The Hungarian government called for a demonstration in support of the government’s policies, which would practically prevent those critical of the government to gather as planned for their biggest anti-government rally of this year on October 23.
In March of this year, One Million for the Freedom of Press in Hungary, an initiative of the civil sphere organized for the most part on Facebook drew the largest crowd to the streets of Budapest since 1989 in protest of the Orbán government. Since then, they have been hard at work to coordinate another major anti-government rally for October 23, the national day in remembrance of the 1956 revolution. Their permit request for a protest at 4 p.m. on October 23 in Szabad Sajtó Út was filed with the police months ago (located in the heart of Budapest, the protesters favor this location because its name means “Free Press Road”).
Yesterday, on October 5, the organizers received notification from the police that Fidesz, the ruling government party also registered a protest at Astoria, a nearby location. Astoria is not only close to the location of the anti-government protest, it is located just a few hundred meters on the major road of access that many of the protesters would use to get to (and leave) the anti-government protest.
In fact, crowds from the demonstration that One Million for the Freedom of Press in Hungary put on in March were large enough to overflow to the location at which Orbán’s party now proposes to hold its pro-government rally. If supporters of the government were allowed to gather at this location, anti-government demonstrators would not only be physically hindered in accessing the site of their protest, they would be facing counter-protesters in what could become a volatile crowd control situation.
A government that would mobilize its own supporters to counter-protest the burgeoning opposition movement is of course more commonly found among the despotic regimes of the Middle East than within the European Union. There is something extraordinarily callous however about calling a pro-government rally at the same time and in the same corner of a city as vast as Budapest to neutralize the demonstration long in planning by the opposition.
The organizers of D-day, a series of trade union demonstrations held last weekend also faced soft methods of repression by the Hungarian authorities. At some point, their protests were banned, and only after going through the court process, and in some cases only after a subsequent round of applications were they able to secure protest permits. The authorities for example rejected the request to permit the protest which later did in fact draw large crowds in front of the Parliament, citing in justification that it would interfere with the work of the legislature, which of course is not even in session on a Saturday.
Today (Oct. 6), the organizers of the anti-government demonstration are going to participate in a mediation attempt with the organizers of the pro-government rally at the police headquarters. They are seeking to convince the governing party to move their demonstration to a separate location in Budapest.
[I’ll be posting updates here about the outcome of the negotiations.]
4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6: The negotiations failed to lead to any result. Representatives of Fidesz stated that they did not know about the rally organized by the opposition at the near-by location. Even upon being told they failed to see the potential danger to the security of their own followers, or the risk to which participants of the opposition rally would be put without a secured road to disperse from their demonstration. In their latest press release, organizers of the anti-government are calling on the Hungarian government to move its demonstration elsewhere. Because the mediation was unsuccessful, it is now up to the police to decide who can protest where. They also are going to make the decision on whose supporters are going to be secured, and by what crowd control means.
On Monday, Oct. 15 the Prime Minister’s spokesperson announced that, given the EU summit held in Brussels on the same day, Fidesz cancelled its rally. Prime Minister Orbán cannot be at both places at once, “the impact of the euro’s crisis on Hungary must be warded off, and the Hungarian Prime Minister must be where he is most needed,” the spokesperson explained.