Riots rock Hungary —again

The Hungarians seem to be in something of a Cold War time-warp. It is good to see them protesting their corrupt, self-serving Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, but they seem to be so conditioned by two generations of Soviet domination that they are mis-reading what he represents. We have noted that in China, critics and dissidents too often employ anachronistic anti-communist rhetoric, even as the “People’s Republic” embraces the most savage capitalism. Similarly, the Hungarian protesters call Gyurcsany a “communist pig” because he “became a millionaire courtesy of property deals struck in the early years of privatization”—in other words, for being a successful and unscrupulous capitalist!

While the below report informs us the new protests come as Hungary commemorates the 1848 uprising against Austrian rule, last fall’s protests in Budapest came on the commemoration of the 1956 rebellion against the Soviet-backed regime. (BBC, Oct. 23) This is another irony. Gyurcsany may call himself a “socialist,” but if he is the fool of any foreign power it is the United States. He has troops in Iraq under Anglo-American command, and has broached opening Hungary’s territory to US military bases. Fortunately, some Hungarians have also seen fit to protest this. We’d like to hear more from them. From The Independent, March 16:

Serious rioting returned to the Hungarian capital Budapest last night, six months after massive street protests provoked a political crisis that almost toppled the government.

Police used water cannons and tear gas to repel protesters who hurled cobblestones and bottles after a peaceful protest gave way to pitch battles in the city centre.

The trouble erupted after the authorities detained Gyorgy Budahazy, who is suspected of being a key figure in anti-government riots last year and who had been in hiding for months.

Hundreds of protesters tried to break through police lines to release the arrested man who was being held at the National Investigations Office.

The security forces drove demonstrators away from the building pushing them back into Heroes Square, the scene of mass protests last September.

Rioters dismantled wooden scaffolding, set up roadblocks and lit bonfires in the street to prevent police from advancing. They also toppled several phone booths.

Dozens of people were detained during disturbances that led to at least four police officers being injured.

The violence was reminiscent of last September’s protest against the Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, which began after the broadcast of a leaked recording in which he acknowledged his coalition, “lied morning, noon and night” about the economy to win re-election in April.

Yesterday began with a largely peaceful protest held to mark a national holiday in celebration of the country’s 1848 uprising against Habsburg rule.

But Mr Gyurcsany’s presence at one ceremony was greeted by jeering and whistling from supporters of Fidesz, the centre-right opposition party.

At a separate memorial event held later elsewhere in the city, security personnel used large black umbrellas to shield Mr Gyur-csany, the Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky and other authorities from coins, eggs and oranges thrown from the crowd.

Fidesz drew 200,000 supporters to its own late afternoon commemoration, according to the state news agency MTI.

In recent months the government has introduced higher taxes, levied charges for some health services and has cut subsidies in an effort to try to curb the nation’s ballooning budget deficit. At 10 per cent of gross domestic product, the deficit is the highest in the European Union, well above the 3 per cent target.

Viktor Orbán, the opposition leader and former prime minister, said a planned referendum later this year would give voters a chance to reject some of the government’s policies.

He argued: “We have to make clear that in a democracy, people have the right to send away the government.”

The protests have reawoken fierce passions which date from Hungary’s transition from a Communist country to a liberal democracy.

Some Hungarians believe that the country failed to confront its past and allowed its political elite to stay in key leadership positions. Mr Gyurcsany, aged 45, who held a position in the Young Communists, became a millionaire courtesy of property deals struck in the early years of privatisation.

Yesterday he was branded a “communist pig” and a “traitor” by protesters outside parliament, which is still barricaded.