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Hunger March wins PR battle

by DoDo Thu Feb 9th, 2012 at 08:21:13 AM EST

The latest street protest against the government in Hungary has only a dozen or so participants, but it got much media attention.

Hungary's leader defends his new constitution

As Orban spoke Tuesday, about 40 people marched in freezing weather to Budapest from Borsod County, one of the country's poorest, hoping to bring the plight of their region to the government's attention. The so-called "Work, Bread" march was the idea of Imre Toth, an unemployed, 44-year-old steel worker deeply affected by the death of a friend who recently committed suicide because of his dire economic situation.

"This hunger march signals that we are close to dying of hunger and our livelihood is barely secured," Toth said while pausing for a roadside lunch near the town of Bukkabrany, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) into the journey and 95 miles (150 kilometers) from their destination. "It was the inflexibility and inhumanity of this country's government which moved us to launch our protest."

On Tuesday, local functionaries of the ruling right-populist Fidesz party confronted the Hunger March with a PR action of their own – which ended up as a triple own goal.

After marching 26 kilometres in temperatures below -10°C, on Tuesday evening, the Hunger March arrived in the town of Mezőkövesd. There, they were received by the major of the town and his predecessor, the current MP for the region as well as interior ministry state secretary, András Tállai; both Fidesz. In response to the "Work, bread!" slogan of the protest, cynically, they offered the protesters bread and hot tea and told them, "Those who want work do get work, you can go shovelling the snow!"

Unfortunately for them, they didn't quite plan for the reaction:

  1. The protesters themselves (who were forewarned by the local Socialists) said OK, and went shovelling snow until midnight – some of them officially for money, in the framework of the government's debasing 'public works programme', the rest (who were either barred or didn't want to give out their personal data) for free (photo below from HVG.hu).

  2. The next morning, about 30 jobless people turned up in front of the mayor's office, hoping to take up the same job offered to the protesters. However, there was no job to take: the whole snow shovelling offer was pure PR, as the local authority contracted snow removal to a private company.

  3. One of the minor debasing elements of the 'public works programme' is that all applicants have to submit to an alcohol test. There was one positive among the four protesters: the sole person who accepted the tea offered by the mayor and the state secretary. However, even this apparent dirty trick led to a blowback: state secretary Tállai, who went on to arrogantly instruct the protesters in the proper way of snow shovelling, was visibly drunk, so protesters asked him to take the alcohol test himself, which he refused.

:: :: :: :: ::

I haven't seen this mentioned in news reports yet, but this Hunger March has a historical precedent.

In November 1928, about one thousand miners in the village of Pilisvörösvár (about 10 km outside Budapest) started a strike. The mine owner didn't budge, and after two weeks, miners' families were literally hungering in cold winter.

On 11 December 1928, about two thousand of them started a march towards parliament, to ask the government to help them. However, this was not a sight the regime wanted the world to see in the capital, so they sent the gendarmes to stop the march, and only allowed a small delegation to go further. (The strike would continue for another month and ultimately succeed with its demands when miners at other mines threatened to strike too, but union members were fired subsequently.)

Today the restoration of the gendarmerie is a central demand of the far-right Jobbik party, based on the claim that gendarmes would supposedly protect rural people against criminals better than police. Of course, they don't lose many words about the fact that the gendarmerie was dissolved after WWII as a war criminal organisation, for providing quite effective help to the Nazis in the Holocaust: in collecting all rural Jews in Hungary and putting them on trains to Auschwitz, which the Nazis took control of only at the border.

Also on Tuesday, prime minister Viktor Orbán held his traditional "year in review" speech. This is Fidesz's import of the US State of the Union Address, except it isn't held in front of parliament but in front of thousands of supporters in a large conference room.

In addition to tried-and-tested rhetoric blaming every mishap on the preceding eight years of Socialist rule, the focus of the speech was on the middle class. Those below were addressed in similar tones as in the PR action of the Fidesz leaders of Mezőkövesd: he said 'those left behind have to be herded back into the world of labour with gentle rigour', in other words the poor are work-shy lowlifes deserving to be commanded around. (And yes, I know upper-middle-class Fidesz supporters who think exactly like that.)

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

by DoDo on Thu Feb 9th, 2012 at 08:37:23 AM EST
Népszava reports another incident for the Hunger March which is an indication of a public sentiment of fear of power. Yesterday, the permanent Hunger March participants (those who number about a dozen; they are always accompanied by more people during the day) stopped in a different village than the one planned. A local paper revealed the reason: three women from the originally planned village received the marchers with food at a road junction, but then requested them to not stay in their village as people fear that the consequence of a good welcome would be the village losing out in government tenders it participates in.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Feb 10th, 2012 at 06:01:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
After walking 196.8 km in eight days in icy cold and windy weather, this afternoon the Hunger March reached its destination in front of Parliament in the capital Budapest. I was there, be,low some photos with commentary.

The Hunger March had about a dozen core participants who walked all the way, joined by a few dozens more each day. On the last kilometres, however, the crowd swelled to about 500.

At the head of the crowd: the core members. Some of them carried the placards and flags all the way – now that's tiresome.

The Hunger March was the idea of a single jobless man, but all opposition NGOs and parties rushed to make themselves noticed with participation in some form. Although the union umbrella group Szolidaritás gave most help from the NGO side, the Socialists did most to get the limelight among the parties, with the MSzP boss of Borsod region marching all the way as one of the core members and MP István Nyakó walked most sections. Perhaps that's why LMP (the Greens) didn't join the end of the march with flags, but they did greet them with food a kilometre before the end.

After the LMP stand, the marchers rolled out a big banner with the same slogan as on the tables (and in somewhat eery chants): "[We want] Work, Bread!"

The march was received by a few hundred more people. Notice the letters "MSZP" – that's the welcoming banner of the Socialists.

The attempted humiliation of the protesters by the powers-that-be was on everyone's mind. Here one protester holds a table with the name of the town where it happened, and another holds a snow shovel.

The core members of the Hunger March needed some rest, they could barely walk and had difficulties climbing the tribune. Here is the jobless former steel smelter worker who thought up the Hunger March, Imre Tóth, before climbing the steps:

Tóth was joined by all the members of the core group, including a dog:

Tóth again, after the snow shovel was handed to him during his short address:

On the final photo below, the guy who was given the alcoholised tea speaks – he's actually a young programmer from Budapest (the sole core group member not from Borsod) and represented an NGO:

Of the speeches, two things Socialist MP István Nyakó said captivated me.

One was his plea that the future disposal of the Orbán regime not be based solely on the ideal of freedom, but also on the ideals of equality and solidarity (Nyakó did criticise former Socialist and austerian PM Gyurcsány with a social line).

The other was that he reported that he went ahead of the protesters to enter Parliament and rose to deliver a question, but the Fidesz speaker of parliament told him: "We can wait until you change your clothes." The same arrogance as in Mezőkövesd.

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

by DoDo on Mon Feb 13th, 2012 at 01:50:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Meanwhile, inside parliament, the Socialists failed to disagree with Orbán's support for the EU's 'stability pact'... while LMP did oppose it.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Feb 13th, 2012 at 02:15:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
After the LMP stand, the marchers rolled out a big banner with the same slogan as on the tables (and in somewhat eery chants): "[We want] Work, Bread!"

The missing photo:

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

by DoDo on Mon Feb 13th, 2012 at 03:14:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, I was hoping you'd post something on this!
by car05 on Thu Feb 9th, 2012 at 04:54:40 PM EST
In Belgrade people are shoveling snow for 1600 dinars (14.77 Euros) a day (local government paying). Huge crowd is showing every day.Poor people...

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Sun Feb 12th, 2012 at 07:43:16 AM EST

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