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.
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.