Viktor Orbán fooled those people in Veszprém who were certain that the prime minister would join Zsolt Semjén, László Kövér, and Péter Harrach at a mass celebrating Archbishop Gyula Márfi’s 75th birthday. Márfi is one of the two most conservative members of the Catholic hierarchy in the country. I would call him a reactionary if ‘reactionary’ weren’t such a loaded word in post-communist countries. Instead, Orbán delivered a speech about the blessings of the Reformation in Zoltán Balog’s Hungarian Reformed church, to which Balog retired after a disastrous political career.
As we know, Orbán is allegedly a Protestant, having been baptized in a Hungarian Reformed church. Contrary to Hungarian Reformed tradition, which of course has evolved over time, he is especially fond of Advent wreaths and makes sure his IT technicians display the four candles appropriately lighted and colored on his Facebook page every year. Today is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of Joy, which is signified by the only pink candle among the purple ones. I very much doubt that this Sunday was exactly a time of joy for Viktor Orbán because his critics on the streets spent half the day telling him to “get lost.”
Although I would like to give a coherent account of my impressions of today’s demonstration, I find it difficult to sort out my thoughts and emotions. Here are a few observations I can share. Given the extreme cold and the holiday season, I was afraid that the crowd would not be as large as the organizers had hoped. My fear was once again unfounded: the crowd was sizable. I also welcomed the organizers’ decision to give a prominent role to women, most of them members of parliament, in the program. After all, the female MPs were the most active in the parliamentary confrontation with Orbán, Kövér, Latorcai, and the rest. Let’s recall their names again: Bernadett Szél (formerly LMP, now independent), Szabó Tímea (Párbeszéd), Ildikó Bangó (MSZP), Anett Bősz (Liberals), Márta Demeter (LMP), Andrea Varga-Damm (Jobbik), and Ágnes Vadai (DK). In addition, Anna Donáth (Momentum), Klára Nagy (representing university students), and Katalin Lukácsi (a disillusioned Christian Democrat) spoke.
The crowd’s enthusiastic reception of these representatives of political parties was astonishing to me because, in the past, organizers of demonstrations wanted nothing to do with political parties. The organizers reflected the general perception that politicians are all corrupt no-goods who sit in parliament doing nothing. I was especially worried about Ágnes Vadai, who is a prominent member of Demokratikus Koalíció. She is in effect the second person in the DK hierarchy after Gyurcsány. Knowing Gyurcsány’s unpopularity, I was afraid that her reception would be less than friendly. I was again pleasantly surprised. Vadai delivered a powerful speech. Its theme was “I have had enough,” a line that the crowd consistently responded to with a resounding “We have had enough.” Bernadett Szél delivered a somewhat unexpectedly feminist speech, emphasizing the difference between this group of women and the almost solidly male government. “I’m telling you, you can choose.” Tímea Szabó demonstrated her wit and sharp tongue when she said that “a prime minister for whom sleds under the Christmas tree are more important than the future of millions should go and become a window dresser.”
The speeches went off well, but the day certainly wasn’t over. At about nine o’clock, after walking 7 km or so, a large group of demonstrators arrived at the headquarters of MTV, a notorious “fake news” factory of the Orbán regime. Initially, the most visible leader of the group was Momentum chairman András Győr-Fekete, but soon enough Ákos Hadházy (formerly LMP, now independent), Ágnes Kunhalmi (MSZP), Ágnes Vadai, Bernadett Szél, Anett Bősz, and László Varju (DK) also arrived. The plan was that some of the MPs would insist on entrance to the building to ask permission to read the demonstrators’ five-point demands: (1) abrogation of the slave law, (2) decrease of extra work of the police, by which I guess they meant reducing their presence in general, (3) an end to the new administrative courts, (4) Hungary’s adherence to the Office of the European Prosecutor, and (5) independence of the public media. The MPs’ demand was not only rejected but the security personnel threatened the members of parliament with ten years in jail. An idle threat, one hopes.
Although as I write this the MPs are out of the building and not being detained, the crowd isn’t moving. In fact, some people are only now joining the demonstrators, who seem to be losing their patience, as are the police, who already used tear gas against the demonstrators at least once.
It is hard to say at this juncture what the consequences of the government’s inflexible position will be in the long run. I assume that eventually the crowd will disperse, but it is highly unlikely that this will be the end of the story. Orbán is convinced, most likely correctly, that he cannot give in to the demands of the crowd. I assume that he is ready to make concessions, but only on his own terms. This, however, will never be enough for those who are demanding both his departure from political life and the dismemberment of the political system he has built in the last eight years. The question is whether the demonstrators can spark a grassroots movement that will return democracy–and a decent standard of living–to Hungary and Hungarians. I remain optimistic.