Nowadays anti-government demonstration follows anti-government demonstration in Hungary. And not just in Budapest but in all larger cities and towns. Tens of thousands of people gather each time to express their outrage.
A couple of months ago no one would have predicted such a swift change in the political climate. In fact, critics of the government simply couldn’t understand the population’s passivity. In the last few years Viktor Orbán’s government has done so much harm to the great majority of Hungarians that it was difficult to understand the complacency of the people, the apathy that seemed to have paralyzed the country’s inhabitants. Explanations for this phenomenon varied. Some felt that fear played a large role. The current political players are known to be merciless when it comes to their opponents. Even in private companies people were afraid to voice their opposition to the government for fear that their pro-government boss would fire “the enemies of the nation” right on the spot. Others argued that, given the weakness of the opposition parties, the population was destined to remain passive. After all, they see no alternative to the present regime. People fear chaos if Fidesz’s rule collapses. Another explanation was the nationalistic fervor that was artificially fueled by the government. If it is true, as the government claims, that Hungary is surrounded by enemies, the people have to stand by a government that seems to be defending their national honor.
But all that changed about a month ago. The pent-up resentment and dissatisfaction surfaced with elemental force. The planned introduction of an internet tax was the catalyst. Those young people who had created a virtual community on Facebook and Twitter and who were not paying much attention to the way the government was stripping them of their personal freedom suddenly woke up. Now it was their own space that Viktor Orbán was trampling on. And once they woke up they also realized that this government is planning to organize every facet of their lives, from cradle to grave. They looked around and decided that what’s going on today in Hungary is anything but democracy.
Then there is the matter of corruption, which has been systemic and organized from above. Ildikó Vida, president of the Hungarian Tax Authority, is just one link in the chain that goes all the way to the top. In Hungary everybody is aware of widespread corruption, but once it became known that even the top officials of the tax office are complicit in tax fraud the floodgates opened wide.
Now, let’s talk a little about last night’s event. The organizers of yesterday’s demonstration are different from the ones we came to know in the last few weeks as leaders of the movement. Yet they managed to gather a crowd of about 20,000. There was, however, a strange dissonance between speakers and audience. The youthful orators hate all politicians. They don’t seem to distinguish between politics after 2010 and before. For them the last two and a half decades are all the same. It is time for a “regime change.”
It was enlightening to watch the demonstrators’ response. They were not inclined to bury the last twenty-five years. They did not yell “Down with Bajnai!” or “Down with Gyurcsány!” when the youthful speakers mentioned their names. The crowd got fired up only when Fidesz, Orbán, or Vida were mentioned. None of the signs held up by the demonstrators demanded the removal of all parties, but there were plenty that wanted Viktor Orbán to disappear from Hungarian political life. The speakers and their audience were not in sync. One had the feeling that the audience was not really interested in the speeches. They only wanted to express their “outrage” at what this government has done to them in the last few years.
One of the organizer-speakers had a talk with Olga Kálmán of ATV yesterday right after the demonstration. During the conversation he announced that they want a “new regime,” a “new political system.” When asked about the nature of that system, it became evident that these young people not only don’t have a program, they don’t have an inkling about what a new regime might look like. They only know what they don’t want: corruption, graft, a lack of dialogue between government and the governed, and arrogant politicians. This is good as a beginning but certainly not enough to change Hungarian politics in the long run.
Some of the organizers also displayed a certain naïveté. One of them expressed their desire to “work with all political parties,” including Viktor Orbán and Fidesz. Surely, this young man doesn’t understand the nature of the mafia state and the role of the godfather in that system. The majority of his audience, on the other hand, seemed to understand that one cannot work with this regime. It must go and democracy must be restored. This is what they demanded during their long demonstration in front of the parliament building.
The parties have wisely kept away from these demonstrations, but surely sooner or later the “outraged” public and the politicians of the democratic opposition must find each other because only by cooperating can this regime be toppled.
As for the government’s reaction, Viktor Orbán and his minions act as if nothing happened yesterday. In parliament the two-thirds majority voted on next year’s budget that is full of new taxes and punishing levies on foreign companies the government wants to destroy. Viktor Orbán opened two new establishments, one in Alcsút and the other in Felcsút, the villages of his youth. He visited János Flier’s cattle breeding farm and Lőrincz Máeszáros’s farm where he will raise mangalica pigs. Both “farmers” are considered to be front men (Strohmänner/strómanok) of Orbán. For the time being it looks as if the prime minister hasn’t sensed political danger. If I were in his shoes I would be less cocky. Some people are very angry.