Civic courage is returning to Hungary

There were two noteworthy events during the March 15th celebrations, about which I will write more tomorrow. First, a scuffle broke out between Fidesz loyalists waiting for Viktor Orbán’s speech in front of the National Museum and a handful of demonstrators. It was described by the official Fidesz communiqué as “a clash between far-right and far-left elements.” I guess the government party felt it had to distance itself from Fidesz supporters who physically attacked the demonstrators as well as from those people who screamed “Go to Dohány utca,” the street where the “Great Synagogue,” the largest in Europe, is located. The other event was the large demonstration organized by civic groups but supported by all democratic parties with the exception of LMP. It was especially welcome that the organizers came out with a list of demands they propose to put forth for a popular referendum, which could be the first step toward a change of regime. But more about the national holiday tomorrow.

Today I want to call attention to two incidents which may not be earth shattering in and of themselves but which, I believe, signal a change in public attitude. The Hungarian people are beginning to exhibit civic courage.

The popularity of Viktor Orbán and the government is no longer what it was a year ago. Already last year, for the March 15th celebration, either Fidesz or the government hired university students to stand behind Viktor Orbán during his speech. At that point, I assume, they only wanted young faces. This year, however, there seemed to be genuine worry in government circles that the turnout for Viktor Orbán’s speech might be sparse. Robocalls urged people to attend. In addition, KLIK, the employer of all teachers, sent requests (some people claim that it was more an order than a request) to 375 high school principals all over the country to send one teacher and ten students to Budapest to listen to the prime minister’s speech. All expenses would be paid, and lunch would be included. Well, one high school, the Imre Madách Gymnasium in Vác, decided to announce publicly that they will not oblige because “they don’t support or organize student participation in political events.” Of course, some people might argue that a national holiday celebration is not a political event, but we know that this is not the case. Viktor Orbán’s audience comes from the party faithful and his words are addressed to his followers.

A lot of people welcomed this sign of civic courage, including the journalists of Válasz, which is certainly not an opposition paper. But others feared for the jobs of the principal and the 50 teachers who made that decision. And indeed, there was at least one attempt at intimidation by the Fidesz-KDNP mayor, Attila Fördős. He called the principal and vice-principal into his office and demanded to know what kind of “patriotic education” is going on in the school. He said that if he had the power, which thankfully he doesn’t, he would immediately fire them. As it turned out, although it was only the Imre Madách Gymnasium that had the courage to openly announce their opposition to the government’s crude methods, only 44 high schools obliged. The negative feelings toward this latest government or Fidesz ukase are perfectly understandable. There are far too many people who still remember when it was compulsory for students to attend such national celebrations, which included November 7, the anniversary of the Great Russian Revolution of 1917.

Attila Fördős, Fidesz-KDNP mayor of Vác

Attila Fördős, Fidesz-KDNP mayor of Vác

The other story is from the village of Gánt in Fejér County (pop. 860). To people familiar with Hungarian politics, the name Gánt immediately brings to mind Viktor Orbán’s father and his original business venture, a quarry he managed to buy with some financial help from his eldest son’s party. The quarry by now has been exhausted, and Győző Orbán would like to use the empty pit as a landfill site. His goal is to dispose of some 250,000 tons of refuse there a year, mostly bricks and concrete, which must be broken up by heavy equipment. Apparently about 1,000 tons could arrive daily and be processed on the spot. Many people who bought property nearby, close to a nature preserve, are mighty unhappy about the elder Orbán’s latest business venture.

So, the village of Gánt organized a forum to discuss the matter. To their surprise Győző Orbán, in the company of his youngest son Áron, showed up for the meeting. Orbán tried to convince the participants that everything will be fine, but they were adamant. The dust would settle everywhere–on their vegetable gardens, on their vineyards–and the noise eight hours a day would be unbearable. All hell broke loose when Győző Orbán announced that the property is his and he can do whatever he wants on it. After a while Győző Orbán left, followed by his son. He refused to answer questions from “malicious journalists” unless they give two million forints to the old folks home in Gánt.

Orbans departing

Győző and Áron Orbán leaving the Gánt town meeting

But even before the departure of the Orbáns, those present at the meeting pretty well decided to fight the father of the prime minister. One of them already hired a lawyer, and the others put together, right on the spot, a sizable amount of money to cover the initial expenses. They also organized an association to represent their case most forcefully. I am convinced that a year ago such an encounter wouldn’t have happened. I’m also sure that Győző Orbán never in his wildest imagination thought he would be so forcefully opposed and at the end unable to prevent a law suit. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have shown up at the town meeting. It seems that times really are changing in Hungary. The prime minister’s father can no longer ride roughshod over the people, unopposed, to achieve his aim.

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Member

How wonderful that Hungarians are waking up, and do not let Orban to monopolize such important days of Hungarian history as March 15. I think Hungarians are starting to take back their celebrations, and do not let the celebration of ’56 and ’48 become a tool for a scam artist. March 15 resonates with people, and that is great.

As far as Orban’s daddy goes.. We know from Orban that he used to beat him up, so this big bully goes into town feeling that he “buy the people out” or intimidate them, and it did not work. Bullying the high schools did not work either for his son. I think they are loosing grip. I am very hopeful.

exTor
Guest

I’m not sure that I’d be as sanguine as you, Some1. Antilandfill feelings in Gánt should not be confused with general antiOrban sentiment, nor should the reluctance of some teachers in sending students to listen to Orban speechify be construed as manifest dissatisfaction with the current government.

Would that that were true.

Hungarians, not unlike other people, vote with their pocketbooks. They are not inclined to buy into misgivings nurtured in western Europe or North America. Easy philosophizing will not cut it. Voters will only turn their backs on Orban if they feel that picking him will hurt them financially. Orban has many years to rectify his current ‘problems’.

András Göllner
Guest

The mayor of Vác, in his black hat, is a spitting image of the vodka swilling mayor in the Russian film Leviathan. An arrogant bully if ever there was one – three cheers for the high school principal in Vác and to the civic courage of his teachers.

Guest

In 1956 the citizens of Vác stood firm against the Hungarian Communists and tore down the Soviet monument in front of the Cathedral. It is pleasing to see that the spark of resistance still burns there.

Member

Resistance against what or whom?

Webber
Guest

Resistance against those in power, obviously. “Resisting” the (pathetic, weak) opposition takes no bravery and warrants no remark. Protesting for a government is a sign of servility, at best.

Guest

The second photo tells more than thousand words.

tappanch
Guest

I was at the demonstration yesterday. I liked the size of the crowd. But the level of anger, the number of spontaneous anti-Orban slogans were low – although I can attribute this to the nice spring weather.

There were plenty of distributed DK, Egyutt and a few PM signs all over, but MSzP’s were missing – showing the complete lack of organizational skills of the current MSzP leadership.

As far as the call for referendum goes: there has not been any since 2010, and there will not be any referendum Fidesz does not want, because the ruling party has created a super majority in the National Election Committee that can block any attempt.

The Orban regime cannot be toppled within the undemocratic legal framework Fidesz set up between 2010 and 2014.

Instead of waiting months and years to obtain the unattainable legal permission to hold a referendum, the organizers should set up stands in public squares and streets NOW to collect support from the people directly.

tappanch
Guest

The members of the National Election Commission (Nemzeti Választási Bizottság) that decides whether a referendum can go ahead:

Fidesz-appointed permanent members: 7

Ruling party (Fidesz-KDNP) : 2
Jobbik: 1
LMP: 1
MSzP: 1

Another 4 opposition parties( DK, Egyutt, PM, LMP) are represented in Parliament, but the Fidesz party does not let them form factions, thus preventing them from being represented in the Election Commission.

To summarize, Fidesz has 9 votes in the Commission, all the opposition parties combined 3, so it is hopeless to expect any referendum Fidesz does not like.

http://valasztas.hu/hu/nvb/16/16_0.html

Notice that exactly the “Fidesz-recognized” democratic parties, MSzP and LMP did not show up at yesterday’s anti-Fidesz rally.

tappanch
Guest

Correction: the four not recognized opposition parliamentary factions are: DK, Egyutt, PM and MLP (Gabor Fodor). Since Szolidaritas has left Egyutt, we can count Szolidaritas as the fifth. Yes, it was also present yesterday.

cservenkane
Guest

@tappanch

The referendum plans are necessary I guess, to keep the supporters and the media busy, even if the the election committee won’t approve the questions. People will be angry if there is a proximate reason to be angry (like the internet tax or Ildiko Vida’s corruption), general politics, the usual bad news aren’t enough.

MSZP’s popularity may have grown because it is seen as an “existing” opposition party as opposed to the constantly dividing Együtt, PM etc., but MSZP is almost dead in the water.

MSZP lacks everything, its Budapest branch is more or less active with internal divisions, but it has been failing to attract activists for many years.

The brand is too valuable so MSZP will continue to exist (after all Munkáspárt lead by Gyula Thürmer still exists and is “active”) as a kind of un-dead zombie entity, but as a real political force MSZP is almost non-existent.

Why would any young and energetic would-be-politician enter MSZP? I mean other than to agree with Fidesz to play the role of the leftist opposition which behind the scenes is loyal to Fidesz (e.g. Zsolt Molnár, Csaba Horvath etc.)?

Guest

“All hell broke loose when Győző Orbán announced that the property is his and he can do whatever he wants on it.”

His son and disciple Viktor has long time ago announced that Hungary is his and he can do whatever he wants with it. Not even the smallest Hell broke loose.

tappanch
Guest

Nielsen rating of the television channels yesterday afternoon. The new “government news” channel (M1) peaked at 3%.
comment image

tappanch
Guest

Is Putin still in power?

He has not been seen in live footage since March 5. The Russian military just ordered a full alert.

Is Putin dead? Is he removed from power?

tappanch
Guest
tappanch
Guest
tappanch
Guest

Putin (or his double 🙂 ) resurfaced 45 minutes ago!

(One minute after I wrote on this blog that I missed him – wow…)

https://twitter.com/world_reporter/status/577422147842367489

Istvan
Guest

The Russians actually had a very funny article about the missing Putin. See http://rt.com/news/241069-putin-rumours-back-alive/

spectator
Guest

Our cat went missing at the same time, but he returned already yesterday, quite slim and exhausted, sounding rather harsh, compared to his usual meows.

I glad to hear that while it took a wee bit longer to the esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich, he managed to find his way too.

I’ve been told, this is the time of the year when it usually happens, so now you know it too that you shouldn’t worry that much next time.

Meow!

Paul
Guest
A rare positive post from me. Whilst we have had too many false dawns over the last 5 years, it does seem that Orbán’s power over people is weakening – maybe enough to start a snowball effect. If he doesn’t manage to stop it now, it could easily spread to the point where his authority and competency is openly questioned. And once a regime, no matter how powerful, loses its unquestioned authority, its days are numbered. We saw this clearly with the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in 89. The regime was just as brutal, just as effective at controlling the people in 1989 as it had been in 1988, yet something changed – people no longer believed in it and its power. They stood up, and it collapsed – mostly without anyone really having to do anything. And Orbán’s regime doesn’t have the secret police and military power, or the control over the people that the Soviet regimes had. Once people no longer believe in the myth that no one can stand against Orbán, his power will disappear like Scotch mist. And once the King is revealed to be naked, his backers will disappear too. My only worry, as… Read more »
HiBoM
Guest

Comparisons with 1988/1989 are misleading. Those regimes were not produced at the ballot box and however upsetting we might find Orbán’s administrations, they won the 2010 election fair and square, and while 2014 was manipulated the result, although not its magnitude, reflected the general will of the electorate. Yes, I think he might struggle to win bi-elections, or the 2018 general election, but Gyurcsány’s administration survived even greater public disgust and hatred. And if it didn’t collapse, I see no reason why Orbán’s will either.

I think it is wishful thinking and while I can imagine them becoming hugely unpopular by 2018, they are not going to be overthrown. It is conceivable that there could be some sort of internal Fidesz coup but given Orbán’s command of the party, that is also improbable. Fortunately for Orbán, Pintér (who I’m sure would have no inhibitions about taking part in a coup) is not part of Fidesz…

googly
Guest

The EU is the one exception that I can think of, but I generally agree with you, HiBoM, until the next elections.

Paul
Guest

I’m not at all convince that Orbán actually has this mythical command of the party. The rank and file and his toady deputies and MPs, yes, but the people behind the scenes, the money men? Their loyalty has very specific limits. The minute they start to see Orbán as a loser, or even just past his best, he’ll be out.

It’s the people Orbán/Fidesz is making rich who are going to decide the future – once they decide Orbán’s days are over, what are they going to do?

Paul
Guest

Well, almost positive!

Kirsten
Guest

Paul, I believe it is correct to be cautious. Not because of the support for Orban anymore, many signs show that he is past his biggest glory. But the examples of civic courage that Eva mentioned, courageous they certainly are, but they are also in some very “traditional” Hungarian way stubborn and “resisting” and not very likely to lead to collective action that tackles the systemic problem of low trust into society and people in general. Opposition and resistance have a history and tradition, but democracy and cooperative spirit have not. The school master, is it not likely that he might demand such abstention from politics also when democratic parties were in government? We will see what has changed in the not too distant moment that OV will be removed from his post, but it is still only a hope that more organised protest emerges, the round table movement that might grow or parties that will eventually better cooperate.

tappanch
Guest

The gross debt of the central government was 24.5 trillion forints on March 13.

TRFG
Guest

Rudolf Tőkés must be an ‘interesting’ person. He uses language which is barely printable to denounce Kim Lane Scheppel and György Konrád and is one of the heroes of Gabor Török, the Fidesz-leaning pundit (aka politologist).

Come to think of it, Tamas Fellegi wrote a Phd at the UofC.

http://mandiner.hu/cikk/20150315_orban_nem_piszkos_slussz_egy_friss_szechenyi_dijas_a_mandinernek

petofi
Guest

Tokes is a typical, Hungarian moron flushed with the exceptionalism that Orban has deigned to settle on Hungarians. He says that Scheppeli does not speak English. Correct…in the Fidesz mode of ‘correct’–that is, she choses not to speak but she certainly can read Hungarian or she wouldn’t be able to do the legal work she has done in Hungary.
She probably speaks, too, but I would guess in a heavily accented way…which would immediately be attacked as ‘a person who can barely utter a few words’. I know the Hungarian mind–it is as petty and disgusting as can be imagined. It will use any weapon to belittle an opposition, and change the battle ground of an argument. Very tziganer, if you ask me.

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