The Curtain Falls Again

The curtain falls: closing the last gap in the border.

Closing the final gap in the Hungarian-Serbian border (photo: Orange Files).

On this night the “new era” begins: the Orbán government is closing the final gap in the Hungarian-Serbian border fence, the place where the now defunct Szabadka-Szeged railway crosses the frontier, the place where tens of thousands of refugees have entered Hungary over the past few weeks en route to the West. The news has spread quickly among the tens of thousands more who are still on their way: Hungary will seal its border on midnight of September 14–15. The push to make it to the frontier before this hour has been intense, a massive forced march up the railway and dusty trackside roads in northern Serbia: the UNHCR official at the border says that his people counted around 29,000 refugees crossing the frontier into Hungary over the previous two days.

See entire post.

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Click on any photo to see gallery view.

See all 39 photos.

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Below is an Orange Files video of the closing of the border made from the Serbian side.

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The Fields Are Speaking Pashto

This field is speaking Pashto.

The murmur of strange tongues.

The fields are speaking Pashto here in southern Hungary along the border with Serbia. And Arabic and Dari and Urdu. The murmur of these languages in the shrubs and scrubby meadows, in the trees along the roadside ditches, amid the stalks of corn and sunflower. Everywhere the now familiar sounds of unfamiliar words, spoken quietly, asking “what to do? where to go?—when to make a run for the next hiding place?”

As the refugees stream into Hungary along the railway line that is the lone remaining gap in the razor-wire fence erected along the entire length of the border with Serbia, the many who know some English speak as one: “We no want to give fingerprint in Hungary. We want to go to Germany (or Sweden or Norway or Holland). We no want to stay here.”

See entire post.

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Click on any photo to see gallery view.

See all 30 photos.

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Seen from the Corner of Fremont and Cedar

FreCedSeen from the corner of Fremont and Cedar political events in Hungary seem so distant, yet so much clearer than they do from inside the country.

Especially when one has so much time and emotion invested in the non-stop series of conflicts that embody the Orbán era, the significance of every episode in this sad pageant of futile defiance is magnified to such preposterous lengths that all context is lost when viewed from up close.

The landslide Fidesz victory in local elections, the U.S. travel ban scandal, the mass demonstrations against Orbán’s proposed Internet tax: seen from Budapest, vastly important, self-contained events; seen from a small town in the Midwestern United States, constituent elements of a greater whole, mile posts along Hungary’s pathway from the liberal-democratic West toward the authoritarian East.

The heightened sense of proportion that comes with distancing oneself from the object under consideration. Distance needed in order to contribute constructively to an understanding and—perhaps even—resolution of the problem.

But it is so exciting to be there in person. And this may be the central meaning of it all: Hungarians are just too high-strung and bored with continuity to bear the tedium of stability.

As Imre Kertész, the Jewish Hungarian author of the Nobel Prize-winning novel Fatelessness, said with regard to the upheaval stemming from the Orbán government’s conflict with Europe: “Nothing new. No problem. And no solution because there is no problem” (see Fateful Endings).

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A Few Thousand Malcontents

Demonstrators protest alleged Orbán government constraints on the independent media.

Demonstrators protest alleged Orbán government moves to gain control over the independent media.

On Monday, June 9, the opposition website Kettős Mérce [Double Standard] organized a demonstration outside the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest to protest the Orbán government’s alleged recent efforts to curb the influence of the independent commercial media in Hungary.

Specifically, Kettős Mérce held the demonstration to voice concern over two issues that emerged last week in this regard: first, the firing of editor-in-chief Gergő Sáling of the moderately opposition news-portal Origo, allegedly as the result of pressure that the Orbán government placed on website owner Magyar Telekom to do so after Origo two weeks previously broke the news that Prime Ministry director János Lázár had accumulated two million forints (6,600 euros) in hotel bills during three secret trips to Switzerland in 2012 and 2013 (source A and B in Hungarian); and Fidesz’s submission of a bill to the National Assembly that would impose a progressive tax on advertising income, one that is manifestly aimed at undermining the most popular commercial television station in Hungary, RTL Klub (see The Black Screen of Protest). 

Orange Files was at the demonstration. 

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Marching across the Chain Bridge.

Marching across the Chain Bridge.

Late as usual and the first glimpse seems to confirm suspicion that two demonstrations in one week about the same issue is too many and attendance will be light, especially considering that it’s really hot outside and also the Pentacost holiday so everybody is just getting home from the first long weekend at Lake Balaton. 

But a look down Constitution Street (Alkotmány utca) shows a surprising number of people—two thousand, maybe even three. Mostly young, sophisticated, fashionable, western. The speaker is from one of the secondary organizers of the demonstration: right there on the stage he makes a call to Magyar Telekom to cancel his mobile-telephone subscription to protest the presumable pressure the company put on Origo to fire chief editor Sáling; then a fiery speaker in a Hawaiian shirt and then a lady who ends to a crescendo of cheering with a long, eclectic list of different types of people who merit representation in an inclusive Hungary—Gypsies, homosexuals, Hungarian minorities from beyond the borders, etc. 

Marching through the Castle Hill tunnel.

Marching through Castle Hill tunnel.

Liberal hearts warmed, the demonstrators march down to the Danube, across the Chain Bridge [Lánchíd] and through the Castle Hill tunnel on their way to the Magyar Telekom headquarters intoning the new slogans: “Free country! Free media!” (Szabad ország! Szabad média!) and “We don’t need Orbán! We don’t need Lázár! The Hungarian People Doesn’t Need an Emperor!” (Nem kell Orbán! Nem kell Lázár! A magyar népnek nem kell császár!). 

Inside the tunnel it is deafeningly loud, terribly hot. Dizzy. Parched. Need a drink bad. 

Down Krisztina Boulevard and arrive to the headquarters. A PR coup: Magyar Telekom has put up tents with free bottled water for the demonstrators. Sit on top of a high wall, quench thirst and look out over the crowd. Several familiar faces— friends, acquaintances, former liberal political figures like Imre Mécs and Tamás Bauer, aging rock star János Bródy. 

The main target of reproach in speeches at this location is János Lázár, the embodiment of cynical and arrogant political power, the man who ostensibly put pressure on Magyar Telekom to fire Sáling, the man who most vociferously and scornfully defended the proposed advertising-revenue tax, the man who will most likely replace Orbán as prime minister when the latter jumps to the position of president in 2017.  

PR coup: Magyar Telekom provides free water to demonstrators.

PMagyar Telekom provides free water to demonstrators.

But you can bet Lázár doesn’t care. Nobody in the Orbán administration does, because they know that twenty-five hundred disgruntled Budapest liberals pose no threat whatsoever to their power and, in fact, may even play the useful role of subjects for the state-run and other pro-government media to portray as perpetual grumblers, people for their supporters to scoff and roll eyes at.

And if they really don’t like it here, let them move to London with all the other malcontents. 

For a few more images of demonstration see Orange Files photo gallery.

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The Jobbik May Day Celebration

Scene from the annual Jobbik May Day celebration.

Scene from the annual Jobbik May Day celebration.

Always the dilemma for the historico-political observer in Budapest on May 1: which reincarnation of the oppressive twentieth-century isms to observe—the Workers’ Party at its May Day celebration in the City Park or Jobbik at its May Day celebration at Hajógyári [Ship Yard] Island.

This year: the neo-communists are on the rise, there is a new freshness to their red, more young people at their events, though they are still very small—only a half percent of the votes in the April National Assembly election. The neo-fascists are also on the rise, very much on the rise, in fact they form the third-largest party in the National Assembly after getting over 20 percent of the votes in the spring elections.

Really no contest: on the bike and up the Danube to Shipyard Island to see Jobbik.

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Jobbik European Parliament representative Krisztina Morvai.

Krisztina Morvai.

To the Big White Tent just in time to see the end of a speech from Jobbik European Parliament representative and former presidential candidate Krisztina Morvai: she predicts that the European Union may not last another ten years, because such an “unjust and inhumane” organization cannot survive too long. The banner hanging behind her reads “Shall We Be Members or Shall We Be Free?” in reference to an 1848 revolutionary poem from Hungarian national poet Sándor Petőfi. 

The tent is full. The crowd of several hundred applauds, especially when she says if the British don’t want Hungarian workers, then “Tesco go home!”

Morvai still uses the exaggerated facial and hand gestures that make it hard to get a good photo of her. She has also become very plump, though pleasantly so. They say her mother was a top model in Hungary back in the communist days.

Next up: Jobbik President Gábor Vona and National Assembly representative Sándor Pörzse, a former television journalist and present editor of the Jobbik weekly Barikád who smiles like he’s been told a thousand times that he has a nice smile.

Gábor Vona (left ) and Sándor Pörzse.

Gábor Vona (left ) and Sándor Pörzse.

Vona uses a very nasty term to describe the Hungarian Socialist Party—can’t remember which one exactly, heard this kind of political invective so many times before it just all kind of melds together in one big destructive and negative jumble. It probably had something to do with filth [mocsok] or refuse because the Jobbik president concludes his statement amid a crescendo of derisive laughter from the audience: “It doesn’t really matter anyway, because the socialists will soon end up in the trash heap of history!”

How on Earth can all of those people sit through these speeches? Must be looking forward to the food and drink, watching the fly settle on the head of the lady in front, thinking of something else.

Take a tour around the grounds as Vona drones on about the newest tragedy to befall Hungary—the expiration of the moratorium on the sale of agricultural land in the country to foreigners (i.e., citizens of other European Union countries).

The sound of a swooping jet from a nearby air show; Vona announces with mock relief: “I know that the EU doesn’t have any armed forces.” More applause, more derisive laughter.

Greater Hungary wall clocks and other nationalist wares.

Greater Hungary wall clocks and engravings.

This event has become much bigger and more sophisticated than it used to be: five years ago it had the feel of a village market fair—a few hundred people milling about, cheap wares, cheap attractions, the low-fi blare of oration and music; today several thousand people, dozens of stands with artisan-made Hungarian folk clothing, crafts and implements (expensive nationalist-kitsch), kids cracking whips with men dressed as traditional Hungarian Great Plain herdsmen, professional staging, hi-fi amplification.

The freshly made potato chips are delicious, but salty to the supreme and raise a mighty thirst. One beer is good, two even better at almost the same price as water. Many others have made the same calculation: faces are ruddy, eyes gleam. Spirits are high on this beautiful May 1 afternoon.

Sit on the grassy slope, listen to speech from Pörzse over loudspeakers and he says something that is actually candid and interesting: Jobbik has been unable to form alliances with other radical-nationalist parties in Europe because those from other countries in the region (Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia) are anti-Hungarian due to their Hungarian minority populations, while those from western Europe tend to be “pro-Israel” due to their Muslim minority populations. 

The folly of colliding nationalisms.

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Man dressed as Hungarian herdsman-outlaw speaks to family near stand selling Hungarian folk ware.

Back to the Great White Tent for a few more photos before the long ride home. Vona and Pörzse have turned their sights on Hungarian Socialist Party European Parliament party-list leader Tibor Szanyi, a preferred target ever since he gave the finger to the Jobbik National Assembly caucus during a plenary session of parliament last year. Pörzse says he would debate with Szanyi on the spot, though being a holiday the socialist EP-list leader probably wouldn’t be in condition to do so (in reference to Szanyi’s alleged fondness for drink).

Look down at feet and Krisztina Morvai is there squatting down right there, listening to Vona and Pörzse castigating Szanyi. She is wearing a loose-fitting Hungarian folk skirt and short-cut embroidered blouse. There is a large gap of rather sensuous bareness between them. The top of the crack of her backside is clearly visible (see This Kind of Place).

Ancient Hungarian drum ensemble.

Ancient Hungarian drum ensemble.

Stop at the main stage on the way out: a group of drummers in ancient Hungarian headgear and old-fashioned outfits beats out an ominous tribal rhythm. The desperation of radical-nationalist identity-seeking has begun to transcend the boundaries of the absurd in these parts. Then: young women, many of them copiously tatooed, display evening dresses with Hungarian embroidery and nationalist colors (namely the brown-red of the Hungarian uniforms in the 1848 revolution). Up next: concert from the nationalist rock group Ismerős Arcok (Familiar Faces). Heard them last on Szabadság Square in 2007, lead vocalist prompting audience with refrain, cupping ear and holding the microphone outward to catch the mass response: “Ferenc Szálasi!” (name of the prime minister who headed Hungary’s fascist Arrow Cross government in 1944–1945).

Unlock the bicycles from the security fencing around the stage. The crowd growing for the start of the main attraction, the coarse faces of those who suffer from poverty, ill-health and lack of education. Looking hard for deliverance, they think they have found it in the form of a party, a movement and a cultural force that make them proud to be who they are and tell them that all their problems stem from the foul doings of internal and external enemies. One gets the feeling that this whole thing is going to get much bigger before it starts getting smaller. And there may be hell to pay for it. 

The man standing alongside is wearing a shirt bearing the inscription, both front and back:  “I Am a Hungarian, not a Jew” [Magyar vagyok nem zsidó]. 

See Jobbik May Day Celebration photo gallery.

I Am a Hungarian, not a Jew.

I Am a Hungarian, not a Jew.

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Early Report from the Front

Opening the polls in Budapest.

Opening the polls in Budapest.

The blueness of day has began to materialize on the streets of Budapest. The air is dank and dirty, the pavement wet from a light overnight rain. Soggy cartons, tattered food wrappers, empty bottles and cans, the fresh refuse of a Saturday night in the city. 

The polling station in the new Attila József High School has just opened. Orange Files steps in, finds the room for the voting district designated on the registration notice: the second voter in the district, he watches the first voter and spouse ceremonially check all three ballot boxes before election officials to ensure that they haven’t been pre-stuffed. 

The officials close the boxes and tie them shut with red, white and green ribbon. Hungary’s 2014 National Assembly elections have officially begun. 

Orange Files had always heard—and doubted—that many voters do not actually know whom they will vote for before they step into the voting booth. On this morning, he is living proof of this claim: all of the modern democratic parties have splintered into small factions struggling for survival or joined larger party-conglomerations that still harbor unseemly elements from Hungary’s authoritarian past (but at least not from its authoritarian present). 

Pull the curtains behind, lay two large ballots on the stand—a small one listing seven individual candidates from the voting district and a very large one listing the eighteen parties that have qualified for national party-list voting. 

Green? Red? Split ticket? National Gypsy Party just so you can say you did it? Go with the feeling, place the Xs in the Os and get out. 

On the way down the hall the little girl asks her parents: “Who did you vote for?” 

Orange Files National Assembly election update from the 25th subdistrict of the 2nd voting district of Budapest as of 6:15 a.m.: Politics Can Be Different (LMP) 1; Change of Government (Kormányváltás) 1; Fidesz 0, Jobbik 0; all others 0. 

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Not with a Whimper

Peace March participants just off the bus from Dunaharaszti.

Peace Marchers just off the bus from Dunaharaszti.

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.

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Peace March organizer András Bencsik.

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.

Long LIve Russian-Hungarian Friendship! Long Live Our Wise Leader Victor!

Long Live Russian-Hungarian Friendship! Long Live Our Wise Leader Viktor!

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. 

The Peace March proceeds down Andrássy Avenue toward Heroes' Square.

The Peace March proceeds down Andrássy Avenue toward Heroes’ Square.

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. 

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