job description, is supposed to “direct” the police. Instead, he was watching the events on television at home.

Some of the crowd didn’t leave the square even during the night. Soon enough someone was serving them food and Gyula Budai, today undersecretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and in the first two years of the Orbán government the commissioner in charge of “political crimes” of MSZP politicians, provided them with portable toilets. He also brought along a tractor with which he led some of the people to Jászai Mari Square in order to lay siege to the building that serves as an office building for members of parliament.

Meanwhile extremist groups came with their flags and slogans: the Honfoglalás 2000, Hatvannégy Vármegye, Magyar Nemzeti Front, and Jobbik. Football hooligans who used to fight among themselves now united in order to attack the television station the next day. Busloads of football fans arrived from Debrecen and Nyíregyháza, the UTE (Újpest) fans came straight from a game in Sopron. They arrived with a police escort! Maria Wittner, the heroine of 1956 and an extremist politician, made a speech and announced that there was a new “revolutionary situation.”  By evening the word came that “Fidesz assures the demonstrators its solidarity.” Naturally, a huge ovation followed the announcement.

I’m not going to go into all the details of the siege of the building the following evening. Instead I suggest you view a video by Ádám Csillag entitled “Under  Siege” (Ostrom alatt).

The police leadership turned out to be singularly untalented and the policemen’s equipment was woefully inadequate. Hundreds of policemen were seriously injured. In 2002 the question of providing the police with proper riot gear came up after a demonstration that blocked Elizabeth Bridge, but the undersecretary in charge of police matters in the Ministry of Interior vetoed it. It was too expensive and unnecessary. Instead they bought 40 Ford Mondeos for patrolling the streets.

Not only the equipment was problematic. The Hungarian police force, especially those who can handle riots, was very small and ill-trained. On that day no more than about 850 policemen were available in the whole country who could be called to the scene. Altogether there were only 2,400 policemen on the streets nationwide, including ordinary traffic cops. In the Netherlands there are 16,000 available at any given moment.

Eventually, they came up with a twenty-five-year-old water cannon whose power was negligible. And when it was a question of getting equipment to fire tear gas, the staff couldn’t accommodate because the equipment was locked up in a room where arms were kept.

Some of those who showed  their "justified indignation" against the lies of Prime Minister Gyurcsány

Some of those who showed their “justified indignation” against the lies of Prime Minister Gyurcsány

It was an incident with this water cannon that make people very suspicious that someone was actually giving orders to the crowd. There were a number of policeman inside the water cannon which the rioters set on fire. Everybody was expecting that either these people will burn alive inside or, if they come out, they will be lynched. But no, when they came out the crowd retreated. Obviously, the organizers were careful not to go too far.

Another episode also indicates some kind of central planning. At one point a number of policemen were cornered; they were practically lying on the ground trying to defend themselves from the stones hurled at them. However, the organizers allowed another unit to rescue them.

In addition to Maria Wittner, Gábor Kubatov, currently the president of Ferencváros and right-hand man of Viktor Orbán, most likely also had a large role to play behind the scenes in the events of September 17 and 18. At least this is what József Debreczeni heard from some people in the Office of National Security.

I should also mention László Sólyom’s rather unfortunate role on September 18. He decided to talk about the “moral crisis” that had developed as a result of the Balatonőszöd speech and practically called for Gyurcsány’s resignation. That added oil to the fire. The attackers felt perfectly justified. After all, even the president thinks that they are on the right side. If Gyurcsány doesn’t resign, they will force him to do so. Standing behind this crowd, be it Viktor Orbán or László Sólyom, showed either very poor judgment or cunning. With Sólyom I suspect it was a lack of knowledge of what was going on exactly and who the actors were. With Orbán, I think one must be less forgiving. He was ready to exploit criminal elements if they served his purpose.

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Guest
Proud Hungarian
December 29, 2012 8:56 pm

Orban and his FIDESZ, or the Jobbik have only one faith, the violence.

I doubt that plane non-violence would defeat them.

The fear is great. The parents are afraid, and their sons and daughters, the students will have to demonstrate.

Lawyers and historians have to convince the millions of Hungarians to abandon their reflexes, to end calling liberal politicians, Jewish bankers, Gipsy workers Anti-Hungarian.

Guest
Petofi1
December 29, 2012 10:10 pm

Proud Hungarian :
Orban and his FIDESZ, or the Jobbik have only one faith, the violence.
I doubt that plane non-violence would defeat them.
The fear is great. The parents are afraid, and their sons and daughters, the students will have to demonstrate.
Lawyers and historians have to convince the millions of Hungarians to abandon their reflexes, to end calling liberal politicians, Jewish bankers, Gipsy workers Anti-Hungarian.

And while they’re at it, let Hungarians sprout a sense of justice, and some dignity, and bring to justice Csatary.

Guest
Turkmenbasi
December 30, 2012 5:22 am

The protesters finally conquered the building AND THEN LEFT IT a couple of hours later. Abandoning a conquered castle…how reaistic is this?!

For me it has revealed that the storm was merely a charade.

Guest
December 30, 2012 6:15 am

London Calling!

Something very strange occurred with this post! – I meant it to go here rather than under the actual picture in your piece, Eva!

I know this is a side issue to your main points, Eva but in England the pictures you use in your piece would have been used to identify, with ease, those smashing up the police vehicle.

Which suggests there would be many more pictures available too.

If they were used in newspaper reports the police would obtain a ‘production’ order and prosecute them.

They are clear enough for evidential use – do you think they were used?

How may ‘hooligans’ were prosecuted during this ‘siege’?

Otherwise the pictures would be used as ‘trophies’ – look at this! This is me!

Regards

Charlie

Guest
LwiiH
December 30, 2012 7:00 am

I believe it was the french that said that asphalt was an affront to democracy in that it covered over the pavers, the only weapon that rioters might have access to. In the absence of a government that is responsive to the will of it’s people, pavers become the voice. My brother-in-law was in the middle of the riots that took place in Blaha Ter. And when I say middle, I mean, he was a photographer standing between the line of rioters and the police. He took a ton of photographs and what I in those pictures were ordinary people, not football hooligans as was often reported. There were people on the front lines of all ages that were outraged that this government had lied to them and they responded with the only means available to them. You have to admit that there is a strong air of arrogance in politicians in Hungary. They only go to the people because of these annoying things called elections but after that they can’t be bothered with the wishes of their constituents. The fact that Gy. was able to survive those comments being made public and in light of the rioting that was… Read more »

Guest
Kavé
December 30, 2012 7:21 am

Charlie: It worth re-reading Eva’s post from February 17, 2011 “Another attack on the rule of law: To nullify certain crimes” http://hungarianspectrum.org/2011/02/17/another-attack-on-the-rule-of-law-to-nullify-certain-crimes/ which discusses the legal initiative led by FIDESZ MP István Balsai to nullify the legal convictions of those who were arrested by police for rioting during the 2006 anti-government demonstrations and riots.

The 2006 riots were the evidence that FIDESZ had decided to take politics out of the Parliament and into the streets. Retroactive pardoning of persons who are convicted of using violence against police because of a political conviction is not a common practice in democratic societies ruled by law. Can you imagine a political pardon for all those who participated in the looting and riots that spread over England last summer?

Guest
December 30, 2012 8:17 am

London Calling! Thanks Kave – i have done as you say – and yes I remember reading it first time round. “Now Balsai wants to undo these convictions” because the police’ word is untrustworthy. Has he succeeded? Just as there is photo evidence of the rioter’s thuggery – there would be photo evidence of police thuggery – if it occurred. And the latter should be dealt with with ‘police commission’- and ‘Police complaints commission’- type bodies if they exist in Hungary. If they don’t exist, create them. In England there is an intermediate body to oversee the quality of all evidence and police procedures in court cases called the ‘Central Prosecution Service’ (CPS). The CPS is independent of the police and this ensures a certain objectivity in the court process and ensures that prosecutions are taken forward following due legal process – so the police would find if difficult to prosecute gratuitous and malicious prosecutions (we have learnt those lessons at least). You mention the looting riots in England – The police have been ruthless in pursuing the rioters involved. Many many promising careers have been wrecked by a few thoughtless actions because the rioters didn’t count on the ubiquitous… Read more »

Guest
December 30, 2012 8:22 am

And thanks Eva – you answered my ‘has he succeeded’ question as I was typing (slowly!)

Guest
Jano
December 30, 2012 10:01 am

Does anybody think any more that awarding a pledge to the police leadership was any less then outrageous?

Minor correction: It’s Péter Gergényi, not Görgényi

Guest
Jano
December 30, 2012 10:15 am

What was also left out from the post and is the most telling is that once the building was taken, all these revolutionaries did was scoring some free internet and stealing candies. Didn’t even try to air a statement or anything like that.

Funny thing, I don’t know how many of you remember but MTV had had an advertising campaign going on at that time with the slogan: “If you were part of a revolution, which TV would you besiege first?”

Member
Some1
December 30, 2012 10:28 am

I certainly think that many of the protesters were genuinely there to protest against Gyurcsany. Were they mislead or not is beside the point, they were there to voice their opinion. THat original crowd was replaced by football hooligans who came directly from soccer games and such. THe peaceful protesters got out of there when the riot started. It was very unfortunate that the police that were terrified without proper equipment after being attacked with rocks, molotov cocktails and such injured some of the bystanders. It is not a coincidence that why the Gyurcsany government only allowed the police to carry live ammunition, some of the Fidesz MPs (likely those who were also kept in the dark) demanded in a later inquire answers as to why the police did not use live ammunition against the football hooligans who endangered the lives of the police and others. The situation was so bad. Karoly Konrat, Nyitrai (Fidesz) and many other members of the Fidesz originally sided with the police and demanded answers from Gyurcsany as why the police was ill-equipped? Ervin Demeter (Fidesz) is shocked about how illegal this “gathering” was, so it should of been treated like. He is absolutely disturbed… Read more »

Guest
LwiiH
December 30, 2012 10:38 am

Eva S. Balogh : @LwiiH, This is one way of looking at it but I cannot ascribe to this philosophy. I don’t care whether “nice” people committed illegal acts on Blaha Lujza Square or not so nice people on Szabadság tér. There is no way that this kind of behavior is justified. Especially since the crowd’s outrage was not exactly spontaneous. It’s not like I don’t believe that there was a possibility of some provocation or direction from a higher authority, I just find that the problem with conspiracies of this magnitude is that it involves too many people and eventually someone is going to talk and expose the whole thing. The other problem is that getting enough information to give centralized direction in a situation as fluid as a riot… Was the riot justified in this case? In my opinion no… and while I don’t want to sound like an anarchist, I can understand people’s frustration with an unaccountable and unresponsive system with a demonstration. I can understand why the government would like them to be polite and ask, please sir, can I demonstrate today? Please sir, can I have some more? The question is; how much do people… Read more »

Guest
brother of petofi1
December 30, 2012 10:53 am

Your opinions maybe true, but a little background research is still needed. The ordinary mildly and wildly anti-communist citizens used 2006 to express their usual biased support for FIDESZ. Here and there, you could find many former red book holding members of the Kadar party among the demonstrators and in the ranks of the newly conservative Christian Ur-Hungarian FIDESZ. This seamless transition of the people, from Kadar’s party to Orban’s party is one of saddest chapter of our history. Many eminent Kadar era scientists and intellectuals should be rehabilitated to new deserved posts. Hungary can not afford to loose the talent of those people. The divided nation remained divided in 2006, 2012, just like in 1956. In 2006, besides the “peaceful” demonstrators, there was the parallel activity of the extremist mercenaries, continuing their violent demonstrations against the hated Gyurcsany regime. The rest was chaos. Orban more than Gyurcsany remains in the dock of the court of human justice. Orban is a champion of a criminal destructive politics. Unity will arrive when a wide movement can cleanse the society from all myths, and the Deakian justice will be nurtured. We are not even in the Kindergarten of this era. Not even… Read more »

Guest
brother brother
December 30, 2012 11:04 am

Lw: “You have to admit that there is a strong air of arrogance in politicians in Hungary. They only go to the people because of these annoying things called elections but after that they can’t be bothered with the wishes of their constituents. The fact that Gy. was able to survive those comments being made public and in light of the rioting that was “inspired” but those tapes is a testament to the arrogance and unaccountability that exists outside of voting time.”

Can you be objective? Gyurcsany was better than Orban. Gyurcsany comments were a real repentance. An attempt to clean up the twisted politics. Orban dresses up himself in the cape of holy Christianity, holy Hungariasm, and destroyed the country, and made millions poor.

Bad enough to dump him now.

PS. I would like to hear Gyurcsany style repentance one day from our Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. They operate more like Orban, and less like Gyurcsany.

Guest
December 30, 2012 11:19 am

Despite Éva’s posts on this topic and many other pieces I’ve read on it, I still find myself fairly confused about the whole episode. Can anyone recommend a comprehensive, reliable account in English? For some reason (probably because we have no TV in Hungary, and in those days no internet access either) I missed the coverage of the events at the time, so my main awareness of all this is the Fidesz propaganda I get from my wife and in-laws. Unfortunately I am unable to counter this as I have such a patchy knowledge of what really happened – and why. As for the police, and especially Charlie’s somewhat idealised account of how these things are dealt with in the UK, my personal opinion is that we should treat all police accounts of contested events with a great deal of caution. In the UK we have had far too many situations where it turns out (usually many years afterwards, when it’s too late to do much about it) that the police lied or made up much of what they presented as ‘evidence’, but our courts still always tend to take whatever the police say as true. And, despite all the… Read more »

Guest
An
December 30, 2012 11:31 am

So, Gyurcsany acknowledged in his speech that they were lying to win elections, and people riot because he is unwilling to resign. Orban lies day and night without ever admitting to any of his lies, plus removes democratic checks and balances that makes it impossible to control or influence his power through democratic means, so that the only way to exert any political influence is taking the streets (see unions, student demonstration)… but still no violence. So, people just haven’t reached that tipping point they did when they were rallying against Gyurcsany? I tend to think that although there were may people rightly angry about the Gyurcsany speech, the events would not have culminated into what they did without the active help and orchestration by Fidesz, who decided to take politics out to the street (long before there was any reason to do that, see the incident on Erzsebet here after MszP won the elections in 2002). Just as they do not care for democratic rules and norms now, they did not care about them while in opposition either. It is actually very easy to exploit and instigate people’s anger for an unscrupulous leader. One reason why Orban does not… Read more »

Guest
Ppl
December 30, 2012 12:06 pm

You never ever admit that you are lying. Only losers do. You always stay in character (so that it becomes your very own).

Orban is lying? Who says that? Because as far as I know, almost half of the population supports him, and they are righteous people who hate liars. Gyurcsany has 4-5% at best.

Conclusion: Gyurcsany lied as he admitted himself, so he is a liar. Orban? The jury is still out, half the population still says that he is only telling the truth, they rather believe Orban than an admitted liar. Sorry.

Guest
An
December 30, 2012 12:22 pm

@Ppl: Right, so a lie is only a lie if somebody admits it? Did you learn ethics in Fidesz?

As for Orban’s popularity, according to a recent Tarki survey, Orban was named as the worst prime minister of the last 22 years (yes, Gyurcsany is a close…. second).

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20121210_Tarki_Orban_22_ev_legrosszabb_miniszterel

Member
Some1
December 30, 2012 12:41 pm

Ppl : You never ever admit that you are lying. Only losers do. You always stay in character (so that it becomes your very own). Orban is lying? Who says that? Because as far as I know, almost half of the population supports him, and they are righteous people who hate liars. Gyurcsany has 4-5% at best. Conclusion: Gyurcsany lied as he admitted himself, so he is a liar. Orban? The jury is still out, half the population still says that he is only telling the truth, they rather believe Orban than an admitted liar. Sorry. OMG you are the mint of Fidesz arrogance and ignorance. Orban said himself to foreign diplomats who expressed their concerns of Orban’s promises to the voters that “Do not listen to what I say [in order to win the election]. Orban recently introduced tuitions which he fought for when the idea was brought up by Gyurcsany. In facts according to many, he won the election based on many of his lies, example that there will be no tuition. Is he introducing tuition now or not? (couple of posts ago there was a link to his whole speech.) So, are you so blindsided or so… Read more »

Guest
gdfxx
December 30, 2012 12:43 pm

LwiiH :
You have to admit that there is a strong air of arrogance in politicians in Hungary. They only go to the people because of these annoying things called elections but after that they can’t be bothered with the wishes of their constituents. The fact that Gy. was able to survive those comments being made public and in light of the rioting that was “inspired” but those tapes is a testament to the arrogance and unaccountability that exists outside of voting time.

I think this is not typical to Hungary. It applies to politicians all over the world. Maybe elections should be continuous. With the Internet this should be an easy process today. Every time a politician’s numbers fall below 50%, s/he should be fired and the one getting numbers above 50% should replace her/him. This would teach them…

Member
Some1
December 30, 2012 12:43 pm

Ppl :
You never ever admit that you are lying. Only losers do. You always stay in character (so that it becomes your very own).

One more thing. ARe you learning your ethics from Orban? Do not admit that you are lying? Are you kidding me? THis is how you been raised?Either your parents lacked any morals or they must be ashamed of you now. Guess what, I teach my kids not to lie at all. How s that for a new concept?

Member
December 30, 2012 1:05 pm

Ppl :
Orban is lying? Who says that? Because as far as I know, almost half of the population supports him, and they are righteous people

Excuse me the following, it’s just experiment.

You are retarted. IMHO almost all of the readers of this blog agree on this and they are righteous people. Trust me.

Guest
spectator
December 30, 2012 1:13 pm

LwiiH : He took a ton of photographs and what I in those pictures were ordinary people, not football hooligans as was often reported. There were people on the front lines of all ages that were outraged that this government had lied to them and they responded with the only means available to them. Who ever released those tapes should instead of being prosecuted should be recognized as providing a valuable public service. It exposed how unfit Gy. was to lead. It accidentally brought down MSzP (good for them). One would have hoped that OV would have learned from Gy. mistake but instead he’s proven to be more arrogant and less fit for leadership than Gy. was. If the opposition puts up any semblance of candidate, the electorate will wipe out OV as well. Gy. really missed an opportunity to come clean and expose the corruption for what it is. In fact, that these guys were able to lie leads me to the question, what has changed that would give us confidence that OV isn’t lying about the economy right now? This is where you’re wrong. The whole thing were indeed orchestrated, organized and executed according to the plan of… Read more »

Member
December 30, 2012 1:15 pm

Ok, this did not sound good. The point is this: if a lot of people believe a lie it is still a lie. Like saying the EU wants to make us a colony. This is a lie. You may see 200k people marching under a sign that says so – but it is still a lie. Whoever said that, they know it.

Guest
Bowen
December 30, 2012 1:25 pm

Ppl :
You never ever admit that you are lying. Only losers do.

So the difference between Gyurcsany and Orban (who both lie – the latter probably a lot more flagrantly than the other) is that Gyurcsany admitted it. Orban doesn’t admit that he lies – therefore Orban is not a loser.

That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it?

Guest
spectator
December 30, 2012 2:10 pm

“You never ever admit that you are lying. Only losers do. ” What about: “only losers lying”? Say: you’re an inadequate PM, but a wannabee dictator, so you have to gain ample support, – otherwise the scam won’t work, – so, what are you gonna do? You start to make up fairy tales of the ‘evil forces,’ who will conquer your homeland, and you are the only God given savior, who can save them, and the kind, so, the population have no choice, but scream: “Viktor, Viktor!!” – and at the main time you and the fooled believers going down he drainpipe for good, because that’s how things are. Or, you may doing to your best to provide the nation – who put you in the office at the first place, for the very purpose – with the best solution, even in spite of personal ambitions, – if that would be the price, – and you would be a respected leader of your country, whatever the outcome might be. In this case you may fail, but you’d have respect and dignity. In my opinion Orban and the orbanists are a failure, a disgrace to Hungary and the Hungarians – it’s… Read more »

Guest
petofi
December 30, 2012 2:15 pm

Bowen :

Ppl :
You never ever admit that you are lying. Only losers do.

So the difference between Gyurcsany and Orban (who both lie – the latter probably a lot more flagrantly than the other) is that Gyurcsany admitted it. Orban doesn’t admit that he lies – therefore Orban is not a loser.
That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it?

People seem to miss the simple psychology of confession: when one confesses without needing to do so, he subjects himself to the moral prerogative of doing Right. Even though I think that Gyurcsany used the royal ‘We’ to be inclusive, I think he said what he said out of a pure desire to reform the actions of the party. At the time, I remember, that while I knew little of Gyurcsany, I would certainly trust him after what he had said. Shouldn’t that have been the normal reaction to his speech?

Member
Some1
December 30, 2012 2:29 pm

I think the bottom line is that the speech was only an excuse for Orban and his busy buddies to star the revolt. Orban organizing civilians, and his speeches to fire them up, his spreading of lies started much sooner then the Oszod speech. I mean the jerk was away from parliament, he did not show up. Now when he became the PM suddenly they started to impose sanctions on those who did not show up in parliament in protest of Fidesz antidemocratic doings. THe whole 2006 events provided a cover ip and a distraction for Orban to organize a coup. The coup simply failed. Hiring football hooligans who could care less about politics, you end up with chaos. Those who think that in was no organizing taking place, as we would of known about it by now…. Fidesz has a very good record by now, hiring extras to cheer Orban on or to clap when ordered. I am sure that that the idea was not limited for March 15. Also do not forget that Fidesz is packed with tags like Ppl or the likes of the the other tag from the previous threads. THeir quality is measured by how… Read more »

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