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:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
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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.