Was Viktor Orbán behind the coup attempt on October 23, 2006?

In case you don’t remember, that was the day when certain parts of downtown Budapest were in flames. When cars were turned upside down, garbage cans were set on fire, large paving blocks were thrown at the police. All these atrocities were transformed thanks to the propaganda campaign orchestrated by Zoltán Balog, the Hungarian Reformed minister and Fidesz member of parliament, and Krisztina Morvai, Jobbik member of the EU parliament. They were portrayed as the attempt of a dictatorial regime to attack its political opponents, the peaceful Fidesz demonstrators who came to listen to their leader, Viktor Orbán.

I think I mentioned earlier that Viktor Orbán picked a very unusual spot for Fidesz’s large demonstration–the intersection of Kossuth-Rákóczi Streets and Múzeum-Károly Boulevards. This is a very busy thoroughfare. The police could have denied the request to hold the demonstration there on the grounds that it would interfere with traffic too much. However, by then the Hungarian police were so intimidated by the Fidesz opposition that they didn’t dare to say anything. Even then some people expressed their misgivings about the spot because they considered it too close to the far-right demonstration. It was feared that this demonstration would turn violent and thus would require police action.

Viktor Orbán’s crowd enthusiastically listened to his speech which of course had nothing to do with October 23, 1956. When it was over he immediately left in an apparently borrowed armored car that transported him from the scene in a great hurry in the direction of Kossuth Street, far from the madding crowd. The police informed the organizers that they should not leave the spot via Károly Boulevard because not far from there the extremists were already battling the police. The organizers apparently neglected to pass on this message, and a lot of people began rushing toward Erzsébet Square.

This story thanks to Zoltán Balog and Krisztina Morvai morphed into something else: the police purposely pushed the crowd toward the mob. Anyone familiar with the scene knows that this was almost impossible to do because between the the Fidesz crowd and the rabble was a police line. The police, however, seemed to be unable to stop the demonstrators who were bent on joining the rock- and Molotov cocktail-throwing crowd. For easier comprehension I’ve attached a map of the area:

 

In the subsequent investigation the police released two telephone conversations that occurred during the encounter between the mob and the police.

The first one was between X and D. D inquired where X and his crew were. X told D that “we can’t get through.” D instructed X to go back to the Astoria Hotel. They shouldn’t try to get through the police line. Instead they “should pull the police toward the the Fidesz crowd.”

The second conversation is even more interesting. D, whose nickname was Debil (what a name to pick!), phoned Gy (Gyík = lizard) and urged him as well to “pull the police behind [themselves] toward the Astoria Hotel.” Gyík assured Debil that they were trying to do so but they couldn’t. There were far too many policemen. Moreover, Gyík and company got a good dose of tear gas. Debil noticed that the police stopped at Arany János Street; it looked as if they had no intention of following Gyík and his friends. But that was very bad from their point of view. In that case they “must bring the people at the Astoria Hotel to us. Otherwise we will lose.” Gyík liked this idea: “That’s right, that’s right. The best thing is if the people come here and if you raise hell here.” Debil said that there were an awful lot of people at the Fidesz demonstration and, although they came to hear Viktor Orbán, they will soon join them if they get some tear gas.

It has been known for some time that the Balog-Morvai version of the events was the figment of their political imagination. It was also fairly widely circulated in Hungary that it would have been to Orbán’s liking if the “peaceful demonstrators” had also received harsh treatment from the police. More and more people suggested that in fact Orbán was hoping for a very large crowd to be involved: not hundreds but thousands. Perhaps tens of thousands. And in that case he could have forced the government to resign. As we know, things didn’t quite work out that way. Of course, they didn’t have any proof of such plans, only conjecture. For example, Orbán in a rather unusual move went to a Ferencváros (Fradi) soccer match, whose fans took part in practically all of the disturbances in the fall of 2006.

But now thanks to Wikileaks I found an interesting document in the English edition of Der Spiegel. The article is really about the media law. Its title is “Hungary’s ‘Orbanization’ Is Worrying Europe.” In this long article there are a couple of very interesting sentences about Viktor Orbán and the far right. One of the classified U.S. embassy cables, which originated at the embassy in Budapest, discusses a demonstration organized by Fidesz and the party’s links to “violent protesters.” The author of the cable goes on: “Much as we saw Viktor Orbán at his best in a recent meeting with the Ambassadors, this escapade (regarding the protest march–editor’s note) shows that he is still equally liable to play with fire.”

Der Spiegel didn’t specify the date of the document but I would put it somewhere in the late fall of 2006. Definitely after the October 23, 2006, disturbances. The meeting with the ambassadors took place on September 22, 2006.

I published a short article about this discovery on December 30 but only Népszava noticed it. Although the piece appeared on the front page of the newspaper on December 31, for one reason or another the editors didn’t include it in the Internet edition of the paper. Here is the print edition’s version:

Nepszava, Orban Viktor titkai
By today another article appeared in an Internet newspaper called Egyenlítő (Equalizer). That made a bigger splash. The last time I checked over 1,800 people had recommended the article, which contained a link to my piece in Galamus. I just heard from the editor-in-chief of Galamus that the Galamus site is down at the moment. Too many people are trying to find the article.

No wonder there is interest. This is the first document that supports the hypothesis that Orbán had something to do with the “violent protesters.” I have the feeling that there will be more interesting revelations in those Wikileaks documents. I might also add that MTI summarized the Spiegel article but left out all references to Orbán’s possible connection to the leaders of the mob. It simply said: “In the diplomatic documents recently made public [Viktor Orbán] is being depicted as a man who likes to play with fire.” Well, that’s one way of reporting foreign news!

30 comments

  1. Plenty to get our teeth into there, Éva!
    I wasn’t too impressed with the Der Spiegel article – rather sloppily written, I thought – but the cables are well worth a read. I hope there’s plenty more of them to come!
    A couple of minor questions on your article:
    You say OV left in an “armoured car” – I was shocked by this, as I first thought you meant one of those military vehicles with a gun on top, but I assume even OV wouldn’t go that far OTT, so did you mean just a normal car that has been reinforced with armour?
    The other thing is I’m not sure of the exact location of the Jobbik ‘demo’. I assume it took place in Deák Ferenc tér – is this correct? I can’t find Arany János u. on the map (and don’t have a Budapest map to hand), but I assume this is between DF tér and Astoria?
    Sorry if this seems like asking about the obvious, but my knowledge of the events of that day is very thin due to the lack of reliable sources in English.

  2. Paul: “You say OV left in an “armoured car” – I was shocked by this, as I first thought you meant one of those military vehicles with a gun on top, but I assume even OV wouldn’t go that far OTT, so did you mean just a normal car that has been reinforced with armour?”
    Correct. The latter. I know darn little about armored cars but 2006 newspaper reports claimed that he rented a Mercedes that had been armored. Apparently that car was waiting for him and carried him away toward the Elizabeth Bridge straight to the Buda side.
    Thus, the implication was that he himself was expecting trouble and he wanted to be nowhere near. How correct these assumptions are, I don’t have any idea.

  3. Was there a “coup attempt” in Budapest on 23 October 2006??? I think there were a few indicators missing before the events that night could be called a coup attempt. Unless there are other indicators that have not yet been revealed.

  4. John – under normal circumstances I would agree with you, but, bearing in mind OV’s somewhat fantasy view of the world, I think it’s quite possible that he really did think he could start a little fire which would turn into a much bigger one.
    But, probably, even for him, that was still a long shot. And almost anything else that could have happened that night would add to his black propaganda war against Gy, so it didn’t really matter if things didn’t escalate. He couldn’t lose.
    It’s interesting though, that a man who claims to be able to understand the voters so well should get this so wrong. Anyone who has spent even the briefest time studying popular revolutions, coups, etc will know that these things only happen once the people get annoyed enough that they haven’t got anything left to lose.
    You don’t start a coup or a revolution with a small group of rent-a-mob skinheads, you need the people on your side as well. And really on your side – so fed up with things that they are prepared to risk their lives trying to change things.
    In 56, ordinary people, from all walks of life, took the chance that they would get shot, and decided that it was time they shot back.
    I would doubt that there were many in that Fidesz crowd that night, no matter how much they loved OV and hated Gy, who would have been prepared to put their lives on the line for their beliefs. In fact, I doubt even if many of the rent-a-mob lot would have hung around for long if live ammunition and tanks were being used.
    And, even if they had, how many ordinary Budapesti would have taken in their wounded, hidden their guns, or shown them out the back way to avoid the police?
    In OV’s fantasy world, he thinks he is leading a vast, popular revoltion. A movement that will change Hungary once and forever. A movement supported by a large core or reliable, idealistic disciples, who will carry him shoulder high to his new Hungary.
    Come the hard times, he’s in for a bit of a shock.

  5. Not sure how much hard evidence there is that Orbán was behind everything (or anything), but it’s in line with his growing Horthy complex to say he was there to deliver Hungary if needs be(though on a white horse would be better than in a rented Merc).

  6. Xour remark about MTI’s selfcensorship shows in which direction Orban is taking Hungary.

  7. As you are getting immeresed in this story, please donot forget that there is a conspiracy theory that puts President Bush behind the 9/11 attacks. There are all sorts of ‘proofs’ that he wanted to justify the already planned attack on Iraq. Oh well, after 99 years we shall know the truth.

  8. I have to agree with the critics this time.
    1. There was no coup attempt, although the radical rightwingers attacking the TV building might have been so delusional to think they were staging a revolution.
    2. There is not a shred of real evidence that Orbán was behind an attempted uprising at October 23, even though every sensible person (including it seems the US embassy in its cable) said that organising a meeting so close to the centre was playing with fire. Sure, he was condoning and even encouraging unrest in the streets hoping that would force the government to resign. But irrisponsible this may be, it is no coup attempt.
    3.Even if some radical rioters were trying to lure the police towards the peacefull demonstration (and that is a big if) they could only do so because the police was foolish enough to let them. They could easily have cordonned off Parliament and leave it at that untill well after the Fidesz demo was over. But they didn’t because they had no clue about crowd control and dealing with riots.

  9. One of my nephews wrote lately: “I would like to see a Slovak or a Romanian Publicist to trash and badmouth their own Country abroad, but no avail. This must be another Hungaricum.”
    Should members of present Hungarian Government be able to walk on water, above mentioned journalists would write an editorial with a title: Hungarian Government members cannot swim!
    B.T.W. one of the earlier quotes (someone) is from Szent Korona Radio in the US.
    Felelős kiadó: Joytrade LLC
    Székhelye: 6165, NW 86th Street, Johnston, Iowa, 50131, USA
    Cégbejegyzési száma: 490DLC-000343799
    Főszerkesztő: Ostenburg-Moravek Gyula
    Főszerkesztési vezérelv: A Szent Korona Tana
    Általános kérdésekkel kapcsolatban: radio_kukac_szentkoronaradio.com
    Hír ajánlása megjelentetésre:
    hir_kukac_szentkoronaradio.com
    There is no doubt some Hungarians are behind it, just like their counterpart behind any other blog.
    For those who are able to read Hungarian text: please take a look at URL
    http://politicallyincorrect.blog.hu/2011/01/03/schiff_andras_levelet_megirta#more2556519
    Hilarious!!

  10. kormos wrote: “One of my nephews wrote lately: “I would like to see a Slovak or a Romanian Publicist to trash and badmouth their own Country abroad, but no avail. This must be another Hungaricum.”
    Tell your nephew to get out more often. His assertion is total nonsense!

  11. A coup attempt? Come on, let’s not follow the great Central-European tradition of conspiracy theories. I’m not an Orbán fan, and I’m sure he didn’t mind, and even considered there would be violence on October 23, as it would weaken the government. But this is ridiculous. Those extreme rightists had a revolution in mind, certainly, and it was a nasty afternoon. But in the end, they were a handful of people who dragged other people into the violence. Riots happen. But had Orbán planned a coup, he would have needed some support of armed forces, police or army, which he clearly didn’t have, and I doubt that he ever tried to get such support. Gosh, according to Wikileaks, the diplomats said that Orbán played with fire. Seems an absolute proof he attempted a coup. I think that many correspondents also wrote something along that line, but they were certainly not thinking about a coup. I like this blog, but please, get real.

  12. Leeflang: “Seems an absolute proof he attempted a coup. I think that many correspondents also wrote something along that line, but they were certainly not thinking about a coup. I like this blog, but please, get real.”
    It really doesn’t matter what you or I think. In this case what is important what the American embassy thought.

  13. While I was not present in person during the mob violence on the night in question, I did have a nephew (thank goodness for those young lads) who was and called me on his cell while he was in the midst of things. He gave me a personal report. I also followed the events with some live coverage available on the internet.
    Orban’s name came up immediately after the events, not as a coup leader but as a cowardly politician who fled the scene. How time changes perspective!!
    Frankly people are giving too much credit to Orban. I think his only power is the fantasy Hungarians invest in his messianic complex. Orban and Hungary are the best illustration of the story of the Emperor who has no clothes. The one credit I give him is his own recognition of his own inadequacy for the position he is in and so puts all decisions seemingly into the hands of his sycophant followers. Thus to himself at least he does not have to take the blame for any miss-steps or sins of his government. Orban, like the Pope excathedra, is infallible, so if things blow up it could not be his fault. Sadly there are far too may Hungarians willing to accept that. They believe in him. My father though always said when I started to say “Ï believe….” that “A templomban kell hinni. Minden mast tudni kell”. You have to believe in the Church everything else you should be certain of.

  14. This idea that one cannot criticize the government of a country from abroad is total nonsense. That would have meant during the Kádár regime that I keep telling everybody that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the regime. Or if I had been a German who left Hitler’s Germany felt that I had to defend the Nazi regime because after all I’m a German.
    Only rabid and misled nationalists can say such things.

  15. Hi,
    Fully agree with Leeflang. Nobody “normal” would plan it in that way.Too unprofessional
    ad Kormos “badmouth own country” telling the trouth is not “badmounthing” I believe Eva is trying to help own country.Those who are silent just prolonging the ilness…

  16. With all the respect Ms.Balogh, you did not tell the world how bad, corrupt and downgrading Hungarian Governments were between 2002 and 2010.
    I do not expect you to defend Orban or the present Hungarian Government and of course I maintain that you have the right to say or write anything you like. I just would like the same entitlement for others. I could be a rabid, misled nationalist. Well..there are other adjectives too and it is my prerogative to be one of those, if I wanted to. Being one is not worse than being a rabid, misled internationalist whatever. Honestly, while living in Hungary from 1945 till I left the Country, I did not dare to express my opinion.Yes,we did not have internet handy at that time.

  17. @ Roland
    There is absolute truth and there is perceived truth. You and I, along with Ms. Balogh and many others, will never know the absolute truth. So we work with perceived feelings of truth, according our historical baggage.

  18. @kormos:
    What about the Fidesz government 1998 – 2002 ?
    Was it different ? Why did voters in 2002 turn against it ?
    PS: I bought my little holiday house near Héviz in 1998 – but didn’t expect to spend so much time here, that’s why I didn’t care too much about Hungarian politics then.
    Now that I have a Hungarian partner and spend at least half of the year here, I really want to know what’s going on …

  19. Well, the Fidesz media is full of condemnation of those who are bad-mouthing their country… which is just another hypocrisy of Fidesz:
    From October 27, 2003
    http://www.fidesz.hu/index.php?Cikk=16247
    “Kéréssel fordulunk ezért a magyar és a nemzetközi sajtó képviselőihez, hogy a fenti – nézetünk szerint demokráciában elfogadhatatlan – törekvések ellen emelje fel a szavát.”
    Fidesz was criticizing how the prime minister Medgyessy handled public media. And in the quote above they asked the Hungarian and international press to raise their voice against these practices that, they said, were unacceptable in a democracy.

  20. Hello Kirsten:
    Indeed Csáky is Slovak citizen and the media is a Hungarian (Jobbik) party internet publication, thus outside of Slovakia. Kisköre is a larger village. The population of Kisköre, Hungary is 3038 according to the GeoNames geographical database.
    Have all western media commented upon that news? Did Finch downgrade Slovak National Debt?
    No? Sish..
    I am sorry for my irony. You do not really deserve it.

  21. @Kormos: Western media do not comment on this blog either and Fitch does not set its rating because of comments of Hungarians about the media law. It is rather natural in democracies that not all citizens support a government and that there is criticism of it, Americans are a very good example of that. If it were easier to change matters in Hungary without addressing people in other countries, you would certainly find less “badmouthing”. But anyway as citizens of the EU, Hungarians are fully entitled to address European institutions in support of their rights and there it cannot be avoided to inform non-Hungarians of perceived or real trouble.

  22. An, I suspect Fidesz’s definition of ‘democracy’ is rather different to ours.
    Ours may involve such elements as multi-party politics, free and fair elections, dignified hand-over of power and conduct in parliament, free press, rule of law, independent courts, etc.
    But OV’s is something along the lines of “the people gave me two-thirds of the seats, therefore anything I do is the democratic will of the people”.

  23. I witnessed the brutality of the Hungarian police on 23 October 2006. I hate mass demonstrations but I felt it is ‘my obligation’ to be there once the govt, whose members previously thought the revolution of 1956 was a contra-revolution celebrated it without the public behind fences, excluding the public from the celebration.Anyway, it was not a demonstation, it was a peaceful celebration until the police intervened and threw tear bombs at the people. Where was then the ‘free democratic Western media’?

  24. csabacsud: “I witnessed the brutality of the Hungarian police on 23 October 2006.”
    Sorry, fellow, but I doubt that you were there. Your description of the events bears no resemblance to reality.

  25. Csabacsud: Where was then the ‘free democratic Western media’?
    We were there, right on the spot, so don’t give me that bull about peaceful demonstrators, please.

  26. It is important not to give in to Fidesz´s regrettable habit of making suggestive but unsubstantiated connections. We cannot prove of a direct relation between ´Debil´ and Orbán yet. There is no evidence that Orbán attempted a coup, and personally I doubt if there ever will be.
    However, it is clear that Orbán was playing with fire in the sense that he was doing his bit to stir up trouble. `Astoria` is a very unlikely place for a mass meeting. At the time his decision to speech there was considered by many as an indication of his brinkmanship. The cable just seems to share this opinion. No more.
    What exactly he was hoping for we cannot know. Maybe a replay of 1956 – that indeed would have been a silly daydream. But probably he had a more realistic scenario in which the social-democrats, weakened by their lack of popular support, would just give in to stop the chaos.
    There may be more than a streak of madness in Orbán´s mind, but he should not be underestimated. What struck me in his last October speech was the emphasis on the need to act quickly. I remember he said something like “ … our window of opportunity is limited, we must act within one year …”. Orbán knows that crowds are fickle.
    PS: @Kormos: I don´t think it is Eva´s task to show how bad the former government was. But it would be very nice to have a source that would document it on her level. I would appreciate it if you could name a few (or just one).

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