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Will the pro-government demonstration make a difference?

January 24th, 2012

Commentators ponder what the actual meaning and possible consequences of Saturday’s pro-government rally will be. According to right-wing commentators, the Orbán government will start the negotiations with the European Commission and the IMF about a loan from a better position. Left-wing pundits believe the opposite.

On Saturday, at least a hundred thousand Hungarians marched in the streets of Budapest to express their support for the Orbán government. Estimates of the number of participants range from 100,000 to 1,000,000, but reporters from both sides of the political spectrum agree that the pro-government walk attracted many more people than the protests organized by the opposition parties and NGOs critical of the government.

The pro-government demonstrators sent a clear message to the “post-communist and liberal zealots” both within the country and abroad, who try to discredit the Hungarian government: Hungarians have had enough of the hysterical campaign against their country, writes István Stefka, editor-in-chief of Magyar Hírlap. Stefka contends that the success of the “Peace March” organized by right-wing journalists showed that the Orbán government enjoys wide public support, despite the austerity measures it has introduced.

In the same daily, Zoltán Bíró adds that the demonstrators took to the streets in defence of national self-determination and in the hope that the European Union will respect the democratic will of the Hungarian people. Bíró believes that the European Commission wants to force laws on Hungary (see BudaPost January 19), which would be rather reminiscent of classical colonial rule. The peaceful crowd “showed the European bureaucracy that it does not want to become a colony of the EU … and stood up for the values of human dignity and democracy.” Hungarians expressed their support for their government in its fight with the European Union, Bíró concludes.

In Magyar Nemzet, Szabolcs Szerető writes that the pro-government masses took to the streets not against the European Union, but in order to show their commitment to basic European values, such as national sovereignty and democratic rule. The huge crowd showed that Hungarians do not agree with the critics of the government who claim that Orbán has taken an antidemocratic and authoritarian turn.

The pro-government demonstration, however, will neither reduce public debt, nor soften the IMF, Szerető admits. But this show of public support will at least strengthen the Hungarian government’s position in the negotiations with the European Union and the IMF, Szerető believes.

Zsolt Zsebesi in Népszava thinks just the opposite. The left-wing commentator warns that the European Commission is now aware just how much support Orbán enjoys, which will make it even less open for compromise, in order to teach the Hungarian government a lesson. The European Commission will pressurise Orbán even more, until his government recognizes  basic European values, and retreats from the dictatorial path it has taken. Since the EU stood up to Orbán not long after the landslide victory of Fidesz at the 2010 elections, a couple of hundred thousand demonstrators will not frighten Brussels away from confronting the Hungarian government, Zsebesi contends.

In Heti Világgazdaság, Árpád W. Tóta believes that the Orbán government will have to bow to the requests of the EU and the IMF, regardless of the mass demonstration in support of national sovereignty. The liberal columnist, known for his highly opinionated, even harsh commentaries, believes that the demonstrators are also aware that Orbán will have to reach an agreement with the IMF at any price. Instead of demanding real sovereignty, the pro-government crowd simply wanted to express their support for Orbán, despite his looming retreat from his freedom fight against the international actors.

Ákos Tóth in Népszabadság also believes that the pro-government demonstrators only wanted to show their devotion to PM Viktor Orbán, and were not very much concerned about the loss of sovereignty, despite the message of the banners they were carrying. They must have also been aware that Orbán has already retreated and is willing to compromise with the IMF and the EU, which implies that they marched not in support of the policies of the government, but in order to show their backing for Orbán whatever his actual plans are, regardless of the twists and turns he takes – an unconditional faith which Tóth finds worrying.

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