Wide-Spread Protests Banned in Hungary

In Hungary, the series of events is known as D-Day, or “partraszállás napja” (embarkment day) and, as per the decision of the Hungarian courts, it remains to be banned. With a few exceptions – which make it even more confusing why it is banned in the first place.

An alliance of 70 trade unions put together the protest program that would have included something for everyone: from a sitting strike through partial traffic slow-downs to the quieter rallies and the almost passively observable round-table discussions.

The series of programs would have spanned four days, from September 29 through October 12, and 12 locations.  The organizers worked closely with the police in developing the program – leading figures among the organizers, after all, are members of the police union themselves. Following up on the initial momentum of minor protests which brought to the streets the unions separately, in this coordinated action, they would have united their organizations in protest of the government’s proposed employment law.

On Thursday of last week (Sept 15.), the authorities banned the protest. The trade unions vowed to fight the decision of in the courts. Today, the courts passed down a very confusing decision. While most of the events remain banned, but in the case of a select few of them, the courts declared the ban of the police unlawful. Nothing could prove more eloquently than such inconsistency and unpredictability that the protesters are hindered for political, rather than legalistic, reasons.

Hungary’s protest laws are perhaps the most liberal in Europe. All protests must be registered with the police, and the police can refuse such registration for two reasons only. One of these is if the protest were to hinder traffic that could not otherwise be secured through alternate routes. The other: if a protest threatens to interfere with the functioning of a sovereign representative institution or of the courts.

11 out of the 12 events planned for D-Day were banned citing the former of these reasons. One of them, the protest around the building of the Hungarian parliament was not permitted on the basis of the second rationale, even though the rally around the parliament was planned for a Saturday (the court lifted this ban). Most of the traffic concerns were upheld by the courts, even though, as the organizers point out, the authorities plan on closing down the same protest route – and considerably more – just a few days after their requested date.

A previous trade-union protest against the government's employment law proposals. The banners read: "They are taking away overtime" and "Collective bargaining may end."

The Hungarian government’s proposed employment law includes provisions that would amount to serious roll-backs in worker’s rights. The proposal makes it easier to terminate employees. It cuts down on the number of vacation days and allows employers to set a variable work schedule (between 36 to 44 hours/week) as long as the average number of hours worked comes out to 40 hours a week.

Among the stated purposes of the proposal is the state’s withdrawal from the regulation of the labor market. In a country where the unemployment rate is over 10%, the authors of the bill think that the labor market would be more efficiently shaped by the outcome of direct negotiations between employees and their employers. Not only the state-imposed “bureaucratic” measures, but collective bargaining rights would be stricken from the books accordingly.

The organizers of the protest say that they are going to proceed with their event series, though with adjustments to their plans. Protests have brought out masses to the streets in the past, but since a landslide election of the currently ruling party, they focused primarily on political principles, such as the freedom of the press or the country’s new constitution.

Unless the uncertainties regarding the legality of these events convince people otherwise, this weekend of events could become the first mass protest since the election of 2010 in which the government’s economic policies are the explicit subject of discontent. It is notable that the banning of the protest loosely coincided with the announcement of what amount to austerity measures; indeed with the first-ever announcement of austerity measures by this government, and with the first time ever that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán resorted to unpopular economic measures. Perhaps for the first time since its election, Hungary’s ruling party does have enough reason to fear its own people.

This entry was posted in democracy watch, English-language Hungarian news, Hungary, labor code, trade unions, workers rights and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Wide-Spread Protests Banned in Hungary

  1. Paul says:

    Interesting to see how the police, themselves amongst the protestors, handle any ‘illegal’ protests.

  2. EBE says:

    It is interesting to watch democracy unfolding under Fidesz. It is very hard to categorize the current government. It is hard to know who’s side are they on. Their austerity measures are clearly target the working class. At the same time Orban always speaks about the importance of labour. His mortgage saving program will only benefit the “rich”, as well as his flat tax. His against the banks, but his best friends and his biggest supporters are from the bank sector (Demjan, OTP, etc.) He speaks about bringing the country together, but nothing stops him to try to kill off any of his political opponents. Talks about “all Hungarians”, but keeps friends like Bayer, who is clearly an anti-semite. Speaks about religious freedom then coughs up a new law on religion that “outlaws” the church status of many well recognized religious organizations. He does not want to touch communists with a 6 feet pole, but he gets turned on by the Chinese ways of doing things.
    WHat made him famous was his quest for freedom of all, and now makes sure that people have no chance speak their mind. I think Orban has serious mental issues, like bipolar disorder.

  3. Pete H. says:

    As far as I know a protest by the Hungarian National Commission 2006 and the Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement to mark the fifth anniversary of the leaking of the “Oszod speech” speech by then prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, seems to have gone on without any interference.

    • EBE says:

      Maybe they’re afraid that this crowd will commemorate the fifth anniversary of Orban’s speech before the 2006 election, when he asked American diplomats to „Disregard what I say” during his campaign. As the Americans were a ‘bit worried about Orban’s populist agenda, he reassured them that whatever he will promise to the voting Hungarian public is not what his party will planning to deliver.

      • Pete H. says:

        I think he is afraid of the number of people that will show up and the fact that now they will not only be protesting the labour laws, but also the new austerity measures.

        And yes, I also expect there will be placards with his „Disregard what I say” statement.

  4. Personally I can’t wait to see these protests – I hope they will be massive. @EBE: you are so right about all of Orban’s inner contradictions. It’s because he can be all over the map that he is so unpredictable. It’s like he reserves the right for himself to do just whatever he pleases – which would be the definition of a tyrant. I see more and more of Caligula in him (Caligula was the one who came up with the idea that he could find money _and_ get rid of the most powerful in society simultaneously if he only “taxed” them the right way. Basically, whenever he needed money, constantly that is, given his extravagant ideas,he called in one or two of the Roman senators, and gave them a “fair” choice between being executed and signing their wealth over to him).
    @Pete: the far-right does go on protesting without any permitting problems, but their turnout was pathetic this time around: 500 by their own count! However there is a huge story coming up there too re: Budahazy. If he’s being held for anything related to Oct. 23, 2006, there is a five year statute of limitations on his indictment (the statute of limitations already expired for his participation in the events outside of MTV’s building). Morvai has really stepped up her PR efforts on the case: my hunch is that, indictment or not, they are getting ready to jump on the opportunity – either way, whether an indictment is finally turned in or not. And they would be able to organize a mass rally on the fifth anniversary of Oct. 23, 2006 on this pretext! Of course all of this is only a speculation on my part, but for sure you’ll see a post on this here before then!
    For now, all I hope for is that civil society organizes itself before the marching begins. @Paul, I have wondered about the policemen’s union [rendvédelmi szakszervezetek] myself, but I don’t know much more – beyond that they have a very contentious relationship with the government and Interior Minister Pinter and have been really persistent in organizing protests. Of course Pintér did promise to recall their retired members to supervise the public workers project, but what is going to come of that at this point?

  5. Pingback: Jobbik legt zu, Ära der Banker, D-Day (Presseschau 16.9.-1.10.2011) « Pusztaranger

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