Meanwhile in Hungary

On: November 2, 2011
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About Demet Dagdelen
My name is Demet and I am deeply dippy with all things digital. I am Turkish-Kurdish but I've been living in Hungary for the last 11 years, currently I am in Amsterdam doing an MA in New Media at the UvA. I am interested in the flow of information in a multi-platform environment and the role of the middlemen in the web ecology. Currently I am writing my -very data-driven - thesis on Anonymous. I have a BA in Communication and Media Studies from Hungary and I used to do a BSc in Mathematics, but I just transferred to Computer Science, which brings me tons of excitement and joy every day. Really, it does.


When the new media law for Hungary was passed on 21st of December 2010, many people were outraged at how much of a setback it was for press freedom in Hungary. A Facebook page named “One million people for the freedom of the Hungarian press” gained huge attention when it organized its first protest on 14th of January 2011 and was able to attract almost a quarter of the page’s 70.000 likers at the time. There have been subsequent protests for freedom of press and against the new legislation (e.g. on 15th of March, a national holiday) that attracted even more protestors. The last 6 months in the policy making process of the government has been even less successful (in terms of popularity) and many more people were left unsatisfied the current political party Fidesz and its actions. On 23rd of October (national holiday) the One million group organized another protest named “Are you dissatisfied with the system??!” to give those a voice, who are not happy with Orbán Viktor‘s political and economical actions as head of Fidesz and Prime Minister of Hungary. I conducted an interview with a Hungarian girl, living in Amsterdam, who attended the protest.

How did you get to know about the protest?

From online news. A big percentage of my friends on Facebook are not Hungarians, so it didn’t appear in my news feed on Facebook. I read about the event in an online newspaper where they had linked to the Facebook event and I clicked on “I’m attending”. A lot of young people in Hungary don’t care about politics and another large portion are voters of the government.

You also attended the “One million for the freedom of the Hungarian press” protests, what do you think of their Facebook page, which seems to be very popular and successful in organizing protests?

I only look at the Facebook page when I want to laugh, actually. There are a lot of trolls and lots of people take them seriously and try to convert them. But what the organization does on Facebook is posting articles from NGOs, like TASZ, posting about events and spreading them, they also support lots of events that are not organized by them but by other groups.

Do you think Facebook plays a crucial role in these protests?

I think it is a useful tactic, but I am biased because I am from Budapest, I have close friends who are close to the organizers, so I hear about these events either way, Facebook doesn’t play a crucial role in spreading the news in my case. But I can imagine that on the streets (especially in villages and on the countryside) it is harder for people to access this kind of information, people won’t talk about it and there were some busses at this protests, so there presumably were groups of people who came from outside of Budapest.

What were the demographics like?

It was very mixed. I’ve seen roma people as well, which is really great, I was really happy about that. A lot of people argue that the poorest won’t participate, in Hungary the roma people fall in that group and they really are the most disadvantaged group, so I was very glad to see that.

One of the ways the organizers wanted to popularize the protest was by producing a rap song about it, which gained about 390.000 views on YouTube. What were your thoughts on that?

It is a good attempt, but in Hungary it doesn’t fly. The whole thing was very much about this feeling of community and a lot of people said it was a lame thing, and that they hated the chick because she couldn’t sing, I thought it was very brave of her, so kudos to her. They played the song at the end of the protest, but I left before the end (I didn’t want to wait for the whole crowd to leave at the same time) so I don’t know what the reaction of the audience was.

The official blog for the protest reported that 100.000 people showed up, do you think that is a close enough estimate?

That was a tactic, because in 2006 there was a violent protest in favor of the government party, there was a demonstration at Kossuth Square and the members of the opposition party said that 2 million people showed up and that is how it got reported, that was the word on the street. Obviously it wasn’t true, the population of Budapest is close to 2 million. But I think the organization tried to pull something like that to see if it works, the Budapest police is notoriously famous for not being able to estimate the size of the crowd, but I think there were about 20-25 thousand people, which is great. The last demonstration this big from the One million group was in March and there were apparently more people there, which is due to the weather, a lot of people just went over to the square to check it out, but now a lot of people came to hang around because it was cold.

What do you think is the answer to the dissatisfaction of people? What do you think is the future of these protests?

Elections is the answer. Main reason people started organizing is that there is no legitimate political representation of them. No party would go to the parliament to stop the insanity, you must be either very brave or very stupid to start a political party in Hungary. 4K!, one of the organizations just announced at the protests that they are forming a political party. They are distinct from the One million group, they are younger, I’d say they are professional activists and they have been around for a long time. Depending on what they achieve and how they communicate, how they manage to convince people, things could go in any direction. But there is a big chance that the governing party will win the next elections as well, just not with ⅔-rds of the vote, like they did last time. But even if they do win people are learning how to make their voices get heard and I think that they are just going to get braver.

Was the protest focused towards any specific goal?

The goal of the protest was to show our detest for the systematic breakdown of democratic institutions in every aspect of the county’s life. It started with the media law because freedom of press is being compromised with this new law, but it is hard to really be focused, because so many undemocratic and bad things are happening, they can’t pick one they don’t like. This is not a revolution, it is not about replacing the system, it is to show how we are not happy with the way things are, it is a protest. The current atmosphere in Hungary is really worrying, for example my mother is a civil servant and she didn’t go because she said she would lose her job if she did. She didn’t want me to go either, because she didn’t want me to get associated with any anti-government protests, even if it peaceful, she was scared. I told her that this is exactly why I am going, so you don’t have to live in fear. My dad attended 3 of them, but he is retired and he protested the retirement law as well, which would cut his retirement wage a lot. I can understand my mother in a way because she sort of grew up in this mind frame during the socialism and she admitted to me that the things that we are protesting doesn’t really change her life, the only change is that she now has a different boss who was appointed by the party, but actually she knows that it is affecting her a lot. But it is different for us, for me the ideas matter and for her it is only the practice of everyday life that matters. I guess in Communism they teach you to ignore the ideas.

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