Budapest’s Szabadság (Freedom) square hosted a novel demonstration of sorts Saturday evening. Starting at 5:30 pm and lasting until 10 pm, the “We will not remain silent!” protest featured musical performances by a variety of musicians and DJs, as well as speeches by notable artists and activists. As many as 10,000 people mostly in their twenties and thirties attended. Organizers invited protestors to bring whistles, drums and other “musical instruments.” Many could be seen waving EU flags and holding signs proclaiming “#istandwithceu” and “We are the third,” the latter referring to the third protester sought by authorities for allegedly throwing paint at the Sándor Palace, the office and residence of the President of Hungary, on Monday evening. Activists Márton Gulyás and Gergő Varga were arrested, tried and sentenced to a total of 500 hours of public work for conspiring to “breach the peace” and “vandalize a landmark building” after attempting to throw open bottles of paint at the building.
At the beginning of the protest, organizer Áron Lukács told the crowd that the government was continuously pitting various societal groups against one another.
“We are demonstrating against [Prime Minister Viktor] Orbán’s politics of intimidation to show them that you cannot silence a country,” said Lukács. “The government can systematically try to suck out the air from every critical voice, civil organization and legal rights organization. We simply cannot stay quiet.”
The organizer told ATV that “everybody has an obligation to stand up and express their opinion” about the sorry state of affairs in Hungary today.
Film director Simon Szabó told the crowd that as a child he frequently had to apologize for being loud, but “today we’re not apologizing to anyone. It is not possible to silence the civil organizations, university students or the Hungarian people in their own home”. Szabó said the authorities expect the demonstrators to “get bored and go home,” but “it will not be like that, because we can endure more because we are young and we are democrats.”
Singing “Hasta la vista, Mr. Prime Minister” and “Mr. President it’s time to go,” reggae artist Gregory G Ras (aka Gergő Komáromy) called for a “free country” with “free universities.”
Civil activist Rita Antoni said the country was in a need of a genuine system change in which women played a real role. The head of the Union for Women warned that the Hungarian government was shirking its obligation under the Istanbul convention to protect abused women. “We won’t allow it!” chanted the audience.
The highlights of the event were speeches by Gulyás and Varga who took the stage together shortly after 8 pm to rapturous applause.
Varga was the first to speak, caustically noting that so many people were “breaching the peace” they wouldn’t fit inside the courthouse.
“It is often said that Hungary is where it is because there is no solidarity. But when I couldn’t sleep in the Berkocsis (jail) because the entire street was echoing with the cries of many thousands of people shouting ‘Release them,’ I knew that solidarity exists after all.
“What a week! Have you ever seen a week like this one?” Varga asked the crowd, claiming more protestors had taken to the streets during the week than in 1956, when Hungarians rose up against their Soviet oppressors.
Varga told the crowd they weren’t only there because of Central European University: “Something happened, and the air is different now.” Saying the crimes of the system were too lengthy to list, he told the crowd “we may not have hit the Sándor Palace with paint but we broke the magic mirror” and “shattered illusions about the working of Hungary’s democracy.”
He concluded by saying that if the government refused to resign, “the glorious people of Pest will drag them out of parliament.”
His closing cry of “freedom” was echoed by the crowd.
Márton Gulyás opened his speech by inviting representatives of the pro-government media who wanted to know whether he was “buzeráns,” (a pejorative term derived from the Hungarian woeds for “gay”, “loser”, and “deviant” ) to join him on stage. When nobody approached the stage, he announced that he was a “buzeráns” because this was how the powers that be regard their critics.
“In your eyes everyone at Népszabadság and then Figyelő are ‘buzeráns’,” he said, referring to the left-wing daily that closed without warning last October and the print weekly that was acquired by Terror House director Mária Schmidt and turned into a pro-government publication, its electronic archives purged of articles critical of the current government.
Gulyás said the government regards as “buzeráns” all the “nurses, doctors, Tanitanék [I Would Teach] movement members, academics, public workers and every fellow citizen who thinks he wasn’t born to steal in order to live”. The crowd received the comment with wild applause.
“So long as you remain in power, the vast majority of the country will be ‘buzeráns’,” he cried.
The civil activist proceeded to tell the crowd that what was needed was a “common country” instead of one controlled by Fidesz.
“In a common country it does not happen that [the governing parties] use their power and public resources to enrich their own clients and lie that this is the way of creating an upper middle class, a bourgeoisie. No! A free country means ‘nothing about us without us’,” he said.
“A common country is one that pays minimum wage to public workers. It’s one where teachers are paid properly and nurses needn’t feel ashamed for caring for their fellow citizens. It’s one that metes out well-deserved punishment to those who continuously exploit and oppress us.”
Responding to a cry of “Orbán scram!” Gulyás said there was no question that the prime minister needed to go but “he won’t go on his own.”
“We need to create a political institution. Because it is true that the Sándor Palace, MNB [Hungarian National Bank] and the chief prosecutor’s office, and I could list many more, are not worthy of being considered public institutions. These are Fidesz institutions. They can have orange paint thrown on them any time because that is all they deserve.
“A common country needs common institutions, not Fidesz institutions. We need to start politicizing in order to get back what was always ours but which has been stripped from us.”
Observing that change comes through elections, Gulyás said it was necessary to create the “political means” of ensuring free and fair elections, warning that “2018 will be no different from 2014 if we don’t act” and “so long as the current distorted electoral system remains, [Fidesz] will win.”
Observing that the democratic opposition has failed to do anything about the skewed electoral system adopted in 2013, Gulyás warned that “we are walking towards the blades like cows to slaughter.”
He called for opposition parties to demand that parliament adopt a proportional electoral system by the end of the year.
“We do not need coalitions. We do not need for political parties to form alliances. What we need is a proportional electoral system. And then we’ll see who the winner is … Either there is a Fidesz electoral system or there is a free, proportional electoral system where parties receive parliamentary mandates in proportion to the votes they receive.”
At that point, Gulyás announced the creation of the Közös Ország Club (Club for a Common Country) in the form of a movement that demands “a fair, proportional electoral system that measures the real societal support for political parties.”
He concluded by encouraging people to express their political discontent but to do so cautiously, mindful of the potential consequences.
The festival-like event continued until 10 pm, whereupon various groups of protesters headed towards the Parliament in nearby Kossuth square chanting “We’ve had enough!”, “Europa!” and “Democracy!” One group of protesters sitting on the square chanted “peacefully!”
Another group of protesters headed to Oktogon where they blockaded the intersection of Andrássy avenue and the Grand Boulevard until the early hours of the morning.