Angry demonstrations against Orbán regime continue for third night

The new overtime law, roundly condemned by every opposition party, has brought disparate and often feuding factions of parliament together, alongside unaligned students, youth and others in the capital. Friday marked the third straight night of palpably angry and often aggressive demonstrations–the protest began early in the evening, in Kossuth Square, with the participation of every opposition party. But as the “official” demonstration came to an end shortly after 6:00 p.m. local time, the initial crowd of about 1,000 demonstrators began swelling, as more people streamed into the square. As the crowd grew and the official demonstration wrapped up, lines of riot police appeared in front of parliament.

On both Wednesday and Thursday, Hungarian police turned their back on the restraint that they had displayed through most of the past eight years. I can certainly say from personal experience at earlier demonstrations (admittedly much less aggressive in tone than the ones this week), that Hungarian police were almost always polite, restrained and professional. That has clearly changed. Over the past two nights of demonstrations, 51 protesters were arrested and there were reports that at the end of the Thursday protest, police officers required demonstrators to stare into a police camera and give state their full name before being allowed to leave the premises. This reportedly occurred to demonstrators near Dob utca, in Central Budapest and a journalist of HVG was required to do the same, before being permitted to leave. Civil liberties experts have noted that the police have no right to make such a request and to effectively detain people until they adhere to the recording is troubling. The move is considered unprecedented in Hungary. When journalist Noémi Zalavári showed her press pass, but was still required to state her name in the camera, she was told by police that they were following orders.

On Friday, demonstrators in Kossuth Square who refused to go home after the end of the official protest took an informal vote amongst themselves as to where they should go next. They decided to march to, and block Margaret Bridge. Several hundred began marching over to the bridge shortly after half past six. With little effort, demonstrators blocked access to the bridge, then stopped traffic on the main ring road, Szent István Körút, as they marched toward Nyugati–the location of one the main railway stations in Budapest. The chant that has become popular during the three nights of protests lived on tonight, as “filthy Fidesz” (mocskos Fidesz) filled the streets. Many referred to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as a traitor, a thief and a dictator.

Friday evening, the demonstrators came well-prepared, after suffering two nights of tear gas from riot police. Many marched on the ring road wearing goggles or gas masks. By 7:00 p.m. the crowd, according to HVG’s estimates grew to about 3,000 demonstrators–comparable to the numbers of Thursday night. After holding up traffic near Margaret Bridge and Nyugati, the crowd marched to Deák Ferenc tér and then to Astoria, occupying most of the road and all of the sidewalks. Several demonstrators hurled smoke grenades.

Shortly after 8:00 p.m. Budapest time, the demonstrators were back in front of parliament in Kossuth Square, hurling pocket change at the police and throwing a series of smoke grenades. The demonstrators were mostly chanting “Get lost, Orbán!” and the undisputed favourite: “filthy Fidesz.” As during the past two nights of protest, this one too was dominated by a very young generation of Hungarians and again, the police employed tear gas. Many demonstrators then proceeded to throw projectiles of various types, including bottles, at the police.


Meanwhile today, the politicians of “filthy Fidesz” didn’t do anything to try to conciliate, in order to take the wind out of the sails of the demonstrations. Absurdly, János Latorcai (KDNP) declared that the demonstrators “do not respect baby Jesus,” nor do they respect Christianity. Mr. Latorcai came to this conclusion after he read reports that some of the demonstrators wanted to burn down the Christmas tree in front of parliament. And Interior Minister Sándor Pintér claimed that the aggression directed at the police was unprecedented in recent memory, adding that 14 police officers have sustained injuries thus far and eight police vehicles have been damaged to date. The claim that this level of aggression against police by demonstrators was unprecedented, however, is false. In the fall of 2006, right-wing protesters, infuriated with then Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, effectively torched Central Budapest, occupied the headquarters of state television and injured four hundred Hungarian police officers. Many Hungarian police officers handled the unrest poorly and unprofessionally and there were examples of police brutality in 2006. One of the grave mistakes of a part of the Hungarian left today was their unwillingness to recognize this. But it is also true that many of those demonstrators were exceptionally violent and they provoked the most serious and most dangerous unrest in Hungary since at least the taxi blockade of 1990.

There is no sign that the current demonstrations are dwindling or that the protesters are ready to quietly go home. And for now, there is also no sign that the Orbán regime is willing to offer some type of compromise. And even if it did, would it now suffice? Fidesz has reason to worry. It cannot be stated emphatically enough that these protests bear no resemblance to the protests Fidesz has become accustomed to over the past eight years. The current ones have every potential to truly get out of control for the regime.


  • 00:06 Budapest time: Approximately 200 protesters have reached the Presidential Palace–the building is being guarded by riot police. The protesters have drafted the following demands:
    • President János Áder must not approve the so-called “slave law”;
    • The independent judiciary must not be suspended;
    • Hungarians must be treated as humans;
    • Eliminate the Fidesz propaganda media;
    • Orbán must go.
  • 00:02 Budapest time: A group of about two hundred protesters are making their own up to the Castle District in Budapest. Some are literally climbing up steep fields below the walls to the Castle. Presumably they are heading toward the President’s Palace, Sándor Palota.
  • 23:35 Budapest time: A group of demonstrators have successfully occupied the Chain Bridge and are marching across.
  • 23:20 Budapest time: The demonstrators in Kossuth Square have come up with a new chant, set to music: “This demonstration has lost its peaceful character, its peaceful character, its peaceful character! Viktor, prison awaits you!” Meanwhile, at least one protester dumped flour on riot police. The man was then dragged out of the crowd by police officers and taken away behind the line of riot police guarding the steps of parliament.

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