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Weeklies on Castle Hill demonstrations

May 15th, 2023

Demonstrations in front of the Prime Minister’s office on Castle Hill in Buda have become the main topic of opposition politics over the past few weeks, but opinions diverge on their significance.

Heti Világgazdaság writes that opposition politicians unsuccessfully try to remind Prime Minister Orbán of his earlier self as a freedom fighter. The liberal weekly carries a photo of the young Orbán with a police officer pressing his truncheon against his neck at an unauthorised demonstration in 1988, coupled with another showing him in 2006 dismantling the metal barricades preventing demonstrators from approaching the Parliament building, which at that time also hosted the office of the Prime Minister. This time around, Heti Világgazdaság remarks, Mr Orbán justified the use of teargas and truncheons by police against demonstrators saying that students, teachers and parents should demonstrate without breaking the law. The weekly finds it unacceptable for police to ‘beat up children on the orders of their superiors’, adding that the government has made apparent concessions to teachers’ demands as a result of the demonstrations.

While protesters have staged repeated demonstrations against the law which deprives teachers of their status as civil servants, Momentum also regularly appears in front of the Prime Minister’s office with MPs and activists trying to dismantle the metal barricades there. Magyar Narancs dismisses objections by pro-government authors who justify the behaviour of the police saying that it pales in comparison to the police brutality demonstrators were subjected to in 2006, under a left-liberal government. The liberal weekly remarks that protesters in 2006 were violent. The editors also criticise those opposition-leaning commentators who belittle the current protests because they are only joined by a few dozen demonstrators. Hungarian society, they write, is too weak at present even to think of mass demonstrations and as long as that is the case, these few demonstrators are the only ones who represent democracy in the country.

In Magyar Hang, Szabolcs Szerető cautions against expecting the images of young demonstrators being repelled by police with tear gas and truncheons to change the balance of power in Hungarian politics. He admits that Momentum grossly exaggerates when it depicts the government as if its main activity were to beat up children. The government side, he continues, engages in no less crude overstatements when it dismisses the opposition as a bunch of traitors and warmongers who would send Hungarian youth to the frontlines in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Szerető remarks, even some opposition parties believe that repeatedly dismantling metal barricades on Castle Hill is a futile exercise.

In Mandiner, Gergely Szilvay dismisses the notion spread by opposition-leaning authors that a whole generation of young Hungarians will carry throughout their lives the experience of an oppressive power that doesn’t shrink from teargassing young people. He replies that his generation did have such a feeling in 2006 when many thousands of people were brutalised by the police. He deems it telling that an opposition that cannot mobilise a large number of people against the right-wing government, engages in spectacular scenes in order to be noticed. Otherwise, he wouldn’t mind if the office of the Prime Minister were surrounded by a hand-forged fence of artistic value rather than improvised metal barriers.

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