While the crowd that gathered to hear the speech of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was somewhat smaller than in the past, an opposition rally that took place in the afternoon was much larger than expected. The occasion was the 167th anniversary of the birth of the first Hungarian government in the modern sense of the word.
Although there have been many anti-government demonstrations in the past six months, none was as large as the one against the planned introduction of an internet tax, which frightened the Fidesz-KDNP government into retreat. Since then the number of people who were ready to face the elements has steadily decreased. But with rising temperatures and the prospect of spring, people’s readiness to publicly express their dissatisfaction with the present regime also revived.
By now, reporters hate to guess at the size of crowds. Most newspapers, when the crowd is really large, talk about “thousands.” Well, the crowd was indeed in the thousands. People filled up Rákóczi út between the Astoria Hotel and the Hospital of St. Roch (Rókus kórház).
There are at least three reasons why this latest rally was more successful than some of the others. First, the organizers were experienced. Balázs Gulyás, formerly a member of MSZP, led the anti-internet tax rally. Zoltán Vajda, a political novice who seems to be a natural talent, organized a large demonstration in the name of those 60,000 people who, despite government pressure, kept their savings in private accounts after the Orbán government nationalized the savings of about 3 million people. Vajda decided to act when it became evident that the government, always in need of money, was planning to nationalize the accounts that remained in private hands. The third person who joined them was Tamás Lattmann, an associate professor of international law. All three are responsible people, not self-appointed rebels with confused political ideas. They are confirmed democrats who, unlike some young critics of the Orbán government, acknowledge the positive political developments that occurred between 1990 and 2010.
The second reason for the success of this rally was that the organizers know full well that no parliamentary democracy can exist without parties. So, while some of the other organizers practically forbade parties to advertise their presence, the Gulyás-Vajda-Lattmann leadership had no objection to party members appearing with flags and other objects identifying their party affiliation. There were plenty of party logos–with the notable exception of MSZP, which is doing a capital job of burying its brand.
The third reason for the demonstration’s success was a good program. Lajos Parti Nagy, the poet/writer who received the Kossuth Prize in 2007, gave a speech that should be translated one day because it was perhaps the most eloquent and hardest hitting critique of the Orbán regime I have ever heard. The masters of ceremony were two famous actors: János Kulka (winner of the Kossuth and Mari Jászai Prizes) and Andrea Fullajtár (winner of the Mari Jászai Prize).
The surprise of the event was a list of proposals for referendums on nineteen different topics. The three organizers who put together the list of questions for referendums kept their plans secret because, as it stands, if someone turns in an utterly bogus request for a referendum no decision can be reached on any subsequent request on the same topic. For example, DK’s petition for a referendum on Sunday closings is still awaiting a decision because a bogus request was turned in for the sole purpose of postponing or preventing a referendum on the question.
The precise formulation of these referendum questions is important, and for now I can’t provide an accurate translation. So let me just say a few words about my impressions. The questions are grouped into fifteen categories, of which two seem to have received the greatest emphasis: the transparency of politicians’ financial affairs and the right of citizens to know exactly how much money they have in their pension funds. Some of the proposed referendum questions are important, others less so. In any case, the list of questions was turned in and we’ll see what happens. The Orbán government changed the law on referendums to ensure that they will be rare occurrences.
Experts are split on the referendum questions. Some old-timers think that the proposals are naive and are sorry that they were not consulted ahead of time to express their misgivings. Others say that at least the organizers laid down a list of demands because it is not enough to say “Orbán, buzz off!” Later people can add or subtract from this list of demands. This attempt might not be the best, but it is something, they argue. At least people can think about specific ideas and can decide what else they would like to add or change. If nothing else, it will start a public dialogue. At least this is the hope.