On July 3rd the Supreme Court of Hungary ruled that the neo-nationalist para-military organisation “Magyar Garda” (Hungarian guard) must be dissolved, as the activities of the organisation violate the constitution of Hungary. Magyar Garda (further MG) applied to make a demonstration against the ruling, but the permission was not given. Therefore yesterday they assembled for an illegal demonstration. I went to have a drink with a friend, and we found ourselves right in the middle of it.
The demonstration was supposed to take place at Kossuth square, so the metro stop Kossuth ter was closed. Yet for some reason it happened at Deak ter.
Now, there is one very popular club called Godor. It’s known for Roma music festivals, among others. This club was supposed to be a garage, so it’s underground, with an outside part situated on broad stairs. It is surrounded by walls from three sides, and the tops of these walls are actually part of the square. So me and my friend were having our drinks basically under the demonstration.
The police more or less outnumbered the demonstrators – there were around 2000, according to my friend’s estimate, on each side. Many foreign tourists wandered around, feeling lost and confused, having no clue what’s going on. In the beginning the demonstration looked like another display of neo-nationalist attributes (on this, see, for example, Moustafa’s, my colleague’s, video).
For example, the second photo shows two kids wearing T-shirts with the map of “Greater Hungary”. These were the borders of Hungary before the treaty of Trianon (end of WW1) chopped off 2/3 of the country’s territory. Many right-wing Hungarians still feel it was unfair, as many ethnic Hungarians live in these territories in Romania, Slovakia and Serbia. Hungary also lost its only access to sea (the territory is now Croatia). I was amazed how omnipresent this map is. Some people wear it on their clothes or have it as a sticker on their cars, it’s also possible to buy it carved in wood, embroidered, etc.
The police has to give three warnings before it starts to do something. As it’s a very touristic place, and the Hungarian police has learned its lessons since 2006, they are well prepared to do everything to avoid resorting to violence. The warnings were, predictably, met with whistling and booing, someone shouted that the police represents crime, and not the law. Me and my friend stayed there till some demonstrators started throwing bottles down to the club, the police used some small teargas sprayers and their shields to slowly disperse and push the crowd out of the Deak square. Basically that was the story. But to organise my thoughts better I will add more details in the following chapters.
It was probably the first time for me to see neo-nazi girls. Where I come from, girls can only be “incomplete” skinheads and are most likely to become good-looking attributes to their skinhead boyfriends. Here they seemed to have a rather active role.
There were two parts of the crowd, standing on different sides of the Godor club. One was facing the police; there were many people with their faces covered, and they looked more aggressive (3rd photo). They were the ones provoking the police and expecting its response. They were whistling, booing, and shouting more aggressive slogans than the others. They extensively took photos and filmed what the police was doing, and filmed us as well. Don’t be surprised if you see me on a Hungarian far-right website with a glass of lemonade. Some of them threw a couple of bottles at us sitting down there outside near the club. This encouraged the employees of the club to quickly pack all the chairs and move people to safer locations.
On the other wall of the club, there were many ladies and elderly people. They were standing in a safe distance from the police and looked less aggressive, but shouted louder. They were also giving “advice” to those on the other side, encouraging them not to be violent. At the same time, they were shouting at the police: “Aren’t you ashamed to harass Hungarians?” Most of the slogans, such as “Long live Magyar Garda”, came from this side. At some point two people started arguing over one of them supposedly mishandling the flag. Many people on this side wore Greater Hungary maps on their T-shirts. One lady had a “Jobbik” (the far-right Hungarian political party which has just got into the European Parliament) T-shirt on. Those who wanted could have easily come downstairs to the club or thrown something at us, but they didn’t.
I know that the Hungarian far-right is very anti-Roma, but, surprisingly enough, I heard no anti-Roma slogans. The slogans were against the police, against the government, or… against Jews. For those who don’t know the situation in Hungary, the country has the biggest Jewish community in this part of Europe, and it’s very assimilated. You can see some Orthodox in the city, but most of them are either from abroad or recent “converts”. The looks of Magyar Hungarians and Jewish Hungarians are about the same and very diverse, so there are no identifiable physical features to separate these communities. Most Jewish Hungarians have Hungarian names. Nonetheless, for the far-right they are always a convenient scapegoat.
Some of the anti-semitic slogans were very general, such as “dirty Jews”, “Jews go away from Hungary”. Someone on the more aggressive side pointed his middle finger at the police and shouted: “suck this, Jewish bastards” or something like that. He looked drunk. Reports show that some people in the Hungarian police are rather anti-semitic themselves, but of course that would never show as they are on duty.
What struck me in this situation was one slogan, a part of which was repeated by several people. So, on the louder side, some people were shouting “Jews go home to Israel!”, but one female voice also added “and climb your trees there”. This is very surprising for me as a more or less anthropologist, if we put aside all emotional and ethical aspects of it. Apparently, some of these demonstrators totally don’t connect to the authentic anti-semitism in the region. There was nothing about banks (Hungary is very crisis-struck), US influence, economic conspiracies, communism and all that jazz in relation to their anti-semitism. They actually adopted the racist vocabulary which is used to humiliate black people: “go home to your jungle” sort of thing. I asked my friend why are they using this. “Because they think that Jews are monkeys, not people,” my friend tried to explain. “But Israel and jungle?.. What?!” I couldn’t get the logic. “You’re over-educated,” my friend smiled. It seems to me that these people were not instructed by their leaders as to why Jews are their “enemies”. They don’t have a coherent conspiracy theory. They just overheard some things and “recycled” them, it seems.
The most surrealistic thing about the event was that the club was right in the middle, or, literally, under it. So some demonstrators would cross the space once in a while and, before the bar closed fearing violence, some of them would come down to get a beer. Some policemen would go to the bathroom. Before it get more intense, tourists would come in and out. A couple was dancing to the music played on louspeakers (I have great videos, but I should edit them and maybe finally create a youtube account). My friend pointed out that the number of bartenders was higher than usual – the club could have been expecting to profit from the demonstration.
As we were told by the club’s guards to go inside (a light smell of teargas was lingering in the air already), we saw that there were actually musicians playing it the club. Wow! It felt like “Titanic”!
As soon as the police pushed the majority of demonstrators out of the square, an English (as we found out later) street musician appeared, singing some English songs and expecting money. One man approached him telling him to go away: “You must respect the Hungarians!” The musician talked back saying he has two Hungarian kids and he’s not going anywhere. I’m not saying that nationalists should dictate how to navigate the space, but playing these songs as if nothing has happened was indeed a bit insensitive of the guy. He later shared his ideas (I have to say, in a rather patronising manner) about Hungary when we helped him to pack his equipment, as the police was driving everyone out of the square.
Although my friend hadn’t lost his curiosity in the follow-up of the demonstration, I felt like I had had enough, so we moved away from the place and sat down in an outdoor bar many blocks away. Some nationalists, identifiable from their outfits, passed by, probably also going to have a drink.
My compliments go to the Hungarian police – they really handled the whole thing professionally, without much violence. It’s one of the few times when I fully side with, as my anarchist friends would say, forceful institutions of the state.