The Land of Two Peace Marches

March 15: Hungary’s national holiday commemorating the outbreak of the 1848 revolution against Habsburg rule.

Always a lot of street politics on this date, especially this year with the general election just over three weeks away.

Orange Files covered simultaneous events in Budapest on this day: the Civil Cooperation Forum (CÖF)–organized pro–Orbán government Peace March (Békemenet) and the Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog Party (Kétfarkú Kutya Párt, or MKKP)–organized anti–Orbán government Peace March.

See entire post and photo gallery.


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.


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. 


Back to the Future

Demokrata editor-in-chief speaking at previous pro-government Peace March.

Demokrata editor-in-chief András Bencsik.

In the most recent issue of the nationalist weekly Magyar Demokrata, editor-in-chief András Bencsik published an appeal for the organization of another pro-government Peace March (source in Hungarian). Below is an Orange Files translation of Bencsik’s appeal: 

. . . As if a change of roles has taken place, as if America has begun to take on the role of the Soviet Union as it came to its inglorious end.  Rather than an ambassador (1), it [America] is sending an arrogantly confident governor, instructor, commissar to the subjugated country, whose task will not be to transmit the petty thoughts of the enslaved people to the imperial capital, but to use all its weight to force this primitive people to adopt the prescribed lifestyle: “checks, balances and marijuana.” 

Russia is the home of tolerance compared to this. Everything bad that could be said about the Soviet-Russians has been said over the past decades. And? They just signed the deal of the century with us regarding the expansion of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant, thanks to which Hungary’s energy dependence will end for a half century (2). President Putin did not voice even a word of objection to Hungary’s domestic political situation, although Russia is still the world’s second greatest power and in light of the visible trends it could easily become number one again within a century.  

Use of the system of checks and balances is, as a matter of fact, part of Hungarian thought. The Princes of Transylvania last used it magnificently between the Austrian and Turkish great powers. It looks like it is no different today: Hungary’s freedom of movement will again increase with the strengthening Russian connection. Of course this doesn’t please everybody, Izsák Schulhof (3) lamented the expulsion of the Turkish occupiers from Buda because for him it was better with them around at the time. 

The balancing ability of Hungarian politics is important to us. Present indications suggest that we must soon hold another Peace March in support of this. March 29, the Saturday before the weekend of elections, seems to be an ideal time.

This would be the sixth Peace March since Bencsik, fellow pro-government journalist Zsolt Bayer and businessman Gábor Széles organized the first such pro-Orbán demonstration in January 2012. The appeal offers an insight into the widespread sympathy among Fidesz supporters toward Putin’s Russia and its highly centralized political and economic systems.         


1-Reference to United States Ambassador-designate to Hungary Colleen Bell. 

2-Hungary and Russia signed an inter-state agreement on January 14 to have Russian state-owned company Rosatom build two new reactors at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant in south-central Hungary with 10 billion euros in Russian financing. 

3-Rabbi Isaac Schulhof, author of the Buda Chronicle recounting the expulsion of the Ottoman Turks from Budapest in 1686. 


Workers of the World!

Looking for promotion or a better work schedule at this store?

CBA store in Budapest.

Shortly before this year’s national holiday celebrating the outbreak of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, presidents and owners László Baldauf and Vilmos Lázár of the CBA grocery store chain, the second biggest in Hungary behind Tesco, sent the following letter to all of their thousands of stores throughout the country (see original in Hungarian):

Dear Colleagues!

On October 23 we are going to commemorate the heroes and martyrs of the 1956 revolution. This celebration creates a good opportunity for us to express our sympathy toward our national government.

This effort and unity are important because only in cooperation can we impede and categorically reject the machinations of the post-communist liberal scoundrels [gazember] who betray our homeland at every turn, serve the interests of foreign multinationals, all the while sacrificing the prosperity and development of the Hungarian people.

We ask all of those who are interested in the further strengthening and harmonious and systematic development of our homeland to come and participate with us in the Peace March and then listen to our Prime Minister’s holiday speech. It is important that all of us true patriots with nationalist sentiments support our greatest Hungarian political figure, the prime minister of our nation, Viktor Orbán.

The Peace March departs at 2:00 p.m from the Bem statue and will proceed along the Grand Avenue to the Oktogon and from there up Andrássy Avenue to Heroes’ Square.

We ask Esteemed Shop Managers to please inform all personnel of this letter and its important contents.


László Baldauf, Vilmos Lázár

CBA Communications Director Attila Fodor said after the opposition newspaper Népszava published the letter on November 12 that it was a private summons from Baldauf and Lázár to their employees and that participation in the Peace March was in no way obligatory (source in Hungarian).

One can imagine that some CBA shop managers passed the message from the company’s owners on to their employees haphazardly, or maybe not at all. 

One can also imagine that other CBA shop managers, either out of political conviction or self-interest, systematically informed their employees of the message, perhaps using the same spiteful and inflammatory language as that contained in the original letter. 

And one can imagine that many employees working under the latter managers chose to participate in the October 23 Peace March (see The Soft White Underbelly) in order to win the favor of their superiors even if they do not support Fidesz. 

This is the ethos that predominates in Fidesz-controlled Hungary: support the party and gain financial and material benefit; oppose the party and suffer financial and material loss. 

This is an ethos with which Hungarians who were part of the national economy  before 1990 are all too familiar. 


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.