Pro-Government Rally in Hungary, Jan. 21, 2012

At the urging of pro-government journalists and media owners whose ideological committment is well summarized here, on January 21 a mass demonstration was held in support of Viktor Orbán and his government. “Never has a crowd so sizable demonstrated in Hungary in favor of the government and its policies in living memory. Approximately 400,000 participated in the event held in peace and good spirits,” the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior said in its press release Saturday evening (in 2008, Fidesz estimated that 2 million people showed up at its rally, so this claim is somewhat puzzling). Hungarian MEPs of the European People’s Party also issued a statement thanking participants of the rally. “The mass mobilization of several hundreds of thousands was a worthy and forceful response to the campaign of disparagement by leftist forces,” they wrote.

I have thought of many ways to approach preparing a report on this rally. My first instinct was to focus on just how paradoxical it is for a government to prove its popular support through a pro-government demonstration. As types of political expression, demonstrations for and against the government are as different as chalk and cheese. It is extremely hard to be a majority and to protest, authentically. Who would one appeal to, if one indeed is the majority firmly installed in power – to itself? And given that he is already accused of autocratic tendencies, why should several hundreds of thousands people declaring their dedication and love for the country’s leader help dispel the myth that Mr. Orbán is building a cult of personality in Hungary? If he is really such a great leader, why can’t the people spend a jolly Saturday free of the worries of work and politics – why can’t they just watch tv, fly a kite, go to a show, or whatever it is that they do when they are happy and content? Why is there a need to have several hundreds of thousands people take a long bus trip (one of the participants proudly told reporters that he had taken a 22 hour train ride to reach the protest!) and why are they asking old ladies to walk 2.5 miles in the January cold? If you ask me, if it were not about how special the circumstances are in Hungary, the latter would be considered downright cruel.

So at first I was going to wax philosophical. Then I thought that maybe I should focus on the surprisingly wide array of opinions voiced by the participants of the demonstration. Some of them were not even supporters of the government:  they came on behalf of Hungarians in general. “We are not here for Fidesz, but for the sovereignty of the Hungarian nation,” one of the demonstrators said (see recording in Hungarian here). We didn’t assert ourselves more firmly against international financial powers when it was time, he continued, adding that Viktor Orbán did well to put down his feet against them, but if he gives in, “he won’t be anybody to us.” But we just turned to the IMF for a loan, the reporter objects. “We don’t need the IMF’s loan, they should get the hell out of here,” the man says enraged, “Hungary has no need for it, that’s a process of colonization, we don’t need it.” Clearly, they came up against a disjunct needing explanation. “Even Viktor said that we don’t need this loan” came another man to is fellow demonstrator’s help. “What we want is to wave [as in wave a piece of paper] that we’ve got a peace pact of some sort with the IMF, and they should leave us alone. We will get through this with our own methods, with our agriculture and other things.”

There was a wide distribution of opinions on other matters as well. The one that interests me most is why the organizers chose to label their demonstration a “peace march,” given that that’s a very 1960s hippie kind of thing to do. It is time for us to make peace “with ourselves,” said several people who were asked about this – the need to reach peace within was in fact a recurring theme in the interviews I watched. Others, however, were much more combative. “It is impossible to express in words why so many people are here. The many people who came here all love their country and will not give in to the violence,” an elderly woman said. She was not the only person who was more preoccupied with a war already in progress on Hungary than with taking a stand on behalf of peace. “We are going to defend it [Hungary]” another elderly woman says holding a Fidesz flag. “Why do we have to defend it?” she is asked. “Because it is always being hurt by that louse, the EU… We have come to defend Viktor Orbán, so they stop running their mouth.”

Eventually, what reached prominence in my desperate search for an underlying theme was the curious lack of words at the protest. I was working from one-on-one interviews and videos of the protest rather than from speeches, press releases, statements or the like. No wonder I could not distill the precise cause of the demonstration and was finding no answer to my questions above.

So speechless was this demonstration, in fact, that originally the crowd was supposed to march in silence; it must have been in order to break the monotony of the walk that they ended up singing and praying on their route. As one of the reporters pointed out (on Hír TV, a television channel fiercely loyal to the government), there was no yelling and shouting at the event. What she tried to say was that the government’s opposition tends to get rowdy when they protest. Their famous chant, “Orbán, get lost,” can indeed be the most terrifying thing to hear for the governing party. I am not sure why the Hungarian nation has become so sensitive to volume all of a sudden, though I suspect the problem is not with the boisterousness of the opposition, but perhaps with the words they use.

Not unintentionally, Saturday’s demonstration provided a clear alternative to their “unworthy” behavior. As the same reporter on Hír TV noted, the participants were gathering quietly at Heroes’ Square. This is what gave dignity to the march, wrote the editorial opinion of the daily most closely aligned with the government, Magyar Nemzet – whose journalists were responsible for organizing the demonstration – on the next day. (Another rule of etiquette for the protesters, besides staying quiet, was wearing one’s best dress. One of the participants proudly mentioned to a reporter that she even went to the hairdresser the day before.)

Originally, there were no speeches to be given at the demonstration, neither at the beginning of the march nor at the end, which makes one wonder: given the above diversity of opinions, could there have been a message which would have pleased this crowd? What could have been said to both the Euro-skeptics and the Euro-supporters, to those who want to make peace with themselves and to those who want the West to back down before the Hungarian nation agrees to a peace treaty – not to mention those in the crowd who didn’t even want to make peace?

This is how I came to settle on thematizing the lack of words at this demonstration. Whatever the argument to be made was, whatever it aimed at and with whatever convictions it happened to reach its conclusion was left to the images of the demonstration to say. By the very design of the protest’s organizers, the point was to produce pictures that speak for themselves, so to say. Reasoning and explanation was replaced by the visual appeal of the mass event. Therefore, words were only given a place on the images of the demonstration: on the signs that the demonstrators brought along.

And what makes this post especially tragic is that the people holding these signs might genuinely think that their signs will impress observers from abroad and create good will for the Hungarian people in the international community.

Photo by Philipp Karl, Pester Lloyd.

Above: The names in bald letters are historical figures who wronged Hungary over the centuries. The smaller sign (European Union = Soviet Union) was spotted in several different versions in the crowd.

Below: the banner at the front of the rally, and the main organizers of the rally behind it: “We will not be a colony!” The large white sign behind them – “With heart and soul: The Hungarian Democrat” – is a business advertisement for a political magazine edited by one of the main organizers of the protest, the Magyar Demokrata. In its political outlook, it is a far-right, ultra-nationalist magazine which does not shy away from antisemitic pieces or Holocaust-denying.

Photo by Zoltán Tuba, origo.hu.

Above: “This is our government, we trust it!”

Below: “1989-2012! We love you, Viktor!!” (twice over, with the same punctuation); behind: “Orbán is our man,” “We believe in Hungary,” “13 minorities live here with us in peace,” “Go Hungary! Go Hungarians!” on the right in the front: “Go Orbán.”

Photo by Zoltán Tuba, origo.hu.

Above: “Defamers of our home country pay for the damage!”

Below: (sign on the left) “Thank you for the financial h€lp – God pay you back!”, (white sign on the right – already seen above) “With our heart and soul” – business advertisement for the Hungarian Democrat.

Photo by Népszabadság (nol.hu).

Photo from Facebook.

Above: EU wolf, with sidelocks.

Below: Before the protest, many of the demonstrators signed an enormous Great Hungary poster.

Photo by Sz. Barakonyi, index.hu.

Photo by Sz. Barakonyi, index.hu.

Above: Trianon is the rallying cry of the march – it is where the treaty of 1920, annexing territories with Hungarian populations to all neighboring countries.

The idea that the loan agreement with the IMF, and the reconciliation with the EU that is a prerequisite to any such agreement, is “another Trianon” was part of the roll-out for this demonstration. In particular, the Hungarian Democrat (the same magazine already mentioned above, owned by one of the main organizers of the protest) published an article called “Új Trianon fenyeget” (A New Trianon Threatens), in which the parallel between 1920 and 2012 is emphasized as part of the call to participate in the march.

Below: what goes in the trash-can: the EU’s flag, the star of David, and the red star. Who throws them into the trash-can: person presented in the Hungarian national colors (red, white and green) and dressed in Árpád stripes (a reference to the 1940s Hungarian Arrow Cross Party). Red-white Árpád-striped flags are seen being carried by the crowd on many of the other pictures as well.

Photo from Facebook.

Above: (the sign) “Be members or be free? EU NO.” The demonstrator is carrying an Árpád-striped flag.

The reporter in the interview is confused: “But from what I know, the government is not a Euro-skeptic…” “But I remained a Euro-skeptic, for the last 8 years,” the woman explains.

Below: “They are for us, we for them” -pictures on the right: Hungarian members of the European Parliament delegated by Fidesz, in the middle: the Speaker of the Parliament, the Prime Minister, the President and the mayor of Budapest, on the right: members of the Hungarian government.

Photo by Sz. Barakonyi, index.hu.

Photo by Tibor Tóth and Béla Nagy of Magyar Nemzet Online.

Above: “We implore you, our Queen Babba Maria, to save your people from evil.” (Babba Maria is a name often used for Maria in the Hungarian areas of Transylvania)

Below: (handwritten sign) “Viktor! We are with you!” (printed signs) “Usury from banks – Stop”

Photo by Tibor Tóth and Béla Nagy of Magyar Nemzet Online.

Photo by Tibor Tóth and Béla Nagy of Magyar Nemzet Online.

Above: “We are fine EU/USA mind your own business,” the smaller signs are for the town of origin of the demonstrators.

Below: “In the interest of the home country! Wake up Hungarians! Viktor! We are with you! Lead your people who deserve a better fate to victory! The Hungarian nation has been here for 1100 years. We thank the Orbán government.”

Photo by Gergely Túri of HVG.

Photo by Gergely Túri of HVG.

Above: The Hungarian text says the same as its English translation.

Below: “EU-thanasia Say no!” The smaller words on the lines flowing from Hungary into the cash piles of the EU are “pension,” “profit” and “interest rate.”

Photo by Gergely Túri of HVG.

Photo by István Huszti, index.hu.

Above: man holding up painting of Viktor Orbán.

Below: a photo from the album posted here by Andrei Stavila, whose photography also manages to capture the “medieval” feel of the demonstration.

Photo by Andrei Stavila.

These signs were also spotted at the event:

“Block the derangement of world domination!”

“Block the abusers of Hungary!”

“The liberal bolshevik Klubradio is a sewage channel”

“Gays are sick, they must be cured”

“1956 + 1956 = 2012″

This entry was posted in demonstrations, Fidesz, Hungary, Viktor Orbán and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Pro-Government Rally in Hungary, Jan. 21, 2012

  1. dilcsi says:

    The reports I saw, such as the government-mouthpiece HIR TV video embedded on the Magyar Nemzet website, featured multiple soundbites from marchers railing against foreign “attacks” (“támadások”) on Hungary… this seemed to be the theme of the coverage, judging by the selection of voices…

  2. Janos says:

    A terrific post, hitting the nail on the head. Imagine hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets of Budapest to declare their love for Viktor Orban against a background of a sense of general xenophobia,directed mainly against all things “western”, be they “European” or American. What else did these people have to say apart from their love for their Leader? Demonstrating under the banner “IMF Go Home” in support of a government which, at the moment, is crawling on its knees back to the IMF to secure the loan which, even right-wing economists are convinced, is absolutely necessary to avoid state bankruptcy, is, to say the least, absurd. If you pause for a moment to reflect on what these banners and posters imply, you can only conclude that they could just as well have done with the single demand: “We Want Bankruptcy”.
    This demonstration, however huge it may have been, proved nothing beyond the sad fact that masses of Hungarians are utterly confused about what their beloved government really wants, What remains, then, is their devotion to Orbán, the unwavering conviction that whatever he may do or say is just right, and his critics are “enemies of the Hungarian nation”. Familiar?. This is, however, also the kind of popular support for the development of which Viktor Orbán’s party has worked so tirelessly for a decade. There have been quite a number regimes, especially in the 20th century, that were founded on the same type of support. Their fate is all too well known.

    • Paul says:

      “Their fate is all too well known.”

      But so too is the awful cost of living with them and removing them.

      We must not let OV get that far – the cost will destroy Hungary and harm Europe.

  3. Paul says:

    Thank you for such comprehensive coverage – a very interesting piece.

  4. Janos says:

    An afterthought: from the point of view of the evolving opposition, this whole event was good for a reality check. It reminded the new movements of the large number of people who still support Viktor Orbán. These people are here; they have every right to sing the praise of “Viktor”, and they are better being reckoned with.

  5. Mike says:

    It’s really hard to understand what these people were demonstrating for or against. One explanation is that they were just fed up with the foreign press:

    http://hungariandigest.wordpress.com/2012/01/22/the-peace-walk-for-hungary-rally-the-role-of-foreign-press/

    Hillary, Barroso, and Kounalakis might have also irritated some of them as your pictures show.

    Also there is a typo in your post: In two places you wrote” Híd TV” (bridge television) Instead of “Hír TV” (news television). I think this wasn’t intentional because Híd is a Hungarian party in Slovakia that very much opposes Orban.

    (can you delete the previous post)

    • Mike: Thank you for pointing out the typo. So intentional was it indeed that I have already corrected them above. I also appreciate you pointing it out that they were done out of some vicious Freudian slip, to express my oppression to the Hungarian government. A very interesting idea. It is possible that my unconscious may have taken a detour to Slovakian politics to express my criticism of the Orbán regime. But I have to admit that I may have done or said things more direct than that to that effect.
      By the way, while I’m at replying at your post, this post is trying to say that people who are “fed up” or “irritated” are not typically described as peaceful. You seem to suggest that it’s a legitimate thing to go around telling people that you are fed up and irritated and therefore they should just stop what they are doing – that’s the definition of a bully and not of a peace-march. What I’m trying to point out is that this is not simply about the West finally taking note of your position. This is not about people clicking to see the pictures at that link. The problem is that people click, and take note – and then they are even more horrified than they were before.

  6. Pingback: Budapest: Pro-government rally « Andrei Stavilă's Photography

  7. Heléna says:

    Huhhh. I cannot really say anything… I live in Hungary (moved back from England about 6 months ago) and I’m really suprised what is going on here… I was in Budapest when i saw the demonstration and I was shocked. I wouldn’t think that there is someone who would demonstrate against the currant government. I don’t understand why are retired people there and why are they pleased with the government? Because they get less money and taxes are increased etc. Education is hitting a lower standard and it’s harder to get into university…Honestly what’s happening here?

  8. uzki says:

    I talked to an ‘old lady’ who decided to go along and she said they were appalled by all the ‘accusations’ in the Hungarian and foreign press as well as the the European Parliament questioning session and wanted to show that ‘people’ still support the government in Hun..
    To each, his own. I guess not much good can be said about any of the governments we have had since the 2000’s here but it does seem like a lot of scaremongering is going on besides the actual threats.

  9. Daniel says:

    well, i guess afterall you managed to find a couple of people, who you think would make this demonstration look bad.

    I mean there were hundreds of thousands of people. And there was 1 carrying an oil paint of Viktor Orban.

    But you know what: if you want to, you can go on and think that everyone, who supports Fidesz/supports Viktor Orban/ demonstrates/centre-right is an idiot.

    And you really, really, honestly have no idea, why the left hasn’t gain any support?

  10. woorry says:

    THE PEACE MARCH FOR HUNGARY REVEALS THE HOSTILE ATTACK AGAINST
    HUNGARY’S DEMOCRACY – GO YOUTUBE FOR VIDEOS

    I HATE THIS BLOG WHICH RADIATES AN ANTI-HUNGARIAN XENOPHOBIA

  11. kuvik says:

    FEAR OF THE FUTURE IN THE WEST IS PROJECTED ON HUNGARY AND ORBAN

    Hungary became target not because its constitution or politics but because it was very weak in 2010. The fast increase of debts was made deliberately by socialist-liberal governments from 2002 to 2010. They were not only corrupt but also abused state institutions against the people, e.g. shot on the protesters in 2006, all ignored – therefore backed – by the EU.

    The rest is a made up story. Hungary’s current administration is doing desperate changes at a point of no return in order to seek the way out of the crisis. That is why most ordinary Hungarian voters – excluding privilege loosers or liberal anarchists – accept worsening conditions and continue supporting their honest, credible democratically elected leaders.

    The slogan “Trianon Again” refers to the vision of the worst outcome of the anti-Hungary hate and lie campaign, which is actually an ‘economic war’. But whose benefit is Hungary’s difficulty ?
    An example, Wizzairs’ attack against MALEV succeeded, it was a ‘timed bomb’ placed by former irresponsible PMs Gyurcsany&Bajnai.

    EU’S PUSHING HUNGARY TO FAIL WILL REBUILD THE IRON CURTAIN
    AND BECOMES THE MORAL END OF THE EU

  12. oregtitan says:

    THIS POST IS PURE MANIPULATION.

    PLEASE RECKON UP THE ABOVE REPORTED “MANY” RED-WHITE ÁRPÁD-STRIPED FLAGS, HEAR AND OBSERVE “LOTS OF” ANTISEMITISTIC WACHWORDS AND PLACARDS, AND ON THE WOLE THE AGRESSIVE BNEHAVIOR OF THE DEMONSTRATING MASS.

    AND IF YOU HAVE DONE IT. YOU CAN ADJUDGE, WHETHER THIS POST IS FAIR-MINDED, DETACHED AND HONEST.

    THANK YOU!

  13. Pingback: György Schöpflin an Ulrike Lunacek: Alles nur eine Definitionsfrage. « Pusztaranger

  14. S.O.Meone says:

    this blog is part f the so called jewish plot…
    how come there is a hungarian jew behind every foreign article/voice against Hungary?
    how come foreign press always asks the same jews?
    konrád, heller, kertész, fischer, schiff, schiffer, kenedi, TGM, Hack, Fleck, Dénes Balázs and the whole TASZ, The Hungarian Helsinki Comitte (founded by the jewish party SZDSZ), LMP the new jewish party (all of its MEPs are jews except the one gipsy), Cohn-Bendit, Krugman,Scheppele, Adam LeBor, Gregor Mayr, Eva s Balog and the whole Galamus, Paul Lendvai, Iványi, Vásárhelyi etc etc

    If u read an article against Hungary u will surely find one of these anti-Hungarian judeonazis mentioned in it.

  15. S.O.Meone says:

    RED-WHITE ÁRPÁD-STRIPED FLAGS – its the real flag of Hungary. fuck the tricolor.

    even our coat of arms shows the arpad-stripes. or u can check the shield of the Hungarian National Security.

    how many palestine were killed under the magen of david? so its a nazi symbol…

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