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In the News
Last Updated: 09/28/2006
'We Screwed Up' - Clashes in Budapest
Robert Nemeth

Demonstrations began on September 17 in Hungary after a speech by the Prime Minister had been leaked, in which he said that the government lied to the people to stay in power. The protests turned violent: a group of extreme rightists and football fans besieged the public service television, burned cars and fought with the police on the streets for three nights.

“We screwed it up. Not a little, a lot. No country in Europe has ever done anything so hulk as we did. (…) We have apparently lied for the last one and a half, two years. (…) We haven’t done anything for four years (…) except for bringing the government back from the shit,” said Ferenc Gyurcsány, Hungarian Prime Minister to the MPs of his Socialist Party at a meeting in May. A month before, Hungary re-elected the government, for the first time since the transition.


Local elections are still ahead and are scheduled for October 1. After the elections this spring, the government spoke about austerity measures necessary for joining the Eurozone. The opposition, led by the Fidesz Party and former Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, accused the government of crippling the people.


In the campaign last spring both parties promised a lot to the people, although the opposition said that the country was in economic crisis. Both parties campaigned for cutting taxes and raising welfare spending.


Analysts and the European Union said, however, that the recent fiscal policy of Hungary cannot lead to the accession to the Eurozone, moreover, it threatened the country with withholding financial supports. Since 2001, the Hungarian state budget was about gaining support for the recent government, which caused a big deficit and increasing public debt. In the campaign in 2002, both parties promised a paradise to the people, and the winning Socialist party, led by Péter Medgyessy went on this path. After losing popularity he was replaced by Gyurcsány in 2004, but the politics of the government did not really change. However, the Socialist Party regained its popularity and won the election this spring.


The protests

The records of the speech were sent to the media on September 17.


“I managed to go through with the past one and a half years [Gyurcsány became Prime Minister in August 2004] because I was driven by one thing: to give the faith back to the left, that it can do it, that it can win. That it does not have to bow its head in this fucking country. That it does not have to shit itself from Viktor Orbán and the right (…) I almost died when I had to pretend for one and a half years as if we were governing. Instead, we lied in the morning, at night and in the evening. I don’t want to do it anymore. Either we do it [the reform] and you have your man to do it, or you choose someone else. (…) You are wrong if you think that you have a choice. You do not and nor do I (…) There will be conflicts, yes. There will be rallies, yes. They can go and rally in front of the Parliament. (…) If you go to a healthcare institution, you will see it is built on lying. Since they know my mother’s name, she receives better service, fuck! She did not understand what had happened. Did the healthcare system become better, my son? I say, bullshit, Mum, the truth is that they know your name. It is a scandal! (…) You don’t need to be a politician because it makes you having a fucking good life (…) But because we want to solve these all. (…) If we cannot and you explain me that ‘yes, but…’ I don’t think that I am needed for that. Someone else is needed for that. And I will write fucking good books about the modern Hungarian Left.”


Gyurcsány said that he had told this in order to verify the need for the reforms. Nevertheless, the opposition started to protest and demand his resignation. The quick opinion polls on whether the PM should resign or not showed the division of the country: only a small majority wanted him to resign.


A few thousand went to the Parliament to protest there. This protest was calm, but the presence of symbols of the extreme right was apparent. The next day, in the evening, the leader of revisionist Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement, one of the main organizers of the protests, said to the people that he had wanted to read a petition in the Hungarian Television studio (MTV), but the leaders refused it. The building of MTV is very close to the Parliament. About 5,000 people went there.


A group then started to fight with the policemen. They hit and kicked their shields and threw cobblestones at them. There were obviously not enough policemen to defend the building, and the others came when it was already too late. When a water-cannon arrived, the rioters took it up and burnt it, as well as some cars – they also used Molotov-cocktails. More than 120 policemen and 50 protesters were hurt – at least half of them by the cobblestones. Finally the crowd broke into the building and robbed for instance the buffet. The damage they caused is nearly one million euro worth.


The protest at the Parliament kept on - and clashes at night continued as well. The next two days, at around 11 pm, masked people left the crowd. On Tuesday, one small group went to the national radio; another went to the headquarters of the Socialist Party. They clashed with the police and the fight continued on one of the main roads of the city until dawn. On Wednesday, fewer rioters clashed, and the fights were over in a few hours.


More than 200 people had been taken into custody and 500 are wanted. Many of them are known football “hooligans”, the fans of the two big clubs: Ferencváros and Újpest. But there are also extreme rightist leaders among them. (In Hungary, the “hooligans” are also connected to the extreme right.)


Debate over responsibility

The division of Hungary according to political views is very strong. So, it is not surprising that there is no agreement about who is responsible for the violence. The opposition says that it is the sole responsibility of Gyurcsány. The government says that it is the responsibility of the opposition for bringing the people to the streets and talking about the “need for radical solutions” even weeks before, and then even after the siege of MTV, he urged that people not stand for threats toward their values. Gyurcsány also said that it was not only him who was lying, but the whole political class, basically since the transition.


Analysts reminded that protests and rallies were, although not common not new either in the last few years of Hungary. The street became part of politics four years ago. When that time PM Viktor Orbán lost the first round of the election, he organized mass rallies. Before, it was only the extreme right, which gathered on the street, several times every year. Orbán wanted to maximize the votes for his party by trying to collect everyone from the centre to the far right. After the election, Fidesz said the winners had been cheating. Their protest ended up in blocking one of the bridges at the Danube in July 2002, committed by extreme rightists. The leader of this event also took part in the recent clashes: he was among those who attacked the TV and held speeches in the next days in front of the Parliament while he was already wanted by the police.


Media coverage

There is a strong debate about the media coverage of the events as well, mainly concerning the only Hungarian news channel, the right-wing Hír TV. Already on Sunday, a publicist said that there was a need to a “revolution”. During the siege of MTV, the rioters allowed only Hír TV to enter the square with the broadcast car, and they even attacked the car of another channel. The reporter of Hír TV spoke about “revolutionists” who “were attacked by the policemen” or “brave guys running in the front.” The next day, the rioters became affrayers, but two days later, provocateurs. Fidesz also said that the rioters are “provocateurs” and are paid by the socialists. Many accuse the Hír TV with supporting the rioters and even with inducing the clashes. The National Board of Radio and Television started an investigation and Hír TV may face sanctions.


Opinion polls

According to the polls of Medián Institute made on Monday, more people thought that the PM should resign, but more than 40 percent wanted him to stay. After the siege of the TV, however, more people wanted him to stay than to step down. Gyurcsány said that he would not resign, but would carry on with the reforms.


The protest in front of the parliament is still going on. Although it is peaceful, the speakers who have the biggest success are those who call the siege of MTV a revolution, or imply that they took part in it and are now wanted by the police.


The speeches are not only about the government any more: speakers (and the crowd) demand the revision of the Trianon peace contract and also steps against “foreign capital”.