While all around the world political leaders used Easter Sunday to broadcast messages of peace and goodwill, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán took the opportunity to issue a direct threat of violence against his fellow citizens, warning that the “palms of peaceful and upright Christian people are itching” to strike the tens of thousands who had taken to the streets to protest against his regime over the last couple of weeks.
This threat of violence came just a day after more than 10,000, mainly young, people gathered in Budapest’s Szabadság Tér (Freedom Square). The protest was organised by the “We will not remain silent!” Facebook group that urged people to bring whistles, rattles and drums and join with musicians and DJs to make noise “to show them they cannot silence an entire nation!”
Earlier the same day, about a hundred supporters of Migrant Solidarity (MigSzol) protested in the Hungarian border town of Röszke against the government’s shameful treatment of asylum-seekers. The latest asylum bill, pushed through parliament in March, will allow authorities to detain all adult asylum-seekers on its territory, including families with children and unaccompanied children aged 14 to 18, in transit zones, without any way for them to challenge their detention. Human Rights Watch, which has documented violent abuse by police on the borders, described the measures that flout EU, human rights and refugee law, as “abusive, pointless and cruel”.
In a bout of paranoid and almost comic exaggeration, the Prime Minister’s domestic security adviser said that the demonstrators, who allegedly included “Serbians, Italians, Germans and Spaniards”, had been bussed in by a “Soros-funded organization,” with intent “to dismantle the border, eliminate the defences and allow everyone into the territory of the European Union without restriction.”
As the Budapest Beacon reported, the highlight of the evening demonstration in Szabadság Tér was the appearance on stage by activists Márton Gulyás and Gergő Varga. They had been arrested, tried and sentenced to 500 hours of public work for allegedly conspiring to “breach the peace” and “vandalise a landmark building” by attempting to throw bottles of paint at the office and residence of the President of Hungary.
Gulyás mocked those, from pro-government media outlets, who labelled him “buzeráns” (pejorative slang meaning “loser, homosexual, degenerate”). To huge applause, he declared that the government regards as buzeráns all the “nurses, doctors, teachers, academics, public workers, and every fellow citizen who thinks he wasn’t born to steal in order to live.” Gulyás told the crowd: “We need to start politicising in order to get back what was always ours but which has been stripped from us.”
This task is huge because Orbán’s construction of a “bloodless dictatorship” has progressed to a stage where, to paraphrase the academic Tamás Gáspar Miklos, the state is in a condition of deliberately orchestrated chaos – the entire system of constitutional checks and balances beaten to shreds, “parliamentary procedure” little more than a pathetic, shabby stage-set and the system of passing laws “an untraversable pile of garbage” – that has left Orbán and his gang free for so long to concentrate power, unhindered by any effective public or formal monitoring or accountability.
The ongoing street protests have called time on this state of affairs in loud and raucous fashion. The government has been caught off-balance by the wave of very public revulsion at the attack on the Central European University and civil society organisations and by the widening agenda of popular discontent. This loss of bearings is evident from the absurd official responses, reminiscent of dictatorships past, to the protests.
Orbán and his henchmen repeatedly accuse “the Soros international network” of funding “hundreds perhaps thousands of protestors”, and its “agent organisations” of devising and managing the protests. And of course, in the paranoid Fidesz mind-set, these same agent organisations “have been continuously attacking the Hungarian government for two years for the purpose of disrupting the protection of the border and to force the free entrance of illegal immigrants.”
Despite all the ranting about international conspiracies, what really scares these nativist authoritarians most is “the people”. These “skin-deep populists” have been unnerved by the sight of tens of thousands of ordinary Hungarian citizens, young and old, from all walks of life, protesting on the streets, rejecting a politics of intimidation and bigotry and demonstrating to the regime that it “cannot silence a country”.
With many more protests being planned, it is still too early to predict what will become of this Budapest spring.