Sunday, August 3, 2008
One year after she launched Hungarian Spectrum, blogger Eva S. Balogh explained that her primary motivation had been dissatisfaction "with political information available in English about Hungary":
[...] Admittedly, there are some English-language internet papers, but I don't know any English-language blog devoted to an analysis of daily political events. Most of the time Google Alerts call my attention to some Hungarian recipe. Or to some girl who was an exchange student and tells the world about her experiences in Hungary. These, of course, are important and have their own audiences, but I thought that there were also people who would like to follow Hungarian politics but either didn't speak the language or just wanted to hear another voice. [...]
Here are some of Eva's general observations about Hungary's political scene, which she shared in the same first-anniversary post:
[...] I have been quite amazed at the political transformation of some people. Formerly very important party cadres like [Imre Pozsgay] or [Mátyás Szűrös] today are enthusiastic followers of a right-wing [Fidesz]. [...] Ordinary party secretaries who were reporting on people in the [János Kádár] regime now teach religion in the local school. People who worked for the secret police are nowadays the most vehement enemies of the old regime. They scream and holler and go to court. One such person is [Katalin Kondor], former head of the Hungarian Radio, who most likely was an informer, but who managed to convince the court that the documents historians claimed were genuine were simply not enough to prove her service to the secret police. [...]
Many of the posts on Hungarian Spectrum are devoted to the politics of Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Union, the country's largest opposition party, and its supporters. Below is a roundup of some of the recent entries.
On June 29, Eva wrote about the tense situation in Budapest on the eve of this year's gay pride parade:
[...] While a year ago the anti-gay groups were mostly satisfied with verbal abuse and only at the end was there physical violence, this year at least one attack has already taken place. Not just a few guys bloodying the faces of some of the participants but a very dangerous incident that might have ended in tragedy. What happened is the following. A far-right internet site apparently listed a number of gay bars in Budapest. A few days later, the best-known such establishment received a telephone call asking about their hours. That happened around 2 o'clock in the morning. One of the owners informed the caller that they were still open. The callers appeared and threw some Molotov cocktails into the bar while there were still about a dozen customers inside. Fire broke out. The people inside managed to contain the fire and luckily no one was hurt. So that's where we are at the moment, and there is at least another week before the actual parade. [...]
Ignorance, including that of the politicians, is one of the reasons for intolerance, according to Eva:
[...] Almost fifteen years ago there was a Hungarian-language list on the internet where the topic was discussed. There was a doctor on the list. He claimed that he was a psychiatrist. He came up with the brilliant idea that homosexuality is like smoking: one can get addicted to it. However, a homosexual can quit his homosexuality just as a smoker can overcome his addiction. Not long ago a Catholic bishop offered another fantastic theory: homosexuality has become fashionable so young people decide to become gay. A Fidesz local politician who is a member of the committee on health issues in a Budapest district just announced that he would like to find out whether homosexuality is an illness or not. He knows nothing about it.
Thus one cannot be surprised that guys with an eighth-grade education attack participants of the gay parade or throw Molotov cocktails into a gay bar when the doctor, the bishop, and the politician say such extraordinary things.
On July 5, Eva wrote about the violence that took place during the gay pride parade in Budapest that day (a Blinkx.com video from the scene is here):
This morning I heard one of the right-wing organizers explain that his organization is a peaceful group of concerned citizens. They just want to defend family values. Their only aim is to stop the yearly gay pride parade in Budapest because they consider it a form of advertising for homosexuality. But they will never resort to force. The organization's name is Rendszerváltó Fórum. And what do I see in the online edition of Népszabadság tonight? "The most forceful attack against the demonstrators came from Rendszerváltó Fórum's meeting at Franz Liszt Square." Well, well! The report continues: "On the square the demonstrators tried to break the cordon [the police had erected] and attacked the police, who answered with tear gas." At the far end of Andrássy Street, on Heroes' Square, hooded and often masked demonstrators attacked the policemen, using Molotov cocktails, rocks, eggs, whatever. Here the police used water cannons as well as tear gas. Because of the "battle" on Heroes' Square the police diverted the participants in the parade off the main road. In order to make sure that they were not attacked after the parade was over, as happened last year, the police directed the gays into the old nineteenth-century metro that was closed to the public for the duration. That way they could leave the scene without insults or bodily harm.
How can this happen? Why is it that until two years ago these gay pride parades went off without any trouble? First and foremost, I blame Fidesz and its leader for encouraging "civil disobedience" against the "illegitimate" government. Fidesz often called people to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the government. And once a large group of people assembles trouble is near. Especially if there is alcohol involved. And it seems that alcohol is always involved. Yes, but one could say: this attack on the gays wasn't against the government. By the end, however, the slogans were directed against Gyurcsány and his government, and the whole atmosphere reminded the reporters present of the [September-October events of 2006]. One of the favorite slogans was: "Gyurcsány takarodj, vidd a buzi haverod" (Gyurcsány get lost and take your queer crony with you." [...]
Three days later, Eva commented on the sorry state of the Hungarian law enforcement and judicial system:
[...] Ever since September-October 2006 there has been a systematic effort on the part of Fidesz [...] to make the police a useless instrument. I'll bet that if [Viktor Orbán, leader of Fidesz] managed to take over the reins of government tomorrow Hungary would instantly have a police force whose members wouldn't be spat on; no stones, no eggs, no cucumbers or tomatoes would be thrown at them. Or if somebody did any of these things he would be duly and severely punished. [...] For now, however, undermining the police and showing that this government cannot even provide domestic tranquility is part of the opposition's political strategy.
There is confusion in the heads of the judges when it comes to deciding the limits of freedom of speech, for example. A few months ago the courts decided that throwing eggs at people one doesn't like is perfectly acceptable behavior: it is simply a form of freedom of expression. There were altogether 57 people who were arrested during the disturbances on Saturday and seven of them had to appear today in the Budapest courthouse. They were all accused of throwing eggs. Four were fined and three were acquitted. [...]
In her July 11 post, Eva cited the results of an opinion poll conducted "two days after the the ill-fated gay pride parade in Budapest." Among other things, she noted:
[...] Apparently political sympathy deeply influenced people's answers to the questions posed by the pollsters. To give an example: at least twenty-five percent of Fidesz sympathizers believed that the counterdemonstrators went there to express their opinions while the great majority of [MSZP, the ruling Hungarian Socialist Party] voters were convinced that most of the anti-gay demonstrators simply intended to cause trouble and that their actions had nothing to do with expressing their opinions about anything. [...]
On July 23, Eva compared Hungary's violent past with today's situation:
[...] There is a frightening parallel between right radicalism in the summer and fall of 1920 and Hungary today where groups are targeted and representatives of those groups attacked. In 1920 the primary targets were Jews, today mostly Gypsies and gays (though Jews aren't immune).
To go back in time and flesh out the story a bit. Radical groups comprised of former officers, young no-goods, and university students became especially active after the Treaty of Trianon was signed during the summer of 1920. In July, for example, about 30 right radicals broke into the Café Club and attacked the patrons. One of the victims, a bank director, died as a result of the eight dagger wounds he received. A lawyer who happened to be walking nearby was shot to death. Considering that Café Club was situated on Lipót körút, in the middle of a heavily Jewish district of Pest, it was clear who the targets were. At least the perpetrators were caught a month later and received sentences of more than ten years. However, a few months later another mob attack occurred at the same Café Club. Members of the "patriotic mob" badly beat the customers.
As I was reading about these horrendous stories from 1920 it was hard not to think of the repeated atrocities committed in our time. Then, largely due to the efforts of Teleki and his successor Bethlen, the murderous activities of these radical groups were stopped and the Hungarian radicals were pushed into the background. One can only hope that the same will happen now, but such an outcome would need the active support of the opposition. I'm really curious when Viktor Orbán will realize that it's in his best interest to help put an end to the activities of the extreme right-wing groups. Perhaps at the moment he thinks that the government's inability to act forcefully will help his party. However, today's political advantage might turn into a serious disadvantage later. Most of these radicals are almost as dissatisfied with Viktor Orbán as they are with Ferenc Gyurcsány. They consider him too liberal, too beholden to Israel, the United States, and the multinationals. One day they might turn against him and then what? [...]