Scenes from the Great Migration: the Eastern Railway Station

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Migrants from Afghanistan.

On this day there are only a few hundred migrants waiting for the next train to Austria in the pedestrian underpass outside the Eastern Railway Station in Budapest, about half the number as there were a few days ago. The majority of them still young men in their twenties, though more and more families with young children and elderly are among those whom state-run television and radio call “border violators” (határsértő).

Today: an extended Iraqi family, including a blind women in her 80s, the relatives of a man who claims to be a former government energy official; several women with babies just a few weeks old, almost certainly born on the road; a group of barefoot men who calmly ignore stern orders to “go, go away!” from the Migration Aid distribution point until they get shoes; a Pakistani migrant who gives an open-handed Hungarian beggar a few coins from his purse.

After this the tenth time here it is possible to estimate: 40-45 percent Syrian; 40-45 percent Afghan; 10-20 percent other, mostly Pakistanis and a rising number of Iraqis. Not long ago the migrants, whom those in Hungary who oppose the government’s anti-immigrant campaign call “refugees” (menekült), were eager to talk, though now they hardly want to say anything and often deflect photographs. Strength in numbers? Rising awareness of the officially instigated hostility toward them in this country of transit?

Still the atmosphere here at the railway station is almost festive: children play with their donated toys, balls roll among people resting on blankets, young men play volleyball without a net. Among the many tense and tired faces there are more relaxed smiles here than one would imagine. A burly Hungarian with tattoos, including one of Winnie-the-Pooh on his calf, distributes relief donations. He has been here since the beginning, every single day,  working without pay to help these people.

The government presence is limited to a couple of National Emergency Service workers who mill through the crowd, one of them holding a large movie camera. Otherwise only end-of-Hungary, end-of-Europe, end-of-the-world incitement. And the 175-kilometer razor-wire fence going up along the entire length of the Hungarian-Serbian border. But none of this is going to stop this Great Migration, which is now bringing nearly 2,000 people a day to Hungary (and on to western Europe).

Something has got to give. Something is going to happen. And soon.

Click on any photo to see gallery view.

See all 12 photos.

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Beginning of the End II: the Leaders

Below are a some photographs that Orange Files took of leaders of anti-government demonstrations in Budapest from September 2006 to September 2009. It is the second of a four-part gallery that started with Beginning of the End I: the Demonstrators and will eventually include photographs under the categories Cops and Signs and Symbols.

Jobbik President Gábor Vona speaks at anti-government rally before march on Budapest Opera House (October 22, 2007).

Jobbik President Gábor Vona speaks at anti-government rally before march on Budapest Opera House (10/22/2007).

"The city is ours, the streets are ours, death to the Israeli water cannons!": Protest leader György Budaházy speaks at anti-government rally before march on Budapest Opera House (October 22, 2007).

“The city is ours, the streets are ours, death to the Israeli water cannons!”: Protest leader György Budaházy speaks at anti-government rally before march on Budapest Opera House (10/22/2007).

Reformed pastor Loránt Hegedűs Jr. speaks in front of an Árpád-Striped Flag during an anti-government rally on the March 15 national holiday (March 15, 2008).

Reformed pastor Loránt Hegedűs Jr. speaks in front of an Árpád-Striped Flag during an anti-government rally on the March 15 national holiday (3/15/2008).

Kossuth Square protest leader László Gonda wearing water-cannon dye-stained pants at anti-government demonstration (April 21, 2007).

Kossuth Square protest leader László Gonda wearing water-cannon dye-stained pants at anti-government demonstration (4/21/2007).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See all 28 photos.

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Beginning of the End I: the Demonstrators

On the afternoon of September 17, 2006, Hungarian Radio broadcast the following excerpt from a leaked recording of a private speech that Hungarian Socialist Party (HSP) Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány had made to HSP officials a few months previously:

We fucked up (elkúrtuk). Not a little, but a lot. There is not another country in Europe where they’ve botched things up as we have. . . . Obviously we lied our way through the last year and a half, two years. It was totally clear that what we were saying wasn’t true. 

Anti-government demonstrator faces riot cop on  Clark Ádám Square (April 1, 2008).

Anti-government demonstrator faces riot cop on Clark Ádám Square (April 1, 2008).

Within a few hours of the broadcast, thousands of people had gathered outside the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest to demand the prime minister’s resignation. During larger demonstrations at the parliament building the following evening, about 1,000 radical nationalists and football hooligans overwhelmed police guarding the nearby Hungarian Television headquarters, laying waste to much of the building in a fiery all-night rampage.

The eruption of political tension that had long been building in Hungary had taken place, setting off three years of anti-government demonstrations that in their expression of antipathy toward liberal democracy, the free market, the European Union and the West in general foreshadowed the spirit and ideology of the second government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that came to power in 2010.

Below are a some of the photographs that Orange Files took of participants in these anti-government demonstrations and other political events in Budapest over the period from September 2006 to September 2009. It is the first of a four-part gallery that will include photographs of demonstration leaders, cops, and signs and symbols.

See all 70 photos.

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Round About Midnight

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Workers complete the German Occupation Memorial early on the morning of July 20 (source: atlatszo.hu).

July 20, 2014—about an hour after midnight: a convoy of trucks, police vans and a crane pulls up to the incomplete German Occupation Memorial on Szabadság [Freedom] Square in central Budapest (see What Is Truth?). 

Workers emerge from the trucks and erect security fence around the perimeter of the memorial and at all points of access to the square as approximately 100 police officers stand guard (source A and B in Hungarian). 

 A few late-night stragglers observe the spectacle from a distance. A couple of them take video on their mobile phones.

The crane lifts the missing statue elements—a German Imperial Eagle (Reichsadler) representing Hitler’s Third Reich descending upon an Archangel Michael representing Horthy’s Hungary—into place, thus completing the structure that has been standing unfinished for weeks.   

The next morning the opposition media reports the news in the greatest detail possible, most of them relying on a video published on the website atlatszo.hu

The Hungarian News Agency MTI that serves as the source of news for all Hungary’s state-run television and radio stations makes no mention of the overnight completion of the memorial, reporting only the protest of various opposition parties beginning later in the morning. 

A group of about 200 demonstrators gathers spontaneously at the newly completed memorial to the victims of Nazi Germany’s occupation of fellow Axis power Hungary in the final year of the Second World War, pelting the statue of Archangel Michael with eggs. The large contingent of police protecting the memorial does not intervene, though initiates petty-offense procedures against the egg throwers (source in Hungarian).

Background

U.S. historian Randolph Braham: returned his Hungarian state award in protest.

U.S. historian Randolph Braham: returned his Hungarian state award in protest.

The Prime Minister’s Office decided in January 2014 to build the memorial in an expedited procedure by the 70th anniversary of the 1944 German invasion of Hungary on March 19. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Prime Ministry chief János Lázár presumably intended the memorial to serve as a means of arousing pro-Fidesz patriotic fervor ahead the National Assembly election in April. 

The published design for the statue showed a predatory Imperial Eagle swooping down, talons extended, upon a helpless Archangel Michael, arms spread in resignation, evoking harsh criticism from the liberal-left opposition and Jewish organizations because it implied that Germany, not Hungary, was responsible for the post-invasion deportation of around 430,000 Jewish Hungarians to concentration camps in the Third Reich, almost all of them to Auschwitz. 

The main Jewish Hungarian organization MAZSIHISZ announced in early February that it would not participate in any official state commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the deportations, partially as a result of the government’s decision to build the memorial (source in Hungarian). Furthermore, the World Jewish Congress and 30 Jewish members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives asked the Orbán government to reconsider the planned memorial (source A and B in Hungarian).  

U.S. historian and 1943–1944 Hungarian Labor Battalion conscript Randolph Braham, one of the leading world specialists on the Hungarian Holocaust, returned the state Order of Merit award the Orbán government presented to him in 2011 to protest the German Occupation Memorial, stating that “I regard this to be a cowardly attempt to divert attention from the role the Horthy régime played in the annihilation of Jews and to obfuscate the Holocaust with the ‘suffering’ that Hungarians incurred as a result of the German occupation, whereas the historical facts prove that rather than resistance, the latter was received with general applause” (source A and B in Hungarian).  

Taking Horthy for a ride.

Taking Horthy for a ride.

Prime Minister Orbán responded to international criticism of the proposed German Occupation Memorial during his February 17, 2014 “Appraisal of the Year” (évértékelő) address: “I am still astonished, though I didn’t undertake this profession just yesterday, how they get the nerve to tell us, even expect us, to think, how we should commemorate, what goals we should set, what we should do and what we should not do” (source in Hungarian).

However, on February 19 the opposition daily Népszabadság reported, citing unnamed sources, that the government had decided to postpone construction of the German Occupation Memorial until after the April 6 National Assembly elections for two reasons: because unveiling the statue before the elections would be “divisive”; and—perhaps more importantly—because preparation of the various elements of the memorial was behind schedule (source in Hungarian). 

Although the government never officially announced the postponement, on February 20 the Prime Minister’s Office provided the media with a letter that Prime Minister Orbán had written to MAZSIHISZ stating that due to the election campaign “the time is hardly suitable for us to calmly and compassionately express our opinions to one another” and that they “continue their dialogue after the [post-election] Easter holidays that bring renewal to us all” (source in Hungarian).

Construction Begins 

German Occupation Memorial under construction (Orange Files photo).

German Occupation Memorial under construction (photo: Orange Files).

Construction of the German Occupation Memorial began unannounced on April 8, two days after Fidesz won a convincing victory in Hungary’s 2014 National Assembly elections. About 300 protestors appeared at the location of the memorial immediately after the media reported that construction had begun, staging a spontaneous demonstration during which they pulled down a security fence that workers had built around the building site (source A and B in Hungarian).

Within days, the area in front of the German Occupation Memorial site was full of mourning stones (which Jews traditionally place at grave sites instead of flowers), records and mementos from the Holocaust, portraits and personal belongings of victims and signs and photographs showing scenes from the deportations and concentration camps as well as evidence of Hungary’s alliance with Nazi Germany (the iconic image of Horthy and Hitler enjoying a mirthful moment while riding together in the backseat of an open automobile in 1938 was especially popular). 

Orange Files visited the location of the memorial on several occasions over the next three months: each time two or three dozen people, many of them foreigners, stood examining the growing protest shrine and police-protected columns rising above the covered security fence surrounding the work site (see Orange Files photo gallery).

Orbán’s Dilemma 

Police protecting the newly completed memorial (Orange Files photo).

Police protecting the newly completed memorial    (photo: Orange Files).

It was one of the few times that Prime Minister Orbán, the consummate political tactician, had painted himself into a corner: he had vastly underestimated the vehemence of opposition to the German Occupation Memorial and the time it would take to build the structure, thereby nullifying its original purpose of generating nationalist political support in the run-up to the spring elections; and he had vastly overestimated the ability of average Hungarians to understand the intended symbolic message of the memorial portraying Hungary as victim rather than perpetrator during the Second World War, particularly with regard to the Holocaust. In short, it quickly became evident that the German Occupation Memorial entailed many potential political costs and no potential political benefits.  

The prime minister ostensibly timed the overnight completion of the memorial on July 20 to attract as little attention as possible: not only was the city of Budapest remarkably deserted on that date, many of its residents either on vacation or at their summer homes along Lake Balaton for the weekend; but the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine and the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip were consuming the interest of both the residents of Budapest and people throughout Europe and North America (source in Hungarian). 

The Orbán government reportedly intended to hold an unveiling ceremony on July 21, though cancelled the event at the after the scheduled speaker, Prime Minister’s Office State Secretary László L. Simon, backed out at the last moment (source in Hungarian). Prime Ministry chief János Lázár announced on this date that there would be no official unveiling ceremony (source in Hungarian).  

Prime Minister Orbán issued a three-paragraph statement later the same day in which he portrayed construction of the memorial as the government’s duty (first paragraph, source in Hungarian): 

Yesterday the Hungarian government fulfilled its obligation to the constitutional order, to past victims and to Hungarians living today. We put the work of public art into place, one that is designed to express the pain and affliction that the Hungarian nation felt and suffered as a result of the loss of its freedom. 

Opposition Mecca?

The newly built German Occupation Memorial has been the site of all-day peaceful protest activity and public discussion over the five days since its completion, much of it organized by the Facebook group Living Memorial (Eleven Emlékmű). Most of those present at the memorial appear to be either Budapest Jews or foreign tourists. However, the German Occupation Memorial could quickly become a rallying point for the Hungary’s growing democratic opposition, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.  

An early indication: on July 25, a protestor suspended a banner reading “We Mourn Democracy” from one of the arms of the statue of Archangel Michael. More than a day later, police guarding the memorial had still not taken it down. 

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We Mourn Democracy (photo: Orange Files).

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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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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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Where Have all the Bums Gone?

Budapest eleventh-district homeless resident Johnny [Jánoska].

Budapest eleventh-district homeless resident Johnny (Jánoska).

It sure is nice not to have all the homeless people living around the eleventh district of Budapest anymore. They have no respect for their environment, they relieve themselves in the open, they leave empty bottles and other refuse behind them, they throw garbage all over the place when they rummage through trash cans. They are a real mess and  probably a health hazard. There used to be dozens of them living along the railroad embankment where people walk their dogs just down the street. One guy, whom locals claimed had tuberculosis, lived at the entry of the nearby main post office for several years, grumbling insanely at people as they walked past.

The Orbán government has got rid of them. Soon after Orbán came to power in 2010, the cops started checking their identity cards after nightfall and sending them away. Many men in blue standing around shriveled homeless people examining their IDs with a flashlight. Then the extended arm with the finger pointing. Then the shriveled men gather their bags and tramp off into the dark.

The government says that they are “lending them a helping hand” and sending them to stay the night in homeless shelters. But not even the government claims that there are enough beds in these shelters to accommodate all the homeless in Hungary. Official Central Statistics Office data from the year 2011 showed that there were 17,000 homeless people in the country, while civil society places this number at about 30,000. The government news agency MTI and civil society both estimate that there are about 8,000 homeless people living in Budapest.

Police conduct identity check on homeless men in the 11th district of Budapest.

Police conduct identity check on homeless men in the 11th district of Budapest.

According to everybody’s data, here are 5,500 beds in homeless shelters in Budapest and 5,000 beds in homeless shelters throughout the rest of Hungary. Thus between half and two-thirds of homeless people in the country do not have access to beds in homeless shelters. They have probably found places to spend the night where the cops do not harass them. One homeless man who used to live in the neighborhood can now be seen wandering around the tree- and shrub-lined streets at the foot of Gellért Hill. Some may have moved into camps at the periphery of the city, though the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) administration appears to have razed many of these, such as those that used to lie along the Danube in southern Buda.

It will certainly become even harder for homeless people to find a place to stay now that Fidesz-KDNP has adopted an amendment to the Fundamental Law (the name of the party’s new constitution for Hungary) that makes it possible for municipal councils, such as that in the eleventh district of Budapest, to enact statutes banning the habitation of public spaces and punish violation of them as a Petty Offense entailing possible fines and imprisonment (see Orbán Government Homeless Policy).

It sure is nice not to have all the bums around. But one has to ask: where have they all gone? And more importantly, where will they go now that the constitution makes it possible to outlaw living on the street, yet there is not nearly enough capacity in homeless shelters to accommodate all of them?

See: photo gallery Homelessness in the Eleventh District of Budapest.

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Testament to Weakness

IMG_2689About 1,500 people showed up to the square between the foot of Castle Hill and the head of the Chain Bridge in Budapest on Sunday, September 29, to watch one of Hungary’s many opposition groups pull down a model statue of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The average age of the crowd was about 55. The rapper Dopeman was the master of ceremonies, while Together 2014 leader and former prime minister Gordon Bajnai and some other minor opposition figures gave speeches in which they castigated Orbán in roughly the same coarse language as the current prime minister used to castigate Gyurcsány and Bajnai when he was in opposition.

“The fish stinks from the head,” Bajnai said. Bajnai’s subsequent comparison of the Orbán government to the communists did not excite the audience members, many of whom were themselves presumably members of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party. Several of the speakers used the Orbánian opposition mantra “they lie, they steal, they cheat” (hazudnak, lopnak, csalnak). Dopeman called Orbán a “pile of trash” (szemétláda). He also sang a version of the Hungarian national anthem interspersed with the refrain “Fuck the Government! Fuck Orbán!” (Bazd meg a kormányt! Bazd meg Orbánt!). The elderly crowd clapped politely after the number.

IMG_2694Toppling the roughly 12-foot statue, which was molded and painted very skillfully to represent the Stalin statue pulled down in Budapest at the beginning of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, was the highlight of the event. The statue was erected on a protruding part of the exterior wall at the entry of the tunnel passing under Castle Hill. The neck and the legs above the heavy boots were cut most of the way through from behind so it would break at those places. Dopeman threw a coil of rope tied around the statue at the other end into the crowd among a bunch of old ladies who didn’t know what to do with it. The statue came down suddenly, the photo missed. Orff’s “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana sounded dramatically from the PA system. The Orbán-Stalin head rolled along the pavement, right to Dopeman, who gave it hard football kick. The boots remained on the pedestal just as planned, just as in ’56. Men hoisted the headless torso onto a truck and led a procession across the Chain Bridge to the House of Terror, where they planned to deposit the broken statue.

See Index.hu video of falling Orbán statue. 

See Orange Files photo gallery of the event.

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The Cardboard Men

cardboard men

Representatives from the Fidesz-KDNP coalition (right) attend roundtable discussion on gay rights in Hungary.

The 2013 Budapest Pride gay parade was held on July 6 amid tight security, as it has since radical right-wing demonstrators severely disrupted the event in 2007 and 2008. For the past five years, the Budapest Police has prevented protesters from assaulting Budapest Pride procession by stationing riot cops at heavy security fence erected on cross streets one block on either side of the parade route along its entire length. One can gain access to the parade only by passing through a security checkpoint at the beginning of the route on Heroes‘ Square. Otherwise, one cannot get closer than a football field in length to the parade as it proceeds down Andrássy Avenue to the center of the city. There have been progressively fewer and fewer demonstrators heckling paraders from afar under this hermetically sealed security arrangement. Only a couple of hundred right-wing protesters showed up for this year’s Budapest Pride procession, most of them belonging to a new radical nationalist group that calls itself Guards of the Carpathian Homeland (Kárpát Haza Őrei).

The Budapest Pride parade is a microcosm of the overall status of homosexuality in Hungary: tolerated, though only in sterile isolation from the heterosexual world and to a lesser degree since Prime Minister Viktor Orbán started pulling the political strings in Hungary as opposition leader more than six years ago. The Fundamental Law that Orbán and the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) administration adopted after coming to power in 2010 stipulates that marriage must be between a man and a woman, thus making Hungary the fifth European Union member state following Poland, Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania to constitutionally ban, by exclusion, same-sex marriage. (A sixth European Union member state, Romania, prohibits same-sex marriage in the country’s civil code.) Fidesz declined to participate in any of the Budapest Pride week events to which it was invited, sending nobody to represent the party at a roundtable discussion on gay rights in Hungary or to march in the annual parade.

Fidesz’s official stand on homosexuality is one of cold neutrality. A party communiqué to the news website Index.hu stated that “Homosexuality is a private affair that Fidesz does not want to make into a public affair. In connection to Budapest Pride, everybody has the right to participate in the event, just as they have a right to not participate in it.” In response to a question from the news website 444.hu whether Fidesz supported the Budapest Pride parade, party Communications Director Máté Kocsis said “Fidesz has no opinion on this question. I have not conducted a poll regarding who is going and who is not. Everybody will decide for themselves. I, myself, am not going to participate.” Asked about news that  Budapest Pride organizers planned to present him with a rainbow flag to fly temporarily outside city hall, de facto Fidesz Budapest Mayor István Tarlós said that “It would be better if they would refrain from this open provocation, because the mayor does not have the ways and means of placing this flag on city hall.” Tarlós earlier in the week pretended not to know what Budapest Pride was when a reporter from 444.hu asked him a question about the event. After being told what it was, he answered “I stand on the other side.”

Both Mayor Tarlós and Prime Minister Orbán declined invitations to participate in the Budapest Pride parade. This is understandable from a political point of view. Under the conditions of extreme political polarization that exist in Hungary, for them to attend an event that in political terms has traditionally been identified with the Budapest liberal élite would signify a concession to the opponent. Moreover, it would drive a certain number of Fidesz voters into the arms of the radical right-wing nationalist Jobbik party, which announced this week that if it ever comes to power it will ban Budapest Pride and other “deviant, provocative, exhibitionist programs.” However, in this instance Fidesz could still have sent lesser party representatives, even non-official known sympathizers, to attend the Budapest Pride events to which it was invited. Instead, only feigned ignorance, haughty standoffishness and rigidly noncommittal communiqués.

Throughout much of western Europe and North America national and city government officials openly support gay-pride events, often marching at the head of gay parades. Hungary, though a more traditional eastern European country, appeared to be proceeding in this direction during the first decade of Budapest Pride, which started in earnest in 1997. The reversal of progress in the area of gay rights in Hungary over the past seven years fits squarely into the overall pattern of democratic regression that has taken place in the country over that period.

See Orange Files photo gallery of 2013 Budapest Pride parade. 

Gay Parade Post Photo

 

 

 

 

 

See Orange Files photo gallery of 2007 and 2008 Budapest Pride parades.

Post Photo Gay Parade-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

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