It might really complicate things, Walter. There's only so much authenticity people can take.. ;-)
Moreover, its a tricky one this, because the speculation now is that its a deliberately leaked and timed strategic outburst of honesty, meant to... not quite sure what it's mean to achieve. A controlled explosion of the inevitable resentment, perhaps. An attempt to convey the sense of us all needing to face the harsh truth about all the populist lies and reassurances of the past, so we'll be softened up enough to swallow the painful cuts and reforms Gyurcsany has in mind. I dunno. Still not clear whether it wont just backfire, though.
So far he seems to be on safe ground though. The BBC reported
a snap poll with a sample of 500, and though such snap polls are notoriously unreliable the outcome must have reassured Gyurcsany: "43 percent of people thought Gyurcsany should resign immediately, while 47 percent said he should stay and 10 percent had no opinion." There's a sense of backlash against the violent storming of the Hungarian TV building, a lot of tut-tutting about an excess that neatly serves to equal or outshadow that of Gyurcsany's outrageous lies.
It's funny - when you stand on Parliament Square, where tonight again, despite calls for calm and the main opposition party Fidesz declaring it would cancel its forthcoming manifestation, thousands have gathered, you have a sense of something big happening. Not so much because of the numbers - for those who had counted on an embarassed lull, the unapologetic crowds must be an unpleasant surprise, but there were still fewer than last night. Perhaps five-seven thousand then. Not much, really. But because of the sense that everyone is represented.
It's really a seemingly random crossection of the population, again. A few heavies and a couple of worn- and wild-looking old men with big flags, but otherwise just your random Hungarians - a bit of everything. Including a punk girl, a rock father with a little kid on his shoulders, some pretty goth girls (hey, perhaps I should seek myself a nice young fascist girl) - (I'm joking) - and a man looking like Frank Zappa. (One of the things I cant get used to is that here, you just cant tell people's politics from what they look like. Or I dont know the codes. In Holland I can pretty much guess.)
They have little flags in their hands or on their lapels. A few are dressed in orange, the colour of the opposition Fidesz party, but they're far outnumbered by those waving red-and-white striped Arpad flags; Arpad was the founding father of the Hungarian nation so to say, and the flag represents the yearning for Hungarian purity and greatness. They stand around and sing along with a rock song already made for the occasion, with lots of "Magyarorszag" [Hungary] in it and a heartfelt "Resign!" as refrain. They chant "Hu-hu-Hungaria!," which sounds strikingly similar to the Dutch "Hi-ha-hondelul". A man appearing with a sheaf of rashly copied B/W leaflets has them snatched from his hands, "two, two, I want two!" (How unlike the benevolent acquiescence with which Dutch demonstrators, at best, accept the full-colour leaflets from a dozen groups).
Another speaker appears and talks of the Erdelyi (Transylvania) and the Felvidék (now South-Slovakia), and the crowds chant, "Down with Trianon!," or "Repeal Trianon!". I wonder whether they really dont realise that by taking that tack, they instantly slash the potential of their protest to a fraction of its size? Out with Gyurcsany, stop the lies - thats one thing, a line you could mobilise a people with. But add such a loaded, and wholly unrelated, agenda as that of "the lost territories", and you straight away box yourself in a sectarian corner.
So yes, the square still echoes the burlesque alarmism of this morning's international news headlines (the People's Daily Online, China: "Hungarian PM vows to restore social order by all means". Forbes: "Hungary Police Retake Television Building". The Globe and Mail, Canada: "'Longest, darkest night' for Hungary". The Irish Independent: "Scores injured in massive anti-govt riot in Hungary". The Guardian: "150 injured as Hungarians riot over PM's 'lies'".)
But leave the square and the few blocks around nearby Freedom Square with its riot squads, and the city is empty, wet and indistinguishable from any Monday night. Quiet and indifferent. Little noticeable in the ways of the "large demonstrations" that "are continuing across the Hungarian capital" according to Euronews
. Down two roads in the hipster, mixed gay/straight cafe Eklektika, they've just hung new photos, which feature strident demonstrators, a boy with a flag, a mother with child. They're photos from Lebanon.
Zs and her friends in the coffeeshop laughed it all off when I pitched them a joke this morning. No, it was her, on the top stairs of the TV building last night, waving a flag. I took fifty policeman out myself!, Zs laughed. At the office, Cs veered between laughing it off as well and being angry - about those stupid people last night, that is. "Stupid people.. That is what really scary, that extremist have more and more popularity. And lots of people does not realize. I am definitely sure that some of them were also scared when they saw what was happening .. if extremism would not make me scared an angry, I would just laugh at these stupid people." When I countered that it wasnt a bunch of skinheads or anything at the rally, but ordinary people, families, regular folk, she shot back, "Exactly that is the scary thing, that not only bald, muscle brained typie people belong to the extreme.. NORMAL AVERAGE PERSON is also, or not to mention my family .. My father agrees with MIEP!!! And he seems quite normal..(sorry father) Or the parents of L.. They are quiet normal too."
(That email made me grin)
Meanwhile, my office sent out an email to the colleagues in London and NY etc that "all Budapest staff members are safe, and that the situation in the city today is mostly calm." Ha! How very Sarajevo-sounding. Tomorrow there's a lunch presentation for all us expats who suddenly want to know what the hell is going on. (It's given by an erudite academic so I'm going too of course). A colleague had a bewildered guy on the phone who was calling from the American embassy, which is right on the Freedom Square, and wanted to know what the f*ck was going on?!
The Critical Mass bicycle demonstration, which was planned to turn all the downtown boulevards car-free again on Thursday, has been cancelled, "so that it can not be used for other purposes". And my colleague said they had closed the ELTE University today, because they were afraid students would riot (the history department is apparently a hotbed of nationalist conservatism).
Still, its not like there's a crisis or anything, in the streets I mean. The Magyar Hirlap special edition, with ferocious-looking photos from last night ("Sad Morning on Freedom Square"), headlined one report, "They wanted to make a bloody '56". It refers to a slogan some students were chanting ("We have to make a bloody 56"), but also kinda - correctly - conjures up the image of a generation yearning to emulate the heroic fights of their grandparents, and doomed to imitate them as farce.
And pragmatism rules throughout.
The owner of the pub on Nador utca that's become the demonstrators' watering hole has learnt quickly, and has with keen entrepeneurial spirit hung sets of TVs outside so people could follow the news. Groups have gathered around. A man yells "assh*le" at the news presenter as the man earnestly tells the viewers how the foreign media have described events.
One of those is represented on Parliament Square, where an Austrian ORF news presenter is waiting for his slot on the 7:30 news. For the full ten minutes that he waits in front of the camera for his turn, he maintains an appropriately earnest mien, an expression to suggest he is aware of the full seriousness of the situation. In turn he becomes something of a fetish object for the demonstrators - it's the Austrian news! Confirmation for their importance. The small nation that makes the news. People stop to take pictures of the man with their cellphone cameras. The man ignores them.
But no mistake - reporter and demonstrators are locked in symbiosis. As soon as the reporter is done, he turns around to the couple that had been standing casually turned behind them, a young man with a characteristic cap and a Hungarian flag held aloft, and says, "thank you" - the couple nods back, and instantly leaves their pose and wanders off. Our pleasure, no, really.