Budapest Riots and Autonomous Reactions25 Sep 2006 01:05 GMT
Now, that the HSP was re-elected, they realised that it is impossible to continue telling stories about the wealth of our country. They put forward a series of "reforms" that involved cuts in the welfare system and raises in taxes and basic utility prices. And then came the leek. Some observers say that the HSP itself organised the leek, but at least they are not investigating who did it. The leek is the audio recording of the Prime Minister speaking in May in a meeting of the internal party. He analyses the current situation with square words that seem to ring true to most people, including my anarchist comrades.
"There is not much choice. There is not, because we have screwed up. Not a little but a lot. No country in Europe has screwed up as much as we have. It can be explained. We have obviously lied throughout the past 18 to 24 months. It was perfectly clear that what we were saying was not true."
After the leek, the Prime Minister said that he is glad the recording surfaced, because it shows how committed he is to truth-saying and how necessary are his reforms. He published the full transcript of the speech on his personal blog! However, a lot of people were angry about their leader telling them in the face that he lyed to them for years and hoping to stay in power and go on with harsh economic reforms. Of course, the political right seen this as a great chance to throw over the government and seize power in the name of the people and the mythology of truth.
The siege of the national television
Hours after the leek people took the streets by the thousands in anger and without any clear demands beyond the resignation of the Prime Minister. Masses gathered before the Parliament building. Some far-right persons took a petition to the national television to be read. When the petition was not accepted for reading at the reception, they called for reinforcements from Parliament square. Eventually the mostly nationalist radicals sieged and took the television building. The police could not react quickly and strongly enough because the situation escalated too quickly. The occupiers were unable to use the equipment inside and TV transmission stopped. By that time there were all kinds of people in and around the national television building and the scene was transformed into a catastrophe-tourism site. Everybody was very glad to be able to go into the TV building without any barriers and wonder around. There was no wide-scale destruction and after the people got bored the police peacefully escorted the remaining people out of the building.
However, a few cars were burned and some serious injuries taken during the siege, and the television was occupied after all -- which has not happened in the last half-century. Many people made parallels with the revolution of 1956 because of the spontaneous reaction of the people, the street-fights and the occupation of the television. After the siege people went back to the Parliament to demonstate peacefully and most of them were bored by the far-right speeches on the stage and dispersed.
The demonstration in front of the Parliament
Every day since the leek, there are between two hundred and twenty thousand people demonstating in front of the parliament, depending on the time of day and the weather conditions. By now the crowd has a clear far right political profile. They are forming a National Guard to keep order in the demonstation and calling for a Contitutional Gathering of the People which would re-write constitution in the spirit of the Holy Virgin Mary (the official patron of Hungary) and Saint Stephen (the first Christian king of Hungary). They are tentatively but not officially supported by the right-wing party. Most people take the same position as the Prime Minister did in the leeked recording: "It's OK to protest in front of the Parliament. Sooner-or-later they will get bored of it and go home."
Inner city riots
In the first part of the week the inner city of Budapest has seen the most severe riots since 1956. A mostly extreme right crowd and football hooligans used street signs, iron rods, bottles and the many new cobble stones that were heaped up on the sides of roads because of the ongoing reconstruction of the inner city to throw at police lines. The police used tear gas and batons and suffered serious damages because of their inadequate equipment. The authorities were forced to buy bigger shields and new body armour that covers the legs as well. Political parties and the general public distanced themselves from the rioters. One thing is sure: the people who are the angriest are not the ones who voted for the present Prime Minister.
Unrest is expected to continue until next Sunday (1st October), when local elections took place. As opposed to national elections, local elections is about choosing the mayors and local governments of districts, cities and towns. However, the official right-wing frames the election as a national impeachment vote against the government. Answering the call of the right-wing party, many people will forget about their local priorities and vote against the HSP thinking that this is a way to bring about a new government or at least take revenge on the liers. Legally, the whole argument is a nonsense and it is clear that the right-wing is confusing the local elections with the national elections. In contrast with the spectacle in the news, it is quite possible that the HSP and even the Prime Minister will remain in power and continue with the economic reforms, because most people are passivists who don't like the right-wing rioting in the street, and on the other hand the official right wing does not offer any alternative to the programme of the HSP beyond abstract nationalist mythologies.
It is extremely difficult for an anarchist to take sides in the war between the government and the fascists. Moreover, taking sides with the passivist majority is not an option either. The situation was developing rapidly, and we could not aim for a serious analysis or a full consensus. We ended up trying different strategies of "detournement" and "hacking" to tap into the events which fascinated the people and generated an extremely dense stream of information, as well as spending a lot of time supporting initiatives of self-organisation that could add some (black) colour to the nationalist campaign. Responding to the attention of the people, the media needed a news item about the unrest every 10 minutes, which means that very small things were reported. On the other hand, many people left their homes with politics on their mind, while police was occupied with handling riots, so that street propaganda had great potential.
Distributing leaflets at the siege of the television
We were the only ones to distribute leaflets at the siege of the building of the national television. It was the remix of the legendary demands of 1848 headed by a quote from the present constiturion: "In the Republic of Hungary, all power is held by the People". There were thousands of people around , and as expected, even nacis seemed receptive of our message in the moment of chaos. It was a quite spontenous and childish reaction, with all the good and bad connotations. Read the English text of the demands at the website!
Guerilla propaganda and street art actions
While the authorities focused on the riots and the people were on the streets there was an excellent opportunity to write our message on the walls. Our guerilla propaganda troops focused on the inner city avenues that are normally too dangerous to cover, as well as the universities where we hoped to make an impact on the students.
Some month before the leek the organisation of a Student Network based on participative decision making and affinity groups already the started. The Student Network was drafted as a tool for coordination which would inspire the establishment of small local groups that work on particular issues. One focus is to offer an alternative to the official Student Union that many see as corrupt and reformist. The most important issue is to iniate dialogue on the government plan to introduce general tuition fees. That is a big problem because so far higher education was free for most students.
There were two discussions planned for the week in connection with the Student Network at two different universities in Budapest. Both universities closed down completely for the day of the discussion, claiming to be afraid of the "2000 anarchists" who would create chaos and havoc. The media hype around the closing of the universities served our purposes well, because a lot more people got to know the Student Network as a relatively small group of students discussing their common problems in peace. We could make the point that the universities and the authorities are afraid of the students talking amongst themselves about their problems, and that the proper location of discussing the university should be the university
We also re-organised the demonstration that was initially organised by the official student union against the introduction of tuition fees but cancelled because of the political unrest and transformed it into a student forum. Working groups have been formed to tackle particular tasks based on the interests of the attendees, and we practiced autonomous self-organisation successfully, introducing a new flavour to student politics.
Illegal Critical Mass
One of the working groups of the Student Network decided to re-organise Critical Mass, which was scheduled for Friday (22th September). There is a splendid three-year tradition of Critical Mass in Hungary, organised twice a year. Last CM was 30.000 bikers strong (really!), which meant great political impact. The message is that politicians should provide adequate physical infrastructure for bikers and drivers should respect them on the road. It is organised by the strong bicycle courrier community in a reformist manner with police closing down the roads for bikers. It has wide support from all sides and it does successfully affect government transportation policy, at least in Budapest.
The organisers cancelled Critical Mass three days before the planned date, because they were afraid to be involved in party politics. There were many spontaneous reactions from individuals saying that they will ride anyway. We called for an alternative Critical Mass and planned an alternative route that does not cross Parliament square where the demonstrators were gathering. This was the first old-school Critical Mass in Hungary where around 200 bikers rode in the traffic without official police support and blocked roads. Instead of the police, it was the bikers who sometimes blocked the roads, stopping in junctions, making noise and pushing their bikes over their heads. Apart from minor conflicts everything went well and we did not receive attention from the police or the far right. Most drivers understood that we are not blocking the traffic, but we are the traffic! There was a wide-spread understanding that we should do the same every last Friday. We had a fucking great time!