Wearing masks that have been banned in Russia, Momentum Movement activists mocked Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin at the World Judo Championships in Budapest on Monday in what the upstart political party described as a demonstration for freedom of speech.
A group of around 10 Momentum activists attended the championships at Papp László Sportaréna to await Putin’s arrival. The sporting event’s honorary guest was late, missing the Opening Ceremony and only arriving around 4 pm.
The activists stood up to welcome him wearing special “Go freedom of speech! Go Hungarians!” T-shirts and “gay clown” masks depicting Putin with vivid blond hair and wearing makeup. According to Momentum project coordinator Dániel Berg, they wanted to protest the visit of a dictator head of state to Hungary by showing him that citizens of EU member states cannot be censored the way they are in Russia.
The guerilla action ended when security asked the protesters to leave.
Earlier that day Momentum activists put up stickers as alternative street signs bearing former socialist-era names to draw attention to the political context of Putin’s visit. Nyugati square was transformed into Marx tér, Ferenciek square into Felszabadulás tere, and Erzsébet square into Sztálin tér. Berg said the party wanted to highlight the parallels between the current and the previous political system.
“We welcome the Russian President once again very warm-heartedly, and rather often,” Berg said.
In place of street numbers, the numbers appearing under the place name indicate the period when the public areas in question bore the communist-era names. An added sticker read “Don’t let it happen again!”
Without this added context, some passersby didn’t realize the names had been changed. One woman said she found the sticker “pretty” and hadn’t even realized Lehel square had been changed to Élmunkás (Exceptional socialist worker) square.
Széll Kálmán square, formerly Moscow square, however, was not included in the sticker action because “Moszkva” square bears positive connotations for many young Budapesters, according to Berg.
But many elderly passersby had positive feelings about the ten changed signs, a partial backfire of Momentum’s action. While most people only passed by or quickly glanced at the stickers, some stopped to admire them. One woman smiled and said: “I love it! Whatever happens, it shouldn’t be allowed to remove this. The coming generations should get to know it.”
Berg commented on the favorable reaction: “I think that the message is clear. One can look at the previous system nostalgically but that is only nostalgia, and it was still a totalitarian system.”
A younger bystander was more critical. The stickers “will probably be removed and the action will be seen in a negative light afterwards,” she said. On Putin’s visit, she added: “There must be something else as well, he cannot only be coming for the judo championship. This must be a big thing politically.”