D-Day: Demonstrations in Hungary

A long weekend of protests began in the Hungarian capital: trade unions and civic organizations are taking to the street with their many grievances against their government. This post is continually updated with the news coming out of Hungary – check back for more as the weekend progresses!

OCTOBER 2, 2011

1 p.m. Hvg.huindex.hu and hirszerző.hu posted short reports on the Sunday portion of the program. About a 100 demonstrators remained on Clark Square by this morning, who thought it better to go about organizing the newly founded Hungarian Solidarity Movement than to maintain their sitting strike as previously planned. But since they had a permit for a march in the Buda Castle district, they did go on a “spontaneous castle stroll” with whistles and a few protest signs. They sat down shortly in front of the residence of the Hungarian President and held a group discussion among themselves.

In the meantime, the Budapest Marathon also reached Clark Square and the Chainbridge, and the entire area that the demonstrators were not allowed to obstruct as per their protest permit is now closed to traffic.

Demonstrators who held their sitting strike until Sunday. Photo by Szilárd Koszticsák, MTI.

The final event of D-Day: the last remnant of the demonstrators sitting in group discussion in front of the President's residence. Photo by Szilárd Koszticsák, MTI.

11:23 a.m. MTI (the state-operated Hungarian news agency) reports that the trade unions announced ending their sitting strike on Clark Square. “Dozens” of supporters were encouraged to leave by the lead organizers, says the press release, and to focus rather on the partial road blockades starting tomorrow. The motives leading to abandoning the strike are difficult to verify, as there have been no reports coming out of Clark Square via the Hungarian news media. Some internet portals do tend to add local coverage once the MTI press release occurs, however. No news about the planned march to Buda Castle. More soon.

OCTOBER 1, 2011

11:30 p.m. It is close to impossible to get news out of Clark Square. According to the live Facebook page, Péter Kónya started the “Country Protection Running” event, then many joined in. Then the police opened up to the square to vehicle traffic, after which many left. Those who decided to stay for the night were all fed babgulyás from the mobile kitchen. Tomorrow’s march starts at 10 a.m.

The only material from Clark Square is this video of the arrival of the march from Kossuth Square:

8:30 p.m. In its press release, the government’s news agency reports that police estimates put the size of the crowd to 10,000. Scroll down for pictures – independent news organizations reported 65,000 participants!

In the meantime, index. hu writes this about the event:

When they opened the banner of the new movement, suddenly everything came together. That’s when it came to make sense why there are a hundred otherwise remote groups here, and what took place within the opposition movements over the last year. Kónya [a trade union organizer], in his military uniform, was standing next to Sándor Székely, of One Million for the Freedom of Press in Hungary, to muscle-shirt clad Dopeman [MC of the demonstration, a Hungarian rapper], and university student Dóra Polgár. On the one hand, it was an improbable sight, but on the other hand, it was a great indication that the performance of the Fidesz government has managed to forge disparate civic organizations into a unity.

The "improbable sight," unfortunately without muscle-shirt clad Dopeman, as captured by a Facebook user: the founding moment of the Hungarian Solidarity Movement.

The events continue at Clark Square, with music and the planned “Country Protection Running” event (see under the reporting from Thursday).

7:50 p.m. Finally, the first series of pictures showing the true dimensions of the crowd in Népszava. More here:

D-Day demonstration on Kossuth Square, October 1, 2011. Photo by Népszava.hu.

7:30 p.m. According to a TV report (by no other than atv.hu!), some walked away disappointed from the demonstration at Kossuth Square because they did not receive anything other than encouraging speeches and there could not have been more than 10,000 people at the event.

Here’s another picture of the CROWD. Less than 10,000?

A smallish crowd gather on Kossuth Square for the D-Day demonstration on October 1, 2011. Photo by Facebook user - the crowd is not pictured on the photos of the official media outlets.

6:30 p.m. Speeches continue at Clark Square. The media’s count of the crowd at the previous Kossuth Square demonstration is now 65,000. Here’s a picture of the demonstrators as they crossed the Danube:

D-Day protesters on the Chainbridge, crossing from the demonstration in Pest to the location of the sitting strike in Buda. October 1, 2011.

And here are more pictures of the CROWD from the demonstration – from the pictures of the Commercial Employees’ Union (KASZ) of Veszprém:

More CROWD on the pictures of Facebook users. The state-operated news agency did not think this newsworthy until half-way into the program.

6 p.m. Rumor has it that there will be a “street party” at Clark Square. In the meantime, these pictures posted on Facebook, taken by one of the participants, give a much better sense of the crowd than any other I have seen taken by the professional media.

From the pictures of a private individual posted on Facebook.

5:30 p.m. “Many thousands” of protesters are marching toward Clark Square, chanting the slogan they’ve been chanting throughout the weekend: “Orbán, takarodj, vidd az összes haverod” (Orbán, get lost, and take all your buddies with you).

Though I could not find anything more on this in the Hungarian news media, the demonstration ended by the founding of the “Hungarian Solidarity Movement.” Before leaving, the crowd turned their backs on the Parliament and held a minute of silence. The picture was sent by a private individual to the event’s Facebook page.

Photo posted on Facebook: with copious references to Solidarnost, the event ended in forming the Hungarian Solidarity Movement.

5:15 p.m. The demonstration ended on Kossuth Square and the crowd is now starting to walk to Clark Square in Buda to join the sitting strike there. On the size of the crowds: headlines in the media outlets stick to the generic term “many thousands.” At the same time, many also report that the crowd filled the square and overflew to Vértanúk tere and Alkotmány Street – that would be many tens of thousands.

4:30 p.m. 50 to 60,000 demonstrators on Kossuth Square. In the meantime, there is almost complete indifference about the event in the Hungarian media. The picture below is the only picture one could find of a sizable crowd 2 hours into the protest anywhere on the Hungarian internet. There is a lesser-known internet site, http://www.nepmedia.hu which has a live video feed of the speeches. Klubrádió started a live broadcast, but soon switched back to regular programming. No mention of the demonstration on HírTV in its half-hourly news summary. Many are tuned into a D-Day Live Facebook page, which alternates short summaries from the protesters with lots of complaints about the non-existent media coverage.

Origo.hu has a live feed, though not at all as informative as the live Facebook page. They have yet to post a picture of the crowd. For now, every single one of their pictures is of individuals, who are almost exclusively set against some kind of empty space. The coverage from Index.hu did not appear until about half an hour before the event. MTI, the Hungarian news agency released its first report of the demonstration half hour after the event had already been under way. It is a brief report: 3 short paragraphs summarizing D-Day, followed by 3 lengthier paragraphs from yesterday’s press release by the government dismissing the protesters’ demands.

The red and blue contingent: steel workers. The banner says "Viktor, if you don't know about it, don't fiddle with it." Photo by Koszticsák Szilárd of MTI.

3 p.m. With a lengthy reading of the names of the unions and civic organizations behind the demonstration, and with a reading of the 1950 poem “One Sentence About Tyranny,” as well as international letters of solidarity, the protest is now under way.

2:30 p.m. At 2 p.m., reporters estimate the crowd at 25 to 30 thousand, according to the organizers, there are 50,000 protesters on Kossuth Square.

2 p.m. The demonstration on Kossuth Square is not going to begin on time. Many of the buses are still on their way from various points in the country. Yesterday, there were rumors that the police would be instructed to hold routine traffic controls today to slow down buses and carpools bringing demonstrators to the event.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2011

7:30 p.m. The participants of the round table discussion filled the location of the even (the square where the even took place was on the smaller side though). Speakers analyzed the government’s policies on education, health care, retirement benefits, unemployment and poverty. A two-third majority does not amount to superior knowledge, stated one of them. Democracy means dialogue, and where this is not known, one will find war instead.

Afterwards, several hundreds of the participants of the event in Pest walked over to the other side of the Danube to join in the ongoing sitting strike on Clark Ádám Square.

4 p.m. Today’s event, the round-table discussion on how to organize civil society as a political force capable of restoring democracy and rights to Hungary begins at 5 p.m. (at Imre Nagy’s statue, close to the Parliament).

As far as the media’s attention is concerned, however, the day clearly belonged to the government. The government’s spokesperson released a lengthy statement to the press, in which he accuses the trade union leaders of placing their personal political ambitions above the interest of the people. The government is not going to change its position about transforming the country or about their proposal for the new employment law, he stated. Regarding the issue of early retirement, they consider it untenable in a “moral sense” that individuals otherwise healthy and ready to work should receive a pension while they are still capable for useful work on behalf of the community.

There has never been society-wide arbitration at this scale and with such efficiency, said another government politician, Péter Harrach to the press about the unions’ demands. This happens to be true: it was the current government that dissolved the Council for National Arbitration (Országos Érdekegyeztető Tanács), the institution that used to forge agreement among employers, unions and the government on labor issues. Since then, the government only negotiates with its own unions (these are confederated into Liga – not a participant of these protests), while the autonomous trade unions are regularly excluded from these talks.

Thursday, SEPTEMBER. 29.

10 p.m. No reports yet about the planned physical exercise of the protesters. Hungary’s state radio makes a less than 40-second mention of D-Day in its 18 minute survey of the events of the day during its 10 p.m. news magazine (news media not affiliated with the government do provide more extensive reporting).

During the rest of the afternoon, the protesters were going to do a bit of exercise. They call it “Country-Protection Running,” which is a sarcastic take on the overblown rhetoric of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s recent “country protection plan” (which, by the way, is an economic package; most famously, it includes the forex mortgage repayment bill).

The average citizen is not likely to benefit from  Orbán’s “country protection plan”. Instead, those on Clark Square planned to “run around in circles” (their protest site is located right next to a traffic circle). As the organizers put it, “whoever wants to escape the spiral of indebtedness can run one round.”

More on the symbolism behind D-Day – from a speech this afternoon: just as D-Day brought peace after the war, so will this D-Day bring democracy and rights to Hungary. Just as the constitution passed into legislation by the Fidesz government was the end of the beginning, so is this protest the beginning of the end for the Fidesz government.

More pictures from the event:

Small contingent of protesters above Clark Square. Photo by Bálint Hirling, origo.hu.

Protesters overlooking the protest site from the side of Buda Castle Hill. The small banner says “Thief Fidesz.” The text on the longer one is: “Hungarian Social Forum. Work, peace and a secure living!”

Protesters sitting on Clark Square. Photo by Zsolt Reviczky of Népszabadság.

The sitting strike in its initial phase. The picture is a clever photoshop of the face of Viktor Orbán, the country’s current prime minister, and Mátyás Rákosi, the communist dictator of Hungary’s Stalin-style regime before 1956.

6 p.m. The event at Clark Ádám Square got off to a great start. Early in the afternoon, [Origo] put the number of the crowd to about 1000. So far, there is space for everyone on the sidewalks, traffic is moving through the square, though far slower than usual. Some are already sitting. Mattresses and other sit-in gear are at hand. Most of the signs protest the government, a few carry messages against the far right.

The view from the Buda Castle Hill early in the afternoon. Photo by István Huszti, index.hu

Earlier, the event started off with speeches, some political theatre, and a picnic. Hundreds were attendance, mostly members of the firefighters’, soldiers’ and policemen’s unions, though a huge banner also testified to the presence of nurses. The unions representing the former professions have been very persistent since the spring to protest against the government in defense of their early retirement options, which are being slashed retroactively.

It is perhaps the armed force’s leadership initiative in the protests that explains the choice of the name “D-Day” for the events. As Péter Kónya, one of the organizers stated in his speech, they picked it because, according to Winston Churchill, D-Day was the beginning of the end. In the meantime, another main organizer, Kornél Árok provided symbolic enactment of D-Day as he descended on ropes into the event. The first to arrive in Normandy were the parachute units, he said upon arriving. The units at Clark Square are the first arrivals – the main forces of D-Day are not to arrive until Saturday (the day of the mass demonstration outside of the Hungarian Parliament).

A group of four organizers was dispatched to deliver a petition to Pál Schmitt, Hungary’s President, whose residence is just a short hike up on top of Buda Castle Hill. Unfortunately, Mr. Schmitt could not be available to receive the protesters as he was busy with the visit of the Croatian head of state, but his deputy promised delivery of the document to him on Friday.

For schedule of events and background, see this post.

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15 Responses to D-Day: Demonstrations in Hungary

  1. Art says:

    All
    Though not of Hungarian lineage the nation of Hungary is dear to my heart. A close family friend fled Hungary in 1956. It pains me to see the leaders of a people whose nobles rode to Maria Theresa’s rescue use threats to prevent having to even hear about the views of others. A reaction to opposition demonstrations of “If you go Saturday don’t bother coming in to work Monday” is an unchivalrous attempt to intimidate that would have made the Arrow Cross proud.

    Hopefully a consensus decision to the economic problems facing Hungary can be found. The problems are not unique to Hungary as any reading of european economic news will tell you. I will continue to watch events and maybe even manage to visit soon.

    Art Turney

  2. Pingback: Trade Union Demonstrations in Budapest – D-Day | The Contrarian Hungarian

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  4. Pingback: D-Day: Demonstrations in Hungary « @ggregator

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  6. Kirsten says:

    I like the idea to use Solidarnosc as a reference. Is it known how this idea emerged? That should attract more people, not only trade unions.

  7. Gretchen Dunn says:

    Speaking of coverage of this amazing event(s), I just checked with hungarianambiance.com (a far right site in English) and their lead story is about a dentist, mother of 3, who won the Athens-Sparta run. Not even the ‘weak’ picture of the crowd.

  8. GoD bless the HUNGARIAN…………….

  9. Pete H. says:

    Thanks for the coverage!

  10. Mary says:

    See this Facbook note for an account of what’s happening in Longview, Washington and the ILWU. Gives pause for thought on the purpose of unions
    http://www.facebook.com/notes/ilwu-local-21/ilwu-egt/158833140873503

  11. Paul says:

    Thanks for all your efforts to keep us up to date, as far as I know, this got NO coverage at all in the UK – not on the BBC or in the Guardian, at least.

    I don’t want to rain on the parade, but my feelings are that this didn’t really take off as I would have expected (hoped?), and it seemed to fizzle out on the Sunday, instead of gaining momentum and building up to something big (and possibly continuing) – again, as I hoped.

    I am a veteran of demos in the UK and my experience of police and organiser’s estimates is that the crowd is usually about twice what the police say and about half what the organisers claim. (I am also a veteran of football games, so I think I can judge the approx size of a crowd fairly well).

    Assuming this rule of thumb applies in Hungary, we’re looking at a turnout of between 20,000 and 25,000, which is good, but not really what you’d be looking for in an anti-government demo in warm October sunshine, after a year and a half of a loony government, clearly determined to destroy democracy and bring Hungary to her knees.

    Orbán will have gone to bed a very happy man – nothing to worry about here.

  12. Anonymous says:

    SENDING MESSAGE FROM AMERICA AND SO HAPPY TO FIND THIS PUBLICATION AND IN ENGLISH. I AM ALL MAGYAR BLOOD LINE AND HAVE BEEN TO HUNGARY 2008 AND 2011. IN 2008 WE WERE CAUGHT UP, MY DAUGHTER AND I, IN A DEMONSTRATION ON BOTH SIDES OF THE CHAIN BRIDGE. FOR HOURS WE COULD NOT LEAVE THE CASTLE HILL. THE BUSES WERE CLOSED AND THE BRIDGES. FINALLY THE METRO WAS ALLOWED TO TAKE US OUT. I WAS HAPPY TO BE PART OF IT. MY DAUGHER WAS AFRAID. THE T-SHIRTS SAID “CHARTA” IS THAT PART OF THIS? WHAT IS IT? GOD HELP HUNGARY AND YOUR FIGHT FOR FREEDOM FOR NOW AND SO MANY LONG YEARS BEFORE. THE HUNGARIAN REFORMED CHURCH OF COLUMBUS OHIO WAS MY CONNECTION UNTIL THEY LOST THEIR MINISTER. I PRAY FOR YOU AND YOUR FIGHT AND THANK YOU FOR THIS CONNECTION TO FOLLOW THE REAL NEWS OF YOUR FIGHT. WILL BE WATCHING YOUR NEWS.

    • “THE T-SHIRTS SAID “CHARTA” IS THAT PART OF THIS? WHAT IS IT?”
      Charta is the “Hungarian Democratic Charta.” In 2008, it comprised a large coalition of private and public individuals opposed to the rise of extremism and intolerance in Hungary. It is connected to former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány.

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