Sunday, September 24, 2006

Weekend Update

Last night approximately 50,000 protesters demonstrated in front of Hungarian Parliament, demanding the resignation of the entire cabinet. So how can my life remain so unaffected? The protests—and especially the few violent clashes—have been all over Hungarian TV. But most of the action is on the other side of the city center, far from our little apartment. (Imagine there are protests in Union Square and we live near South Street Seaport.)

We’ve walked down to Parliament to see the handful of daytime protesters, but most of the protests are at night. We’ve seen TV crews interviewing students near the main University. We’ve heard sirens during the night. But other than that life is normal. The line at the Szuper Dizscount is too long. You’ll encounter the random marching band or wedding procession on back streets. You still have to hunt for seats at Szimpla. People go about their business calmly. It’s possible that everyone is talking about nothing but the protests—but I’d really have no way of knowing that.

Intrigued by the contrast between street reality and TV pageant, I’ve been interrogating all English speakers I know.
“Is it true that a lot of these protesters are right-wingers?”
Hungarian Zoltan: Oh yes, they are all right-wing. The socialists and the left wing are also angry, but they would rather have the left in power than these conservatives and nationalists. They are all liars anyway.
UK Ben: My English students are all upset, no matter what their party. I don’t think it’s sectarian. Then again, they’re teenagers.
Hungarian Zoltan: All the violence is from football hooligans who just want to fight. They don’t need an excuse. These reforms will need to be made no matter what. The budget needs to be cut, and the economy has got to be reformed. The socialists say that they need to raise taxes and cut benefits. The right wing says it will cut the budget by cutting taxes and raising benefits. It’s impossible.

It gets more complicated the more you learn about it. It doesn’t help that Hungarian political parties don’t necessarily mirror their American counterparts. Here’s what I’ve gleaned: the nationalists are socially conservative, sort of like our Republicans. But they are for the welfare state and giving hand-outs. The socialists are socially liberal, like our democrats, but are allied with free-market liberals—they want to remove government controls on the economy and say that the welfare state as it exists now is not sustainable.

Thank god we’ve found, a sort of English-language Village Voice for Budapest.:

  • Budapest ‘06 vs. ‘56: a Guide for Clueless Foreign Hacks

  • Your Uprising is like, So Two Nights Ago

  • We’ve been watching a lot of BBC. They seem to be as puzzled by the situation as we are, and have concerned themselves mostly with how the press is covering the event.

    Serious Blonde BBC Anchorlady: One side says one thing, one thing says the other. Who is telling the truth? Only one thing is certain, 50 years after the uprisings against communism, there are rioters in the streets of Budapest once again. I have here with me the Hungarian ambassador to the EU. Ambassador, what do the protestors want?
    Ambassador: They want the prime minister and cabinet to resign.
    BBC: And why haven’t they resigned?
    Ambassador: Well, it is a complex situation. The Prime Minister feels—
    BBC: There ARE thousands of people in the streets, aren’t there? Does the government not care what the people want?
    Amassador: Yes, but we have to see that this is all happening within a context. The economy—
    BBC: In a sense, this is much like Hungary’s 15 minutes of fame, is it not? This is your country’s time in the sun.
    Ambassador: Some type of coverage is the wrong type. This is a very complex story and—
    BBC: A complex context, too often ignored by the press. Everyone has an opinion, and there are many sides to the story. Is the international press doing its job? Are we really getting the full story?
    Ambassador: We are getting…one side of the story.
    BBC: Indeed. Will there still be international interest in this story when the protesters are gone? Will the press disappear the moment the story is over? I, for one, don’t intend to follow it.

    Coming Soon: Rosh Hashanah in Budapest and Sarah’s First Hungarian Bluegrass Gig

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