At the urging of pro-government journalists and media owners whose ideological committment is well summarized here, on January 21 a mass demonstration was held in support of Viktor Orbán and his government. “Never has a crowd so sizable demonstrated in Hungary in favor of the government and its policies in living memory. Approximately 400,000 participated in the event held in peace and good spirits,” the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior said in its press release Saturday evening (in 2008, Fidesz estimated that 2 million people showed up at its rally, so this claim is somewhat puzzling). Hungarian MEPs of the European People’s Party also issued a statement thanking participants of the rally. “The mass mobilization of several hundreds of thousands was a worthy and forceful response to the campaign of disparagement by leftist forces,” they wrote.
I have thought of many ways to approach preparing a report on this rally. My first instinct was to focus on just how paradoxical it is for a government to prove its popular support through a pro-government demonstration. As types of political expression, demonstrations for and against the government are as different as chalk and cheese. It is extremely hard to be a majority and to protest, authentically. Who would one appeal to, if one indeed is the majority firmly installed in power – to itself? And given that he is already accused of autocratic tendencies, why should several hundreds of thousands people declaring their dedication and love for the country’s leader help dispel the myth that Mr. Orbán is building a cult of personality in Hungary? If he is really such a great leader, why can’t the people spend a jolly Saturday free of the worries of work and politics – why can’t they just watch tv, fly a kite, go to a show, or whatever it is that they do when they are happy and content? Why is there a need to have several hundreds of thousands people take a long bus trip (one of the participants proudly told reporters that he had taken a 22 hour train ride to reach the protest!) and why are they asking old ladies to walk 2.5 miles in the January cold? If you ask me, if it were not about how special the circumstances are in Hungary, the latter would be considered downright cruel.
So at first I was going to wax philosophical. Then I thought that maybe I should focus on the surprisingly wide array of opinions voiced by the participants of the demonstration. Some of them were not even supporters of the government: they came on behalf of Hungarians in general. “We are not here for Fidesz, but for the sovereignty of the Hungarian nation,” one of the demonstrators said (see recording in Hungarian here). We didn’t assert ourselves more firmly against international financial powers when it was time, he continued, adding that Viktor Orbán did well to put down his feet against them, but if he gives in, “he won’t be anybody to us.” But we just turned to the IMF for a loan, the reporter objects. “We don’t need the IMF’s loan, they should get the hell out of here,” the man says enraged, “Hungary has no need for it, that’s a process of colonization, we don’t need it.” Clearly, they came up against a disjunct needing explanation. “Even Viktor said that we don’t need this loan” came another man to is fellow demonstrator’s help. “What we want is to wave [as in wave a piece of paper] that we’ve got a peace pact of some sort with the IMF, and they should leave us alone. We will get through this with our own methods, with our agriculture and other things.”
There was a wide distribution of opinions on other matters as well. The one that interests me most is why the organizers chose to label their demonstration a “peace march,” given that that’s a very 1960s hippie kind of thing to do. It is time for us to make peace “with ourselves,” said several people who were asked about this – the need to reach peace within was in fact a recurring theme in the interviews I watched. Others, however, were much more combative. “It is impossible to express in words why so many people are here. The many people who came here all love their country and will not give in to the violence,” an elderly woman said. She was not the only person who was more preoccupied with a war already in progress on Hungary than with taking a stand on behalf of peace. “We are going to defend it [Hungary]” another elderly woman says holding a Fidesz flag. “Why do we have to defend it?” she is asked. “Because it is always being hurt by that louse, the EU… We have come to defend Viktor Orbán, so they stop running their mouth.”
Eventually, what reached prominence in my desperate search for an underlying theme was the curious lack of words at the protest. I was working from one-on-one interviews and videos of the protest rather than from speeches, press releases, statements or the like. No wonder I could not distill the precise cause of the demonstration and was finding no answer to my questions above.
So speechless was this demonstration, in fact, that originally the crowd was supposed to march in silence; it must have been in order to break the monotony of the walk that they ended up singing and praying on their route. As one of the reporters pointed out (on Hír TV, a television channel fiercely loyal to the government), there was no yelling and shouting at the event. What she tried to say was that the government’s opposition tends to get rowdy when they protest. Their famous chant, “Orbán, get lost,” can indeed be the most terrifying thing to hear for the governing party. I am not sure why the Hungarian nation has become so sensitive to volume all of a sudden, though I suspect the problem is not with the boisterousness of the opposition, but perhaps with the words they use.
Not unintentionally, Saturday’s demonstration provided a clear alternative to their “unworthy” behavior. As the same reporter on Hír TV noted, the participants were gathering quietly at Heroes’ Square. This is what gave dignity to the march, wrote the editorial opinion of the daily most closely aligned with the government, Magyar Nemzet – whose journalists were responsible for organizing the demonstration – on the next day. (Another rule of etiquette for the protesters, besides staying quiet, was wearing one’s best dress. One of the participants proudly mentioned to a reporter that she even went to the hairdresser the day before.)
Originally, there were no speeches to be given at the demonstration, neither at the beginning of the march nor at the end, which makes one wonder: given the above diversity of opinions, could there have been a message which would have pleased this crowd? What could have been said to both the Euro-skeptics and the Euro-supporters, to those who want to make peace with themselves and to those who want the West to back down before the Hungarian nation agrees to a peace treaty – not to mention those in the crowd who didn’t even want to make peace?
This is how I came to settle on thematizing the lack of words at this demonstration. Whatever the argument to be made was, whatever it aimed at and with whatever convictions it happened to reach its conclusion was left to the images of the demonstration to say. By the very design of the protest’s organizers, the point was to produce pictures that speak for themselves, so to say. Reasoning and explanation was replaced by the visual appeal of the mass event. Therefore, words were only given a place on the images of the demonstration: on the signs that the demonstrators brought along.
And what makes this post especially tragic is that the people holding these signs might genuinely think that their signs will impress observers from abroad and create good will for the Hungarian people in the international community.
Above: The names in bald letters are historical figures who wronged Hungary over the centuries. The smaller sign (European Union = Soviet Union) was spotted in several different versions in the crowd.
Below: the banner at the front of the rally, and the main organizers of the rally behind it: “We will not be a colony!” The large white sign behind them – “With heart and soul: The Hungarian Democrat” – is a business advertisement for a political magazine edited by one of the main organizers of the protest, the Magyar Demokrata. In its political outlook, it is a far-right, ultra-nationalist magazine which does not shy away from antisemitic pieces or Holocaust-denying.
Above: “This is our government, we trust it!”
Below: “1989-2012! We love you, Viktor!!” (twice over, with the same punctuation); behind: “Orbán is our man,” “We believe in Hungary,” “13 minorities live here with us in peace,” “Go Hungary! Go Hungarians!” on the right in the front: “Go Orbán.”
Above: “Defamers of our home country pay for the damage!”
Below: (sign on the left) “Thank you for the financial h€lp – God pay you back!”, (white sign on the right – already seen above) “With our heart and soul” – business advertisement for the Hungarian Democrat.
Above: EU wolf, with sidelocks.
Below: Before the protest, many of the demonstrators signed an enormous Great Hungary poster.
Above: Trianon is the rallying cry of the march – it is where the treaty of 1920, annexing territories with Hungarian populations to all neighboring countries.
The idea that the loan agreement with the IMF, and the reconciliation with the EU that is a prerequisite to any such agreement, is “another Trianon” was part of the roll-out for this demonstration. In particular, the Hungarian Democrat (the same magazine already mentioned above, owned by one of the main organizers of the protest) published an article called “Új Trianon fenyeget” (A New Trianon Threatens), in which the parallel between 1920 and 2012 is emphasized as part of the call to participate in the march.
Below: what goes in the trash-can: the EU’s flag, the star of David, and the red star. Who throws them into the trash-can: person presented in the Hungarian national colors (red, white and green) and dressed in Árpád stripes (a reference to the 1940s Hungarian Arrow Cross Party). Red-white Árpád-striped flags are seen being carried by the crowd on many of the other pictures as well.
Above: (the sign) “Be members or be free? EU NO.” The demonstrator is carrying an Árpád-striped flag.
The reporter in the interview is confused: “But from what I know, the government is not a Euro-skeptic…” “But I remained a Euro-skeptic, for the last 8 years,” the woman explains.
Below: “They are for us, we for them” -pictures on the right: Hungarian members of the European Parliament delegated by Fidesz, in the middle: the Speaker of the Parliament, the Prime Minister, the President and the mayor of Budapest, on the right: members of the Hungarian government.
Above: “We implore you, our Queen Babba Maria, to save your people from evil.” (Babba Maria is a name often used for Maria in the Hungarian areas of Transylvania)
Below: (handwritten sign) “Viktor! We are with you!” (printed signs) “Usury from banks – Stop”
Above: “We are fine EU/USA mind your own business,” the smaller signs are for the town of origin of the demonstrators.
Below: “In the interest of the home country! Wake up Hungarians! Viktor! We are with you! Lead your people who deserve a better fate to victory! The Hungarian nation has been here for 1100 years. We thank the Orbán government.”
Above: The Hungarian text says the same as its English translation.
Below: “EU-thanasia Say no!” The smaller words on the lines flowing from Hungary into the cash piles of the EU are “pension,” “profit” and “interest rate.”
Above: man holding up painting of Viktor Orbán.
Below: a photo from the album posted here by Andrei Stavila, whose photography also manages to capture the “medieval” feel of the demonstration.
These signs were also spotted at the event:
“Block the derangement of world domination!”
“Block the abusers of Hungary!”
“The liberal bolshevik Klubradio is a sewage channel”
“Gays are sick, they must be cured”
“1956 + 1956 = 2012”