civic organizations

The significance of today’s demonstration in the Hungarian capital

This afternoon’s demonstration was impressive. At least in my opinion. Some people are disappointed that only 6,000 people showed up, but I don’t think that numbers are the most important consideration. Yesterday we didn’t even know who those handful of people were who occupied the courtyard of Fidesz’s party headquarters. A few hours later their numbers swelled to 1,000. Less than 24 hours later this unknown group managed to stage a demonstration in which thousands participated.

And this crowd, both yesterday and today, demanded “Constitution, Democracy and the Rule of Law.” These are exactly the kinds of values that European politicians cherish and that they demand from Viktor Orbán. The crowd was mixed: young, middle-aged, old, all mingled together, and there were a lot of sympathizers cheering them on. It is also significant that 110,000 people watched the live stream of the event.

Most likely Viktor Orbán thinks that because the numbers are still relatively small, eventually the whole movement will peter out. I predict that the trend will be just the reverse. Some of you already sensed a different mood on the streets today. In any case, it seems to me that Fidesz is preparing itself for the possibility, even if to some of them an unlikely possibility, of rising dissatisfaction. The party’s organizers and spin doctors are heading in the wrong direction, however, in devising ways to combat dissatisfaction.

Let’s start by recapping yesterday’s response to the demonstrators at the Fidesz headquarters. First, András Bencsik, one of the Peace March organizers, mobilized those Fidesz supporters who are hard-core “professional” demonstrators. Their primitive behavior, their obscenities, and their stupidity will turn more and more people against them. Videos abound on YouTube of these people’s unspeakable behavior. Moreover, they didn’t even realize that the students on the balcony were reading Fidesz’s party program from 1989.

Then came the second mistake. Gábor Kubatov, Fidesz party manager who in his spare time is the president of the board of the Ferencváros Football Club, called on some heavies from the ranks of the Fradi football hooligans who tried to remove the protesters by force. It turned out that one of the hooligans spent ten years in jail  for murder.

And what is Kubatov planning now? He is trying to mobilize the faithful by painting a picture of the imminent danger facing the government and the party. He sent a letter to party members in which he outlined the “damage” and “physical abuse” allegedly committed by the protesters. According to Kubatov, the demonstrators “attacked” the building, “tried to break into it,” but thanks to the the staff ‘s “firmness of purpose” they were thwarted in their attempt. “Meanwhile they broke into smithereens whatever was in their way” (törtek-zúztak) and “maltreated the employees of the party headquarters.” (Don’t try to find any logic here because if they didn’t manage to get into the building how could they have smashed things into smithereens or maltreated the employees who were inside?)

In the future, Kubatov maintains, the employees of the offices of Fidesz must be ready to defend, peacefully of course, their buildings. He called on Fidesz members who are ready to come to the rescue of Fidesz buildings to sign up at riadolanc@fidesz.hu. (“Riadó” means “alert” and “lánc” “chain”.) These people should be ready on an hour’s notice to be “on the scene of aggression.”

Some people on the Internet compare Fidesz’s hard core defenders to either the Sturmabteilung (Storm troopers/SA) or the Workers’ Militia of the Kádár regime. The blogger who compares Kubatov’s defense force to the SA quotes the appropriate passages from the Hungarian edition of Wikipedia, which describes the chief function of the SA  as defending the national socialist party’s meetings from attacks by the opposition.

Kubatov’s guards reminded Vastagbőr (Thick Skin) of Kádár’s Workers’ Militia whose duty was “the defense of the socialist achievements of the Hungarian People’s Republic.” Each workplace, including collective farms and offices, had a number of volunteers who were supposed to defend the buildings and the employees inside.

Now let’s see what the pro-Fidesz media is up to. Magyar Nemzet published a detailed article about today’s events. The author of the article called the organizers “members of the Bajnai Guard” but otherwise gave a fairly objective report on the demonstration. Heti Válasz claimed that “several  activists with a loudspeaker surrounded and insulted the camera man and Boglárka Bartus, a reporter for HírTV.” Maybe, maybe not.

And let’s see how Zsolt Bayer sees the situation. Fidesz supporters, however sadly, must realize that from here on there will be first weekly and later daily demonstrations. He calls the members of civic groups “the children of Saul Alinsky,” a well-known American community organizer and writer. What is so bad about following in the footsteps of Alinsky, who after all worked for the improvement of living conditions in poor communities across North America? Only Bayer knows. But he claims that he is “too lazy, too tired, and too skeptical to loathe” Alinsky’s offspring. Perhaps one could talk to them if there was anything to talk about. But there isn’t. “At least we should force ourselves to be patient because they will be coming and coming. First only a few dozen, but always. They will jump over the fence, climb into our headquarters, our houses, our dreams, our desires. We will smell their halitosis. And we will retreat and retreat because we can hardly bear it. And we would gladly trample down all of them. Let’s be honest with ourselves at least once. This is what we would like to do.” But they cannot do it because the other side is waiting for aggression on their part. Don’t fret. After the elections “they will disappear forever, but until then it will be very difficult.”

One final note on the road Fidesz traveled in the last twenty-five years. Once upon a time Viktor Orbán, László Kövér and their friends did exactly the same thing that today’s college students are doing. Protesting injustice, lack of democracy, lack of transparency, lack of dialogue between the rulers and the ruled. In the courtyard of Fidesz party headquarters the students found discarded campaign literature from 1989. They demanded democratic, ideology-free education and university autonomy. And, what I like perhaps best, they demanded “fear-free life.” With Viktor Orbán’s government fear returned.

I don’t think that László Kövér wants to remember his old self squatting on the ground with a poster hanging from his neck:

In a police state the policeman's salary is higher than that of a teacher. In a democratic country the opposite is true

In a police state the policeman’s salary is higher than that of a teacher. In a democratic country the opposite is true.

How would today’s Fidesz faithful greet the man above? Would they threaten to pour acid on his face? Most likely. What’s going on in Hungary today is really shameful.

The new parliamentary guards in action

Everybody was waiting to see what the new parliamentary police force, created to keep order in the House, would do once the spring session of parliament convened. Well, we have the answer. They will interfere with citizens’ freedom of speech even if the protest is outside of their jurisdiction. On the other hand, the new force will assist “civic groups” who want to “defend” the government from its own citizens. Not exactly an auspicious beginning.

This was the second time that a few hundred people embarked on a walk in the dead of winter to call attention to the extreme poverty that exists in certain regions of the country. Just to give an idea of the seriousness of the situation,  out of the seven regions in Hungary six are among the poorest regions of the European Union. That’s one of the reasons that Hungary is receiving relatively generous subsidies from Brussels for the next seven years. The Hungarian government is supposed to do something to alleviate the unspeakable poverty, backwardness, and unemployment in these regions. I have don’t have high hopes that the money will be well spent.

Last year there was only one hunger march. The participants came from the region around Miskolc in the northeastern part of the country. This year, the decision was made to have not one march but eleven starting off from different parts of the country and converging on Budapest.  MSZP joined the organizers, as one would expect from a social democratic party. Fidesz mayors and activists kept provoking the people walking through their towns. For example, government sympathizers threw rolls at the marchers. We might find this kind of behavior more than low, perhaps even disgusting, but such unfeeling boorishness is part and parcel of Fidesz politics.

From day one Gábor Kubatov, the infamous campaign manager of Fidesz, labelled the hunger marches the “power hunger march of the socialists.” CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum), an allegedly independent organization that has been responsible for organizing the peace marches on behalf of the Orbán government, liked Kubatov’s label and decided to wait for the marchers in front of the parliament building with a very professional looking banner reading “Greetings to the marchers for socialist power hunger.”

Koszontjuk2

When Népszabadság inquired from Sándor Csizmadia, the chairman  of CÖF, whether permission was asked and/or granted to put up the banner, the head of CÖF announced that “the organization didn’t ask permission because it was put up as part of a spontaneous flash mob.”

But what Csizmadia and other older organizers of CÖF don’t seem to realize is that with modern technology, especially those pesky omnipresent cell phones, lying is becoming increasingly difficult.  Someone who writes a blog called “The heart of the city” (A város szíve) just happened to be zooming by when he noticed that workers from a professional banner firm with the assistance of the parliamentary police were putting up the CÖF banner. One can clearly read: Házőrség (Parliamentary police) on the back of the blue-uniformed policeman standing by.

Hazorseg

A day later Milla decided to put up their own much more modest banner. Hand made, not professional like CÖF’s. And what a difference between the two messages. While CÖF’s text demeaned the four million Hungarians who live below the poverty line, Milla’s text read “Az ország házon kivül van.” It is subtle message that Milla’s activists can be proud of. For those who don’t know Hungarian here is a brief language lesson. In Hungarian the name of the parliament building is “országház,” literally “house of the country.” Thus, Milla’s banner said “the country is outside of the House.”

The subtlety of the banner’s message didn’t impress an official in civilian clothes who rushed out of the building and ordered Szelim Simándi, a political scientist and Milla activist, off the ladder. But Simándi and the others who were assisting him were not easily intimidated. As someone wrote in an opinion piece, these guys are not like the youngsters in the Kádár regime. After all, Szelim was born in 1988. He knows his rights. He told the unnamed member of the police force of the House that he has no jurisdiction over the area where Milla is planning to put up the banner. Here is the scene, although surely our unnamed policeman in civilian clothes is not happy with it. He even wanted to forbid a newspaperman from taking a picture of him.

What followed is truly bizarre. Photos, video, and eyewitnesses don’t convince the press department of the Hungarian Parliament that lying is not the best response to being caught red handed. The official communiqué  stated that “no steps were taken in the case of either banner because the posts on which the banners were attached are outside of the territory that is under the supervision of the house police.” Yet at the same time Szelim Simándi received an e-mail from someone (Laszlo.Polyak@parlament.hu) in which he was told that because the Office of the Parliament/Országgyűlési Hivatal (the head of the office is László Kövér) didn’t receive a request from him to place the banner in front of the building Simándi will have to pay a 107,400 Ft fine. Plus he will have to remove the banner.

Apparently, at least this is what the Office of the Parliament claimed, they also fined CÖF  for their transgression. Not surprisingly the Milla activists don’t believe them and asked their supporters to write to Laszlo.Polyak@parlament.hu and ask for a copy of the letter sent to CÖF. That is, “if you are curious.”

I have the feeling that Mr. Polyák’s mailbox has been jammed since this request. I’m also certain that no letter was ever sent to CÖF. Moreover, one can always produce one ex post facto.

This incident demonstrates how the Orbán government can manipulate public opinion by financing and otherwise assisting a phony “civic” organization that is actually an arm of the government that serves up its own propaganda. At the same time the government does everything in its power to restrict the movement of the opposition. Szelim Simándi’s interview on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd is definitely worth watching.

By the way, Milla is organizing a demonstration in front of parliament for Monday and is asking for hundreds of banners to protest the government’s underhanded behavior in this case.