As the continuation of the protests against the (now abandoned) internet tax, a mass demonstration was held at Kossuth ter, in front of the Parliament on Monday. The event was named “The Day Of Public Outrage” by its organisers, as a reference to the general discontent felt by anti-government folk over the horrendous policies of the current government.
There were some troubling signs right from the beginning. Hungarian protest organisers, maybe fuelled by an ingrained, subconscious attachment to the mythology of 1848, think that excessive amount of public oration is a good thing and no demonstrations can take place without speeches. On Monday, there were no less than six speakers, whose cause was not helped by the awkward titles they gave to their speeches, eg. “I am Nothing”, “I am Angry” and “We have grown up”. But hey, who was I to know in advance, they could have had six little MLKs lined up and ready to stoke up the flames.
I arrived near the starting time, when people were already gathering. The crowd was more mixed than before, at the anti-tax protests, with a higher number of older participants. There were a bunch of EU flags (damn, I really should write that bit about why I found this naive adoration of a deeply flawed and harmful organisation troubling), and, fortunately, relatively few Hungarian ones. I even spotted some teenagers with an anarcho-syndicalist flag, which was rather refreshing.
Then the speeches started. I do hate being right all the time. They were horrendous. The PA system wasn’t really well thought-out and the sound bounced all over the square, creating a garbled cacophony that served no cause whatsoever. The six speeches went on for a whole hour, chasing away a significant number of people. Generally speaking, one would think that a demonstration is about the crowd demonstrating its common beliefs and shared goals and taking action to achieve its goals. Putting a bunch of individuals on a stage to project their personal opinions over thousands of people is not what mass demonstrations should be about. Talk for 15 minutes (Lincoln could summarise the American Civil War in ten sentences, expressing disdain for shitty and harmful policies really shouldn’t take a whole hour), fire up the crowd then hand out the torches and pitchforks and let the masses do the rest.
Instead, the masses were treated to an hour of tedium, then were told to go home. A few people, maybe two thousand or so, stayed and continued chanting. A vanguard of pensioners even broke through the barricades surrounding the stage and tried to enter the parliament, but were stopped by police. Thus started a few hours of mild scuffles, when a small portion of the already diminished crowd tried to force its way through lines of massed riot police. It is fascinating how the most furious and active participants of a supposedly “outraged” crowd didn’t even resort to actual violence. After a while, as the police grew more numerous and the number of protesters dwindled, the event just ended.
When it comes to protests, Hungary is sadly not Burkina Faso, nor is it Mexico or Greece. People here don’t know how to protest and have no concept of how direct action works. This is especially true of the organisers of public demonstrations, to whom the excessive babbling is the protest, after which they bugger off and disappear off the screen, when the real protest should be starting. If they actually want to achieve something with these protests (though, knowing the alternatives, the removal of the current government, however delightful, could turn out to be a complete clusterfuck), they have to re-think their methods. No government was ever stopped by people listening to awful speeches and then going home. There is a need for direct action that actually disrupts the normal functioning of the state apparatus.
I am not against such demonstrations, don’t get me wrong. I would ask every single person who reads this to attend as many protests as they are able, no matter how badly organised they are or how pointless this all might seem. I firmly believe that direct action is the single most democratic act any citizen can perform, much more so than even participating in elections.
But, and this is a big but, if the current movement does not reform itself, preferably from the bottom up, if it fails to transcend the liberal desires for being proper, well-behaved and generally unobtrusive, it will dwindle away and die just like the ones that came before it. There are promising signs. The crowds are big, the anger is building up and there is more disdain for the police than before (also, people are less afraid of the piggies). I do hope that they’ll succeed. And after that, what happens, happens.