After a secret speech by Hungarian Premier Ferenc Gyurcsany, in which he admitted to having lied to Hungarians “morning, noon and night” about the state of the economy, was leaked to the press, Sept. 17, all hell broke loose. The next day, thousands protested in the capital, Budapest, and provincial towns demanding his resignation.
Police used water cannons and tear gas against a group of demonstrators demanding that the Hungarian State Television broadcast their demands, and protesters — many from the far-right — attacked police. Some protesters attacked and seized the television building, but it was later retaken by police. About 200 people were wounded, most of them police. Property damage, according to the Hungarian Communist Workers Party (HCWP), was “very high,” including serious damage to a monument to Soviet heroes who helped liberate Hungary from fascism.
Some 80 percent of Hungarians reportedly opposed the violence.
The right-wing Fidesz Civil Party and the Christian Democrat KDNP opposition parties played a role in the protests.
Gyurcsany’s party, the Hungarian Socialist Party, won the parliamentary elections in April and formed a coalition government with the Party of Free Democrats. The new government headed by Gyurcsany continued the former government’s neoliberal policies and introduced a program of radical economic and political “reforms,” including mass layoffs of state employees, privatization, imposition of new fees for health care and cuts in public services.
As popular discontent mounted, Gyurcsany told party leaders in his confidential speech that they had been “boneheaded” in concealing their program before the elections. “We screwed up. Not a little, a lot,” he said. “We did everything to keep a vital austerity program secret from the country right to the end of the election campaign.” He revealed that the country’s reported budget deficit of 4.7 percent was, in fact, more like 10 percent.
The majority of the people who took to the streets, the Hungarian Communists said, did so “to protest against the neoliberal policy and violation by the prime minister of elementary norms of political morality.” The anti-government demonstrations mean that “people do not want any more lies and manipulations, and they are against a policy which takes away everything from the poor,” the HCWP said. It called for Gyurcsany’s resignation and the convening of a new national assembly to adopt a new constitution.
However, the HCWP noted, “some radical right forces and even extremists used the mass dissatisfaction of people for their own political and personal aims.” As crowds in front of Hungary’s Parliament grew to about 10,000, the HCWP said, “most of the speakers criticized the government and began to demand a new 1956, a new reckoning with ‘Communists.’” This refers to Hungary’s 1956 anticommunist counterrevolution. Of course, Hungary today has a “free-market” capitalist economy, not a socialist one. Gyurcsany, a former member of the communist youth movement, reportedly enriched himself on state assets in the 1990s as capitalist privatization carved up the previously socialist economy.
Today a third of the population lives on or under the poverty line. The huge gap between pre-election promises and post-election policies is fueling much of today’s popular discontent.
“The majority of people are beginning to realize just now what neoliberalism means and it has led to a serious rise of dissatisfaction. At the same time people feel disoriented and manipulated, and that they do not have real possibility to influence the political decisions,” the Hungarian Communist Workers Party said.
Gyurcsany has refused to resign and observers say he may weather the storm.
Local government elections are scheduled for Oct. 1.