State of the Democratic Opposition

October 23: the anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. One of the two public holidays in Hungary—along with the March 15 anniversary of the 1848 Hungarian Revolution—on which political parties and groups in the country typically hold public events. Powerful political parties can draw thousands, even tens of thousands, of supporters to demonstrations and rallies on these dates, while even modest groups and organizations usually manage to attract hundreds of people. Attendance at political events held on October 23 and March 15 provides one of the most accurate gauges of the active support for political parties and groups in Hungary.  

On October 23, 2015, Orange Files attempted to attend as many of the democratic opposition’s official political events in Budapest as possible. Below is a summary of these events.

See entire post.


1956 Hungarian Revolution memorial near Heroes’ Square shortly after Democratic Coalition President Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech (photo: Orange Files).


The Soft White Underbelly

The pro-Orbán Peace March crosses Margaret Bridge in Budapest

The Peace March crosses Margaret Bridge.

Party events in Budapest on the October 23 anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution confirmed what everybody already knew: the Orbán government has managed to maintain the overwhelming support that propelled the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party alliance to a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly in 2010.

 The fourth pro-government Peace March (Békemenet) again drew an enormous crowd, perhaps up to 300,000 people. Orange Files observed the beginning of the march perched on a lamppost on Margaret Bridge: the broad column of pro-government marchers stretched nearly a mile from the Buda end of the bridge around a bend in the approaching street and down the road running parallel to the Danube River.

One of the main organizers of the Peace Marches, pro-government journalist Gábor Bencsik, warned marchers not to react to possible opposition provocation as they proceeded down the Grand Boulevard and up Andrássy Avenue to Heroes’ Square to listen to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán give a speech.

The rumor circulating among the crowd of conservative common folk, a large proportion of them from the provinces, was that naked women planned to storm the march at some point along the route.

The united opposition rally in front of the Budapest Technical University

The united opposition rally in front of the Budapest Technical University

Orange Files let the tide of Peace Marchers flow past, then rode down the Danube to the Budapest Technical University to check out the unified opposition October 23 demonstration, arriving just in time to hear the crowd chanting “Orbán Get Out!” (Orbán takarodj!) and former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány speaking ardently about the need for cooperation among the factious left-wing and liberal parties. There must have been around 25,000-30,000 people squeezed into the street between the university and the Danube, roughly one-tenth the number of people who participated in the pro-government march.

András Schiffer and Politics Can Be Different (LMP) did not participate in the united opposition demonstration, holding the party’s October 23 rally at the public cemetery in the outskirts of Pest where many of those executed for their roles in the 1956 Revolution are buried, including revolutionary Prime Minster Imre Nagy. The cemetery was too far away to reach by bicycle, though the video reveals that attendance was sparse (see source in Hungarian). 

Orange Files then went to Deák Square to get a head count at the Jobbik demonstration: about 5,000, maybe 6,000 people under a forest of Árpád-striped and Jobbik flags, a few of them in black-and-white paramilitary uniforms of the New Hungarian Guard

Jobbik rally on Deák Square

Jobbik rally on Deák Square

Finally up Andrássy Avenue to hear the Orbán speech on Heroes’ Square. What a glorious fall day it was in Budapest, a warm wind blowing leaves across the avenue shut off to vehicle traffic and wide open to bicycles. However, the pro-government demonstration was so big that it stretched back down Andrássy Avenue nearly a half mile from the square. No hope of getting through the crowd to hear Orbán speak.

But it didn’t really matter. The main lesson of the day was not in the words of the various party leaders, but in the size of the crowds that showed up to hear them. Fidesz won this contest by a large margin, just as it will win the 2014 national elections by a large margin and maybe even gain another two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.

This is what the Hungarian people wants. And in spite of all the measures the Orbán administration has taken to curtail democracy and civil liberties in Hungary, the elections that bring it back to power will be free and fair, an accurate expression of national political will.

 This is what the people wants—good old fashioned Hungarian Christian-nationalism, the 21st-century version of the Horthy régime; this is what most Hungarian citizens will think they want right up until the day they realize (and not for the first time) that what they really want is to be part of the liberal-democratic West and not the authoritarian East. But by then it might be too late to turn back.

The events in Budapest on October 23 showed one thing very clearly: that in a state under the control of a skilled demagogue such as Prime Minister Orbán, the will of the common man can become the greatest enemy to the political system that is designed to serve him.