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Lessons of the D-Day protests

October 4th, 2011

Left-wing commentators believe that last weekend’s demonstrations were just the beginning of a protest season against government policies, while others suggest that the street actions did not even help the opposition parties.

A series of demonstrations began last Thursday against the government’s labour policies. Members and supporters of around one hundred trade unions and NGOs gathered for a sit-in demonstration dubbed D-Day in downtown Budapest, and concluded their three-day protest with a mass rally in front of Parliament on Saturday. Organisers read out a ten-point petition addressed to President Pál Schmitt. Demands included the restoration of a”fair” tax system, consultations before the new labour code is passed, and the restoration of early retirement benefits. The chief organizer also announced the birth of a “Solidarity movement”, intended as a Hungarian version of the historic Polish trade union organization of the 1980s.

This was the biggest gathering since last year’s general elections to express anger with government policies – notes Népszabadság, not forgetting to mention that only two of the six major trade union confederations were officially present.

The daily remembers that the demonstrations had strong political overtones,  demanding the reversal of government policies on legal and constitutional matters, as well as the labour legislation. One of the leaders of the protest, Péter Kónya (President of the Armed Services Union) complained that political parties have deeply divided the country, pulling apart families and friendships. “We have reached a pretty pass when two representatives of the armed forces stand up to defend Hungarian democracy,” – writes Népszabadság, referring to the other organizer of the protest, Kornél Árok, the head of the firemens’ union.

The demonstration clearly showed that “those who were misled by Fidesz demagoguery have begun to open their eyes,” – suggests Ferenc Kepecs in Népszava. The commentator believes that what he calls Orbán’s “unscrupulous and cynical phrases that led him to power are now beginning to come back to haunt him.”

Doubts are certainly gaining ground in society, but there is still no sign of the government losing credibility – writes Szabolcs Szerető in Magyar Nemzet. The deputy editor stresses that (despite the fears of the opposition) there were no official, antidemocratic impediments to the protests. But the pro-government daily suggests  that despite the relatively low number of demonstrators (police put the turnout at around 10.000, organizers at around 50.000, while the latter had expected 100 thousand), “the government has no reason to rest on its laurels.”

The Solidarity Movement might be more dangerous for the government than all opposition party actions so far combined – contends political analyst Gábor Török in his blog.

He believes that last weekend was more than a classical union protest, as it featured new leaders. “I would not rule out the possibility that – once they have flexed their muscles – they will assume a more direct political role in future,” – Gábor Török predicts.

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