A group of right-wing bikers planned to stage a demonstration all across Budapest, including zooming by the famous synagogue on Dohány utca. The slogan for the demonstration was “Give Gas! Hands off our homeland and our homes!” The demonstration was scheduled for April 21, the same day as the March for Life (Az élet menete). The march, designed to pay tribute to the victims of the Hungarian Holocaust, has been held every year since 2002. Last year’s march was especially memorable, and I wrote about it right after the event.
Readers of Hungarian Spectrum are familiar with the Goy Bikers, whom I introduced as early as 2008. The organizers of this particular gathering belong to another group who call themselves Nemzeti Érzelmű Motorosok, loosely translated as Patriotic Bikers. As one can see, however, patriotism is not exactly their most notable characteristic. Their anti-Semitism is. At least the Goy Bikers proudly identify themselves as an anti-Semitic group, which is reflected even in their name. These guys, on the other hand, hide behind their patriotism.
And as if we didn’t have enough of these characters lately, there are also the Scythian Bikers (Szkíta Motorosok) who are ready to join the “Give Gas!” demonstration. As a reminder, the Scythians were an Iranian tribe and Jobbik is especially fond of the current regime in Iran. According to some commentators, the Goy Bikers have closer relations with Fidesz while the Patriots are linked to Jobbik. We know that the chief organizer of the “Give Gas!” demonstration, Sándor Jeszenszky, is the Jobbik chairman of Budapest’s District XI. (District XI, by the way, is one of the ritziest sections of Buda.) Gábor Vona, the chairman of Jobbik, is apparently furious over Jeszenszky’s connection with the Patriotic Bikers, although I doubt that the party chairman knew nothing about it earlier.
The organizers proudly announced on their posters that the bikers will be escorted by the police. From the poster it is also clear that this is not the first such demonstration organized by the Patriotic Bikers. It is the second. They made an appearance for the first time in 2012 on the day the March of Life took place in Budapest. Why didn’t we hear about their demonstration a year ago? Well, there were a couple of articles about the bikers protesting high gasoline prices, higher tolls, and new rules and regulations concerning drivers’ licenses. So, their demonstration couldn’t be directly connected to the March for Life. This time there is no question what “Give Gas!” means. Mind you, the “Give Gas!” slogan is not exactly original. On a 2011 poster of the German National Democratic Party (NPD) the party leader Udo Voigt can be seen riding a motorbike with the slogan “Gas geben.”
The Hungarian Jewish umbrella organization, MAZSIHISZ, called on everybody to come to the gate of the Jewish quarters in order to prevent the bikers from entering. And indeed that would have been one of the two legal answers to the bikers’ provocative plans once the police accepted their application to demonstrate. The other would have been for members of the government, including Viktor Orbán, to join the March for Life and walk along with the crowd and those opposition politicians who normally attend. But given Viktor Orbán’s reluctance to alienate the extreme right and his negative attitude toward any kind of cooperation with the opposition, we knew that he would neither show solidarity with the Jewish population of Hungary nor walk alongside his political opponents. However, considering that the next meeting of the World Jewish Congress will be held in Budapest, which apparently Viktor Orbán himself will attend, the prime minister decided that he had to do something, however uncomfortable it might be for him. A truly uncomfortable position given Orbán’s relations with the extreme right and his fears that the fourth amendment to the new constitution may not be well received in Brussels. It took only a few hours for Viktor Orbán himself to forbid the “Give Gas!” anti-Semitic demonstration.
This happened on Monday in Parliament. Pál Steiner of MSZP asked Viktor Orbán, who happened to be in the chamber, about a “Nazi-like” (náci szellemű) demonstration that is being “led by the police.” Although according to house rules it should have been Sándor Pintér who answered the question, Viktor Orbán, stressing the importance of the issue, rose to reply to Steiner’s question directly. In his answer he informed Steiner that he had already “instructed Sándor Pintér not to grant permission” for the bikers to hold their demonstration. A few hours later the organizers were informed in writing that the announced demonstration cannot be held.
Viktor Orbán as prime minister has the right to instruct his ministers to do or not to do certain things. Did Pintér have to follow Orbán’s instructions and did the police have to obey Pintér’s instructions? The answer is yes. The only remaining question is whether it was legal to forbid the biker demonstration. Legal experts claim that most likely it was not legal. According to laws currently in force, police competence to decide who can and who cannot demonstrate is extremely limited. As the law reads, the police force “doesn’t permit” a demonstration; it only “acknowledges” its taking place. There are only two circumstances under which the police may not “acknowledge” an already announced demonstration: (1) if the demonstration seriously endangers the functioning of the parliament or the courts or (2) if the flow of traffic cannot be ensured via an alternate route.
The bikers announced their demonstration to the police on April 3, and because the police didn’t raise any objection to their holding the rally within 48 hours they in effect sanctioned it. When on April 8 the police refused to recognize the demonstration, they gave as their reason that the demonstration “might be accompanied by an assault against public order.” But to prohibit a demonstration on the grounds that it may involve a crime is not lawful. If in the course of the event there are signs of violence the police can simply disperse the crowd.
Given the presumed illegality of the police action taken on the instruction of Sándor Pintér and Viktor Orbán, it is not at all surprising that the Patriotic Bikers are challenging the decision in court. It can easily happen that the Bikers will win. As one of the legal experts said, by now Viktor Orbán and his government don’t even try to pretend that Hungary is a full-fledged democracy. The quasi-dictator can transgress existing laws and act on his own. And his “subjects” even thank him for it, as Pál Steiner did in parliament. Such occurrences can also happen in a country where the laws concerning freedom of assembly and its limitations are not properly spelled out. Just as Viktor Orbán can forbid this particular demonstration, he might be able to do the same when the democratic opposition wants to go out on the streets the next time. Although the anti-Semites’ bike ride is odious, the way in which Viktor Orbán and the police handled it shows the state of Hungarian democracy today.