The 5 lessons of yesterday's demonstration – Péter Sárosi

April 14, 2017

“The Orbán system is learning at its own expense that there is a segment whose anger it should not provoke, and these are the university students.” – Péter Sárosi, blogger, journalist, and drug policy activist

Translation of blog post by Péter Sárosi entitled “The 5 lessons of yesterday’s demonstrations” posted on April 13th, 2017.

What has been taking place in the streets of Budapest for days is both unprecedented and liberating.  We don’t know if this can be channeled into some kind of system-changing movement, but we can already draw some lessons.

1. The lie factory backfired

The Orbán system clearly suffered a defeat in creating enemies: the majority of people did not see enemies in either Central European University (CEU) or the Soros-supported civil organizations.  To the contrary, it was shown that large groups of people see through the lie factory funded with taxpayer money.  Furthermore, it so angered them that tens of thousands took to the streets for days.  It was a mistake to build Fidesz’s entire communication strategy on the Soros bogeyman after the migrant hysteria was exhausted. However, the false claim by government media that the Hungarians who had taken to the streets were paid by Soros, and the threat made by a leading Fidesz publicist (Zsolt Bayer-tran.) made the situation worse.  We know from 2006 that if people feel their opinions do not count, moreover that they are lying to their faces, this creates a dangerous situation.  Such tension is in the air that will be difficult to diffuse, even if the demonstrations stop.

2. This is not a mob

No matter what government propaganda claims, the people taking to the streets are not Soros agents.  Nor is this an aggressive mob.  They are not at all like the protesters in 2006 for which, it should be acknowledged, there was a hard core whose sole purpose was to clash violently with police.  For the time being, thank God, the car-igniting, violent hard core is missing from the current demonstrations.  Peaceful citizens are taking to the streets who know that the police are not their enemy.  The demonstrations so far have shown exemplary self-restraint and self-control.  Given how high passions are running, it is practically a miracle that no serious atrocity has taken place so far, although demonstrators could have turned against the police over detaining Marci Gulyás for 72 hours.  In the Kossuth square the protesters themselves stopped people from throwing things, and there was no need for police intervention.  This was good, as I do not believe violence would help.

3.  The demonstrations go beyond civil society protests

Those who know how much work goes into organizing such a demonstration can only be grateful to those civil organizations for organizing these huge demonstrations.  However, the vast majority of people did not go out to Heroes square to hear about civil society and their problems.  Most of the demonstrators are simply fed up.  They’ve had enough.  Of the corrupt system, of their discredited leaders and their lies which change daily.  For this reason, even though to the best knowledge of the organizations they were organizing a traditional, static demonstration with a stage and thematic, professional speeches and music, unfortunately that was not in sync with the needs of the demonstrators.  At the end of the demonstrations, people were hovering, as though they could not believe this was really all for which they had turned out.  The encrusted hearts had no effect on the crowd because from where they were standing they did not see anything.  Becoming directionless and clueless, the crowd felt abandoned, and began to spontaneously spill into Andrássy.  Let’s face it, for most of the people the part when they marched was the high point of the evening, not the Heroes square.  The lesson is that given the current public mood, it is necessary to forget about traditional demonstrations held in a single location with speakers and music, and organize marches where speakers limit themselves to delivering short, inspiring speeches in response to what is actually going on.

4. The genie is out of the bottle

However, we need to acknowledge that in the current situation nobody is capable of controlling the crowd: not civil society, not the opposition parties, and not CEU.  It is very clear just how different both the opinion leaders and the mood of the demonstrations are than the opposition demonstrations of previous years primarily dominated by the older generation.  The youth who are taking to the streets now are not crying about conditions before 2010, and condemn Ferenc Gyurcsány as much as Viktor Orbán.  So far opposition parties have not succeeded in bringing them to the streets, with the possible exception of the Momentum referendum.  The great challenge of the following days and weeks is whether the spontaneous protests can be turned into a constructive, system-changing movement.

5. Don’t mess with the university students!

The Orbán system is learning at its own expense that there is a segment whose anger it should not provoke, and these are the university students.  Young, full of creative energy, with a lot of free time, they can easily mobilize one another (in fact, they bring the high school students along with them).  They are not getting their information as passive consumers from television or radio.  They are used to interactive online communication, and for this reason it is more difficult to lead them around by the nose.  They are forming regular demonstrations, folklore, and a subculture that will take on a life of its own like the anti-war protests movements of the 1960s.  I think Orbán and company don’t realize just how big a mistake it was to turn this generation against them.  You screwed this one up, boys.  Not a little, but a lot!