Mathias Corvinus Collegium put out a press release on Thursday, 17 February about the findings of a recently conducted survey. MCC polled young Hungarian people aged 15–29 about their attitudes towards international climate activists employing more and more aggressive tactics. In the past six months, organisations such as Just Stop Oil, Letzte Generation, and Ultima Generazione made headlines for throwing paint at invaluable works of classic art by artists like Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Raphael, Botticelli, or Vermeer, among others.
The participants of the survey, conducted by Ifjúságkutató Intézet (Youth Research Institute) and Klímapolitikai Intézet (Climate Policy Institute), and sponsored by MCC, were asked if they approve or disapprove of certain methods of protests applied by climate activists recently. They were asked about six specific ways these activists have shown their objection in the past.
Tree planting received the highest approval rating, with 62 per cent of the 1,000 respondents saying it was a ‘completely justified’ step to protect our environment, with another 25 per cent marking it as ‘rather justified’. Litter collection came in second with 62 per cent strongly approving.
However, the more extreme measures were widely rejected by the young people of Hungary.
‘Blocking busy roads by protest’ got only a 12 per cent strong approval rating, and ‘campaigning against higher birth rates’ got 10 per cent. Using slogans such as ‘The name of the planet: death?’ was received very favourably by only 8 per cent. This exact phrase is based on the Hungarian title of the 1986 sci-fi film Aliens and was actually used to promote an Extinction Rebellion event in Budapest in September 2021. Meanwhile, ‘throwing various materials at famous paintings, works of art’ was the least popular method of protest, with only a six per cent strong approval rating, and 16 per cent more at least somewhat approving.
Responders were then asked to rate the same methods not based on whether or not they find them justified, but rather if they think they are effective in combating climate change. As for the responses to this question, the order of choices remained the same—planting trees (44 per cent) and collecting litter (42 per cent) still took the top two spots. However, the difference between the results has somewhat increased. This time, the 42 per cent score for garbage collection was followed by an eight per cent rating for blocking busy roads, a 34 per cent drop. Advocating against childbirth got seven per cent. Meanwhile, the two least popular options, throwing paint on famous works of art and using slogans like ‘The name of the planet: death’, received six and five per cent this time, respectively.
Radical Actions Taken By Climate Activists
None of the methods of protest asked about in the survey were hypothetical: all of them have been tried by activists in some part of the world.
We have mentioned the splattering of paint and other substances on famous works of art. Even the most famous painting in the world, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, was not spared. In May 2022, a young man, pretending to be wheelchair-bound, got close to the 16th-century masterpiece and smeared cake over it, then yelled environmentalist slogans in French.
Busy roadways have been blocked by climate zealots in many major cities across the world, including Washington D.C., London, Berlin, Rome, and Sydney. The Sydney, Australia stunt resulted in a 15-month prison sentence for one of the perpetrators. As the press release by MCC pointed out, in some cases, these road blockades led to deaths, as the ambulances and fire trucks were not able to come through at their usual pace.
However, there have also been high-profile instances of pro-climate initiatives that are viewed favourably by young Hungarians. The TeSzedd! (YouPickItUp!) voluntary clean-up programme has been held annually since 2019, organised by the Ministry for Innovation and Technology. Government spokesperson Alexandra Szentkirályi has been an avid supporter of the movement for years. In 2019, Jimmy ‘MrBeast’ Donaldson, who has since become the most-subscribed individual user on YouTube, ran his #TeamTrees fundraising campaign. It ended up exceeding its goal of raising $20 million to plant 20 million trees worldwide, with the help of the Arbor Day Foundation.