Bus after bus pulls up to the Lower Quay along the Danube River to let Peace Marchers off: they have come from the provinces, what they call in Hungarian “the country” (vidék), to show support for their beloved prime minister and quasi-messiah, the man who has guided them to the promised land of Hungarian national self-determination and self-respect; the great leader who has led them in battle against western banks ( i.e. the IMF) and organizations (i.e. the EU) and their socialist-liberal accomplices in Hungary. “We love Orbán Viktor” reads the sign in the hands of a lady just off a bus from Dunaharaszti.
And they do love him—this is the essential difference between the Peace March demonstrations of the Orbán era and the May Day parades of the communist era: the hundreds of thousands of mostly rural Peace Marchers are voluntary and enthusiastic participants who pay for the bus transportation to Budapest out of their own pockets, while most of the May Day paraders were obligatory actors in a centrally orchestrated pageant of support for a system toward which most of them felt either indifference or aversion.
The similarities between the Peace March processions and May Day parades are nonetheless striking: mass demonstrations of support for highly centralized, anti-democratic governments that face no threat whatsoever to their control over all aspects of the established political system.
A beautiful, warm spring afternoon, the first short-sleeve day of the year. The text on the lead banner reads “The Country is One – April 6, 2014” in reference to next weekend’s national election that will likely provide Fidesz with another two-thirds super-majority in the National Assembly. Peace March organizers hold the banner in their established positions: Bayer; Fricz; Stefka, Széles, Csizmadia and Bencsik (see Peace March Demonstrations). Fluorescent-vested security personnel push ahead with a rope stretched across the street to keep photographers from impeding the progress of the march; snap after snap on the backpedal down Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Avenue, all of the banner holders make eye contact: Bencsik, the inveterate showman, waves, shows thumbs up and smiles mockingly for the camera, Bayer and his wife regard the photographer with suspicion, while “Bulldog” Széles presents the challenging face, blinking, nodding, powerful jawbone always on the move.
Pro-Fidesz and opposition sources will issue widely varying estimations regarding the number of participants: whatever the precise figure, it was again one hell of a lot, more than one-hundred thousand and maybe two- or three-hundred thousand. Who can keep count when there are so many?
The signs are less hostile than at previous Peace Marches, mostly just Orange ones reading”Fidesz” and images of the Hungarian flag with the words “Vote” and “April 6.” A small group of counter-demonstrators wearing red Pioneer-movement neckerchiefs, the same ones who appeared at Prime Minister Viktor Orbán‘s March 15 speech (see Ides of March), has set up a stage at the end of Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Avenue under a banner that reads “Long Live Russian-Hungarian Friendship! Long Live Our Wise Leader Viktor!” The comparison between the Fidesz and communist systems has clearly hit home: marchers hiss and grumble as they turn past stage on their way up Andrássy Avenue.
Amid the mass of mostly elderly voters from the provinces on Heroes’ Square, two of the most boring political speeches one can imagine, one from the French president of the European People’s Party and one from the president of the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, before Prime Minister Orbán steps to the microphone to repeat the message he has honed so well over the years and which exercises such a mesmerizing effect on his supporters: revolution in the voting booth, eternal struggle against Hungary’s adversaries, national unity in a hostile world, continual fight against the treachery and corruption of the post-communists.
Unchanging messages that will sustain this overstrung system, a perfect reflection of its creator, until one day four years or eight years or ten years from now when it suddenly flies apart.
See Orange Files photo gallery of Peace March.