Opposition demonstration for media freedom in Hungary fails to draw large crowd

August 21, 2017

Some 300 protestors attended Sunday afternoon’s demonstration for media freedom jointly organized by opposition parties Együtt (Together) and PM (Dialogue for Hungary). The following rather caustic report was filed in Hungarian by Budapest Beacon correspondent Péter Szegő.

The opposition demonstration for media freedom scheduled for Sunday afternoon in Budapest was hardly successful.  Viktor Orbán needn’t cheat in next year’s election, let alone fire into the crowd. In fact, he can even throw the Kubatov list (of voters sympathetic to Fidesz-ed.) in the fire. If they really mess things up then perhaps they will not win a two-thirds majority, at least in light of the August 20 demonstration.

The organizers generously estimated the number of protesters at 300.  It is almost possible to list them by name. There were Együtt and Dialogue for Hungary supporters, among them former SZDSZ (Alliance of Free Democrats) politicians, including former MPs Tamás Bauer, Pál Juhász and Fidesz founding member Péter Molnár.  “It’s embarrassing how few people turned out,” bemoaned one of the organizers.

“The freedom-limiting Orbán regime continuously wages war on everyone that is independent of it,” wrote the organizers on the event’s Facebook page. “It is this battle against media freedom and European Hungarian citizens that Fidesz will continue this autumn. It is for this reason that parties and civilians are demonstrating together for media freedom, rule of law, and democracy.”

Protestor Kristóf Horváth announced: “Our elected government has lost our confidence”. However, it was not clear who else among the protestors ever trusted the Orbán government.

Zsolt Porcsin, photo: Péter Szegő/Budapest Beacon

Zsolt Porcsin, former editor of county newspapers Hajdú-bihari Napló and later Heves Megyei Hírlap, spoke about the situation of media in the countryside, which has been taken over by so-called businessmen close to the government. “Laws amount to nothing if those in power are incapable of exercising self-restraint, but rather are characterized by the desire to acquire, take over and control everything, whether they stand at the head of the country, settlement, city or a district,” said Porcsin.

Együtt deputy chair Nóra Hajdu said: “It is necessary to demonstrate because Viktor Orbán is preparing to reverse Hungary [on its path of European integration].” (To our knowledge the groundwork for this was laid in 2010-2011 and has been going on earnestly ever since-ed.).

“Lady, it’s already a dictatorship!” shouted a member of the crowd insightfully, if in a politically incorrect manner.

“In the future not only will Orbán not have a two-thirds parliamentary majority, he will lose his majority as well,” stated the opposition leader.

Horváth was less optimistic in his assessment. “Who knows what will happen in the next election?” lamented the former editor.

Former Christian Democrat (KDNP) Katalin Lukácsi was the next to speak.  “At this celebration we are returning a few of the bricks of the rule-of-law state removed by our government to the building symbolic of our country” said the historian. “We need to support those media organizations that represent us rather than those in power,” said the independent MP, adding that “the country’s fate depends on us, not on the 2018 election”.

She concluded her speech: “We must boldly avail ourselves of our rights and fight for even more.  Let us believe in Hungary.”

The country founded by Saint Stephen “was destroyed many times over the past 1000 years,” PM co-chair Gergely Karácsony told the crowd, adding that “we thought Saint Stephen’s state had finally been realized in 1989-90,” although it was not clear from the Budapest District 14 mayor’s words to whom he was referring other than himself.  He said those in power today were not running the government but rather a system “which they created not for us but against us”.

“This is a party state,” said civil activist Gábor Vágo. The Alliance Against Corruption (Kellesz) founder and secretary said each citizen had a responsibility to create a state that serves the people and not Viktor Orbán. “It is not enough to defend press freedom,” the former LMP (Politics Can Be Different) MP has written on Kellesz’s Facebook page.  “Indeed, we need to take the keyboard, organize in the editorial room and create a new local, independent media.”

Vágo quoted Polish dissident Adam Michnik’s recipe for system change from 1976: “Let us act as though the party state did not exist. Let us behave as though it was a Republic that was operated as though founded in the cooperation of free and equal citizens.”

Former Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) chairperson Ildikó Lendvai (pictured below) attended the protest. Reacting to condemnation of the 20-year period before Fidesz returned to power in 2010 (during which time the Socialists governed for 12 years), Lendvai told the Beacon:

“For sure there is criticism I accept, and there is criticism I would dispute.  But I think it more important that there be agreement among us with regard to the future.” She said the current political climate in Europe favored a change in government, but for this to happen “cracks would have to appear on the other side as well”.