In what kind of a country would an entire bloc of opposition parties find civil disobedience their only means to halt legislation in the country’s parliament? Yes, the question is rhetorical, and yes, we are talking about Hungary. On Dec. 23, opposition MPs decided to chain themselves to the entrance of the Hungarian parliament. They wanted to prevent entry of the country’s ruling 2/3 majority, and passage of 14 (!) bills into law during today’s legislative agenda. The police dragged them away into jail.The protest began at 9:30 a.m., when six or seven opposition MPs from Hungary’s green party, Politics Can Be Different (LMP), chained themselves to the entrance of the parking lot to the Hungarian parliament. The rest of the LMP caucus occupied the north entrance to the parliament building.
By about 11:15, the police got ready to disperse the protest. By this time, members of parliament from the Socialist Party and Democratic Coalition were among the crowd watching the protest. Even MPs representing Hungary’s far-right party, Jobbik, were on the scene (though they never joined the action).
As the green party MPs were carried away by the police, members of the Democratic Coalition (previously a group within the Socialist party) stood in their place.
Within just a few minutes, the Democratic Coalition MPs were also arrested by the police. This is when Hungary’s previous Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, was also arrested.
The opposition MPs were taken into custody on charges of obstructing other’s rights to move about. See the following report on the absurd felony charges they are facing.
MPs representing the Socialist Party, though they were not officially detained by the police, arrived to the processing center where the arrested MPs were awaiting arraignment in a paddywagon – “in solidarity with their peers,” as they said.
By 2 pm, all of the opposition MPs were freed. By this time, however, work in the Parliament had been halted on numerous occasions. At times, the assembly lacked quorum to proceed with its agenda. At other points, the legislative momentum was held up by discussion spent in mocking or rejecting the subversive intent behidn the protest taking place outside the parliament.
Hungary’s ruling party has a two-third majority in Parliament, which gives them practically unhindered ability to pass bills into laws – without the input and contrary to the opposition of those who are not a part of this political elite (see this link for an excellent piece in the New York Times on this)
Just today, according to the original legislative plans, the parliament was going to pass the following measures:
– the reform of the electoral law, which makes it practically impossible to vote the currently ruling party out of power.
– a bill for creating a new secret security service with unlimited access to the country’s electronic databases.
– a bill on financial stability, which has been the subject matter of a dispute with Jose Manuel Barroso, who, in a letter written to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, emphatically asked him to withdraw the proposal.
– a bill which would have criminalized the Socialist Party (this agenda item was deferred to a later day).
In the meantime, by 4 pm, thousands were gathered on Kossuth Square (outside of the parliament’s building) to protest the legislation under way in the parliament. They demanded democracy and a popular referendum on Viktor Orbán’s leadership of the country. The Hungarian Solidarity Movement, whose members were also present at the rally called for opposition forces to form an Opposition Roundtable (in 1989, the Opposition Roundtable was the unofficial forum for peacefully negotiating a democratic transition).
(last updated at 5:35 p.m. on Friday Dec. 23.)