Monday, October 23, 2006

Man on the Street

Today is the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Soviets. It’s a big, big deal. Every museum in town is hosting an exhibit on the revolution, people everywhere are wearing the Hungarian colors. The city is covered in symbols of the uprising: Hungarian flags with a hole cut where the hammer and sickle had once was.

The anniversary also falls in the midst of a major political crisis, originally provoked by leaked tapes of the Socialist PM admitting he and his party lied . The conservative party Fidesz wants the Prime Minister to resign. At the very least they’d like a national vote to recall him. The Prime Minister says this would be anti-democratic. Fidesz calls the Socialists the spiritual heirs of the Soviets. The Socialists portray themselves as enacting tough reforms, bringing Hungary up to EU economic code.

It’s no surprise that Fidesz wanted to hold a rally today. The government tried to get them to change their minds. They refused. I can’t pretend I fully understand the situation. Here’s what Rick and I have witnessed:

-Yesterday we visited a 1956-themed street fair in a part of town. It was by Corvin circle, right near our house; somehow I never associated the plaques adorning this circle with past tragedies. It was a great event: accordions, classic cars, a 1956 museum, kids playing on giant Soviet guns. There was even a “movie-shoot” vacant lot. Kids dressed up in “revolutionary” style jackets that hung down to their knees and climbed on old Soviet tanks. Parents snapped photos. Adorable. Rick and I reflected that this was the best possible use for tanks.

-Today the mood was different. Around noon I returned to the same spot, where there was either a rally or official commemoration. Hundreds of people. I saw a pack of about 10 skinheads. Lots of Hungarian flags, including one with an outline of “greater Hungary” and one paired (bizarrely) with a confederate flag. People were shouting “Kossuth Ter!” That’s the name of the square in front of Parliament, scene of recent protest activity, which police cleared for today’s commemorative events. I got creeped out and turned home. It seemed like some protesters were trying to inspire the crowd to march towards Parliament. There was an angry mood in the air—excitable and nervous. A little later on television, I saw police and protesters clashing on this street.

-Also on Hungarian TV: police lob tear gas at protesters and shoot rubber bullets. Usually the Berkeley in me knee-jerks “pig!” at this kind of news, but I am so clueless (and so freaked out any time I see skinheads) that I actually don’t know who to be more scared of, police or protesters. Also on TV, protesters steal one of those Soviet tanks (!) and drive on police. I actually found that reassuring. In America if someone stole a tank they would be killed. The fact that they got away with it here made me feel like the violence can’t be so extreme.

-Not weird enough for you? Also on Hungarian TV: official 1956 commemoration ceremonies, much like the opening ceremony for a summer olympics. A ballet dancer in a silver unitard, suspended from a hot air balloon, floats in front of Parliament, photographs of doomed 56 protesters projected onto her bubble.

-Rick and I took an after-dinner walk. Do these protests just feel like a bigger deal because they are closer to our apartment? At the main intersection near our house (home of our metro stop) there’s a phalanx of policemen with riot shields. We walked a bit towards the center of the city and ran into a big protest at Ferenciek Tere. Huge flags, floodlit streets, lots of people. We hear the pop of what we think are tear gas canisters, yet folks seem to be running towards, not away from the scene. No one seems very scared (although many seem drunk.) Later, back at home, we see this scene repeated around the city on television.

In closing, we’re OK, just confused.


garth said...

Glad to hear you're okay. This will be one to tell the grandkids about.

Ganch said...

For more info you can also check out:

plankface said...

I think it is probably more scary because of not being as familiar with the context of the riots ... if there was something similar going on in the U.S., even if you didn't know anything about it to start with, the media would be quick to tell you how to feel about it. Then you could decide if the media were idiots or if they were spot on.

But, despite the scariness, am I secretly jealous in some disgusting way? Totally.

the sister said...

wow, that whole situation sounds bizarrely similar to my summer experiences in Mexico. Coincidence....?

Ganch said...

OK you guys I also just saw something that ties this post together with theme of Hungarians being inveterate punners, almost as bad as my uncle Jimbo: just saw a photo of one of Monday's protests featuring an english sign for the newscasters:

Gyurcsany's Gang

This is so funny to me. SIck, sick sick. Here's another great unbiased article about the whole sitch:

Ganch said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Garth said...

For citizens of a country that has always championed the notion of freedom of assembly, Americans are really second-rate protesters. Stealing a tank is exciting and memorable! Here, protests are like boring parades without any floats or costumes or good music.

Once when I was in Oaxaca, there were peasants with machetes and sticks blocking every road that lead to the zocalo, where dozens of other protesters had been camped out for weeks, covering the main government building with graffiti.

Ganch said...

Well, Americans do usually have more and better signs at protests. Usually Hungarians just have flags.

However, I will say this for the Hungarians: on Monday a bunch of protesters somehow stole a bunch of gigantic like six foot tall individual plastic letters that spelled out SZABADSAG, which means freedom, and used them as police barricades. Apparently the letters were part of an art exhibit that spelled out the message "Budapest, City of Freedom." That's class.

Sunny said...

Hey Sarah, gla you're safe (and now in Transylvania?). And glad that no one there is saying "hey hey, ho ho, xyz has got to go."