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Budapest: Resistance seems futile … and yet

I visited Budapest in May 2018, a month after covering Viktor Orbán’s landslide win in parliamentary elections. Back for a third term, the man dubbed Europe’s new strongman had succeeded in convincing voters they needed saving from migrants, George Soros and Brussels.

In power since 2010, Orbán has pushed the boundaries of democratic rule to breaking point, eroding judicial and media independence, while enriching a tight circle of oligarch loyalists with taxpayer and EU cash. With a two-thirds supermajority, he has never seemed more powerful, dancing rings around the Brussels in-crowd of liberal democracies, cognisant that his brand of illiberalism is on the rise, espoused by the likes of Trump and Putin. His supporters are jubilant that Hungary has been put back on the map. His detractors, it seems, might as well be whistling in the wind. But, whistle they will, in sun, rain and, on this occasion, a demo coinciding with parliament’s opening session, a rather unseasonal bout of hail.

All pics © Lorraine Mallinder



Mindbusters

A pun on ghostbusters, translated as Szellemírtòk. Szellem = ghost. But Szellemisèg (which I couldn’t actually find on Google translate) = what’s inside the mind, how you think. Irtok = exterminators. The guy in the middle of the banner is Orbán.

Eurocouple

European flags a gogo at this demo. For many, the current situation is a battle between Western-style liberal values and the model of so-called “illiberal democracy” advanced by Orbán, which some believe leans in the direction of Putin’s Russia.





Now what?

Protesters look on despondently as a series of opposition speakers rail against Orbán. Two previous post-election protests had attracted crowds of tens of thousands. The numbers today are fewer. Anger seems to be giving way to apathy – or atrophy.

István

Being a Scot, I couldn’t resist … Plus he reminded me of Iggy Pop.





Guys from Pest

Two journalists from pro-government website Pesti Srácok, which translates as “Guys from Pest” (Pest being the eastern part of Budapest). Largely staffed by youngsters, the site has an alt-right vibe – Hungarian-style. George Soros not welcome here. Ditto the liberal elites of Brussels. But staff tell me they are happy to be in the EU which, they believe, is already being changed from within by Orbán …

Hungarian Voice

A day after the election, Hungary was hit by shock news that one of its most prestigious legacy newspapers was being shut down. Critical of the Orbán régime, Magyar Nemzet had been starved of government advertising – a major component of media funding here – for over two years. Private advertisers kept their distance too, fearful of reprisals meted out via the tax authorities. After the closure, staff started their own newspaper: Magyar Hang – or Hungarian Voice.





Freak weather

Apparently not unusual in May, a violent hailstorm. It came from nowhere, battering the crowds with ice pellets and rain. Anti-Orbán protesters scattered, prompting some pro-government news to report that they couldn’t be that serious if they were put off by a spot of bad weather …

Party on

… But many stuck around. Up to then, the demo had been fairly subdued. Soon after the hail abated, people started emerging from the awnings on Kossuth Square, soaked but seemingly energised.





The comeback

In a highly-charged atmosphere of anger and defiance, protesters began to advance on police guarding Parliament, waving flags, whistling and shouting.

“Facing the faceless”

Police looked on with a mixture of expressions: hostile, bemused, discomfited. The next day, on pro-government website Pesti Srácok, one was quoted as saying: “We are the ones who are here to face the faceless masses.”





“Diktátor!”

This woman shouts “Diktátor!”

Whistling the odds

A couple of minutes earlier, this guy had been shouting at police who filmed the crowds. “We see you!” he signalled, two fingers to his eyes.





Sounding the alarm

Recognise this guy? Refer back to the pic with the green smoke flare.

Confrontation

This pic seems to say it all.

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