March 15: national holiday in Hungary commemorating the outbreak of the 1848 revolution against Habsburg domination. Along with October 23, the national holiday commemorating the outbreak of the 1956 revolution against Soviet domination, the most important date on the country’s annual political calendar (see The Soft White Underbelly).
All the parties are active, their leaders hold speeches at various places throughout the center of Budapest. Politically involved citizens of the city are out and about, showing support for their side, checking out the adversary, curious to see what scandal and outrage this year’s happenings will produce.
2014: the Fidesz–Christian Democratic People’s Party alliance is three weeks away from another landslide election victory. The only question is whether Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will get another super majority in the National Assembly, again giving him the power to implement his legislative agenda without impediment. All else is simply detail: how much will Jobbik gain, how much will the democratic opposition lose? Will Politics Can Be Different even get into parliament?
Across the Franz Joseph Bridge by bike, Orange Files rides toward the annual state commemoration at the National Museum, where Petőfi read his “National Song” at the start of the 1848 revolt. On Kálvin Square only red and white Polish flags: the Law and Justice weekly Gazeta Polska has organized another Great Trip to Hungary to show support for Prime Minister Orbán, just as it did for the second pro-government Peace March in 2012. Images of Pope John Paul II, the Kaczyński twins, banners in Polish, anti-EU signs in English, men in military uniforms, from the Polish-Soviet War perhaps?
Are they aware of Orbán’s rapprochement with Russia?
Through the main gate to the steps of the National Museum to get a good photograph of Orbán. His security has become much tighter than it used to be—it is no longer easy to get a good close-up of him. Standing in the crowd, camera in hand: a bellicose patriotic poem shouted in a shrill voice; a pop version of the “National Song” and some folk dancing; then down the stairs strides the short and girthy prime minister, right on past—dammit!—across a ramp to a platform overlooking Museum Avenue for his speech.
Excuse me, thank you, excuse me, thank you—press back out through the crowd to Museum Avenue, the speech begun in his throaty, constricted voice, a variation of the same one he has given a hundred times before: life and death struggle, identifying the enemies, always in danger, Labanc, Muscovites, global capital: “The weak and cowardly are no longer dealt into the game.”
Something interesting: a copse of orange flags with the heads of Orbán and Putin side by side. A dozen silent protesters, those around them shouting occasional threats and epithets.
“The word ‘utility-fee cut’ would not look good in the National Song, but it is easy to see that just as today the reduction of unjust and inequitable burdens was for them [the 1848 revolutionaries] the first and most important task.”
“Hungary is the most unified country in Europe.”
Orbán makes no direct reference to the upcoming elections. He doesn’t need to because he knows he’s going to win, and win big.
The speech is over, the protesters furl their Orbán-Putin flags and give a short interview to a German-speaking reporter through an interpreter. They say they are associated with Bajnai. One of them has a bloody lip.
By bike toward Lajos Kossuth Street, cannot even find the Politics Can Be Different assembly. The sky is turning oddly overcast, the dust and refuse of spring swirls in puffs of warm breeze.
The Polish march past, there are a couple hundred young people lined up along the sidewalk wearing orange, red and green t-shirts and holding well-made signs that say “Vote Against Jobbik!” They say they are a Facebook group, but nobody seems to know who paid for all the shirts and signs. Fidesz has turned its sights away from the foundering democratic opposition toward Jobbik in order to protect its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.
Coffee with an old friend and then the surprise of the day: the democratic opposition has cancelled its assembly due to expected high winds. Organizers in fluorescent vests announce the news on bullhorns. Lajos Kossuth Street is reopened to vehicle traffic.
Just when you think it can’t get any worse, they find some way to sink even lower. The reason for the cancellation is not really rain and wind: it is that they have nothing to say, no hope in the elections, no reason for being in their present form. Gábor Fodor and the liberals are down at the Petőfi statue for a separate gathering. There are about a hundred people holding blue flags bearing the image of Lajos Kossuth. Fodor looks tired as he chats with elderly supporters, like he wishes he were somewhere else.
Over to the Jobbik assembly on Deák Square. Almost everybody in black; cracked and distorted faces, it has the feel of one-third penitentiary, one-third insane asylum and one-third school for the mentally challenged. The New Hungarian Guard is there. Vona, Előd Novák and the rest are there. At least they have the mettle to withstand a little stormy weather. They know where they want to go and are committed to getting there. And they just might do it.
A billow of red, white and green balloons rises into the air and dissipates slowly into the heavy gray clouds above.