Lajos Molnár, the health minister, has resigned after 10 tempestuous months at the head of the health ministry.
The Free Democrat politician said he was dissatisfied with the progress being made in the reform of the healthcare system in Hungary.
"I cannot accept the continued delays in introducing a multi-insurer
health system in Hungary," he said in a statement. Molnár gained the reputation of a bruiser during his time in office. Claiming to be "on the side of the patients," doctors and hospital staff often felt this must mean he was their enemy. This was something Molnár always denied. "I am on the side of the doctors if they are on the side of the patients," he once said.
He was an enthusiastic proponent of the consultation fee, a token sum paid by patients each time they visited their GP. This proved an
unpopular measure, with many doctors insisting it was unethical to demand money from patients. But Molnár always insisted the fee was a way of making it clear to people that there was a cost to visiting the doctor, to reduce the number of unnecessary visits. The real ethical problem was the practice of parasolvency, where patients make unofficial, under-the-table payments to doctors in exchange for better treatment. Molnár was a determined opponent of this widespread practice, known colloquially as "thank-you money."
Also unpopular was his desire to rationalise health provision around the country. The aim was to close unnecessary institutions, building up a network of larger hospitals around the country that could serve as centres of excellence. He was also a proponent of a system with a wide range of healthcare insurance providers who could compete with each other to drive down prices and promote efficiency. Many of his policies came under attack from the opposition. Fidesz, for example, successfully collected signatures for the holding of a referendum on a question calling for the abolition of the consultation fee. The referendum is still on ice, however, as the Constitutional Court and the National Elections Office decide whether the question is one that can constitutionally be settled by referendum.
Opposition criticism continued on Thursday, with István MIkola suggesting Molnár's resignation meant healthcare reform, a central plank of the government's programme, had broken down. "After the failure of the reform of public administration, the collapse of the healthcare reform plan could lead to the fall of the government." He added that swift action was needed to deal with the "chaos and misery" that Molnár had left in his wake.
Under the terms of the coalition agreement between the Socialists and the Free Democrats, the health portfolio is in the gift of the smaller of the two coalition parties. The Free Democrats have announced they will name a successor next Thursday. Until that time, the ministry will be run by the ministry's state secretary, with economics minister János Kóka exercising overall responsibility.
Not since the early 1990s has Hungary's relationship with Russia been
such a vexed question.
While the government appears to have thrown in its lot behind a closer
relationship with Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, the opposition,
and much of the population views the prospect of Hungary's growing
friendship with Europe's main source of oil with disquiet.
Ferenc Gyurcsany's policy of close cooperation with Russia,
underscored by his frequent visits to the Russian capital, is hard to
explain at first sight. Russia is hardly viewed with great affection
in Hungary, so the sight of Gyurcsany strutting the stage in Moscow is
hardly an effective piece of political theatre. At the same time,
given the recent travails of other countries that depend on Russian
energy, including Ukraine and Belarus, it may be prudent to cultivate
friendly relations with the giant of the East.
Of course, Hungary's approach is very different from that of its
neighbours. Poland and the Czech Republic have being courting Russia's
ire with their enthusiastic embrace of the US's proposed missile
defence system, offering their territory as bases for anti-missile
installations, much to the fury of Moscow. But it would be wrong to
overstate the case. If Hungarians tend not to be keen on Russia,
neither do Czechs or Poles have any great desire to follow their
governments on the course towards a collision with Moscow, if opinion
polls can be believed.
Still, Russia's influence in Hungary is growing, a fact that was
underscored when Malev, the national airline, was recently bought up
by a Siberian air carrier.
And if the Polish and Czech governments are happy to infuriate their
western and eastern neighbours by welcoming a US missile defence
system, Hungary's government is hardly going to great lengths to
ingratiate itself with its EU partners. It looks increasingly likely
that the government has opted for the Blue Stream pipeline, a project
that would bring Russian gas to western Europe via Hungary. This runs
against EU policy. Most of the EU, eyes fixed firmly on Ukraine's and
Belarus's recent energy crises, would prefer to see the Nabucco
pipeline built, one which would bring gas to western Europe while
staying well clear of Russian territory.
Is Russia playing divide and rule? Why has Ferenc Gyurcsany broken
from the EU line?
Viktor Orban, leader of Fidesz, the largest opposition party, has been
hinting that the government is "blind" to the "growing influence"
Russia wield via its vast energy giants. Hungary should play it
European, he suggested.
The government's response hints at its reasoning. Orban's comments had
caused "great damage" to Hungary and its economy, the prime minister's
office said in a statement. Rather than commenting on this - the PM
commented - the government would launch an immediate "damage
limitation" exercise. Russia's "understanding" of economics and
business was different from Europe's, he said.
The Russian ambassador also slapped Orban down, saying it was wrong to
"turn energy into politics."
But economic damage? Over the past three years, getting Russian gas to
Hungary has been a central plank of Gyurcsany's foreign policy. Janos
Koka, the economics minister, and Kinga Goncz, the foreign minister,
have both dwelt on this. It's not just about a pipeline. Janos Koka
has plans for a vast gas storage reserve to be brought to Hungary,
storing Gazprom gas to cater for the entire region.
And then comes Mol. Hungary has two bona fide multinationals - OTP,
the former state savings bank, with interests in several neighbouring
countries and listings on both the Budapest and Warsaw stock
exchanges, and Mol, the state oil company. Mol is increasingly a
regional player, with large retail and wholesale networks in most of
its neighbours and extraction and refining operations even further
afield, including in western Europe.
Maybe the government sees the opportunity to slot Mol into a strategic
position in Europe's gas distribution network, turning it from a
regional player into a true Europe-wide multinational. It sounds
mercantilistic, but the prestige of having a true national champion
would do wonders for Hungary's dented economic pride.
Of course, there may not be a strategy. Maybe, as some have suggested,
it is all about Gyurcsany's personal admiration for Russia's strongman
president, and Mol will be snapped up by Gazprom or Lukoil in a few
years' time. Time will tell, but for the moment, Hungary's energy
policy is enjoying a prominence it has never had before.
Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány has paid an official visit to President Putin on the 22 March where amongst other topics they talked about fossil energy supplies. Our reporter had taken a good look behind the scenes.
Why is Ferenc Gyurcsány such good friends with Russia? It's hardly a widely-shared attitude. Even as he heads off for his umpteenth meeting with Vladimir Putin, his opposite numbers in the Czech Republic and Poland are fulminating at the rising Russian bear, and making their territory available to the US for anti-missile defence installations – presumably to help ward off that same Russian threat.
Unsurprisingly, much of the answer is about oil. Like the rest of Europe, Hungary cannot get enough of the stuff, and Russia is the nearest dependable supply in the vicinity. The Hungarian government is perfectly open about this, Kinga Göncz, the foreign minister, has said as much on a number of occasions. In addition, Hungary has, in former state-owned oil company Mol, one of the Central European region's few genuine multinational companies – and it is dependent for supplies on Russia.
Still, seen from a political Right suspicious of Gyurcsány's government that counts numerous former members of the Young Communist League, Hungary's assiduous courting of Russia looks murky. Has Ferenc Gyurcsány, once head of the Pécs branch of the Young Communists, really cut off all ties?
These signs of divergence within the EU attracted widespread attention. Had Gyurcsány been seduced by thirst for oil into Russia's arms?
Seen from the outside, the argument focuses on the building of a pipeline to bring plentiful from the East to every-thirsty European Union. Two proposals are on the table. Nabucco, the project officially flavoured by the EU, would bring gas from the Caucasus across Turkey and Eastern Europe to the rest of the continent. This, for the EU, would have the advantage of keeping control out of Russian hands. Russia has past form, here – both Belarus and Ukraine have suffered in recent years from Russian moves to increase the price of oil supply. And the threat of a full cut-off always looms.
Not surprisingly, Vladimir Putin would prefer to see an alternative: Blue Stream, which would bring gas from south Russia across the Black Sea into Turkey, from where it would follow a similar route to Blue Stream.
Despite the EU's official view, Gyurcsány recently told the Herald Tribune that Blue Stream was a more realistic plan. "We don't need dreams, we need real projects," he said.
The problem with Nabucco is that it would be expensive, and Blue Stream looks a lot more likely to happen. Apart from that Nabucco would be bringing gas from countries that are a little risky in terms of security policy such as Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran. The Hungarian government insists its interest is in making sure that, whichever project is successful, it should cross Hungary's territory, bringing huge economic advantages to the country, and also to Mol, its national oil champion. Economics minister János Kóka recently said: "My obligation as economics minister is to make sure that if Russia does something, it should come across Hungary." Formally, Hungary remains committed to Nabucco – last year, the government signed a treaty with Austria, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey to begin work on the pipeline – but the project has not gone beyond the feasibility study stage.
But Hungary's resulting friendship with Russia – not widely shared by the population, it should be added, represents a huge strategic shift.
Back in the early 1990s, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary affected to be the best of friends, their leaders, all former mavericks of the communist regime, gathering for regular summits to discuss the challenge of viewing Europe from the centre.
It was partly their leaders' opposition backgrounds that bought them together. Accustomed to camping outside on Slovak hillsides together in the mid-1980s for folklore and philosophy jamborees, leaders like Vaclav Havel, Lech Walensa, Árpád Göncz and József Antall felt the understanding they had built up would be strong enough to withstand the onslaught of Realpolitik.
Back in the day, there was even talk of the Visegrad grouping bringing together the four countries growing into a kind of Central European Union, just like its west European counterpart except with a little more literature, a lot more philosophy and far more beards.
Little of this remains today. The countries of the region have aligned themselves on two clear axes. Hungary has pegged itself to Germany and Russia, while Poland and the Czech Republic have adopted a far more strongly Atlanticist perspective.
Poland, under the Kaczynski twins, and the Czech Republic, under its president Vaclav Klaus, have committed themselves to hosting installations for the US's ambitious missile defence project, while Hungary struggles to put enough distance between itself and the US plan.
Admittedly, the Kaczynskis and Klaus both govern their respective countries from the Right, while Ferenc Gyurcsány, Hungary's prime minister is at least nominally a man of the Left. Back in the early 1990s, when the right-wing Hungarian Democratic Forum was in power, Hungary's relations with Russia were distinctly cool. This was a disaster for Hungary, which was cut off from its largest market at a time when its exports rarely met the standards demanded by western markets. The rapprochement under the current Socialist government is definitely geopolitically motivated.
The Hungarian government continues to insist that nothing has changed. Kinga Göncz insists no decision has been taken. Hungary is keen on both pipelines. As János Kóka says, just make sure any pipeline crosses our territory.
text - Fred Boot
photos - Miklós Déri (MEH)
Following a nerve-wrecking match the Hungarian men water polo team got into the finals of the 12th water world cup in Melbourne.
It was harder than expected for the team of Dénes Kemény, captain of the national Water polo Association to win the semi-finals against the excellent Spanish team to 12-11. The match was full of surprises by the end of the normal game time the result was 10-10 after the Spanish missed a good opportunity. Since in the extra time Péter Biros and Tamás Molnár both scored but on the Spanish side only Perez managed to throw a goal the Hungarian team qualified. This will be the third time in a line that the Hungarian water polo team runs for the world cup gold.
Doubtless this was one of most difficult and exhausting match for the boys since in the group contests not New Zealand (21-5) or Canada (19-3) neither Romania (11-9) meant serious threat to the Hungarian team and in the quarter-finals the result against Germany was 13-6.
Despite of the expected the Hungarian were not playing against the Serbian team since they fell out against the Croatians. The result was quite close (10-7) but seeing the play you can say that the Croatians won the game rather smoothly.
This morning at 8.30 am CET the final game started in Melbourne and ended with a Croatian victory of 9 to 8. In the beginning of the last quarter of the game things still looked bright for the Hungarian team Gergely Kiss scored and it was 7-5 to Hungary. By the end of the normal game time Croatia evened the scores to 7-7. In the extra time Markovic scored twice from the Croatian team and the Hungarians managed to throw only one last goal which was not enough to win the gold medal.
Victory for Kóka
The Free Democrats (SZDSZ) take a Socialist turn
János Kóka, the economics minister and a close confidante of the Socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, has been elected the new leader of the Free Democrat party.
János Kóka (photo by Bence Járdány - hirszerzo.hu)aaaaaaaaaaaaaclick on the photo to see the gallery
Kóka defeated his rival Gábor Fodor in the second round of an astonishingly close contest. At the party congress held to select a new leader, the two candidates both garnered exactly 377 votes, forcing the contest into a second round. This time, Kóka defeated his rival by exactly 13 votes.
In advance of the vote, most were predicting a decisive victory for Kóka, who enjoyed the support not just of the prime minister, but also off the Free Democrats' departing leader Gábor Kuncze and several other major figures, including Bálint Magyar, the former education minister.
Kóka is thought likely to ally his party more closely with the Socialist Party, with which it is in coalition. Kóka is a close friend of Ferenc Gyurcsany, who is also president of the Socialist Party in addition to serving as prime minister. Before today's votes, Gábor Fodor had been making noises about distancing his party from the Socialists, emphasising the importance of maintaining a distinct identity for his party, holding out the possibility of entering into coalition with other parties.
Gábor Fodor (photo by Gergely Rónai - tram6.eu)aaaaclick on the photo to see the gallery
The narrowness of Kóka's margin of victory makes it clear that the party establishment's vision of closer alliance with the Socialist Party does not enjoy overwhelming support among party activists.
Politically, Kóka is very much on the free market wing of the party. Less concerned about the social liberalism beloved of the Fodor wing of the party, he has in the past experimented with values-based pitches to the public.
The vote is essentially one for continuity. The Free Democrats have now governed in coalition with the Socialists for almost six years, so a degree of proximity to the largest government party is inevitable. Furthermore, Kóka was the choice of the party establishment. The outgoing leader, Gábor Kuncze, had already made it clear that Kóka enjoyed his support.
The party's divisions were all too clear at the congress. Kóka sat on one side of the hall with his new girlfriend - a twenty-something former ministry aide. They were surrounded by all the party's big guns, including Budapest mayor Gábor Demszky, who did not voice formal support, and outgoing leader Gábor Kuncze, Bálint Magyar and Mátyás Eörsi, who did. Indeed, the way Kuncze, Kóka and Kóka's partner spoke made it clear that the trio were very close. Fodor sat on the far side of the hall, ploughing a lonely furrow - few well-known party figures chose to sit near him.
Kóka is a leader very much in the Gyurcsány mould. A recent arrival in politics, Kóka has only been in government since 2004. His background is similar to the prime minister's: both enjoyed business careers that propelled them into the list of the country's richest people before entering politics.
Most of those who took to the podium after Kóka's victory voiced support for the newly elected leader, though the mayor of Budapest was conspicuous in his refusal to do so. In his acceptance speech, Kóka emphasised that he would be counting on all party members, including those who had supported Fodor. Fodor congratulated Kóka on his victory.
text - Fred Boot
photos - Gergely Rónai (tram6.eu), Bence Járdány (hirszerzo.hu)
Airport strikes again
Planes are still flying in late due to the strike of the Ferihegy ground workers. The LDFSZ (Independent Trade Union of Airtraffic Workers) announced the 24-hour strike on Friday after the negotiations about the payrise were not successful. The workers of Calebi GH demanded 12 percent increase in the wages and more flexible work hours. Today most of the employees of Calebi GH didn't work and the management had to fill in their places, workers of other airlines also helped so the 26 departing and 21 arriving flights were't cancelled just late. The Malév flights were not affected by the demonstration because they are attended by Malév GH, a different company. Apart from the ground workers of Calebi GH, the employees of the fuel-tender Rük Kft were on strike from 11am to 6pm. The spokesperson of Budapest Airport said that this alone shouldn't cause a problem because all the involved airlines were warned in time that they have to find alternative methods for refuelling.
for more actual info check: www.bud.hu/english
Bye bye Cha-cha-cha
It is true, Cha-cha-cha will be closed down because of the metro 4 development. Instead of the bar there will be locker rooms or a garbage storage room. No one debates against the importance of the city's development but it is emotionally hard to let go of one of milestones of Budapest's underground culture. It was featured on Lonely Planet and Paul Murphy's Cha-cha-cha of Budapest and was well-known and loved among the members of Budapest's foreign community as well.
click on the photo to see the gallery
Despite of the soon coming end our photo reporter claims that the atmosphere hasn't changed, tonight it is as crammed as usual and people are having fun. Although you can hear occasional murmurs like "Have you heard?" or "What will happen?" at the tables but still the party goes on.
In this case the party really does go on despite of the original place will be lost soon, the open air Cha-cha-cha opens on Margaret Island within a couple of weeks and there will be another new venue, a new Cha-cha-cha opened as well. In the meantime from now on there is a three-day Good Bye party Marathon where you can once more experience that good old Cha-cha-cha rhythm.
Better late than never
Ferenc Mádl, previous President of Hungary has awarded Jimmy Carter, former President of the US the Saint Stephen medallion. Mádl has given the medal to Carter in Atlanta, US where he participated a 1956 Commemoration Sunday, 25 March. Carter has received this award from the Republic of Hungary because he was the one who officialy gave back the Hungarian Crown to the Hungarian State in 6 January 1978. Mádl travelled to Atlanta also to participate on the conference of the Wold Law Institute where he is an advisor along with Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson former Irish President and Desmond Tutu South African Bishop.
The first peaceful demonstration was held yesterday on Kossuth tér after the reopening of the squere. There was only approximately 200 maybe 300 people. They held speaches, sang, played music and kept all the orders given by the police beforehand. From now on the demonstrations will be come daily till at least the 30 April 2007.
Today by 3 am the police has dimantled the cordon set up on Kossuth squere last year on the 23 of October to end the demonstation against the government. The demonstations started last September after the leakage of the infamous "Ősződ speach" where Gyurcsány admitted that they lied to the people to win the elections and they "screwed up" the country. By cordoning of Kossuth square the police declared it to be an operation area where demostrations are prohibited. From the beginning the Opposition was against the closing off the squere saying that people in a working democracy have the right to demonstrate.
Since then some of the MPs of the opposition tried to put it into action as well after feeling frustrated of not having any results for pulling off the cordon in the parliamentary discussions. On the 2 February 2007 led by Orbán a 152 MPs set out to the square and took off the cordone in about ten minutes. Although there were no real reasult of the movement at that time since it was built right up again.
Finally by this morning the cordone has vanished and it is "free" to demonstrate again in front of the Parliament. According to the agreement between the protesters and BRFK (Chief Police Office of Budapest) the demonstrators can gather every day between 5.30pm and 9.30pm up till the 30 April. There are some rules that are to be kept: they are not allowed to camp there or consume alcohol (as it was before). They are also restricted to the parking zone in front of the Parliament buliding and cannot occupy the grassy area. Gonda, the chaiman of the Hungarian National Commetee has agreed to all the conditions, moreover he offered to organize mobile toilets for the crowd and promised to keep the demonstrations peacefull. Gonda said that they made agreements with other organizations intending to join them to keep to all the conditions.
Antal Rogán, the mayor of V. district, also the Chairman of Fidesz has offered the mobile toilets from the district to the protesters.
The other cordon set up on Szabadság square, in front of the building of the Hungarian Television was also removed today. By now most of the damage caused in the main entrance during the riots in September has been renovated.
Burning peace sign
Saturday on the 17 March a living afire peace sign was formed in Hungary on the 4th anniversary of the starting of the Iraqi war.
The sign was made by world peace protesters holding torches on the Heroes's square, Margaret Island, Gellért Hill in Budapest and on Miskolc, Eger and Selyp on the countryside of Hungary.
This is the fourth year now that this demostration against violence is held. The movement first started in Hungary and was quickly spread around the globe. Today in more than 70 countries similar peace signs were formed at the same time to protest against violence and war. The protest is organized by the Human movement and Peace Sign Foundation.
The party is over
The street clashes of 15 March were widely anticipated - but this lent them a slightly ritualistic air, as if the national holidays in Hungary have come to be associated with clashes. Something had to happen, it was agreed - more journalists were out wondering the streets than ever, the international newswires, the BBC and the major German broadcasters had dispatched extra camera crews especially for the day - five separate crews in one case. At times, on the Korut, it seemed like spectators - whether curious onlookers or journalists - outnumbered the truly violent by a wide margin.
Not so in October, when idle onlookers were swept up by a giddy sense of revolutionary fervour, throwing themselves into the battle. This time, the crowds were smaller, and if the chants and taunts they leveled at the police promised violence, stonethrowing was rarer than before.
Andrassy ut was harder hit. Here, police took longer to disperse the crowds, which may have numbered some 2,000. There were signs of a fight, with telephone booths strewn across the elegant, Parisian-style boulevard, and piles of rubbish on the street, but it was clear that any attempts to build and man barricades had been in vain.
Both crowds had been dispersed by midnight, leaving curious onlookers wondering around the centre looking for the show. "Is there anything going on down there?" was a question frequently heard as people hunted, out of idle curiosity, for the last dregs of the days action.
By this morning, even those few signs had vanished. Some telephone booths were missing, and there were signs of scorching on the zebra crossings were fires had been set. But somebody felt safe enough to park his Ferrari by the opera house, where hooligans were smashing windows the night before, tourists sat in cafes and took photos. This was not much of a revolution.
Earlier in the day, the compere of Fidesz's Astoria rally had stated emphatically after the final round of three patriotic songs had been sung: "This brings to an end Fidesz's commemoration of the 1848/49 revolution." She was saying that what would certainly come afterwards was nothing to do with Fidesz.
It did happen, but unlike in October, it happened as entertainment. It was certainly serious - police deployed tear gas as they advanced, and violent protesters caused Ft26m (€100,000) damage, according to Gábor Demszky, mayor of Budapest, who had himself been given a very hostile reception by an angry crowd at the official city commemoration. But few appeared to believe, as they may have on 23 October, that by fighting in the streets they would bring down the government. At 12.30, just after the clashes had reached their end, a young couple was walking down towards Erzsébet bridge. "I must have kicked over at least two bins myself," she laughed, as if talking about a successful date.
Protesters called police by just about every possible term of invective that can be used to describe a police officer - but there have been few complaints about brutality. This is surprising, since, certainly in the case of the Korut clashes, a rowdy, but largely unviolent crowd looked unlikely to last more than a few hours even before police began their advance. Was tear gas necessary here?
Still, the bitter edge seemed to have left the occasion. It was surely in recognition of this that police today announced they would remove the barriers that have sealed off Kossuth ter, on which Parliament stands, to the public for the past five months. Though this was officially a police decision, it will certainly come as a relief to the government, which has been facing growing anger about the "Iron Curtain" on Kossuth ter. Lawyers and civil liberties groups have argued that its continued presence was illegal.
The vehemence of the set-piece occasions remained. As always, Fidesz's rally astonished by the sense of consensus, as if none in that crowd of tens of thousands disagreed substantively with anything was said. As has been traditional for the past three years, the mayor of Budapest was jeered and booed throughout his speech. Throwing eggs is certainly violent, but it is a far cry from the devastation of last autumn. The prime minister was jeered. But it was just words. Hungary's always overheated political culture of furious denunciation of the other side has become a set-piece, a ritual, even.
When Kossuth ter re-opens, as it almost certainly will this Monday, the protesters who were encamped there until five months ago will almost certainly return. They will put up posters in English telling tourists why their prime minister must go. And they will stay there. But that's not a revolution, just legitimate political protest.
Tear gas and water cannon
Police have deployed tear gas and water cannon in clashes with protesters gathered at several points in Budapest.
Some 2,000 protesters are gathered around Deák tér after being driven down Andrássy út, the elegant central Pest boulevard, by advancing police lines.
click here to see the movie clip
On the Körút, around 2km from the main disturbances, police are driving a smaller group of some 200 protesters from Oktogon towards Blaha Lujza tér. Earlier, the same group held an impromptu rally at Oktogon. Speakers addressed the crowd from the top of an off-road vehicle. The crowd, which chanted and jeered, appeared peaceful. Men in their mid-30s stood inches from the police lines demanding that they retreat. One man, a dog clasped in his arms, shouted at police that they should retreat, allowing the rally to continue. "Don't you have children?" he asked, "Do you know the apostles?" One speaker atop the car called on the crowd to head towards Parliament on Kossuth tér. Protesters handed letters to the police explaining that they "have nothing to fear from the crowds." It continued: "Despite your crimes, you are still one of us, and we continue to take care of you. If this were not so, you would have died long ago. Think just of the water cannon we seized in front of the television headquarters, or the tank on Deak ter. Hungarians must not kill Hungarians." The Körút group began constructing barricades after the first police charge.
One policeman has been taken to hospital after being hit on the head by a stone thrown by one of the protesters. Three further policemen have sustained minor injuries, according to the police.
click on the photo to see the gallery
Another protester showed no lack of patriotic fervour, but as he shouted to his companions: "The wife's waiting for me at home."
After the police charge, which dispersed an otherwise peaceful, if illegal, demonstration, Pál Zsolt, watching from the rear, said: "Who was aggressive there? They were just giving a speech from a car when the police charged, knocking the car over. These aren't violent people. They're students, intellectuals." The speakers were drenched in blue-dyed ink, though the car was in fact able to speed away.
On Andrássy út, crowds set alight bins and benches, demolishing and dragging telephone booths to the centre of the street to serve as barricades. Teenagers grabbed the broken receivers and shouted pizza orders into the phones.
Riots starting again
Barricades has been built by the rioters at the Opera house.
The police are at Oktogon facing the protestors. Shortly after 8'o'clock the police deployed water canon and tear gas. The police continue to advance down Andrássy út towards Deák tér. The protestors are in retreat.
Though Fidesz's rally passed off without incident, clashes with police are beginning elsewhere in the city. Police and protesters are facing off at Oktogon. There are reports that police have deployed tear gas in parts of the centre, at Andrássy út.
After the rally of Orbán a right wing protest was held in front of the National Museum with the participation of the 'Goj Motorosok' (Goy Bikers association). The Goy Bikers claim to be a non-political group but their actions have a right-winged attitude. They celebrated 15/03 by riding around Budapest under police protection then stopped by the museum revved their engines and sounded the hornes for two minutes as a protest against the Gyurcsány government.
click on the photo to see the gallery
Earlier, tens of thousands gathered around Astoria for Fidesz's rally this afternoon. Addressing a crowd that stretched almost from the banks of the Danube all the way up to Astoria and beyond, Tamas Deutsch-Für angrily rejected attempts to label Fidesz an extremist party.
"We have had enough of the lies. We have had enough of them calling us fascists," he said. The government was denying the clearly expressed will of the people, he said. "They crushed what was not a revolution on 23 October. There is no revolution today, either, and we won't let them crush it."
Viktor Orban, the Fidesz president, warned that Hungary was falling under the influence of a "new aristocracy" that was trying to subvert the country's interests for its own ends. They would fail, he said, because "though five generations have passed since the heroes of 1848 rose up to fight for freedom, the Hungarian people has lost nothing of its boldness over that time."
An attentive crowd was kept occupied during frequent musical interludes by chestnut-sellers, a comprehensive selection of every conceivable variant of the Hungarian flag, and roving Nescafe girls dispensing refreshments.
The speech of the Mayor of Budapest
click on the photo to see the gallery
In a symbolically charged speech on Marcius 15 ter, Budapest mayor Gabor Demszky insisted he represented the peaceful majority in the face of an angry crowd.
Throughout his 20-minute speech, the veteran Free Democrat politician was pelted with eggs thrown by an angry crowd, as security guards tried to defend him with opened umbrellas. Reading to the end despite the projectiles and the loud protests, Demszky said his side represented the majority, and that the actions of the "violent minority" on the square did not reflect the will of the greater part of the nation.
"We are the ones who care for and defend Hungarian democracy. In this country, peace loving democrats, liberals, socialists and conservatives are the majority." he said. Hitler had been among those politicians who had tried to subvert the ideals of 1848-49 for political ends.
An incensed crowd jostled the few Demsky sympathisers in the audience, targeting those holding European Union flags, which were lost in a see of Arpad and Hungarian flags.
There had been few occasions on which Hungarians had lived better, and in greater freedom, than today, he continued as the crowd chanted, "You're an idiot," in unison.
The crowd of protesters has been growing throughout the day. Where 300 gathered on Kossuth ter this morning, by the time Demszky spoke, the greater part of a crowd of some 2000 were there with their chants of "Clear off Gyurcsany."
Particular jeers were reserved for economics minister Janos Koka, the economics minister, and Katalin Szili, the president of Parliament, as they laid wreaths at the monument to the 1848 martyrs.
click here to see the gallery
National Museum and Kossuth Square
Protesters, both on Kossuth ter and later in front of the National Museum, called for "the USA, the EU and NATO" to break off all contact with "the Socialist Party and the the Gyurcsany government," according to flyers they distributed. Members of the government were "corrupt, evil godless, criminals, terrorists, killers of 1956 and public enemies of the people of Hungary," protesters claimed.
Crowds had grown by the time of the National Museum ceremony. The traditional folk dance performance was watched by a crowd of some 500. Outside, along Muzeum Korut, a smaller number of protesters continued to whistle and call for the prime minister's resignation, stopping only to watch the more spectacular of the dancers.
click on the photo to see the gallery
Booing and catcalls accompanied the raising of the flag commemorating the anniversary of the 1848/49 Hungarian revolution before Parliament this morning.
Inside the cordon surrounding Kossuth ter, an honour guard of Hungarian army hussars paraded before an assembled cast of government ministers before raising the Hungarian flag to the sound of a military band.
Outside the cordon, a crowd of some 300 protesters jeered, whistled and blew klaxons during the speeches. Their cries of "Clear off Gyurcsany" and "Traitors to the nation" - many of the voices reconisable from the protests of September and October last year - drowned out much of the ceremony. The sound of a military band seemed to quiet them down, however, and even the most die-hard opponents of the government fell silent for the duration of the national anthem.
click on the photo to see the gallery
There were signs of dissent within the cordon as well. László Sólyom, the president of Hungary, was absent. Last month, he announced that he would spend 15th March in Transylvania, a Romanian region with a large ethnic Hungarian population. Observers have, however, suggested, that his absence - the first occasion on which the president has missed Hungary's 15 March celebrations since 1990 - was intended to show his reluctance to share a platform with Ferenc Gyurcsany, the prime minister.
Will there be a revolution?
Ferenc Gyurcsány took to the dance floor early in the morning of 24 April 2006. Surrounded by his greatest fans, Young Left volunteers who had been working day and night to deliver him his miraculous election victory, the first Hungarian prime minister to be re-elected buried his head in his third wife’s shoulder. Drunkenly he swayed to the strains of „I will survive”, propped up by his wife, who was both more sober and more awake.
They looked like a teenage couple. Gyurcsány, flush with the success of his election victory, grinned inanely, occasionally righting himself to gaze adoringly at his wife, as the young volunteers snapped pictures of the golden couple on their mobile phones.
Gyurcsány had been prime minister for only two years, seizing the top spot in an internal party coup from his hapless rival, the ineffectual Péter Medgyessy.
In that time, he had managed to bring his Socialist Party back in the polls, turning his party’s precarious parliamentary majority into a much more solid lead.
But there must have had doubts at the back of his mind, since he was probably the only person in that central Pest bar who really knew the catastrophic state of his country’s finances.
Though he had denied it steadfastly throughout the campaign, the country was in a spiral of debt, with large and growing budget and trade deficits. Eventually, he knew, there would have to be major spending cuts, the scale of which would put off even the most enthusiastic of the activists who cheered and clapped on that night.
Not even his party MPs knew. They expected the elections to be followed by the customary horse-trading, with every faction seeking the strongest possible position within the government, regardless of expense. Later that year, Gyurcsány tried to clamp down. Cuts must come, and his MPs had to understand why.
„We lied morning, evening and night,” he told them at a closed meeting held in the state conference centre in the village of Őszöd. It could not go on any longer – the state of the public finances was worse than anyone outside the cabinet knew, and there was no room for personal favours.
Inevitably, news leaked of the speech given at an intimate gathering of just a few hundred of his closest friends, and when it did leak, the reaction was furious.
Viktor Orbán, the leader of Fidesz, which had come second in the election, demanded that the prime minister resign. Protesters of the right took to the streets. A permanent demonstration started on the square in front of Parliament. Posters and placards were waved calling for Gyurcsány to go.
Things turned violent on 17 September, when a hard core chanting football songs entered into violent confrontations with the police.
It came to a head on Szabadság tér, just 10 minutes’ walk from Parliament. In the 50th anniversary year of the 1956 uprising, when street fighters had seized control of state radio, the state television broadcaster was the new target.
The police were ill-prepared and under-equipped. A few dozen police were guarding the TV headquarters on Szabadság tér, and a crowd of thousands was gathering. Police winced as people int he ever angrier crowd threw stones which smacked hard against their shins.
With no reinforcements, the police eventually had to cede ground, and the hard core were able to storm the TV headquarters. The crowd followed, ransacking the building. It would be hard to call this a politically motivated revolution, however: most of the protesters headed for the canteen, which they emptied of chocolate and soda. The next day, the police found one of the ’insurgents’ asleep in an office in the building. He had nodded off after emptying the buffet.
Given the anniversary, it was no surprise that the events were labeled a revolution. But the differences were marked: there was no occupying power, the prime minister at the centre of protests had been elected just months before.
Rioting continued for the next few nights, as opposition politicians repeated their call for Gyurcsány’s resignation. Orbán, the leader of Fidesz, saw an opportunity to bring down the government. A government of experts should be established, he said – and this call was echoed by the furious orators addressing the crowds on Kossuth Lajos tér in front of Parliament.
But there was no constitutional means to bring this about. Gyurcsány had a secure majority, he had committed no crime – but nonetheless, the politicians talked of a „country in the throes of a serious moral crisis.”
The atmosphere became tense yet again the following month. On 23 October, the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1956 uprising, the official commemorations were overshadowed by furious rioting. Skinheads, once again chanting football slogans, ran around the centre of town, building barricades from behind which they hurled paving stones and bottles at the police following them.
A surreal moment came when an elderly military service veteran climbed into a tank that had been exhibited at the side of Deák tér as a relict of the uprising. Starting the engine, he drove it at speed towards the police. Fortunately, it had little fuel inside, spluttering to a halt before it caused injury. But it was at this point that police lost any restraint they had.
Firing tear gas and rubber bullets over the head of the crowd, large groups of passers-by were trapped in the street fighting. Prominent politicians on their way home from a Fidesz rally were hit by rubber bullets.
It was a dramatic spectacle, highlighting the sense of betrayal felt by many in the population.
But it was politics, not revolution. By and large, the protesters were supporters of opposition parties. The more violent rioters were associated with small extreme-right groupings. And those who had voted Socialist at the recent elections largely stuck by their man.
What of tomorrow? 15 March is a date just as emblematic for Hungarians as 23 October. It commemorates another uprising, that of 1848, when Hungarians rose against their Austrian masters. Many forecast a repeat of last autumn’s unrest.
There are signs. It is rumoured that there has been a run on knuckle-dusters throughout the country over the past month, as the violent hard core get ready for another clash with police.
But then, the police are more ready too. This time, the square before Parliament will be closed, the forces of law and order will be everywhere, ready to clamp down at the first sign of disorder.
It’s a long weekend, too – the city will be more empty than usual.
The mood has quietened since October. Fidesz no longer talks of bringing down the government. The opposition seems to have reconciled itself to a long haul until the next elections. And many recoiled from the sheer ugliness of last year’s clashes. „I don’t care what anybody else does. I’ll be celebrating,” said one man.
- Fred Boot
GREENPEACE DEMO 2007.03.01
click on the photo to see the gallery
Greenpeace activists brought the Chain Bridge to a standstill on Thursday, scaling the side of the bridge to unfurl a poster warning of the threat posed by climate change.
"Climate alert!" read the poster, which faced toward parliament. The police, who arrived shortly after 11am, made a total of 22 arrests, including those of activists who had chained themselves to the bridge. Traffic was flowing again by the early afternoon.