Riots in Hungary

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The Khaleej Times Urges New Elections

2006.10.25. 17:07 | ike

Most major English-language publications ran the story of the October 23 Budapest riots. Even the Khaleej Times had something to say: based in the United Arab Emirates, the paper wants "fresh elections" in Hungary. Kate Connolly reported for major Australian and British news organs from a safe distance, Bucharest, Romania, 900 kilometers from Budapest. Never mind, at least the Pope is with us.

The Economist: "A Bitter Farce"
"Imagine an American president celebrating the Fourth of July in front of the Capitol with a spattering of foreign guests and a few handpicked kids on bikes in a parody of a parade, with a solitary fire truck for good measure and no ordinary citizens closer than a mile."

Kommersant: "An Information War"
"By all appearances, the events early this week were the continuation of coordinated attacks by ring-wing forces against the ruling party and its leader Ferenc Gyurcsany. The campaign to discredit the prime minister has already yielded dividends for the opposition in the form of an impressive victory in the local elections. If Fidesz now succeeds in forcing the government to resign and holding early parliamentary elections, the right wing will be assured of its accession to power."

The Khaleej Times: "Back to the people"
"So what should have been a solemn occasion to remember a landmark event in Europe’s post World War II history has been turned into a massive anti-government agitation. […] Surely, a people who defied Soviet tanks and guns half a century ago cannot be cowed down by a lying and discredited politician. The only way to resolve the explosive situation in Hungary may be by way of fresh elections. It’s back to the people, then."

Sticking to the highest standards of objectivity in modern-day investigative journalism, Kate Connolly managed to report for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Daily Telegraph from a 900 kilometer distance: Bucharest, Romania. Here she goes:

Sydney Morning Herald: "Deja vu"
"In a dramatic visual recreation of scenes from 1956 when Red Army tanks tried to quash the revolution, a lone tank moved jerkily down a central Budapest street on Monday night, surrounded by excited protesters.[…] Their action turned what had been peaceful mass demonstrations into the worst political violence since the events of 1956."

And finally, even Pope Benedict himself had something to say, although he probably did not expect what was going to happen when he sent this message to Hungarian President László Sólyom:

The Pope: "Courageous People"
"Despite all the oppression they have endured down the centuries, most recently from Soviet communism, your people have always maintained the correct evaluation of the relationship between the State and citizens, beyond all ideology. […] The heartfelt wish that I now renew is that Hungary may build a future free from all forms of oppression and ideological conditioning."

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A hozzászólások a vonatkozó jogszabályok  értelmében felhasználói tartalomnak minősülnek, értük a szolgáltatás technikai  üzemeltetője semmilyen felelősséget nem vállal, azokat nem ellenőrzi. Kifogás esetén forduljon a blog szerkesztőjéhez. Részletek a  Felhasználási feltételekben és az adatvédelmi tájékoztatóban.

Gábor Lutor 2006.10.25. 17:48:31

My name is Gábor Lutor. I was born on July 24, 1956 in Budapest, Hungary. I was 4 months old when my parents took me with them as they escaped first into Austria, then made their way to America, therefore in the strict sense of the word I was in Budapest on October 23, 1956. As fate would have it, I was in Budapest on October 23, 1989 as well, the day Hungary proclaimed itself to be a republic and communist rule ended. In 1991 I started a business, then progressively gravitated to Hungary from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. In 1999 I finally bought a flat in Budapest to complete my repatriation.

There are many reasons I anticipated October 23, 2006, and I would have liked to participate in a celebration befitting the significance of the event both in my life, and in that of every Hungarian. However, I was unable to discover a single central commemoration where people could unite to commemorate the events of 50 years ago free of political affiliation. I visited Corvin köz, scene of vicious fighting between virtual children and Soviet tanks back then, I listened to the speeches and visited the exhibitions, but felt that the scale of the events there was small compared to the significance of this milestone. The beautiful Indian summer day also inspired me to seek other destinations for remembrance with the live events at Corvin köz having ended by 2:30 PM. Out of pure curiosity I decided to visit the Fidesz party’s “meeting” at the intersection known as Astoria, where Viktor Orbán, party head and former prime minister, was scheduled to speak at 5:00 PM. Being a musician, I decided to take a sound recorder to record the speech for posterity. I climbed a building scaffolding for a better view and listened to Orbán speak, by which time a very large crowd – at least 20 thousand by my uneducated estimation – had gathered. Based on the recording I was able to exactly determine the following timeline:

17:43 The last Fidesz speaker finishes speaking.

18:02 The classical background music that had come on the loudspeakers after the speeches ends. It was a gorgeous night as well, and people seemed unsure of where to head next. The crowd was loosening, but not really leaving, especially since Metro was unavailable and it takes 20,000 + people time to get anywhere.

18:03 For some reason people from the direction of Deák square, the city’s main transportation hub, begin swarming towards Astoria and heading through it in the other direction. Apparently they were seeking to escape the police back at the square who were employing tear gas, rubber bullets and horses to disperse the crowd, with water cannon at the ready if needed, for reasons that were altogether unclear. Some people in the crowd stop upon reaching Astoria and say “stop, don’t go home”.

18:04 Somebody in the stream of people coming from Deák square holds up a rubber bullet, saying “we got the rubber bullet, tear gas, horseman attack treatment”. Almost simultaneously we see a police line materialize in the distance a long block away. Explosions the likes of gunshots can be heard in the distance. These two phenomena elicit a round of booing and whistling from the crowd.

18:05 The police address the crowd with woefully underpowered loudspeakers, making their words unintelligible over the din and chants of the crowd. More people in the crowd say “don’t go away, let’s stay together”. More gunshots (?) can be heard in the distance.

18:06 Someone else shows off a rubber bullet. The presence of the police seems to stop the dispersal of the crowd, which seems at once curious, provoked and sentimental – we were commemorating a revolution after all – all the while breaking into periodic chants calling for the prime minister’s resignation. The sounds of gunshots, sirens, and circling helicopters add to the revolutionary mood.

18:08 The soft, warm southerly breeze is carrying enough tear gas by now to where my eyes are running. Some incite the crowd to go to parliament, mindful that protesters who had been camped out there for the last several weeks had only the night before been displaced under disputable circumstances to make way for the official celebrations and its attendant dignitaries. Calls for Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s resignation go through the crowd like a wave at a football game.

18:09 “Where is Viktor Orbán?” several ask. The crowd’s mood is one of betrayal and abandonment.

18:11 The police loudspeaker once more comes alive, but it’s hard to even tell it’s being employed, much less what is being said.

18:12 Young men in hooded sweatshirts with scarves covering their faces start popping up on the side of the crowd nearest the police, who are maybe 100 meters away. A tear gas canister lands a couple meters from where I’m standing, but a hooded man calmly stomps on it thereby putting it out. In addition to my eyes my throat is burning. I retreat to the middle of the intersection hoping for a crosswind.

18:19 The air is filled with accumulated tear gas, but the police haven’t advanced yet. The crowd has retreated to the intersection itself.

18:21 Somebody starts talking to the crowd through a megaphone from a balcony on a street heading out of the intersection 90 degrees from where the police are. The crowd is attentive, hoping to be told what the plan is. Instead the speaker wants to introduce a hero of the 1956 revolution to speak. The crowd is not interested and slowly stops paying attention.

18:27 “Hungarian police are with us” chants the crowd.

18:31 A barrage of tear gas turns the crowd on its heels. I hold on to my friend Krisztina to keep her from running too fast, since the danger of getting trampled is palpable. Other wise people in the rush implore “don’t hurry” and “stay calm”.

I could obviously continue the timeline, but it’s not the point. I would merely like to emphasize that the fact that there wasn’t a single, large scale, politically inert opportunity for peaceful people to participate in a fitting, significant and free celebration of 1956 says more about the state of Hungary today than anything else. Not only I, but all Hungarian people deserve better. If we’ve learned nothing more from 1956 let’s at least remember one thing: freedom and truth are intimately related! Please don’t believe the news that the clashes in Budapest on October 23, 2006 were an effort by the crowds to disrupt the 50th anniversary of Hungary's anti-Soviet uprising – quite the opposite! The 20 thousand or so gathered at Astoria were patriotic, but peaceful. Allowing tens of minutes for tens of thousands of people to disperse from an intersection with no public transportation (Metro was not stopping at the station) was simply inadequate. To provoke, then attack ordinary, everyday citizens with tear gas and rubber bullets is an atrocity. Most people will be able to distill their own consequences from the facts I have recited.

Gábor Lutor

ike 2006.10.25. 18:03:07

Thanks, Gabor, for sharing.

George Horvath 2006.10.25. 18:39:21

Your one-sided account does not explain the fact that about 1 million euro damage was caused in our beautiful Budapest by rioters and violent protesters. May I ask you whether, in your opinion, the term 'patriotic' includes making lists of "jewish journalists" and publishing them with their phone numbers and home addresses ?
WIth all due respect.

DD 2006.10.25. 20:10:39

I'm a 16-year old teenager from Budapest. My family and I went to celebrate the 50's anniversary of 1956 (23rd of october) at Astoria, like other tens of thousands of people did. (200.000 people - according to the Hungarian independent news-agency "MTI")
At the end of the speach of Mr. Orbán, the crowd started to go home in different directions. I was heading to Deák square, to Metro line 2... At first it was strange to me that it was taking a couple of minutes to move 100 metres forward... But I thought it's OK, no problem. After a while I could hear shootings coming from near distance, and I could see volumes of smoke in the air!! Presently I could see dozens of policemen coming towards the crowd! People started to scream and panic. We changed our direction very quickly and started to run back! Some of us got hit by rubber bullets or got wet because of the water cannons. (not me thank God!) I thought "That's not possible that it happens..." The crowd seperated into two "groups": ca. 90% ran away (home), but others got so mad because of that brutal unfair treatment that they stood by. Everybody was shocked and very angry! I was able to ran away and go gome with my family. But I still ask: how could this happen in a democratic middle-european country in 2006?! Innocent teenagers and old people got hurt because they wanted to go home! Is it a police state?!

Attila Nagy 2006.10.26. 03:10:45

Let me react to Mr.Horvath's comment. Gabor's account is "one-sided" because he did not take part in any violent action but he was - just like myself - a peaceful demonstrator unprovokedly attacked by the police. The million-euro damage was caused by a few hundred violent hooligans we had nothing to do with. The other 2000-3000 people who went on protesting late into the night did no destruction but they simply felt that one MUST stand up against a police that acts once again like they did in the good old Communist days. And what regards patriotism, Mr.Horvath's comment is an excellent example of the Liberal way of argumentation (with which they do get away here in Hungary because there is no way of publicly opposing them). NO, the vast majority of the tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators who were attacked by the police do NOT compile lists of Jewish journalists, neither do they support this. They just cannot accept that our government is allowed to waste and steal tens of billions of dollars of our national wealth without consequences. Best regards.
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