Around 1000 people showed up for a demonstration on Andrássy Avenue in Budapest Monday evening in protest over Russian influence in Hungary and a range of other Russia-related issues. Speakers included activist Nikoletta Henrietta Antal, writer András Lányi, LGBTQ activist Zhenya Belyakov, cancer activist Éva Szentesi, and publicist Róbert Puzsér.
“My fellow citizens, we are gathered here today to address a very important issue: Hungary belongs to Europe and we have no intention of changing that!” said one of the protest’s organizers, Máte Varga, in his opening address to the demonstrators. “We do not want a system of authoritarian oppression modeled on Russia! We will not be a playground for dictators! Hungary belongs to the West, not Eurasia!
“People, it is very important that we gathered here today with peaceful intentions,” he continued. “It is not the Russian people who are our enemies, rather the Russian leadership. The Russian nation is our friend and we have a message for them: the free people of Hungary have solidarity with them!”
Another organizer, Dávid Bedő, said: “We are here today simply because we are fed up. We are fed up with the system we live in. We are fed up with our government that doesn’t even listen to us, it ignores us, and sprays lies at us with its finely-tuned propaganda machine. We are fed up that every time we go to work in the morning or come home to our families in the evening, all we see around us are Fidesz’s lies and hate campaigns. We are tired of being treated as complete fools. They steal! They cheat! They lie! And they do all this while smiling!”
When András Lányi took the stage, he told the crowd he was doing so to expose his own dark past as an agent.
“My dear friends and fellow agents, I only asked to speak so that I may expose my own dark past as an agent which I have long kept secret. I was already an agent of the West during the Kádár system [1956-88] , an agent of the imperialists. The party secretary at my workplace explained to me, when I joined the democratic opposition movement, who it is that I am a tool in the hands of,” Lányi said, before pointing out that other renowned Hungarians were beaten by the ÁVH [State Protection Authority/secret police] until they confessed to being the paid agents of foreign powers.
“Just in case you weren’t aware, agents smuggled in by the West sparked the 1956 Hungarian uprising, and they were the ones fighting against the Soviet tanks in Budapest,” Lányi said to the laughter of the demonstrators.
“Even then there was Mária Schmidt and Zsolt Bayer whose job it was to explain why things are the way they are, that those who appear to want democracy are actually fake civilians financed by the West,” he said, ridiculing the two prominent Fidesz apologists and comparing them to Communist Party hacks of Hungary’s Stalinist period.
According to Lányi, the rhetoric today is not all that different.
“Anyone protecting civil society organizations is protecting George Soros’ global empire, and those protecting George Soros’ global empire want Europe and Hungary to be invaded by Islamic terrorists — because they, too, are George Soros’ agents. Even Pope Francis is an agent of George Soros. Everyone is an agent of George Soros if they aren’t an agent of Russia!” Lányi said to the jeering protesters.
Activist Nikoletta Henrietta Antal took the stage and admitted that the government’s hate campaign has gotten to her as well.
“I hate politics and I hate this government,” she said.
According to Antal, there is a common denominator to all the recent protests around the country: they all want this government out. She encouraged all those who want to oust the government to come together and challenge Fidesz as one group.
“Either we join together, or we lose,” Antal said.
“[Prime Minister] Viktor Orbán and his gang just sit in front of their televisions and laugh at us because all we do is march. I tell you all that we have taken the first step by coming out to protest. We took the second step by coming out to march, chanting. Now comes the third step: fight your fears and take part in civil disobedience — everyone needs to take part in this,” she said. “You mustn’t be afraid.”
Antal listed a number of intimidation tactics used against her, including a time she was beaten for climbing onto the property of Fidesz’s headquarters to take a picture.
“I don’t steal, cheat, or lie — that’s what they do,” she said.
“Let’s do what our government is incapable of doing. Let’s take a step toward living as though we are part of the West, a step toward western values. Our corrupt government only wants the EU money, they don’t want the EU, they are ashamed of the EU. Viktor Orbán and his gang can be thrown out of the EU, but we ask the EU to help us because our prime minister has turned against us,” Antal said.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) activist Zhenya Belyakov, a native of Vladivostok, Russia, took the stage.
“The news coming out of Hungary these days reminds me very much of my home country, Russia,” Belyakov said. “Authoritarian conservative populists came to power in Russia a very long time ago, but unfortunately this trend is spreading around the world — the United States, Europe, and many other places. Authoritarian conservative populists do not want to understand the complexity of this world, how things are complicated, they want to offer a very simplistic and primitive picture of the world. They offer a worldview which is black and white, where people can be divided into good or bad, normal and abnormal, into traitors and patriots.”
These authoritarian conservative populists, Belyakov said, propose very simple and fast decisions for problems — “build a wall, ban the Muslims, kick out the immigrants, shut down the university or television channel.”
According to Belyakov, the anti-democratic rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin started with the steady chipping-away of press freedom.
“Today, Russia has virtually no free media,” he said, before pointing out that the hardships, including risk of death, faced by those still working in what remains of Russia’s independent media are very real.
Belyakov spoke about the Russian government’s current war to shut down the European University at St. Petersburg. The Russian government’s actions, he said, bear a striking resemblance to what is happening in Hungary with Central European University.
He also spoke about the Russian government’s campaign against human rights NGOs and the law requiring those which receive foreign funding to register as foreign agents, also distinctly similar to legislation proposed in the Hungarian National Assembly by the Fidesz party.
Belyakov told the demonstrators that protesting at the Russian embassy brings back a memory from a few years ago, when Hungarians protested against Russia’s criminalization of homosexuality. Back then, Belyakov said, he protested at the embassy with numerous Hungarian activists, including Milán Rózsa, who has since passed away.
Belyakov then asked the protest to join in a moment of silence to remember Rózsa.
In closing, he raised the issue of gay men being assaulted, held and tortured in secret prisons throughout Chechnya.
“In the south of Russia, in the Republic of Chechnya, hundreds of gay men are being rounded up and brought to special detention centers. They are being tortured, electrocuted, beaten, and several people are confirmed to have been killed. The Russian government has a very sadistic sense of humor. They said that if any gay men in Chechnya feel threatened, they should just go to a court and file a formal complaint — which is obviously a very cruel joke because going to a court in Chechnya for a gay man is equal to suicide. It’s not only useless, it’s dangerous,” Belyakov said.
Perhaps the most rousing address at the protest was delivered by cancer activist Éva Szentesi.
“I am a woman, a writer, and a cancer awareness activist,” Szentesi said. “There are those that consider me as an example, and those who see me as ‘women’s issues’. For a long time, I thought I had no business in politics because I don’t understand it. It’s probably better to stay away from it. In fact, it’s best if I turn my head the other way and stay quiet because that way they’ll leave me alone. Then I realized that while I don’t understand politics, I can no longer stay quiet because politics isn’t limited to the chosen ones, it’s also ours — and we can no longer stay quiet.
“This is a country where I, as a young woman, decide to speak up and am called a ‘baby’, a ‘libi’, a ‘kitty cat’, a ‘Soros whore’ by political opponents. Well, I’m not your kitty cat, libi, or woman’s issue, but I do prefer the ‘Soros whore’,” she said.
“As long as [Hungarian film commissioner] Andy Vajna’s wife is parading around in Dior and Chanel on the beach of another continent on my money and your money and on the tax money of all the other taxpayers, I will much prefer being called a Soros whore,” she said.
“This is the country where – with a malignant tumor in body and a death sentence in my pocket – I was witness to Hungary’s ruined hospitals. I visited four of them. We saw the physicians and nurses who have stayed in Hungary – despite being vulnerable to this system and completely hopeless – try with everything they had to fight for the lives of all those in need, including myself, regardless of this rotten situation.
“While stadium after stadium was being built outside and Hungary’s number one celebrity strawman pocketed half of Balaton and half of the media sector, this is what was happening in my life! Do you hear me, boys? You guys don’t scare me!” she said.
“This is the country where if a leading politician’s nephew pours alkali on and desecrates his ex-girlfriend purely because she rejected him, that man can simply walk out of the courtroom. But later, when his fate was very shaky as he listened to the second-level court announce its verdict, in which they actually found him guilty, even then he was allowed to walk out of the courtroom!” Szentesi said to the jeers of the demonstrators.
“Only one month later, two young men were hauled away by police in chains, put through an accelerated criminal show trial, and sentenced to 500 hours of community service for throwing paint when the damages were only HUF 23,000 (USD 80). Yes! This is the country where the rule of law has disappeared! This is the country where they are proud of stealing! This is the country where they will character-assassinate, destroy, or just buy up and close the free press. This is the country where they will propose and vote on a law in under one week that closes a university. This is the country where they arrive with helicopters and depart with limousines. This is the country where an entire campaign is built on hatred. This is the country where you can beat your wife and then lie and say that she tripped over your blind dog. This is the country that wants to restore the darkest part of history. This is the country that turns against Europe. This is the country that itself wants to be a colony of Russia. And finally, this is the country where you and I live, where we live, and we aren’t going anywhere,” Szentesi declared.
She closed her speech by saying, “We aren’t afraid of you guys! Viktor! Lőrinc! [Lőrinc Mészáros, a close “business associate” of Orbán] Are you guys here? Can you hear this? We will never be afraid of you again!”
The final speaker, publicist Róbert Puzsér, opened by saying there are plenty of problems with the European Union, including the lack of a common foreign policy, social policy, tax policy, security service, border defense, and military.
But Puzsér said the solution to Europe is not less Europe as Orbán has suggested, rather it is more Europe — “including a shared European identity.”
Puzsér accused the “Brussels elite” of being corrupt, “because it really is.” Proof of this, he said, can be seen in how they allowed Russian influence to take over Syria, Ukraine, and Hungary.
“We Hungarians are what we are! We are European! We Hungarians belong to the West, not the East! And that’s not because I say this or because George Soros says this, but because Prince Géza and King István decided so 1000 years ago!” he shouted, before explaining that Hungary’s belonging to Europe is not a political issue as Orbán has suggested, but an issue of cultural identity.
Puzsér said today’s Rome is Brussels and today’s Byzantine empire is Moscow.
“We see what Brussels is like and we don’t like it. There’s plenty that could use fixing. We know that this is our responsibility. But we also see what Moscow is like, and that is far less attractive than Brussels — but at least we have nothing to do with that!” Puzsér said.
“We are not Ukraine or Serbia! We know who we are! We are not tricked by the fact that the Russian empire occupies our lands every 100 years! We can still tell the difference between us and them! Hungary’s friendship with Russia always resulted in blood, war, occupation, poverty, and oppression — in both 1849 and in 1949!”
Puzsér then pointed to Ukraine, Belarus, and Armenia, saying that one need only consider those countries to see what friendship with Russia means.
“The Poles and Baltic countries understand this. They see this very clearly!”
According to Puzsér, Orbán thinks that if he relies on Russia, he is more likely to stay in power — “and then he, too, will [rule] for as long as János Kádár.
“Orbán is willing to toss aside Hungary’s 1000-year commitment, Hungary’s most important historical tradition, the decision of István [to make Hungary part of the West]. He is willing to trample underfoot the spirit of 1848 and 1956 while shamelessly presenting himself as a freedom-fighter! From the backseat of the luxury limousine, he lies about being Sándor Petőfi himself. But Orbán is only a scoundrel with the tongue of a snake. And Petőfi was a freedom-fighting patriot that was murdered by Russians who invaded the country while he was defending the western aspirations of the citizens — in blood and mud – and not at the caviar table with a glass of champagne in his hand!” Puzsér shouted.
“Again, I repeat that this is not a political issue, this is the most fundamental issue of culture and identity. Europe is not only the European Union, it is Boccaccio, Shakespeare, Molière, Goethe, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, Kosztolányi, and Márai. Europe is something that we think about the world, and how we see ourselves, and this has a number of consequences, including a certain kind of politics. A kind of politics that is absolutely not Putin, one that is absolutely not a form of authoritarian state that tramples rights! In short, a kind of politics that is absolutely not Viktor Orbán!”
Puzsér said Prime Minister Orbán is nothing more than a used-car salesman from Felcsút who “can craftily figure it out. He thinks that Hungary doesn’t have values, it has interests. The used-car salesman from Felcsút has no cultural foundation, he has no identity, and that is why he is willing to switch from Brussels to Moscow.
“In Viktor Orbán, you have all the traits that make a person a superb vote-maximizing politician, but there is nothing left in him which could make him a responsible statesman. We are here today because we don’t want him to play this underhanded game with our lives and future. We understand that he is attracted to the half-naked Czarovich walking around with white Siberian tigers. But for us, we have no need for a Czar, for oligarchs, or the trampling of rights. We want to live in freedom! We want to live in a country with a rule of law! Viktor Orbán wants to push us over the Urals, but we belong to Europe and not Asia! When I say ‘Ruskies, go home!’ I am not referring first to the Paks deal or the KGB, I am referring to Viktor Orbán! Viktor Orbán and his party! I am thinking of the Muscovite scoundrels who have less and less to do with our country, this nation, this culture. They belong to Putin. They belong to Asia, not Europe. They don’t understand freedom, they don’t like freedom, and they don’t want freedom. They have become just like those communists they condemned in 1989. They are leading Hungary straight into the lap of Vladimir Putin. When I say ‘Ruskies, go home!’ these [Hungarians] should take it personally,” Puzsér closed.
Following the speeches, the demonstrators walked along Andrássy Avenue to the Fidesz headquarters on Lendvai Street. Following a short demonstration there, many walked back to Oktogon and blocked off the busy intersection.