(Watching the) elections in Hungary

Reply Thu 8 Mar, 2007 03:37 pm
It's spring! The sun is out, the weather is mellow, the kids are out on Erzsebet Square again attempting tricks with their skateboards, and being all the more adorable for being so crap at it. People are sitting outside by the pool, and a van is driving in circles around downtown, its sides plastered full of posters and texts, a huge loudspeaker on its roof blasting out an angry politician's speech about "democracy" and "Hungarians" and "lies" and "Gyurcsany". Consider the season opened.

Next week: March 15th (do click that link for a taste of what's ahead).

Stay tuned, it'll be interesting.
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Reply Thu 8 Mar, 2007 04:57 pm
civil war or wreath laying

it's a toss-up
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Reply Thu 8 Mar, 2007 08:17 pm
they could do first one, then the other ;-)
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Reply Wed 14 Mar, 2007 06:36 pm
Well, tomorrow is March 15, the countries most emotive national holiday, and so we'll see where on the scale between wreath-laying and civil war it ends up.

Except I wont, because I'm sick. Just a flu, but still feel crap, so I dont guess I'll be out and about following the crowd all day tomorrow. Confused

Considering I was just posting someone else's Flickr photos of this week's little riots in my old hometown, Utrecht, though, I thought the least I could do is to post some of the photos I made myself last year of the various Budapest demos and riots then..

So here goes.

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/101/289041097_cd88d0385e_m.jpg http://farm1.static.flickr.com/112/256900916_f104f98714_m.jpg

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/92/276745425_788d7dca5b_m.jpg http://farm1.static.flickr.com/111/276745422_e5766394e2_m.jpg

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/110/257936188_58483df505_m.jpg http://farm1.static.flickr.com/118/312433292_a39a09dc3c_m.jpg



You can click each of 'm for larger version, or click here for more.
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Reply Thu 15 Mar, 2007 08:40 pm
(I feel a bit off, posting after the news about Timber. But I suppose I should just finish what I had already started writing, about today's long-awaited events in Budapest.)


Well, the rioters were elusive tonight.

Not that they werent there - their presence was overwhelmingly evidenced by the battered barricades that residents were picking apart again, by the phonebooths that had been torn from the streets and smashed on the elegant Andrassy Boulevard as part of those barricades, by burnt, melted plastic garbage containers, by the whiff of teargas and the distant thud of more teargas grenades somewhere, and by endless, endless squads, lines, guards, vans, touring car buses, and armored carrier-type vehicles full of cops, cops, cops, everywhere.

It's just that wherever I was, they werent, and wherever they were, I wasnt. Only near the end did I catch up with a small group that was just being chased down Rakoczi Boulevard towards Keleti Station, and the only action I saw was how they pelted a passing policecar with rocks. Only one who got hurt was a bicyclist who'd been riding behind the car - never seen someone fall of his bike and get back up and ride off so quickly. Like he'd had an electric shock.

It was my own fault - being still half sick, I'd basically decided to sit this one out, and was surfing the net through the evening, holed up in my bedroom.


I'd gone out in the afternoon, though, well, late afternoon, for a bit of cycling. I was at Astoria where the big, opposition demonstration was just building up, the crowd swelling, minor speakers on a distant stage. I was there again after cycling round to Parliament Square (heavily defended, a handful of protestors), Heroes Square (noone, a stage and soundspeaker being dismantled), and the Terror Museum, where I met "Susannah" (as well as a small group of tough-looking hooded youngsters with flags and nationalist shirts gathered around a bench, with cameraman).

That second time, the demonstration was just dispersing, the speeches already over, the crowds strolling off down Rakoczi and Kiraly Boulevards. Seriously moody Hungarian folk music was playing - bagpipes - and the crowd was eerily quiet. Positively subdued, in fact.

There was the usual cross-section of Hungarians - elderly couples, families, fathers with a child on their shoulders, young couples - student-looking twentysomethings, beard or goatee, old gentleladies, everything in between. If there was any tilt, I'd say it was a somewhat bourgeois-leaning crowd, middle-class.

And quiet. They just strolled down the boulevard, talking to each other, carrying their flags, each and everyone with the tricolour on their lapel - no shouts or chants or mock-sirens or anything. With that bagpipe music it almost seemed a grieving march. Some wilder-looking youths tried to stir a chant for Gyorgy Budihazi, one of the protest/riot leaders last year, but nobody picked it up. A large group of skinheads and hoodies chanted last year's "Gyurcsany Clean Out!", but nobody picked it up. (Tellingly though, they were among the minority branching off down Kiraly, while I went with the subdued majority down Rakoczi to the public transport hub Blaha Lujza - I should have known.)


Yes, so a few hours later I was at home and eventually looked up the website of the national-conservative Magyar Nemzet newspaper, and saw that trouble had erupted shortly after the demonstration had dispersed. Trouble had started in front of the Terror Museum, where youths had started setting up barricades. (Had the group we'd seen there been waiting with a purpose?). The by now familiar cat and mouse game with the riot police had started up, and trouble had gradually moved down the fancy Andrassy Boulevard to Oktogon, then to by the Opera House. Here proper barricades were built, and a street battle ensued. (Magyar Nemzet also mentioned that a "molotov cocktail factory" had been discovered in an apartment in the neighbourhood.)

I was reading this and you know - the Opera house is three blocks down from here, that way <points>, so I got out of the house after all. Dropped by the pub to give Susannah a present first - pub was full, and she was already indignant - "have you heard what they have done?". By the time I came to the Opera, of course, everyone had gone.

Still riot police blocking most all of the sidestreets - and the debris described above, being photographed from four sides.

From there I bicycled all over, but mostly appeared to arrive just as the action was over. Bajczy-Zsilinsky totally blocked off by riot police, with a whole army of policecars, teargas trucks, large open trucks to carry additional policemen in, blue vans to carry arrested people off with, parked behind it, row after row. All the sidestreets blocked too, but the pizzeria on Bajczy was nevertheless full of diners, seemingly oblivious to both the riot police on the corners left and right or the youths sauntering and grouping around with flags aimlessly in between, waiting to be shooed away.

Totally different crowd than the afternoon demonstrators. Black caps, hoodies, big sweaters, some with a Hungarian tricolour band around their arm like they were old-fashioned streetfighters. Plenty of skins, a car or two driving up then turning around also blasted skin-music, but also lots of football-supporter types.

But not just those, either. It seems the counterculture is now well part of the scene - I saw punks, goth girls, a ska fan, lots of what in Amsterdam would have been squatters. Still confusing for someone from Western Europe, where alternative = leftwing.

Nothing happening at Parliament Square, but on the big road from Bajczy to the famous Chain Bridge, police and firefighters were again just sweeping the street clean, dousing various fires along the way where garbage, garbage bins and the occasional phonebooth had been used to set makeshift barricades on fire.

Oh, one thing: along the entire way, not a window smashed. Well, one. But all the luxury shops on Andrassy - untouched. Noted.

On downtown Deak and Madach Square, a massive build up of police. Curious onlookers being shood away, including foreigners, with the classic line "Nothing interesting to see! Nothing interesting to see! Goodbye!"


Basically, what they did was establish their basis in this most probable hotspot (this was where "the tank" happened last year), with an overwhelming presence, and then push any rioters out from the downtown area from there, splitting the crowd and pushing them outward in different directions.

Apart from the group pushed to the Chain Bridge, a main group was pushed from Astoria down Kossuth Lajos street, straight through the fancy downtown shopping area, to the Erzsebet Bridge. Another goup was strolling, provocatively sauntering - and then, as the riot police swiftly moved up in determined blocks, running - down Rakoczi. Thats the group I followed, and on Blaha they pelted that policecar, but after that they seemed clueless - not to the right, police was coming up there too - straight ahead or to the left, then - people walked off, returned, staid, loitered, ran off, etc.

I think the overwhelming presence of police everywhere really made a difference. At the same time the police were friendly to visible outsiders - with camera in hand, you could easily approach them, from behind their lines at least, leisurely take photos from close-up. I photographed a group of riot squad in front of the oddly-named Pizzeria The Hague (surely the only pizzeria anywhere named after my Dutch hometown), and they laughed; one nodded to me when they walked off.

Same for the protesters though - apart from the one tough-looking skin with a black eye who walked up to me to tell me there'd be "trouble" if I even pointed my camera to him.


In fact, its odd, moving along with both sides as well as the demonstrators in the afternoon - I can sympathise with all of them. Seriously. The demonstrators were serious and dignified. And though the policemen are dressed and armed up fiercely, and used excessive force last autumn; though the protesters may sport a square black German cross around their neck, or some variation of the everpresent Greater Hungary flags, shirts and tags - I can easily empathise with either.

The whole cat-and-mouse game also definitely has its adrenalin. I can see the addictive kick of it for the kids. Especially if you're with groups, your mates, a girl.. the whole conspirative, underground, f*ck the police thing..

But it's also all old news by now. I mean, today was just a repetition of the several times last autumn. Nothing new. Its almost... boring. More than wreath-laying, but distinctly less than civil war ;-).

What will all this lead to? God knows. Spring has started, the weather's been lovely, so I'm sure more occasions will follow, though no date as emotive as March 15 is up any time soon. But it doesnt look like it'll amount to more than both sides spinning their wheels.
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Reply Sat 17 Mar, 2007 06:01 pm
Hope you feel better soon.

Excellent description, we could be right there with you.

Thinking about that pizzeria where people were ignoring both sides...

Interesting, but I guess well predictable, that the store windows survived the fray.

Also, the photos from last time were terrific.
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Reply Sat 17 Mar, 2007 06:22 pm
Thanks Smile
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Reply Sun 18 Mar, 2007 02:16 pm
This is crossposted from the Following the EU thread.

Because its cool that Ive been sort of doing real time recounting of demos and riots and datacrunching on election results..

But it might be good to insert some day-to-day reality here, and give more of an idea about WHY people are so mad.

So here's the crosspost:

[Gyurcsany's] efforts to reform and modernize Hungary's economy have won the approval of investors and his Western European counterparts but earned him single-digit approval ratings at home.

OK, here I'm torn.

I have little up with Viktor Orban's brand of rightwing populism, full of hyperbole about "democratatorship" now ruling in Hungary and nudge-nudge wink-wink encouragement of the far right.

But I also cant stand this hypocritical sanitised language thats the pro-business equivalent of political correctness.

"Reform". "Modernisation". Who could possibly be opposed to that? SOunds hunky-dory, no?

But dont forget that its also all an exasperatingly succesful exercise in Orwellian newspeak.

Reform and modernisation can almost always be roughly translated as massive lay-offs, drastic budget cuts, partial dismantling of the social care system, and in the current case of Hungary, massive tax rises.

Not so nice, eh?

A friend of mine was pretty devastated when I met her at a party the other night. She's a child psychologist. Adult psychological care in Hungary is lamentably absnet or underdeveloped. But they have a prettty sophisticated system of psychological care at schools. Every school will have a psychologist available for children in trouble. I was pretty impressed - we dont have anything likethat in Holland, and Im sure it prevents a lot of trouble (and financial cost as well, come to think of it) at later age.

Well, she's fired. Out of the blue. Not just her. Many thousands like her. The whole system is being dismantled at one blow. Everyone is out on the street, making chances of finding a new job within the profession minimal.

Random example? Theres more.

Heating prices in Hungary were until now still subsidized. Under communism of course they were merely symbolic. A gradual "marketisation" of prices had been implemented since then, but there was still up to 50% subsidy in place.

Is it being built down now? No, its been abolished, at one stroke of the pen. Meaning that heating costs have doubled for most.

The poor are hit hardest. They live in so-called "lakotelepek": high rise apartment blocks that were built in the 60s and 70s. They were built with a collectivist, archaic heating system - my landlady explained it to me once, I cant recount exactly. But what it comes down to is that theres no thermostat; no chance for individuals to turn the heating off or down when they're not home etc. No chances to save costs. So they have been hit hardest by the price rises.

Older people living on pensions in those neighbourhoods now face heating bills that are larger than their income.

At my work, of course, we're relatively buffered against the slashing costs of the "reforms". My income is low to middling to Dutch standards, but high to Hungarian standards, same for my colleagues. But just to give an indication of what is involved in these "reforms": tax rises mean that the net income for most of us will go down by 18% - in one stroke. Luckily I got a 6% payrise this year, but that still makes -12%.

Now I'll get by, no problem. But many face an acute crisis this year. And I get pretty angry when I hear smug West-European "market analysts", business consultants, and the host of mainstream media that appear to borrow its choice of language wholesale from these people, suavely comment on the praiseworthy "modernisation" and "reform" of the "pro-Western" Prime Minister.

Orwellian newspeak. Evil or Very Mad
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Reply Sun 18 Mar, 2007 02:25 pm
Ah, yes, I see.

All those psychologists! What a pity...
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Reply Wed 9 May, 2007 03:47 pm
After the 15th of March, I posted my description here of the demonstration and riots of that day and evening.. but I never posted my pictures of them.

Click any to get larger version..

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/183/430866074_97fd9872df_m.jpg http://farm1.static.flickr.com/164/430866073_0aa0f74d82_m.jpg

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/170/430866072_f3885d5112_m.jpg http://farm1.static.flickr.com/146/430866070_c413b9993e_m.jpg

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/165/431836065_e2cdd323df_m.jpg http://farm1.static.flickr.com/176/431836062_bb56ba6cc9_m.jpg

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/166/435454336_37506eeb04_m.jpg http://farm1.static.flickr.com/164/435454322_6eac1b8893_m.jpg

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/180/431836053_07d88e9af7_m.jpg http://farm1.static.flickr.com/174/435454312_bc924c2ace_m.jpg
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Reply Wed 9 May, 2007 03:48 pm
Oh wow!

Several of those are great photos, in and of themselves.
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Reply Wed 9 May, 2007 04:01 pm
Agree. The flag photo and one of the police guy, especially. Will go back and upsize the rest...
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Reply Wed 9 May, 2007 07:14 pm
Thank you Soz, Osso <smiles>


It's nice, for once, to see the other side on the street.

Tonight I was heading for some Chinese after work when, turning into that particular sidestreet, a speech was booming out from some loudspeakers. From Parliament, to the right? No, from ahead - from by the Danube. That's odd.

I caught a snippet - "that people with all different skin colours can live together.." OK, wait. Thats not the usual group, then. I headed down the street.

There was a parade of people, as far as you could see to the left and to the right, carrying torches. The speaker had just calmly asked everyone to leave in an orderly fashion, down toward Margit bridge. Solemn classical music was now playing. Many people were carrying the Hungarian tricolour on their coat or jacket. No Arpad flag to be seen anywhere though.

Also - on a minor sidenote that struck me, just a tiny detail - a banner had been hung between trees saying "Csepel" (the working class industrial neighbourhood south of the city), and someone was carrying a placard saying "Pestszenterzsebet", another working class neighbourhood on the city's southern edge. Struck me as ever so slightly retro-Soviet - you know, they had all those parades where delegates from each city marched past under a banner with their city's name. But then during last year's big Fidesz demo there were also groups gathered around placards with their town's names, just then from provincial towns around the city.

Otherwise, nobody was carrying placards, so I still wasnt sure what it was about exactly - I hadnt heard anything from my colleagues or at the coffeeshop. But it was clearly a commemoration of some kind, and the only thing I could think of that was around there was the subtle, symbolic monument on the riverside for the Jews who were shot, by the thousands, and shoved into the Danube, during the thuggish Arrow Cross regime of 1944-1945. The monument consists simply of replicas of dozens of empty shoes, sculpted on the quayside. Its tucked away in a corner, and sometimes you see tourists walking around wondering what it is. It's right behind Parliament.

I eventually played stupid tourist and asked an older man who was with, I think, his son, what the gathering was about. He explained that it was a gathering against hatred, and a commemoration of what happened in the Second World War, "which took place sixty-two years ago" (yeah okay I'm not that stupid a tourist, thank you very much :-)). He asked if I had seen the shoes, explained about the monument. Ah, I said, so it's a commemoration of the murder of the Jews - yes, but not only that, he explained. It's against fascism, and against - he sought for the word - racism. Against the far right, because - do you know about the riots last year? (yes I do), because they are again active, and we are protesting against the violence, the extreme right.

He was adamant, though, that it was not a question of sides, "I am sure there are people from the right here too, and from the centre". When they mentioned the far right and I responded, "oh like the Jobbik" - a far-right splinter group that got some 3% in the elections - he even said no, those are not the worst, and besides, "a society needs a right as well as a centre and a left" - the inclusiveness was obviously important for him to note. When, perhaps because I had by then seen that the demonstration's own orderlies all wore a sticker from the MSzP (the ruling Hungarian Socialist Party), I warmly said that "it's good to see the other side on the street as well", he again emphasised that it wasnt about left vs right, because after all "a lot of people on the right are against fascism too".

But yes, the people who were shouting at them from above for holding this commemoration - those were the people he meant. You see, police had cordoned off the commemorating crowds on the quayside, down the steps from the now traffic-free throughfare, from onlookers and a smaller crowd above on the road. Not without reason. About fifty counterdemonstrators were up there, waving Arpad flags, and yelling at the mostly silent marchers below.

"Look, I can see there's Gypsies among them too!", one of them called out, as if it were the ultimate insult. A couple of older, rather ragged-looking men were shouting what sounded like obscenities. A man of about my age silently leaned over sticking his middle finger up at us. Some skinheads passed by behind the backs of the police, in boots and belts.

The police kept commemorators from walking up the road toward the Parliament metro station, but those who didnt want to take the detour just walked up the stairs a little further down. They were "welcomed" by boos and hisses from the Arpad-flag carrying crowd. "I'm not working to pay your pension!", a young man shouted angrily at an elderly couple walking to the underground station. At the entrance of the station a woman was loudly yelling at the people with extinguished torches passing in. Around the corner, at the frontside of the Parliament building, away from the river, a hundred counterdemonstrators gathered, some techno-pop hit chanting its refrain of Magyarorszag, Magyarorszag (Hungary, Hungary).

On the riverside, meanwhile, the crowds were still making their way to the boulevard. The classical music was now replaced, less loudly, by Roma music, which I thought a brave enough statement in context. People tried to stub out their torches on the street or walls, or stuck them in the fence on the side of the throughfare. The fence, a burning torch at even distances, against the fading blue of the Danube and the darkening sky behind, made for quite the picture. I dont have anything up with the MSzP, but it was good to see a quiet, dignified commemoration of the murder of the Jews, a demonstration against racism, here in Hungary.

And the crowd looked as random a cross-section of the population as that of last year's and the 15th of March's rightwing demonstrations. As a foreigner you wouldnt have been able to tell one group apart from the other on appearance. Except that the average age was, a little sadly, high. There were some young people in their twenties and thirties, a few students, but I didnt see any families, and most people were well over 40, 50. You see a lot of pensioners in the Fidesz rallies too, but also a lot more twenty-somethings than were here.
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Reply Wed 9 May, 2007 07:29 pm
Going back, I meant the horizontal photo with the wavy police guy.
Looked again, like the police van photo, and really like the barrier breakdown on Andrassy - photo.

On this last episode, well told.
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Reply Fri 13 Jul, 2007 07:31 am


Hungarians have completely lost trust in the police after news of a group of policemen allegedly raping a 21-year-old woman followed a succession of kidnapping, theft, corruption and smuggling cases, in a year already rich in riots and police violence.

The minister for justice, the national police chief, Budapest's chief of police and the head of the security service all resigned or were sacked. Corruption is the key word: every fifth officer is under disciplinary procedure.

Meanwhile, the case also highlights the fear of women to report rape, as police routinely dismisses them, and legislation does not consider cases in which no serious physical resistance was offered to be rape.
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Reply Fri 13 Jul, 2007 10:29 am
Very depressing.
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Reply Fri 13 Jul, 2007 02:13 pm
Yes. Unsurprisingly, support for the opposition national-populist-conservatives has soared to 62% in the polls, with the governing nominally-socialist-market-reformers dropping to the mid-twenties.

People are really, really fed up. Too many revelations.

One I missed to post here, I think, and that relates to the riots I've described at such length here, was how riot policemen allegedly handcuffed and lined up rows of suspects they arrested during the riots on their knees, and beat them with truncheons.

The hurdles faced by rape victims to get any kind of legal redress are depressingly recounted by Amnesty International: see this press release or the full report that's linked in there at the bottom.
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Reply Mon 22 Oct, 2007 04:32 pm
That time of year again.

Went to the 24/7 supermarket at Oktogon hour or so ago, it was closed, black plastic all up the windows, so I went to a smaller one in a sidestreet. Coming back, there's police cars and vans and trucks all down Andrassy Boulevard - a massive line of vehicles the width of the boulevard and as far down as I could see. Those vans with bars in which they transport off people they've arrested, police vans with sirens, whole buses with riot police, unmarked green trucks with rows of heads visible between the crack of the tarpaulin, even border guard trucks.

Must have been hundreds of them, all the way up to Deak square. As I walked down a couple hundred meter they all started turning around and heading back up towards Heroes square, one after the other, a convoy lining far up and continuing long after I turned the corner.

In the 24/7 fruit & veggie shop I asked whether there were rioters again? Or whether they were just planning for tomorrow? Tomorrow is a loaded national holiday, for '56. Woman said "most mar nem", not anymore. I look it up home on the net, turned out we missed it all! And it was right here too. There's a whole timeline like always on the "Hungarian Nation" newspaper: teargas and water cannons at the Opera (two streets up), burnt a car at Bajczy, clashes with 1,500 rioters on Freedom Square, etc.

From 4 this afternoon till, well, when I saw all those vans and trucks. At seven or so they apparently declared a lock-up of the whole neighbourhood between Dob Street, Erzebet and Terez boulevards, Podmaniczky Street, Bajczy street and Kiraly Boulevard, which means, I guess, that we werent allowed to go outside then. All without we ever knew. (Stasia was outside all day and just heard a lot of firetrucks down east way.)

Here's some pics from the Hungarian Nation site:



(Thats both at Freedom Square)





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Reply Mon 22 Oct, 2007 04:55 pm
Oh, and this afternoon the newly founded National Guard marched on Heroes Square, apparently. 600 uniformed men who enlisted in the far right's pseudo-military ranks. They took an oath before a copy of the Hungarian Crown.

Pics from the Hungarian Nation site again:










A coalition of the local Socialist Party, the Association of the Hungarian Resistance and Antifacists, the National Roma/Gypsy Self-Government and Mazsihisz (Otherbelievers?) had put up giant billboards along the Andrassy Boulevard for the day, here's one:


It says "History repeats itself. You can still turn back."
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Reply Mon 12 Nov, 2007 08:41 am


On the anniversary of the 1956 uprising against Soviet rule, tens of thousands of Hungarians filled the streets of Budapest, but less to commemorate the revolt than to vent their anger at Prime Minister Gyurcsany. 19 people were injured as the police clashed with rioters, but unrest played out on a smaller scale than the riots of last year.

Unease was caused, however, by the distinctly paramilitary appearance of a new group, the Hungarian Guard, which claims over 5,000 applicants. Their uniforms also incorporate the red and white stripes that critics associate with the WW2-era Arrow Cross Party, allies of the German Nazis.

The government remains unpopular, both over a tape leaked last year in which Gyurcsany admitted that he had lied to the people, and strict economic reforms that have caused layoffs, tax increases and new fees for health care and university education.
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