Hungary: PM's Lies and Riots in Budapest

Global Voices Online
Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Several weeks after the general election in April, Hungarian prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said this at a closed meeting with members of his parliamentary faction:

I almost died when I had to pretend for one and a half years as if we were governing. Instead we lied in the morning, we lied in the evening. I am through with this. We either do it and then you've got your man, or you pick someone else.

A tape with Gyurcsany's speech - which contains a fair amount of obscenities - was leaked to the media this past Sunday; excerpts were broadcast on state radio; Gyurcsany, a blogger-politician, posted the Hungarian-language transcript on his blog.

On Monday night, thousands of demonstrators gathered by the parliament to demand Gyurcsany's resignation; the non-violent rally turned into a riot when some of them later moved to the state TV (MTV) building and broke through police lines.

Henrik of Hungarian Accent explains why the protesters chose to storm the TV building:

[...] this is an iconic factor dating back to the revolutions of 1956. Ironically enough, even the state TV used this factor a few months ago in its marketing campaign: “If there would be a revolution which TV station would You want to take over?”. I’m sure this was not the answer they were hoping to get.

Henrik also sums up some of the Hungarian bloggers' reactions (links in Hungarian):

En1 writes that if the Prime Minister were a responsible leader, he would step forward and announce his resignation, because for this matter he is the only responsible.

Korbely’s opinion is that these violent mob actions should not be confused with a revolution. Instead these are illegitimate actions for any cause and are much similar to a violent soccer-fan-war than a revolution.


There are opinions about the media coverage also, especially about an opposition-party-close news TV called HirTV.

Kond is worried about freedom of press. Because HirTV has been banned from the covering. Especially as CNN and BBC has also used their previous coverage about the siege, so they should be treated with respect in protection of freedom of press.

On the other side Bakura writes that the siege coverage of HirTV was in his opinion disgusting as the coverage were cheering for the mob.

Henrik himself hopes for a quick and peaceful resolution of the conflict:

Not long after I started this blog I wrote that it is not easy to chose topics which could be really interesting to an outsider about Hungary. These past weeks have proven me wrong. And I think I’m not very happy about it.


Still as I write these lines according to news there are more people on the streets and police forces are on a much higher readiness state. God help us to get over this crises soon, without any further extension of violence.

Though in Budapest, Paul of Further Ramblings of a N.Irish Magyar watched the events unfold on TV - just as Henrik did:

[...] From what I could see, the first initial outburst of violence was one blond-haired individual walking directly up to the police lines and clobbering the riot shields with a piece of wood. Again, for some unknown reason, the police didn't just give him a quick kick in the unmentionables and drag him off to the cop shop, but stood back and took his abuse. Stones and rocks then started flying and the more "respectable" (and the HIR TV reporter) protesters started to move away from the front of the building.

At this stage, if I'd been a genuine blogger, I'd have hopped in the first available taxi and started blogging realtime at the square. But my armchair, HIR TV and another glass of Jamesons were more appealing, sorry!


The main core of rioters last night did not look like the normal right-wing Hungarian political activist (middle-aged, respectable, middle-class, long twirly moustache), more like people who'd taken a night off from bashing heads for Fradi, for a different kind of recreational hooliganism.

The police regrouped and at about 12.15 there were signs of other police reinforcements being brought into the square and things once again seemed to calm I went to er...bed. And missed the eventual invasion of MTV at 1.30am. [...]

For the prime minister, Paul has a recommendation:

Gyurcsany to date (and to my knowledge) has not apologised for lying during the last government. If he is serious about dragging the socialists and Hungarian politics into a new era of integrity and honesty, that's the least he can do.

Budapest-based had a regular contributor on the scene, who later posted this "assessment of how the various participants performed, on a one-to-ten scale":

The Police: 2/10
Pathetic in their "defense" of MTV headquarters. Never looked confident or organised and failed to take advantage of their superior firepower. Looked particularly woeful when 150 of them abandoned a water truck and its crew to the rioters. Clearly better training and discipline is in order. Recovered some dignity by eventually clearing the rioters out of the MTV headquarters, but by that time everybody had gone to bed. Poorly equipped, their riot gear only protects them up to their knees, which prompted rioters to throw rocks at their feet.


Speaker Katalin Szili: 8/10
The surprise package of the night. The speaker of Parliament stayed at her post until the wee hours, and gave the best quote: "This is not the same country this morning as two days ago." Positioned herself as the only person remotely capable of stepping in should Gyurcsány quit.

The Rioters: 7/10
Behaved as rioters should. Ripped up cobblestones to throw at cops, burnt cars and park furniture, committed gratuitous acts of graffiti and other vandalism. Took the fight to the opposition, refusing to be intimidated by water cannon and tear gas. Moved in for the kill when they sensed doubt in the police ranks. As a result, achieved their objective of taking the MTV building, but not of reading their demands on the air à la 1956. Score would be higher were it not for their fashion sense; the Lonsdale gym gear, Fradi shirts and Greater Hungary flags are all a dead giveaway of their extremism.

The author of My Little English Blog, currently in Scotland, knows the neighborhood where the rioting took place very well:

No liveblogging as I'm back in Scotland. In fairness I'm glad. I live next to the MTV (Hungarian Television) Building. My mum says she's fine.


Why the telly building???

Do people really think there's a chance to repeat 1956? Are we oppressed to such a degree that we have to run around destroying? [...]

Non-Hungarian bloggers are also chiming in.

Russell Mitchell of Publius Pundit sums up the events, analyzes the causes, makes guesses and provides links to updates:

[...] this is NOT a “Color Revolution, Round Two,” although the Hungarians are perfectly justified in being roundly furious at being lied to about tax cuts, again, in order to secure election. (The Hungarians are simply crushed by the tax burden, which continues to chase social programs, which then serve to divide and conquer the population based on what goes to whom.) [...]

Eric Gordy of East Ethnia states the obvious: the Hungarian prime minister is a liar. Seesaw of Sarajevo Photoblog responds:

Honestly I do not understand why all this fuss - they are all liars, Gyurscany only said what most politicians try to hide although they are doing it all the time. Don't tell me you believe them here or there?!? Strange coincidence, 50 years after 1956 uprising, and then the reason were Russian tanks on the streets of Budapest. Pity, it seems Hungary is having problems with economy, like all former communist countries.

Four Bees suggests another possible reason for the riots:

[...] It's actually a Hungarian Tourist Board promotion to get people to go to Budapest for the 50th anniversary of 1956, because nothing else of interest has happened in Budapest in the last 50 years. [...]

Finally, Ilya Yashin, leader of the youth wing of the Yabloko Party, is blogging directly from Budapest (RUS):

[...] It should be noted that there were quite a few young Hungarian fascists and skinheads in the city last night. One of them told me that the Communist government should have been taught a lesson a long time ago, especially since it's headed by a Jew. On the other hand, last night's pogroms will probably scare away the moderate supporters of the right-wind opposition. For example, a cab driver who was taking me to the hotel said that he hoped for an orange revolution in Hungary, similar to the Ukrainian one, but he wouldn't wish to be next to the radicals. [...]

Back home in Russia, some people seem to be overwhelmed by the various coups and riots taking place around the world. Here's the latest post from Yashin (RUS):


A phone call to my cell.

- Ilya? Hi, are you still in Bangkok?
- ??? I'm in Budapest, that's Hungary...
- Oh, we are sorry, we've mixed it all up... The thing is, there's a military coup taking place in Bangkok now, too.

...Well, I've arrived in the city center. I'm on my way to the parliament building, where an opposition rally is to begin soon. There's significantly more police now than yesterday, but there are also many people with flags moving to the center.

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