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One hundred years of protests

by DoDo Fri Jan 20th, 2012 at 06:04:19 PM EST

The broad international coverage of the 2 January protest against the new constitution of Hungary (see Protest in a one-party state) did achieve one thing: a shocking realisation on the part of the Hungarian Right that they lost control of the streets.

In the eight years of the so-called 'center-left' in government, 2002-2010, right-populist Fidesz (which now governs with a two-thirds majority in parliament) and the multitude of far-right groups and grouplets (in always changing alliances) resorted to street politics, from blockades through mass rallies to riots, and 'won' on that front well before an election victory. But now they woke to the reality of CNN et al showing tens of thousands protesting in the streets while prime minister Viktor Orbán attended a closed-door celebration and then left through the back door.

Thus, right-wing circles were abuzz with calls for counter-protests, as a demonstration of force, a re-taking of the streets. The right-wing protests staged thus far were less than spectacular, but the expected bigger ones are still to come, the first this Saturday (21 January). The government has also tried to thwart anti-government protests in various ways. But the organisers of those weren't short of ideas, either – the title refers to their latest trick.

All the while, parliamentary opposition parties again don't shine: the Green party LMP is mired in internal conflict over cooperation with the successors of the previous government (resulting in high-profile resignations); while much-reviled former Socialist PM and present leader of a breakaway party, Ferenc Gyurcsány, had no better idea than to insist on the necessity of severe austerity measures and social 'reforms' after the overthrow of a Fidesz government. So, with the background of market attack, IMF talks and legal review by the European Commission, protests and counter-protests will now be the main game in town until at least the middle of March.

Let's first review the wave of pro-government protests – with a focus on the groups behind them, how they got "street cred", and what they are after now.

The first pro-government protest was a mysterious affair. On 10 January, there was a "spontaneous" gathering of a few dozen people (though they claimed a few hundred), almost all of them pensioners, at the Opera House, the place of the events of 2 January. There was no prior announcement, no speaker, just prayers and a placard saying "The nation sides with the government" (IOW the opposition are traitors). Media reported rumours that they came on the call of the mayor of Csepel (a district of the capital Budapest), who previously called on people to pray for prime minister Viktor Orbán so that God will help him against his enemies (seriously!). But if true, this was an uncoordinated initiative, and Fidesz had no interest in "owning" it after such a low turnout. So ECHO TV, a small pro-government cable channel established by industrialist Gábor Széles (for background see this comment) stepped forward to own it, declaring that these people came spontaneously for the filming of one of their shows...

Photo from HVG.hu.

On 14 January, another pensioner-dominated protest followed, this time 500-1,000 people in front of Parliament, organised by an NGO called Élőlánc ("Human chain"). In all 'post-communist' countries, citizen initiatives are weak, and can hardly avoid getting into (and under) party politics. This was the fate of Élőlánc, too, which originally formed against a planned NATO radar station atop a mountain in a natural reserve during the time of Socialist-led governments, but developed into a pro-Fidesz outfit. Their 14 January protest was ostensibly about protecting Hungary's sovereignty, in reality against all foreign criticism, with rhetorical excesses (actual example: "They want to exterminate Hungarians! But God won't allow it!").

Photo from HVG.hu.

The same day, elsewhere in Budapest, the far-right Jobbik party held a protest with the same motto, which made it into international news due to a burning of the European flag (cause for an on-going police investigation).

Jobbik, which entered parliament with a shocking 16.7% of votes in the 2010 elections, grew out of a students' association formed at the time of the first Orbán government (1998-2002). Measured in votes and opinion poll numbers, until about 2008, they were just another insignificant far-right micro-party. However, already back then, they had two more specialities (beyond youthfulness) which planted the seeds of their later success: internet-savvyness, and a focus on the exploitation and nurture of anti-Roma racism, which was (and is) much more widespread than the Hungarian far-right's traditional favourite anti-Semitism.

However, the key to Jobbik's success was their gaining of a street presence, by establishing a paramilitary: the so-called Hungarian Guard (see Hungary: Another Autumn of Discontent). The Guard and its successors (it was legally disbanded but members just continued under new names) held provocative marches, mainly in villages with Roma ghettos, and launched "help the people" actions like carrying sandbags and helping with evacuations during river floods. This gained them multiple times the voters all far-right parties combined had in previous elections, concentrated in two notable segments of society:

  1. youth, especially working-class (a recent poll saw them level with Fidesz at 15% of the youngest and much less present in all other age brackets);
  2. the rural area (impoverished villages with no jobs and fleeing youth, almost completely ignored by the Socialists and given no more than symbolic politics by Fidesz; Jobbik even has some majors).

In the present economic crisis, Jobbik tries to gather disgruntled Fidesz voters. Stealing from the international Left, their rhetorical focus is now against banks (of course, with nationalist and thinly veiled anti-Semitic overtones replacing anti-capitalist ones), accuse Orbán of submitting to them and the whole EU of acting as their agents. With this, Jobbik hovers around 10% of all adults in polls – about the same as at election time, but, at the present abysmally low intentions to vote, enough for 20+% of the vote. Due to Fidesz's lack of demarcation from the far-right, their potential is probably much higher, as indicated by approval numbers for party leader Gábor Vona in the 25% range.

However, in spite of all the above and a grand mobilisation attempt, in terms of turnout, Jobbik's flag-burning protest wasn't that much of a success: media reports speak of 2,000-2,500 people. Still, that many certified madmen, a third of them in jackboots, is a scary sight. In addition to burning the EU flag, Vona told that the streets have to be re-taken from the anti-government protesters who "aren't dignified" to take them, and threatened that Jobbik will be there at all of their protests(!).

Photo from HVG.hu.

Still on 14 January, there was another right-wing protest in Szeged, a city of 170,000 near the Serbian border which is one of the last bastions of the Socialists. This was the largest of a couple of protests organised by local groups of Fidesz, but it is really noteworthy for main speaker István Csurka, and the political calculation behind his role. Young Csurka was arrested after 1956, and was released after signing and agreement about becoming a secret service informer. Although he denies that he ever reported, his good secret service contacts and the fact that he became a playwright with full support from the regime indicate otherwise. In the early nineties, Csurka established what became Hungary's first main far-right party, MIÉP, on the basis of pre-1945 chauvinistic and anti-Semitic traditions.

Csurka's MIÉP also employed the prototype of street politics in Hungary: Csurka would hold ten-thousand-strong rallies every month or two; albeit elections showed that the turnout of his biggest rallies was more or less all his voters. MIÉP passed the 5% limit in 1998 thanks to the record low turnout. Fidesz's toleration of and collusion with the far-right started with their attempt to woo MIÉP delegates in commissions and boards to go along with their power grab; but it continued with an operation to steal MIÉP's voters, which was largely completed in the 2006 elections. However, by 2010, Csurka was more upset with Jobbik eclipsing him within the far right, and offered himself up as a figure who could attract some Jobbik voters back to Fidesz. With success: last year, the new Fidesz mayor of Budapest decided to give the leadership of a theater (from February 2012) to another far-right figure who would have officially employed Csurka as right-hand man. The mayor backtracked on the Csurka part later, but the protest in Szeged shows that Csurka is still integrating into Fidesz. But will he draw voters from Jobbik? The Szeged protest indicates otherwise: even the speakers noted the lack of young people in the 'crowd'.

Photo from Index.hu.

Next will be a protest that is expected to be much bigger: a so-called "peace march" on Saturday (21 January), initiated by a dozen "civilians". The latter are led by Zsolt Bayer, Fidesz party member No. 5 in 1988, a decade and a half later one prominent member of a trio of far-right journalists who were key to Fidesz's above-mentioned capture of MIÉP voters. The co-initiators include another member of that trio, András Bencsik (see this comment on the trio), as well as industrialist Gábor Széles whom I mentioned upthread. (They also included some token celebrities, one of whom, a fitness champion, withdrew her name and told she was duped.)

Bayer has some past as initiator of smaller protests in the 2002-2010 period, but not a mass rally like the "peace march" is to be. Indeed there are reports that Fidesz doesn't want to appear as the organiser of a mass rally until the talks with the IMF are over, but started up some of its mobilising networks (on which more below) behind the scenes. In other words, the "peace march" will be an inofficial Fidesz march. The "peace march" concept is to give an impression of a silent majority for the international media, contrasting it with both the boos and jeers of the left-of-centre opposition and the flag-burning of Jobbik (a rather hypocritical act when channeled across the mouth of Bayer, considering the tone of his earlier protests, not to mention the hate speech in his writings). The optimists in the opposition also speculate that they fear turnout would be low; but even if so, this would be a clever move to test the waters with plausible deniability.

Reportedly, the final act in the right-wing attempt to re-take the streets will be an official Fidesz mass rally on 15 March, the day of the 1848 Revolution (and the most popular national holiday).

The Fidesz tradition of mass rallies started after they lost the first round of the 2002 elections. Fidesz narrowed the gap by winning most seats left to take in the second round with a furious voter mobilisation campaign. Part of the latter was a mass rally in front of parliament, shown live on state TV (they conquered it then, too), and infamously estimated at two million-strong (which was physically impossible and probably 20 times the actual number; for details see Campaign Watch Hungary: Counting Crowds). In the next eight years, Fidesz kept staging mass rallies on national holidays and ahead of elections, as a means of motivating supporters and  impressing I-vote-for-the-winner voters.

High turnout in Fidesz mass rallies was achieved with methods known in the USA under "get out the vote" (GOTV), which is supposed to be illegal in Hungary (as it is in most of Europe), due to the use of extensive databases on supporters (as well as enemies) which allow for targeted campaigns. Now, even though Fidesz lost half of its supporters since the summer of 2010, it still can count on at least 1.2 million, so I would be very surprised if they can't pull off another 100,000-strong protest, maybe already on Saturday (21 January). And if not, at least a decent crowd which pro-government media can multiply by 20 again.

Three years ago, Zsolt Bayer wrote an anti-Gypsy op-ed, leading to government calls for action against incitement of violence. Instead, Bayer's employer Gábor Széles orgnised a 'soldarity protest'. On the photo from the blog The voice of Gypsies, Bayer is on the right, below him is Fidesz's token Roma leader (who would reassure the crowd that "honest" Roma didn't feel insulted), while the crowd behind shouts slogans including "death to Gypsies!"

The Fidesz campaign to re-take the streets doesn't just involve pro-government protests, but attempts to thwart the opposition, too. On one hand, the new labour law is used to kick protest-organising union leaders from their jobs: two weeks ago I reported how they got the boss of the fire-fighters' union; now they also went after the head of the police union and want to fire him in the framework of disciplinary measures. On the other hand, to block a Facebook group for media freedom who organised the two biggest anti-government rallies last year on the days of the 1848 and 1956 Revolutions (without Le Monde taking notice), the government and the city council of Budapest reserved all of the broad areas traditionally used for mass rallies – and that for a whole week around 15 March, and for two years in advance!

Red: areas reserved by the national government, blue: areas reserved by the city government of Budapest. Map from NOL.hu.

:: :: :: :: ::

What does the opposition have in store over the same period? The main NGOs behind the 2 January event endorse these protests:

  • Also in the late afternoon on Saturday (21 January), a new Facebook group organised a protest against the President of the Republic(sic!) who is The zu Googleberg of Hungary but so far refuses to resign. The motto is an untranslatable wordplay on 'graduation ceremony' and 'stripping of doctoral degree'.

  • On Sunday (22 January), there will be a protest in support of the last opposition FM radio which lost its before-last frequency (the one covering the Budapest area) in a rigged frequency re-tendering (call-in shows in the program plan were penalised and music rewarded). I don't listen to that radio station, because it is too beholden to the austerity received wisdom of the previous government and too naive about the intentions of Western powers; however, its political stance is not the issue here, media freedom is.

  • On 1 February, there will be a protest at the theatre given by Budapest's mayor to far-right figures (see section on István Csurka).

  • The umbrella group for the unions, Szolidaritás (Solidarity), will bypass the government occupation of public spaces around 15 March by staging its next big event on 10 March.

  • The media freedom Facebook group commonly known as Milla (short for One Million For Press Freedom) is still intent to beat out an approval for a suitable site on 15 March, via the courts if necessary (a protest ban near parliament issued by the Socialist government five years ago was just ruled illegal by Strasbourg). And they already made a laughing stock out of the government's multiple-year site reservation: they submitted a similar declaration to police which reserved one street for both 15 March and 23 October one hundred years in advance:

I will attend and report as many of the above opposition protests as possible.

I also showed how on 2 January, the news crew of the public TV reporting on the anti-new-constitution protest managed to show an empty street. A screengrab from that report, with the stone-faced reporter, quickly became an internet tradition: netizens made literally hundreds of doctored versions showing the reporter telling obvious propaganda lies. For example, reporting the fall of the Berlin Wall as "an amateur wall-climbing competition":

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Jan 20th, 2012 at 06:07:38 PM EST
I forgot to explain what's up with the "peace march" format for the inofficial Fidesz mass rally today; added a sentence. Will also add a photo with Zsolt Bayer.

As for the EP debate on Hungary with Orbán present, in addition to what I wrote in the Salon, there is another moment worth to mention. Some EPP MEPs took a page from Fidesz's rhetoric, claiming that Fidesz's new constitution replaced the 1949 Stalinist constitution. Daniel Cohn-Bendit ridiculed this by asking his EPP colleagues how they could then approve the accession of a communist country in 2004?... Since then, a blogger did something even more effective: a direct comparison of the original 1949 constitution, and the version valid just before the Fidesz constitution (with all the modifications since, in particular a total re-write in 1989). Check it out yourself: new additions in green, the excised parts of the original in red, retained parts in black. Seems like less than 0.1% remained...

<sub>*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 03:33:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A swedish kind of death:
Could we perhaps have a diary with EPP MEPs that obfuscated?

In the EP debate on Hungary, that is. I'll do it in this long comment. The transscript is here; unfortunately, I can't find the official English translations so I had to do it with Google. First the non-Hungarian EPP MEPs who spoke – I sensed an over-representation of Italy/PdL:

  • Joseph Daul (faction leader, from France/UMP): he gave the EPP line by praising Orbán for reforming a country taken over in crisis and for replacing the 'Stalinist' constitution, and implying that MEPs should wait with judgements until the result of the Commission's investigations, and made comparisons with the previous Socialist government. In his closing note, he stressed that Hungary is still a democracy and can be travelled in freely (really!), and objected to the Orbán-Chávez comparison, then stressed again that Orbán faced the debate, and asked "Who is perfect? He who is perfect cast the first stone!" (seriously!).

  • Bernd Posselt (Germany/CSU): defended Hungary's new constitution by pointing to its parts on minority rights and contrasting it with Britain's opt-out from EU Fundamental Rights (as if those excuse any of the rest).

  • Mario Mauro (Italy/PdL): he just made a fool of himself when not getting Cohn-Bendit's barb about Hungary's EU accession with a Stalinist constitution. Later he blamed Jobbik's burning of the European flag on the ideological debate of MEPs, and reminded of the bad example of EU action against Haider.

  • Manfred Weber (Germany/CSU): praised Orbán for meeting the fury of the EP on his own initiative, attacked the Left, claimed all accusations of undemocratic or far-right nature are pure rhetoric, and called for the respect of the decisions of a parliament elected by two-thirds majority of Hungarian citizens (not true, he 'forgot' that the vote wasn't proportional like in Germany). Later, he questioned S&D leader Hannes Swoboda's claim of raising criticism out of love for Hungary and said the out-of-love assumption should apply for Orbán's actions in Hungary.

  • Simon Busuttil (Malta/PN): the EP is not a tribunal, leave that to the Commission, let's not jump to conclusions.

  • Vytautas Landsbergis (Lithuania/TS-LKD): focused on the central bank issue, said Orbán didn't want to Occupy Wall Street, makes comparison to the Soviet Union's opposition to Lithuania's constitution.

  • Theodor Dumitru Stolojan (Romania/PD-L): said Orbán government acted on good faith, pained the media law corrections a year ago as positive example (as if), praised special taxes on banks (as if that had been the thrust of criticisms in the EP).

  • Mário David (Portugal, PSD): asked whether the EP's Left called for a debate on the situation in Hungary when the prior Socialist PM admitted lying to voters in the campaign (repeating the Fidesz spin), said Orbán was elected with a clear majority to make the reforms he is making (as if he detailed his legal coup in the campaign).

  • Krzysztof Lisek (Poland/PO): remembered meeting Orbán in 1989 (forgot his 'development' in 23 years since).

  • Giuseppe Gargani (Italy/PdL): I can't make much sense of the Google translate of his speech, except for speaking about an affront to sovereignty.

  • Michael Gahler (Germany/CDU): praised Orbán for raising the EP's stature by appearing for debate, reminded of Gyurcsány's lies speech and talked of two-thirds election majority too, and blames the old communists for giving a twisted image of events in Hungary to the rest of Europe. He even managed to defend the lack of independence of the central bank: suggesting that it should apply from the Eurozone entry only. He claims that a leftist government would have celebrated the lowering of the retirement age for judges as a social measure for the younger generations (as if there would be lots of jobless judges).

  • Frank Engel (CSV/Luxembourg): claimed the fact that the Orbán government gave a 19-page prompt reply to Viviane Reding's letter on judicial reform is proof of willingness to cooperate (ignoring the actual content of the reply which brushed off concerns and led to the Commission action), and protests the rhetoric about democracy in danger when contrasted with the rather limited Commission action.

  • Sergio Paolo Francesco Silvestris (Italy/PdL): another one who praised Orbán for attending the EP and talked about the 1949 constitution, accusing some of "nostalgia", and said Article 7 action for a judge retirement age of 62 is ridiculous.

  • Carlo Casini (Italy/PdL): I'm not sure I get this via Google translate either; but seems another guy who doesn't want to talk about on-going investigation by the Commission, and protests protests against the new constitution before it took effect.

Non-EPP supporters were mainly from Poland:

  • Zbigniew Ziobro, ECR (Poland/PiS): compared EU action to Soviet tanks in 1956.

  • Ryszard Antoni Legutko, ECR (Poland/PiS): called Orbán's MEP critics hysterics, and accused them of double standards when it came to the prior Socialist government of Poland's present government.

  • Jacek Olgierd Kurski, ECR (Poland/PiS): praised Orbán for going after banks, writing Catholic-conservative values into the constitution, and angering Russia.

  • Philip Claeys, NI (Belgium/VB): compared EU interference to the Brezhnev Doctrine (and attacks Verhofstadt).

  • Peter van Dalen, ECR (The Netherlands/CU): praised the new constitution's definition of marriage between a man and a woman.

  • Mario Borghezio, EFD (Italy/LN): focused on sovereignity, said Orbán would be welcome as a hero in (nonexistent) Padania.

  • Mirosław Piotrowski, ECR (Poland/PiS): accused the Commission of hypocrisy for ignoring action against Catholic-conservative media in Poland.

  • Oreste Rossi, EFD (Italy/LN): closed by telling "shame on you" to whoever denied in the debate that Europe is based on Christian values.

There were some more who contributed in writing after the debate closed, but I ignore those.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 06:25:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gah, wading through all that bullshit took way too much of my time... but here is the original quote of something funnier. The left-of-centre MEPs also brought up the naming of the wife of Fidesz MEP leader József Szájer as the new overseer of the judicial branch (who can name, move or remove judges at will). Another Fidesz MEP theatrically objected by calling on a Green MEP to speak up against sexism (as if the criticism had been over the new overseer's sex). The reply:

Debates - Wednesday, 18 January 2012 - Recent political developments in Hungary (debate)

This is not about gender discrimination, and I can assure you that I would have something to say on that subject if it were. If Mr Szájer were married to a man, the same thing would apply, but I know that is not possible in Hungary.

The extra detail is that József Szájer is widely rumoured to be a closet gay, and was sent to Brussels/Strasbourg after (1) a gay group called on him to come out and speak up after violent protests against the Budapest Gay parade and (2) he escaped with his immunity when a brothel was busted in Vienna for employing underages.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 06:35:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry about that. And no Swedish MEPs (even in the text messages at the end) to bring down a rethorical hammer on.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 06:51:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And here comes the most bizarre support for the Orbán government... from the Israeli Right:

Diplomacy: The Israeli feel ... JPost - Features - Week in review

solated, feeling misunderstood and misrepresented, Hungary is getting a taste of what Israel goes through.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 07:10:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It seems like Photobucket removed the image!? I'll see about that; in the meantime, I hotlink another, new spoof from HírCsárda. The text says: "Standing ovations for the new higher education law":

The news behind the spoof: yesterday, at the opening of an education exhibition, the government speaker was prevented from starting his speech by student activists who presented a detailed denouncement of government education policy in Greek theatre fashion (one boy with loud voice said one sentence, then the rest repeated it as choir, and this continued for minutes).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 07:38:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I see both images without problem.

Watching US student protests doing greek theatre (including MIC-CHECK) on youtube I has struck me what a powerful tool it is (and how great it is that NYPD helped disseminate it by banning electronic amplification at OWS). It appears to me that the optimal way to use it in a lecture hall would be to be spread out in small groups (2-3) that each have the script so if the first speach-leader is taken away the rest can go on.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 12:46:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I too was struck by how powerful it was (also in shutting up that government guy who had a microphone). Ancient Greek playwrights were into something...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 01:13:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hi DoDo, wondered what you thought of the study into Jobbik recently conducted by Demos UK? It appears to based on combining Facebook attitudinal survey results with Facebook profile information. I thought there might be some methodological problems with this approach, and I'm not sure it adds too much to understanding of why these people have these beliefs --- but interested what you think. Are there any unexpected insights?


by car05 on Fri Feb 3rd, 2012 at 01:02:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure it adds too much to understanding of why these people have these beliefs

Or to understanding about anything else about these people. I found nothing in the study results that isn't widely known already or what can't be trivially expected, so I don't have any comments.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Feb 3rd, 2012 at 07:35:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As we've talked about previously, I think looking at the discourse is constructive. I created a Wordle of the Jobbik 2010 programme here : http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/4835227/jobbik_programme_2010_translation

Doesn't this say a lot more about the appeal of Jobbik (which won 17% of voters) - think economy, unity and a promise of a particular concept of 'social justice'. I hope someone does a proper study of this, one day.

by car05 on Sun Feb 12th, 2012 at 02:40:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What follows is purely an eyewitness account, which I am writing right after getting home and before reading any news.

"Peace march": On my way to the protest against the zu Googleberg of Hungary, I saw two dozen-strong groups of pro-government protesters already on the train; then, when I changed to a bus at a central square where all three metro lines cross, I saw them stream towards the meeting point kilometres away in swarms of hundreds (the subway under their march route was shut down), many of them bearing folded-up flags, with far-right elements identified by Árpád-stripes flags or Greater Hungary maps sewn across the back of their jackets. (Sorry no photos, I stupidly buried my camera at the bottom of my bag and was in a hurry.)

Based on this snapshot, I think Fidesz mobilisation worked and they had a good chance to achieve their goal of 100,000 attendants (so their media will report a million). However, what struck me was that 90% of those I saw (I'm not exaggerating) were pensioners, continuing the trend of the three pro-government protests mentioned in the diary. I'm not sure what to make of this: it's not like polls indicate that Fidesz lost middle-age and young voters, quite the opposite.

On my way home, the "peace march" was still not over and a temporary shortening of the line due to protesters was annunced repeatedly in an orbital tram I rode. When I got off, I overheard an ld man railing against "these insatiable people, they always have to protest against something" – huh; maybe he was the last right-winger who didn't get the memo about the pro-government protest?

Jobbik: the far-right party fulfilled its threat to be present at non-far-right opposition protests. Fortunately, they chose to do so at the other end of the residence of the President of the Republic(sic!): at the entrance of the onetime royal palace of Buda. Their protest was more performance than rally: two dozen holding signs with the simple tanks-banks message, and a speaker railing against the EU in a monotonous tone. It got quite surreal when busloads of Japanese tourists passed by, without much heeding the protesters.

Protest against the President: in terms of turnout, this impromptu protest was no greater success than the first three pro-government protests mentioned in the diary. I estimated at only 300 at its peak. This weighed somewhat on the mood, also when the 'host' of the rally tried to get people to recite a new slogan (people preferred existing slogans).

The President's residence is outside the picture below, next to the building in the background on the right.

The speakers were good, though, and attacked the President who plagiarized at least 195 pages out of his 214-page doctoral thesis (now three sources have been identified but he is still in denial) only as an appendage of the Orbán regime. Some (new) points of note:

  • A number of them were social workers, whom the new powers-that-be are also going after for their protection of the homeless and Roma (one of them was threatened with three years in prison over ridiculous charges of sedition – for a pro-homeless action).
  • The mobilisation for the pro-government "peace march" extended to ethnic Hungarians living in Transylvania (Romania). On this note, one speaker warned ethnic Hungarians abroad of suffering the fate of Kosovo Serbs who believed Milošević's promises of protection in his 1989 Kosovo Polje address.
  • A speaker from Hungary's Pirate Party joked about the President's plagiarism being in the interest of their fight for reforming copyright law.
  • There was one speaker from Hungary's most impoverished, post-industrial region, a chemical industry physical worker who spoke in the name of workers: for them, the President's shenanigans with his doctoral thesis mean little as they came to expect this from the high and mighty, but they do feel the effects of the hundreds of laws he automatically signed off in becoming poorer.

The same guy was given the ceremonial job to remove the "Dr" from the name of the President.

...and now I am off to check the news.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 01:52:15 PM EST
awesome work! index is apparently reporting that no-one is willing to come forward and do a full examination of Schmitt's doctorate...?
by car05 on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 02:01:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the occasion of what you report, a bit more for ET on new developments regarding President Pál Schmitt's plagiarism.

  • I think the most noteworthy is the background of what car05 reports: a broad sentiment of fear and people1s unwillingness to risk their jobs. The copyright for the main work Schmitt plagiarised is held by the International Olympics Committee (IOC), but the IOC won't act. That leaves the university that awarded the degree. The president of that university first declared that there is no need for an investigation, merely on the basis of the denials of his reviewer. There was an outcry in scientific circles, so they announced the setting up an investigation committee. For that, they want respected history and/or sports experts who speak French (the main plagiarised work appeared in French), but, as car05 says, reportedly, whoever they asked turned the request down.

  • There are now three known sources of Schmitt's 1992 doctoral thesis: a book reviewing the history of modern-day olympics, written in French by a Bulgarian sports historian and IOC member and published in 1987 (origin of 180 pages), a 1985 paper written by the same author with another Bulgarian co-author (one page), and a 1991 paper written by a German author (15 pages).

  • News media demolished the doctoral thesis reviewer's claim that the severe stylistic shortcomings he noted (but still gave a summa cum laude) fit rules at the time. Furthermore, that reviewer should not have been chosen by the rules valid back then: he was de-facto Schmitt's employee in an olympics commission (no impartiality) and as an antique historian had no expertise relating to modern-day olympics.

  • Schmitt himself tried various plausible deniability tricks: he claimed he was the Bulgarian researcher's co-researcher (later he changed it to having received advice), or that the shared parts are due to shared original sources but his conclusions were his own (no, he copied those too).

  • Although the many obvious translation errors and grammatical mistakes in the thesis would indicate Schmitt as the plagiariser himself, the volume of the work makes experts speculate that it is rather a hatchet job by a ghostwriter. (This was common practice for 'communist' cadres; I know someone who was ordered to do this for her company boss when she was fresh out of university.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 03:14:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From the news:

"Peace march": as expected, there is a numbers game. The organisers claimed one million (just as I predicted), the interior ministry felt the need to release a claim about 400,000 (they didn't say anything on 2 January), two internet sites who both had reporters on-site estimate 100,000. The protesters were followed by the buses of those from outside Budapest (it was known in advance that Fidesz organisers warned participants that they shouldn't attend other protests and buses leave right after the end of the "peace march"), about a hundred of them (a number with Romanian plate numbers), that would be enough for only 5,000 of them. The reporters on-site also confirm the mysterious trend of most protesters being old people.

Some photos from HVG with comments:

The front of the rally, with far-right journalist András Bencsik in Western hat at center and industrialist Gábor Széles with his big head and closed eyes near the left edge. Behind, lots of flags and banners, although the organisers asked for none of that (probably fearing that the international media would notice ones like "Gays are sich & can be healed"). The main banner held by the protest initiators has the message "We won't become a colony".

Earlier, at the meeting place, a message in English:

The end of the rally at the Parliament building, where I again notice the mysterious high frequency of pensoners:

They love Viktor, with a red-white-green Hungarian flag and the far-right's red-white-striped Árpád-stripes flag on the same pole in the background:

Jobbik against the EU: apparently, this was staged by the "Association of Hungarians", a small splinter of the 2006 rioters' movement now aligned with Jobbik. The speaker allegedly also said that there never was a republic and a kingdom is better. One media says they numbered exactly 32. They also handed over a petition to the President of the Republic, calling on him and the government to tell the West that this is a war against the caste of bankers.

Protest against the President: the media reports 3-400 or 4-500 people. A reported detail I forgot to mention was a conclusion from the EP debate on Wednesday that we shouldn't hope for help from the EU.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 02:39:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do pensioners have a particular reason to fear the opposition? Pensions? Care for the elderly?

Or perhaps their databases and mobilisation structures easier reach the elderly?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 03:14:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, on economic terms, pensioners have more to fear of Fidesz, with its ideology of serving the active and reducing money for the inactive (it's culturally conservative sentiments that work on them instead). According to polls, the Socialists are the most popular party among pensioners and the first ten-year age bracket younger than them. At Fidesz's 2002, 2006, 2007 and 2010 mass protests, all ages were represented (in particular young people, who were largely missing at Socialist events). So, it's a mystery to me.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 03:21:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Pensioners seem to be more "patriotic". But not all pensioners, just those who had great pensions (military, government officials etc.)  Same happened with Milosevic all tho he was all for saving their status, assets and their pensions.

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Sun Jan 22nd, 2012 at 10:51:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To explain a subset of the Fidesz pensioners (but not the lack of the others), I see I forgot to mention this little factoid in the diary: those regular marchers at István Csurka's rallies in the nineties were mostly old people, too, and Fidesz's stealing of MIÉP's voters also meant that these marchers now marched for Fidesz (they were a sizeable and back then well recognizable contingent at that first, 2002 mass rally mentioned in the diary, too).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 03:27:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a blog post much quoted across the Hungarian-language blogosphere, for providing an insight into the mind of non-far-right Fidesz supporters.

The blogger's motivation to participate in the "peace march" was that he felt repressed as a 'normal' government supporter in the face of opposition derision. Only, this 'normal' government supporter had to rationalise that this event was organised by Fidesz's in-house far-right. So the post begins with "I never imagined that I will march together with Zsolt Bayer", then spends time underlining how the far-right journalist is "the lowest of the low of politics", only to conclude that 'Fidesz is a popular party [popular as in: Spain's PP] because people with such different thinking can find something to support in it'. (As I indicated in the diary when writing about Fidesz's databases, Fidesz's power is in its ability to focus and limit the mailbox or newspaper campaign message to what each voter wants to hear and trust him to ignore contradictory messages and policies sold to another focus group.)

Now, longtime ET readers are perhaps well aware of what unsavoury elements fit under the big tent of Western European popular parties like, say, Germany's CDU. Still, 'normal' supporters of those parties don't need as twisted excuses as Fidesz's, as those parties usually try to keep the ugly party members out of sight, it's not as much in plain sight as for Fidesz. It's not just Bayer: Gábor Bencsik (the Western hat guy) is just as despicable; the communist party propagandist turned Holocaust denier was also a founding member of Jobbik's paramilitary (before seeking his luck with Fidesz again), and published a call for the destruction of the books of Hungarian-Jewish authors in public libraries in his magazine. And its not just the Árpád-stripes flags and that anti-gay poster, but openly anti-Semitic posters like this one (via the blog Pusztaranger):

As for Fidesz: Pustaranger also reminded me of the following quote, which I forgot to include in the diary. Following the 2 January opposition protest, the foreign minister told The Guardian:

"You shouldn't forget that our political family, if it wants, we can put to the streets 10 times more people than they [the opposition] can," he said. "But we don't want to. But we don't think this is the way of having a democratic dialogue, [competing] who can send more people to the streets."

Well, the government announcements alone prove that he was lying, that sending more people to the streets was exactly what they wanted.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jan 24th, 2012 at 02:43:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Colossal reporting, thanks, DoDo!

Why do you think pensioners are so prominent in rightwing crowds? A generational thing? Or they are hearing that their pensions might fly away if they don't support the side they should?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 03:35:38 PM EST
Should have refreshed before posting...
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 03:36:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, in the media, I got an idea: the EU! There is some generational difference in how people relate to the idea of sovereignty, and consequently the EU. In a December 2010 poll, on page 10, there is age is one of the factors showing a strong variation in EU support, others being whether someone is in the agricultural sector or not, and party preference. Still, although the poll is not up to date and EU disillusionment since might have been differential, I'm not sure this alone explains such a strong difference in protest turnout.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 04:52:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Another speculative explanation in the first op-ed on the pensioner phenomenon I found: the pundit who calls this the Telephone book Revolution thinks Fidesz organisers focused in on the most ignorant and least internet-savvy segment of society, whose only source of information is public TV.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 21st, 2012 at 07:14:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by car05 on Mon Jan 23rd, 2012 at 03:02:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How far in? (It's 35 minutes)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jan 23rd, 2012 at 04:27:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe the wrong video here, sorry. Meant to post the Al Jazeer interview with Kovács and Nagy...
by car05 on Fri Feb 3rd, 2012 at 01:07:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As yesterday, first an eyewitness report.

Today's opposition protest (for an intro see the end of the diary) was much better organised and prepared than yesterday's (after all, it repeats another a month ago). I estimated 10,000 people in the three roads meeting at a square.

Although crowd reaction was better today, for my taste, yesterday's speakers were better, today's often sank into generalities, so I only mention two exceptions. One was the host, an employee of Klubrádió, the radio station the government wants to snuff out. When I arrived, it was as if he was speaking directly to me (see the diary): "I especially welcome those who don't like us but are here, because this is not about liking us."

The other was Balázs Dénes, leader of a media freedom NGO, TASz. His thesis was that Fidesz's practices are only the crowning of the attitudes of all prior governments, and managed to deliver broadsides against less-than-proper actions of prior Socialist governments [I mentioned an example in Protest in a one-party state in the paragraph on László Majtényi] and the toleration of that by supporters (explicitly including the Klubrádió of the past) in a way that he still got cheers.

So, instead of speakers, let me show some placards. Those in English speak for themselves:

The next one shows a symbol adopted by the new protest movement, the so-called Kossuth coat-of-arms, which is an old republican symbol. (The history behind it: during the 1848-49 Revolution, when the revolutionary government of Hungary withdrew its recognition of the Habsburg Emperor as King of Hungary and declared the first Republic of Hungary, they created a new coat-of-arms by removing the royal crown. The Kossuth coat-of-arms was official again during the also short-lived Second Republic [1945-49]. However, a wide majority of the first freely elected parliament of the Third Republic [1989-2011] voted to restore the royal coat-of-arms instead – some out of conservatism, some because it just looked better.)

This time, I saw no sign of Jobbik counter-protesters. On the balcony of one adjoining building, however, there was a miniature pro-Fidesz counter-protest: a national flag with a Fidesz slogan which was the Hungarianisation of Berlusconi's "Forza Italia" (and also the royal coat-of-arms with crown on top).

Upon leaving, people flooded stands erected by Szolidaritás for a pro-EU action: people signed declarations addressed to Barroso and declaring that they maintain their vote in the 2003 EU referendum (resp. would have voted for accession if they are younger). Then people left in all directions.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 22nd, 2012 at 01:24:10 PM EST
Two different flags and entirely different conceptions of the state, as well as different economic interests and cultural spaces. Isn't this something like Spain c. 1932 ?
by car05 on Sun Jan 22nd, 2012 at 05:02:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I should say a version of Spain where the Socialists are insignificant, where the Republicans are a small, fairly bourgeois minority which cannot muster any strength beyond a suburb or two of Madrid, where the trades unions are split. So the analogy is far from perfect.
by car05 on Mon Jan 23rd, 2012 at 12:52:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...and the fascists won an election rather than staged a military coup and then won power with arms.

But, the analogy holds for the internal divisions of the Republicans. For example, read the Index.hu report on the protest (which is more an op-ed than a report): the focus is on Balázs Dénes's criticism, but goes well beyond that criticism. For example, in the thesis that Fidesz's media politics is the same as before, just without being checked by a strong counter-weight – well he forgot that in the Horn era, there was no strong counter-weight either; and although public TV had bias then, too, and there was the awarding of commercial TV frequencies, it was a far cry from the monopoly and Stalinist distortions we see now. The writer also accuses the attendants, ignoring people like me who attended for the same reason Dénes did.

BTW, on a broader note: we mentioned generational conflicts earlier; I think Index.hu reflects that, too. Senior Index.hu editors and pundits are/have been of the same generation as Fidesz or a bit younger, and their past and present scathing attacks against the 'left-liberal' establishment on the basis of a libertarian platform are also a revolt against the 1968er-generation. For example, there is the despicable TótaW, who blamed do-gooder sociologists for the liberal party's downfall (even adopting the 'Gypsycrime' word), and earlier advocated the cold neoliberalism of János Kóka (and Lajos Bokros) with explicit approval of their anti-socialism. Now, the 1968ers were a total failure, the Fidesz generation and my generation produced a lot of sociopaths; will things turn for the better when the post-1989 generation rebels against the latter?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jan 23rd, 2012 at 04:24:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For the benefit of readers not speaking Hungarian, perhaps I should mention that, in connection with the situation of the Roma, this TótaW mentions the views of Bliar, Sarkozy and Fortuyn on immigration as models to follow.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jan 23rd, 2012 at 04:46:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...and the fascists won an election rather than staged a military coup and then won power with arms.

You guys are forgetting that in Spain the right-wing won the election in Spain in 1934 and proceeded to reverse the policies of left-wing had enacted in the previous 2 years. Then in 1936 the left won again, and there was a coup.

tens of millions of people stand to see their lives ruined because the bureaucrats at the ECB don't understand introductory economics -- Dean Baker

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jan 23rd, 2012 at 04:52:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe only I forgot to note that car05 wrote "1932" and not civil war.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jan 23rd, 2012 at 05:10:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely - I see one of the defining characteristics of the younger Republican side as 'New Best Friend' syndrome. To stay abreast of the game one must be like Lendvai Ildikó, and be ready to redirect instant adoration from one character to another. I think it reflects the media-driven political focus on personalities, on the reemergence of neo-feudal patterns of authority. Something which has happened almost everywhere in the first years of the 21st century. The LMP, which appears to be descending into wriggling squabbling mess, is a classic example - vulnerability to ego politics and hubris accompanies ideological chaos - also something which Erzsebet Szalai mentioned...
by car05 on Mon Jan 23rd, 2012 at 02:43:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
its probably only available for another few days, and you might need a proxy to access it but there was a program about European revolutions in 1848 last Thursday.

BBC - BBC Radio 4 Programmes - In Our Time, 1848: Year of Revolution

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss 1848, the year that saw Europe engulfed in revolution. Across the continent, from Paris to Palermo, liberals rose against conservative governments. The first stirrings of rebellion came in January, in Sicily; in February the French monarchy fell; and within a few months Germany, Austria, Hungary and Italy had all been overtaken by revolutionary fervour. Only a few countries, notably Britain and Russia, were spared.

The rebels were fighting for nationalism, social justice and civil rights, and were prepared to fight in the streets down to the last man. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives; but little of lasting value was achieved, and by the end of the year the liberal revolutions had been soundly beaten.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Jan 23rd, 2012 at 02:36:28 PM EST

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