(Watching the) elections in Hungary

Reply Sun 1 Oct, 2006 04:34 pm
Today was the day of the local elections, which opposition Fidesz leader Viktor Orban had declared a referendum on the government.

From a cursory glance at the Hungarian news / exit polls I gather that Fidesz won almost everywhere, except in Budapest. Here, two last-minute polls have the liberal/socialist coalition respectively tied with the right-wing opposition, and maintaining a small lead on it. Moreover, Gabor Demszky, the liberal incumbent who's been mayor of Budapest since the system change, appears to have won again, with a narrow but not precarious lead.

When the riots that accompanied the demonstrations the week before last started backfiring, Fidesz appeared to distance itself somewhat from the daily protests, and the numbers taking part started to dwindle quickly. The protests also appeared to spawn ever new political groups, with in the end three newly founded groups appearing to act on behalf of the protestors, rather ineffectively. Fidesz instead went back to emphasizing the importance of these upcoming elections more. It was today that would be the day of truth.

But I went to look at Kossuth Square about an hour and a half ago - the demonstration was just disbanding - and there were still a lot fewer people than there had been the other week. They filled less than half the space in front of Parliament. The speakers still said "forradalom" ("revolution") every third sentence, one speaker talked of the "dictatorship", and a placard simply said "48|56|06" (1948 was when the communists definitely took power, and 56 is - well, 1956). But despite a sea of national and Arpad flags it all seemed very pallid. It was still very much the atmosphere that Reuters sketched in this article of last Thursday's:

From rioting to a picnic, Hungary's protests fade

BUDAPEST, Sept 28 (Reuters) - They invoked the spirit of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, declared themselves the White Revolution and promised 'people power' to sweep away the government; but Hungary's protest movement has ended up as little more than a nationalist picnic party.

Local polls on Sunday will show how much damage Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany has suffered as a result of his admission that he lied throughout the May general election.

The 45-year-old millionaire and ex-president of the Communist Youth League faces bitter opposition to an austerity package. He has also been criticised over property deals he struck in the early years of post-communist privatisation.

All these thorny issues were taken up by the protesters. But it will be ordinary voters and not the newly formed 'national committees' of protestors who will determine his political fate.

At its peak the movement had around 40,000 on the streets and made headlines across the world when some demonstrators attacked the state television building and clashed with police.

But with the major opposition parties giving no real backing, the protests lost momentum and numbers have dwindled to a few thousand each evening.

"The people organising the protests are very well meaning amateurs," says Sebestyen Gorka of the Institute for Transitional Democracy and International Security who has been involved in the demonstrations. [..]

Hungarian election rules forbid political campaigning on the day before and during voting and so the protesters camped in front of parliament have been forced to ask for their presence to be declared a 'cultural event' rather than a demonstration.

The request may be an attempt to find a legal loophole; but a cultural event is, actually, a pretty fair description of what the protest has become.

The protesters' only political tactic has been to petition parliament to call a 'constituent assembly', to no avail, while those gathering each day eat goulash soup, listen to nationalist folk-singers and browse far-right book stands. [..]

Stallholders hawk maps of 'Greater Hungary', featuring borders from before the 1920 Trianon Treaty which dismembered the country handing territories to Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine, while security is provided by a self-styled 'national guard' in military fatigues. [..]

There are no shortage of references, from speakers and on banners, to [the] rebellion [of 1956], but it is nostalgia rather than revolution that is in the air. [..]

Gorka believes though that the 50th anniversary of the revolution next month could inject fresh life into the protests.

"I am optimistic for two reasons -- the local elections offer a chance for a protest vote and then the anniversary of the revolution, on October 23, will bring a lot of emotion on to the street," he said.

Some of those involved in the 1956 revolution have given their backing to the current protests and on Thursday, Jeno Fonay, who was initially sentenced to death for his role in the uprising, called for protestors facing charges from last week's trouble to be released.

"Let the people who have been arrested go home," Fonay said.
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Reply Sun 1 Oct, 2006 04:45 pm
Here's some first news articles about the outcome of those local elections today.

Fidesz can obviously claim a clear victory. But it doesnt seem to have gotten the complete landslide that would have validated its calls for the government to resign.

What must complicate matters, though, is that President Laszlo Solyom, a conservative fulfilling a largely ceremonial role, has called for Gyurcsany to resign - which should at least help keep the protests alive still.

Hungarian opposition makes substantial gains in nationwide municipal elections

The Associated Press
October 1, 2006

Hungary's center-right opposition parties made substantial gains in nationwide elections Sunday that followed two weeks of protests over the prime minister's admission that he lied about the economy.

Hungary govt set to hold Budapest, polls show

The Hungarian government looked to have held on to the city of Budapest in local elections on Sunday, in what would be a big boost for embattled Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany.

Initial indications, based on opinion polls taken on Friday and Saturday during a blackout period on the publication of polls, showed Free Democrat mayor Gabor Demszky had held the capital.

The Free Democrats are the smaller coalition party in Gyurcsany's Socialist-led government. [..]

Hungary president calls for PM's removal

Laszlo Solyom, Hungary's president, called on the country's parliament to remove Ferenc Gyurcsany, the prime minister, from office.

Mr Solyom, in a televised address immediately after polls closed in nationwide local elections, said Hungary was in the midst of a "moral crisis" following the revelation two weeks ago that Mr Gyurcsany had admitted lying to win his party's re-election in April. [..]

The president's speech is not expected to bring Mr Gyurcsany's fall but will re-energise his opposition just as the prime minister looked poised to put recent unrest behind him and to continue with his plans for public sector reforms.

The president condemned recent street violence in Budapest but praised those who have demonstrated peacefully, calling for Mr Gyurcsany's removal.

"The peaceful protests across the country showed the healthy moral sense of the people to me. However, the catharsis and purge have not taken place," he said. [..]

Mr Solyom said only parliament had the constitutional power to solve the crisis. He said: "The parliament decides on the person of the prime minister. The parliament can restore the required social confidence."

Socialist party members reacted to the speech by angrily attacking Mr Solyom for interfering in party politics and declaring their continued support for Mr Gyurcsany.

The news electrified an anti-government demonstration in front of the downtown parliament building that was estimated at 10,000 people and growing rapidly. [..]

The pressure on Mr Gyurcsany had eased last week, partly because of revulsion over street violence that some blamed on opposition politicians who called their supporters to the street. However, as the furure began to fade, Viktor Orban, leader of opposition party Fidesz, raised the stakes of the approaching local elections by casting the vote as a referendum on the prime minister and his austerity package.

It was not yet clear early on Sunday evening whether that had paid off. Fidesz appeared likely to take several provincial cities previously held by the Mr Gyurcsany's Socialists.

However, Fidesz also appeared to have failed to make a breakthrough in the contest for Budapest's mayor, the highest profile race. Exit polls indicated Gabor Demszky [..] would win his fifth straight election.

About that Budapest mayor race: Demszky had actively profiled himself as the man who would clamp down on any further street disturbances by the protestors. Otherwise, he's actually mostly known as a libertarian kind of mayor, who keeps a loose rein on both business and subculture. The latter is good for those of us who like our subcultures thriving, who love the summer Sziget festival, who appreciate Budapest having the liveliest GLBT culture of Eastern Europe. His opponent, Istvan Tarlos, on the other hand, is famous/notorious for having tried to curb Sziget as district mayor and for wanting to shut down gay activities. He has also promised to clamp down on the homeless, and is generally known for an authoritarian streak. He promised to make Budapest a cleaner and more homy place.

Simple choice thus, you'd think, but not quite. Demszky has been in office for over a decade and a half, and corruption appears widespread. He has kept a lax rein on business and builders. Many in this neighbourhood (Erzsbetvaros) and the next (Terezvaros) especially resent the almost unchecked freedom given to building developers, who have demolished a great many old, sometimes monumental houses to make way for new, expensive but cookie-cutter real estate - sometimes against the express wish of the city's architectural commission. Sometimes even just starting demolitions without permit, so as to create a dangerously collapsing structure that they would then have to finish demolishing for safety reasons. Many people have been evicted, a neighbourhood movement here ("Ovas!") has, together with green activists and squatters, fought bitterly to save the 19th century character of this former Jewish neighbourhood.

Demszky, who at one point vowed that "In three years there will hardly be a house in the district which does not fit in with the improved picture of the city," appears to have mostly been on the wrong side. Under Demszky, there has been little curbs on an exploding volume of traffic, triggering the bicycle protest movement Critical Mass, and it's the rightwing opposition that was campaigning for more green in the city in last spring's elections.

To my great surprise, I got a voting card - as EU citizen I'm apparently eligible to vote in local elections. I even looked up what votes I would all have to cast (mayor, district mayor, councillor, party list) and who was standing.. I had settled on voting Demszky for mayor while holding my nose just because Tarlos is worse, voting the candidate of the centre-right Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) for district mayor as only alternative to the Socialist/Liberal candidate who's sold out this neighbourhood and the Fidesz and far-right candidates on the ballot; and the candidate for the tiny, idealist Humanist Party for councillor, as well as the Humanist Party on the party list.

But alas, I turned out to have lost my voting card ;-). Not that my vote would have made any difference anyway..
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Reply Sun 1 Oct, 2006 05:11 pm
Oh, it looks like the Budapest mayoral election was much closer, Demszky did indeed win, but only just - and only thanks to a sizable number of right-wing voters disappointed in the populism of Fidesz casting a dissident vote for the chance-less Hungarian Democratic Forum candidate.

This is the tally with 98+% of the votes counted:

46,9% Gábor Demszky (Free Democrats, supported by the Socialists)
45,1% István Tarlós (Independent, supported by Fidesz)
6,0% Kálmán Katona (Hungarian Democratic Forum, centre-right)
1,4% László Zsinka (Hungarian Truth and Life Party, far right)
0,6% Péter Székely (Workers Party, far left)

The party scores in Budapest are:

45,5% Fidesz
36,3% Socialist Party
13,6% Free Democrats
4,6% Hungarian Democratic Forum

So that's 49,9% for the left and 50,1% for the right.

Of the mayoral races in the 23 other largest cities, the right-wing opposition has won 16. That includes Debrecen, the second city of the country, where its candidate got 74%.

But it doesnt include Miskolc and Szeged, the third and fourth largest cities, where the leftwing candidates won easily, nor Pecs, the fifth largest city, where the leftwing candidate eeked out a narrow victory. In fact, the right won just three of the mayoral races in the 10 largest cities.

On the other hand, the countryside has massively sided with Fidesz. It looks like Fidesz won in every single of the 19 provinces, if I understand correctly.
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Reply Sun 1 Oct, 2006 05:17 pm
An aside to nimh..
LA Times article on Budapest - not re politics
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Reply Mon 2 Oct, 2006 06:37 pm
Thanks Osso, I'll read that.

Fidesz leader Viktor Orban has given the Prime Minister an ultimatum to resign - not that he has any opportunity to enforce it. Gyurcsany has decided to ask for a vote of confidence - which he should theoretically win easily enough, since his coalition has a clear enough majority, and after the outcome of Sunday's local election surely no MP in either coalition party would be eager to face new elections.

So its a bit of a stalemate. Despite the impressive sweep of Hungary's regions by Fidesz in the elections, there doesn't seem to be much sense of a momentum anymore. Big day or not, the demonstration at Parliament Square tonight was significantly smaller than yesterday still - just one or two thousand, I'm guessing. You could walk - bicycle even - straight up to the fences in front of Parliament, where past protestors had left their banners and placards pinned up to it: one appealed to CNN to tell the truth about what was going on here.

The stalls were still doing good business though, from pretzels to national flags and imprompty manufactured t-shirts with slogans about Gyurcsany. If there's a buck to be made they'll make it - it is capitalism, after all. But the crowd had diminished in quality as well as quantity, more marked by the old, quaint and prole than before. The young and the middle classes appear to have more or less given up - or returned the business of politics to the politicians.
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Reply Mon 2 Oct, 2006 06:48 pm
Thanks for the EyeWitness Report...

(I mean that.)
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Reply Mon 2 Oct, 2006 08:41 pm
Yes, reading with interest...
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Mon 16 Oct, 2006 12:09 am
The view/report in today's The Guardian, saying Hungary is not the only country ...

Populists seize the moment as discontent grips central Europe

Voters in former Soviet-bloc countries take to streets to protest at failings of their young democracies

Ian Traynor in Budapest
Monday October 16, 2006
The Guardian

It is more than 40 years since Gyula Grosics last took to the park. But the legendary "Black Panther" goalkeeper, who was part of the remarkable Hungarian "golden team" of the 1950s that defeated England 6-3 at Wembley and 7-1 in Budapest, is taking on a new opponent, this time in front of the Hungarian parliament.
The sprightly octogenarian, like many of his compatriots, has had enough of what passes for democracy in Hungary. "One thing's for sure," he said, "this is not a democracy,it's a catastrophe. They just lie and cheat and lie. It's time to get rid of this government."

It is the season of discontent across central Europe, with governments teetering, populists on the rise and frustrations with the failings of immature democracies boiling over.
For the past month, thousands of Hungarians have been demonstrating on the square in front of parliament in an attempt to bring down the centre-left government of Ferenc Gyurcsany, a self-confessed liar who admitted he cheated his way to a second term in April.

Up the Danube next door in Slovakia an improbable alliance of leftwing populists and extreme rightwing nationalists holds sway, following years of radical reform by a liberal administration that took the country into Nato and the European Union.

In Prague, politics is so precariously polarised between left and right that neither side is able to form a stable government. The Czech Republic has effectively been without a government since June, when a dead-heat election left conservative Eurosceptics victorious but unable to muster a parliamentary majority.

And in Poland this week, parliament is mulling the need for early elections following the collapse of a prickly coalition of conservatives, extreme-right reactionaries and leftwing demagogues.

"Things have become much more complicated than we expected," sighed Pavol Demes, a former Slovak foreign minister. "People are tired and frustrated and politicians are using and abusing these feelings."

Since the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, and Hungarians joined the EU in 2004, voters have kicked out the politicians who masterminded EU entry and elected more nationalist Eurosceptic leaders, with the exception of Hungary, where the conservative opposition is campaigning to bring down the Gyurcsany coalition of social democrats and liberals.

"It's like the lid on the pressure cooker has been blown off," said Jiri Pehe, a leading Czech analyst and former presidential adviser. "The amount of change in these countries in recent years has been unparalleled. Now we're seeing the backlash. The historical objective has been achieved and the politicians who led it are being swept away."

In front of the parliament in Budapest, the conservative opposition Fidesz, Hungary's biggest political party, has erected a stage from which its leaders preach to and mobilise the protesters every night. It hopes to achieve critical mass and force the prime minister to resign over the next couple of weeks as Hungary marks the 50th anniversary of the national uprising of 1956 crushed by Soviet tanks.

Fidesz is using extra-parliamentary pressure to try to browbeat a government that it cannot defeat inside the parliamentary chamber. Despite being discredited, Mr Gyurcsany comfortably won a vote of confidence last week.

In Poland, too, politics is moving out of parliament and on to the street, with government and opposition staging large rallies this month to mobilise supporters only a year after an election. In Warsaw the rightwing administration of the twins Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski says it is engaged in a "moral revolution" to cleanse Poland of sleaze.

In Hungary, the tensions, divisions and the prime minister's self-confessed lies about the parlous state of the economy to keep office have triggered what President Laszlo Solyom calls "a moral crisis".

"This government has lost the moral ground. They cheated. They treat us as stupid. They think we're fools," said Miklos Patthy, a pharmaceutical researcher taking part in the demonstrations, which are part protest and part picnic but have also degenerated into the worst political violence for 50 years.

Mr Patthy, a rightwing voter, is bitter that the post-communist left has managed to dominate Hungarian politics for much of the democratic period since the anti-communist revolutions of 1989. The same grievance is powering the Kaczynski brothers' "moral" crusade.

For the protesters and the right wing, whether in government or opposition, there is much to be bitter about. Hungary, for example, has had three prime ministers from the Socialist party, the successor to the Communist party that was the monopoly ruler under the Soviet system before 1989.

One of the prime ministers was a Communist militiaman ranged against the freedom fighters of the failed Hungarian revolution of 1956. A second had to resign amid allegations of being a KGB collaborator. The third, the incumbent Mr Gyurcsany, is an immensely wealthy former Young Communist leader.

"It's not right that we're still governed by this lot 16 years after the regime change. They're not legitimate," said Mr Patthy. "It's no accident that they're big leftists as well as the richest politicians in Hungary."

The new right wing is increasingly calling into question the historic compromise that underpins the democratic gains of the past 16 years and the legitimacy of former Communists playing a prominent role in the young democracies. But analysts say its diagnosis is simplistic, dishonest and dangerous.

"What we're seeing in Hungary and Poland is a very self-righteous and belated attempt by the right to deal with history by falling back on old nationalist cliches about heroes and villains, patriots and traitors. It's not so black and white," said Mr Pehe.

Ferenc Hammer, a Hungarian political scientist, points out that the eastern European revolutions of 1989 were unusually peaceful precisely because they all entailed negotiated sets of compromises between the old and new regimes. Without that fundamental bargain, there could have been much bloodshed. But the compromises are now being attacked by nationalists, conservatives and populists either in power or trying to seize power.

"Politics here is seen as a zero-sum game, always us versus them," said Mr Hammer.

While the protesters outside the Hungarian parliament rail against what they describe as "a dictatorship of liars", Imre Mecs, a Hungarian government MP and veteran liberal, says that the political manipulation of the demonstrations shows that Viktor Orban, the opposition leader, is trying to topple a democratically elected government.

"It's a straight battle for power, the losers fighting the winners. It turns out that Orban is not a democrat," he said. "What this country needs is a national catharsis. But it's very controversial and very difficult."
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Mon 16 Oct, 2006 12:09 am
(printed version, page 7Smile

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Reply Mon 16 Oct, 2006 06:36 am
Yeah, thats a good article, was reading that yesterday..
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Wed 18 Oct, 2006 10:59 pm
And in today's The Guardian:

Hungarian revolution - 50 years on

Political turmoil and street protests: rebellion's bitter legacy lives on

In the first of a three-part series to mark the uprising in Budapest that shook the world half a century ago, the Guardian looks at how the past still divides people

Ian Traynor in Budapest
Thursday October 19, 2006
The Guardian

Imre Mecs will don his habitual bow tie on Sunday evening and make his way to the opera house in Budapest, one of the finest buildings in the Hungarian capital, to recall the event that marked him for life and shook the world 50 years ago - the Hungarian revolution.
Mr Mecs sat on death row in a dungeon in Budapest for six years as a result of his revolutionary youth. He fully expected to be strung up on wooden gallows by communist henchmen. For a long time, Mr Mecs, now a 73-year-old liberal MP, could not imagine winning free elections in a democracy or attending solemn ceremonies at the opera.

"The statistics were very bad," Mr Mecs recalled. "Almost 400 of us were sentenced to death and 233 were executed. At one point 19 out of 20 of the condemned were being executed, so I didn't think I would make it."
The night at the opera should be a happy occasion, a celebration of Hungary's passage from a depressed Soviet satellite state to a vibrant free democracy. Instead, the 50th anniversary events starting on Sunday will be bitter and divisive. "This anniversary should be a chance to make a fresh start at a moment where everyone can agree. Unfortunately no one believes this can happen," said Pal Germuska, a historian at the city's 1956 Institute. "The freedom fighters and the killers are still living in this society. Fifty years is not enough to sort out all these problems."

Dozens of foreign dignitaries are to travel to Budapest at the weekend to take part in the anniversary rituals. But with Hungarian politics polarised to the worst extent since communism was routed in 1989, the national holiday may turn into a bad-tempered fiasco.

President Laszlo Solyom is to host the opera house ceremony, but veterans of 1956 are threatening to walk out as soon as the prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, arrives, vowing not to "breathe the same air" as a politician whose governing socialist party is the successor of the communists who helped the Russians crush the 1956 uprising.

The prime minister, who has been the target of weeks of protests in Budapest after admitting lying to win a second term in April's elections, is also to make a speech in the presence of international leaders in parliament next Monday, the anniversary of the day the revolution erupted with a student demonstration on October 23 1956.

Rival parties

That could also turn sour. Rival political parties and organisations are to stage their own separate commemorations. The main opposition said yesterday that it would boycott the Gyurcsany speech. Things could also turn ugly today when police attempt to clear the square in front of parliament, where anti-government demonstrators have established a month-old camp.

"How many 1956s are there out there and which one is the right one?" asked the political scientist Ferenc Hammer.

It is a question that Hungary is still not able to answer. Joseph Rothschild, the US historian of eastern and central Europe, suggested this definition: "These events in Hungary were not a mere rebellion or uprising or insurrection or putsch or general strike, but a genuine and domestically victorious revolution, defeated only by overwhelming foreign force."

Three years after the death of Stalin and a few months after the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced the tyrant in his famous secret speech to the Soviet communist party, the Hungarian revolution initially hinted at a loosening of Soviet dictatorship in the heart of Europe. In the summer before the Budapest uprising, there had been a workers' insurrection in Poland that extracted concessions from the Kremlin and encouraged Hungary's reformist communist hero, Imre Nagy, to go further.

Ten days into the revolution, the scale and the boldness of the Nagy project was made plain when he ordered the Red Army out of Hungary, reinstituted political pluralism in place of monopoly communist rule, announced Hungary was pulling out of the Warsaw Pact, Soviet communism's answer to Nato, and declared Hungary's military neutrality, as had happened in neighbouring Austria the year before when the Russians ended their postwar presence.

Nagy opened to question the Kremlin's absolute power in central and eastern Europe. He had been encouraged both by Soviet dithering and US support. But the Hungarians were betrayed by the Americans and hammered by the Russians. The Kremlin sent in the tanks to crush the revolution after 13 days on November 4. The Americans, who had been broadcasting tips on how to make petrol bombs and defy the Russians, promptly averted their eyes as the Russians bloodily suppressed the insurgency.

More than 2,500 Hungarians were killed, some 20,000 wounded, and another 200,000 fled, first to Austria then on to America, Canada, and Australia, in Europe's first big refugee crisis since the second world war.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Wed 18 Oct, 2006 11:00 pm
Suez distraction

For decades the conventional verdict has been that Washington was too preoccupied with the Suez crisis to intervene for the Hungarians. But combing the US and Soviet archives, an American-Hungarian historian, Charles Gati, has argued persuasively this year that the Eisenhower administration perpetrated a cruel trick on Hungary and had no intention of challenging Moscow.

"Washington offered only hope, no help," Mr Gati wrote recently. "The Eisenhower administration's policy turned out to be a hoax, hypocrisy mitigated only by self-delusion."

A month after Mr Mecs received his death sentence in May 1958, Imre Nagy was executed, his corpse dumped in an unmarked grave.

The 33 years of "goulash communism" that followed the doomed uprising were, said Mr Hammer, a period "of systematic forgetting. It was Orwellian." The revolution was renamed the "counter-revolution" by the ruling communists.

"Some think it's legitimate to connect 1956 to the events going on here now. That's absolutely false," said Mr Mecs. "There's no connection between 1956 and the current situation."

The eyes of the world will be trained on Hungary next week in admiration for the plucky freedom fighters and their glorious defeat. But they may be watching an ugly spectacle. "Hungary has never been united. Even in 1956 it was united only for a few moments," said Mr Germuska. "This is a big anniversary. And it's a big missed opportunity."


1956 National revolt against Soviet rule and Imre Nagy becomes prime minister. USSR crushes uprising and Janos Kadar takes over
1958 Communist government executes Nagy for high treason
1968 Kadar gradually introduces free market reforms. Farmers and industrial workers given increased rights
1988 Democratic reforms introduced
1989 Proclamation of the Republic of Hungary and end of communist rule
1990 Budapest stock exchange opens and Hungary leaves the Warsaw Pact
1990 Jozsef Antall elected prime minister in country's first free parliamentary elections
1991 Soviet troops leave and the Warsaw Pact dissolves
1999 Hungary joins Nato
2004 Joins the EU
April 2006 Election returns Ferenc Gyurcsany and socialists to power
September 2006 Violence erupts in Budapest as it emerges that government lied during elections
Linda MacDonald
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Reply Wed 18 Oct, 2006 11:22 pm
Thanks for the recap. I've Hungarian friends in LA, but not, y'know, lots, just the one or two families.
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Reply Mon 23 Oct, 2006 11:14 am
More protests
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Reply Mon 23 Oct, 2006 12:09 pm
Well thats another fine mess they got themselves into.

Looks like Ive been missing out on a lotta fun.

My Hungarian friends/acquaintances had no urge whatsoever to be in Budapest for the 1956 commemorations etc, so we all went kirandulni - day-outing - in the hills up north.

Cellphones didnt work there but when we were heading home in the train we started getting the news.

Didnt click Ossos link yet (I just came inside), but apparently theres been rioting all over the place, Deak ter downtown, the Western Railway station, Parliament.

More incredibly, apparently the demonstrators got themselves a TANK for a bit. Because of 56 there's commemoration stuff all on the street, including a vintage tank from the time. The demonstrators climbed into it and apparently it still worked, and they drove it into the police ranks. Shocked Laughing
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Mon 23 Oct, 2006 12:12 pm
It was a WWII tank, agencies say

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Reply Mon 23 Oct, 2006 12:17 pm
CBC has had quite a few interesting interviews with refugees of the 1956 uprising, and says that some 38,000 Hungarians arrived in Canada, which would have been by proportion, the largest refugee contingent in any country.

It is amazing to compare the attitudes of the rebels of 50 years ago to the expressed attitudes of the demonstrators today. No Red Army these days, though . . .
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Reply Mon 23 Oct, 2006 12:21 pm
Like I said, I just arrived about an hour ago. Dropped Susannah and her friend off, and got on my bike to Deak ter. Cordoned off by the police, otherwise not many people around anymore, but they must have been chased out right before, beacause there were still clouds of tear gas, stings your f*cking eyes like hell.

Lots and lots of people milling about on the close end of the Jewish neighbourhood here, more towards the Small Boulevard, walking to other places of action.

Wait, I'm chatting with Susanna, lemme do a copy/paste instead of regurgitating (I'm Jojo):

[7:59:18 PM] Jojo says: i cant believe i ran out of ******* film!!
[8:01:54 PM] Jojo says: they're shooting teargas. Lots and lots and lots of it
[8:02:46 PM] BA says: it,s increadible what,s happaning here i,m wathing the tv and reading news on index
[8:02:54 PM] Jojo says: The demonstrators still have most of Rakoczi Blvd, but the police created a bridgehead near Sip utca and is now driving them back little bit by little bit, with teargas
[8:03:35 PM] BA says: i can,t believe wher i leave
[8:04:10 PM] Jojo says: It seems like the demonstrators simply occupied Rakoczi Blvd. They set up a (very simple) barricade at Blaha Lujza, no police there. So they have a lot of place to retreat. And they're on two sides of the police over at Sip/Kazinczy
[8:05:26 PM] BA says: oh i,m happy you are at home now i gonna call Ildi wait a little bit..
[8:05:46 PM] Jojo says: Its like a cat & mouse game - the police shoots a dozen teargas bombs, everybody runs away, quiet returns, the demonstrators return, and every five minutes pick up their fence/barricade and move it back forward to the police. Until theyre close enough to throw stones and bottles, they do that, and the police shoots off teargas again. Et cetera etc
[8:08:57 PM] BA says: ildi at home so she is ok...
[8:09:36 PM] Jojo says: yay. Heard anything about others?
[8:10:20 PM] BA says: no, but i thought you accompanied Virág to home and the others went to the other direction
[8:10:23 PM] Jojo says: No reason to worry. Its like a battlefield on Rakoczy, for example, and up a bit on Sip, but if you walk up two blocs to Wesselenyi, its quiet and still, like any other night.
[8:11:20 PM] BA says: i,m watching tv and there is standing war at astoria
[8:11:48 PM] Jojo says: I know, I was washing the teargas out of my eyes 10 mins ago ;- )
[8:12:30 PM] BA says: it,s really just a joke isn,t it?
[8:12:49 PM] Jojo says: they're playing revolution.
[8:12:58 PM] Jojo says: like the heroes in the movies about '56
[8:13:10 PM] BA says: but it,s more than shokking now
[8:14:45 PM] Jojo says: There are a LOT of people on Rakoczy. Like, the ones throwing bottles an dpushing the barricades (I saw them getting stones from an empty building plot) are, perhaps, two hundred. But there must be several thousadns people on the street, shouting slogans, with their flags. And theyre all kinds of people, not just hooligans or skinheads - teenage girls, some old ladies, fathers with sons
[8:16:04 PM] BA says: if i can see something interesting on tv i will write again...
[8:18:02 PM] Jojo says: I'm going back out there - I dont have film but at least I can see whats happening..
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Reply Mon 23 Oct, 2006 02:00 pm
[9:43:00 PM] Jojo says: well things are proceeding veerryy very slowly.. using salvos of teargas every ten or fifteen minutes the police has now inched its way up to near Nyar utca, where the demonstrators have put up a barricade of trashcarts, which theyve set on fire. Theres still massive amounts of people between there and Blaha, and oddly, nothing behind there. Theres no police up till Keleti (i dont understand why they dont just close on in to the rioters from two sides?)

[9:51:19 PM] Jojo says: the police also is coming up dohany with teargas, so that sucks when youre trying to run away from rakoczi through a sidestreet.

[9:51:21 PM] Jojo says: Oh and if anyone tries to tell you all of this has been organised by such or so group, they're lying. These kids are totally disorganised. Theyre just doing whatever comes to mind. For example, when I came back there was just a kind of massive retreat going on, with about half the people in Rakoczi backing up to Blaha. I went ahead of them on my bike, and when they arrived there, nobody knew where they were going or what they wanted to do. One third went left up the Korut, shouting "Hosok terre", another third went straight ahead shouting, koztasarsag terre!, and each was yelling to the others to no, come this way, weve got to stay in one group -- and the remaining third, well it was standing on Blaha yelling into their cellphones, "hova megyunk?!".

If any organisation had been behind this, it would have all been more effective - now - pphhrrt. Another example, what I said - there was this terulet in a sidestreet with lots and lots of stones lying around. One or two of the fighting kids came up and grabbed a couple, one in each hand, ran back. Noone was simply collecting them in a big bag and bringing them to the 'front', none of the people just standing around with flags helped them, nothing.
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Reply Mon 23 Oct, 2006 02:46 pm
It is amazing to compare the attitudes of the rebels of 50 years ago to the expressed attitudes of the demonstrators today.

I dont know if that's fair.. I guess they're behaving like any other rioters, and in fact, relatively speaking I mean, they're probably well-behaved. I mean, apart from the throwing rocks and bottles at the police thing. Otherwise they dont really do anything but stand around waving Hungarian and Arpad flags and some flags of Greater Hungary ("TRIANON - Everything back!"), exchanging updates on what is happening where and conspiracy theories about Merkel and the Austrians etc, and chanting "Gyurcsany takarodj" ("Gyurcsany, bugger off").

Ambulances and other emergency vehicles are waved through without any aggro. They temporarily blocked all traffic on the Great Boulevard at Blaha, but I saw one couple stubbornly driving up to the fence they'd put up, and they politely lifted away the fence so they could pass. Later they just removed the fence there altogether.

On the other hand, out of curiosity I bicycled in a half-circle through the sidestreets to get back to Rakoczi on the side already taken by the police, and they were polite too. Never mind that, with teargas in my eyes, I almost rode straight through their barrier line on my bike - they just went Heeeeyy!, and I got off, and when I, rather rudely, called out to one balaclava-clad riot policeman whether it was free to the left yet, he came up to me, said, "yes, what is your question?.. no, its not free". They dont seem to have the feeling that they're up against the wider population or anything.

For sure there's enough oddballs among the demonstrators / rioters. There's a guy on one of those motorized open toy cars, dunno what they're called, dressed in full racing gear, body protection and all - he's standing on top it now waving a Hungarian flag. I saw an old man walking around with a chest full of military medals displayed. A guy walking up to some official car telling them to explain what they wanted or be off, while dressed up in some creative retro-nationalist gear - Hungarian folk hat, 1956-2006 shirt with a band with the national tricolor around the arm, folkish trousers with braces. A shouting toothless old woman. Hawkers of far-right pamphlets. A huge guy (the kind you dont want to get in a pub brawl with), wearing a full gas mask. All that.

But most of em are not like that. Sure, most are guys and most are young, but thats a given. Part of em look like football fans, except their scarfs say "Hungary". Part looks like the kind of alternative squatter type you may get at a leftist demo on the verge of aggro in some West-European country. Many are just regular teens and twenty-somethings. Only thing most of em have in common is that they're the Hungarian equivalent of ghetto. From the neighbouring Jozsefvaros district or the high-rise suburbs I guess (which is a bit of an enigma, because those same neighbourhoods always vote for the now-ruling Socialists, including even in this month's local elections). Lotsa guys and their girlfriends you woulda found at a Gabba-house party in Holland. Not sophisticated, for sure, but not lowlifes either.

In fact - for about ten minutes I was riding up and down thinking about helping them. Carry a wooden traffic fence I'd seen around the corner on my bike, or filling my bag with stones or something. More like in, oh fer chrissakes lemme help you already, this is going nowhere, if you're gonna do this do it well. I mean, whenever rioters and police clash, I am instinctively on the side of the rioters. Period. But then there's the matter of these Greater Hungary t-shirts and the Arpad flags they're waving with their facsist history - so I didnt.

I have to give it to them though that they did do what the French rioters failed to do - take their riot downtown. Whats the use of setting your own depressed neighbourhood on fire? If you're gonna do that, take it to where the politicians are, to the city centre! Well, they did. To maximum effect. Whats happening here is, in actuality, a lot smaller in all than the months-long riots in France - but because they're doing it right downtown, on a day that honchos from around the world are visiting Budapest, and because they're grabbing the symbolism of the '56 commemoration/comparison, putting on their historic-looking Hungarian tricolor-armbands, the media talks of "revolution".

Oh, also, of course - about one in six of the people out there (if they're still out there by now) - is there with a camera. Some for Duna TV or the like, but most just guys like me. Someone snapped me standing with my bike in the lingering teargas with a t-shirt wrapped around my face, so I'll probably end up on someone's blog as a "rioter" too. These must be among the most photographed riots in history.
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