On Monday, 24 April demonstrators attempted again to remove the barriers sealing off the Prime Minister’s offices from the public in the Buda Castle. Most of the violent protestors were from the Momentum party, while members of some other opposition parties as well as students and teachers demonstrating against the government’s education policy were also present.
Monday was in fact the fourth time Momentum representatives tried to pull down the barriers outside the Carmelite Monastery in Buda. Up until now, each time after Momentum removed or attempted to remove some of the fences, representatives from the party placed a message on the prime minister’s office with their demands. This week was different. The storming of the barriers happened after a demonstration organised by teachers who protested at the recent planned changes in their employment status as well as their low wages.
No Undivided Approval on the Left
Else then condemnation from the right and from the government, the adding of illegal and violent action to the until now peaceful teachers’ protests sparked considerable internal disputes within the opposition, too.
LMP MP Péter Ungár wrote in a post on social media criticising the violent protest that the act did not serve the interests of teachers. Ungár called out the stunt as one that ‘stole the show’ from teachers, and harshly condemned it as ‘selfish’. Ungár also argued that such ‘hysteria and cosplaying revolution’ do not appeal to voters.
The demonstration that was officially intended to protest changes in the legal status of teachers as well as to raise more awareness about their low wages turned into a violent protest only after it had officially ended. The initially peacefully gathering crowd listened to a series of political speeches on the Pest side of the capital city, then once the demonstration officially ended around 7 p.m., part of the crowd decided to march across the city to the Buda Castle, where the Carmelite Monastery is located. In front of the prime minister’s residence, the crowd turned violent and attempted to remove the barriers.
Unfortunately, the opposition also seemed to be exploiting a young teenage girl’s role in the protest. Secondary school student Lili Pankotai became known in Hungary late last year for reciting her own piece of slam poetry, interspersed with vulgarities at a pro-teacher demonstration. Since then the girl, the young woman is known to have worked in Brussels with Momentum MEP Anna Donáth for a short while. Lili Pankotai now appeared among those trying to forcibly remove the barriers, alongside some renowned opposition figures. As the political gathering at the Buda Castle has not been announced, and some of the protestors were aggressive, the police were forced to use tear gas to disperse the crowd. Eventually, the remaining demonstrators left the scene around 9 p.m., but not without announcing a new demonstration, planned to take place next week.
A Small Party Craving Attention
Momentum’s recent eagerness to make it to the front pages of newspapers can be explained by its despair for attention and inability to find itself a reasonable political agenda. Two other opposition parties, DK and Jobbik-Conservatives already seem to have found their own distinct voices and characters, and by doing so, have made their parties more and more competitive in each election, while Momentum does not really seem to have a face or a plan just now. While the party did attempt to popularise one of its members, MEP Anna Donáth, that campaign does not seem to have attracted much attention or many voters after all. Momentum has also tried to meddle in local affairs, especially in the city of Debrecen where a new car battery plant is about to be built. Momentum, along with other opposition parties, protested the investment plans on environmental grounds. Momentum even prepared a proposal for a local referendum, which was recently rejected. As both their recent campaigns ran out of steam and lost their appeal quite fast, Momentum seems to be left with no other option but to resort to violent and provocative steps.
Opposition Parties Already Preparing for Next Elections
While Momentum seems to be rather desperate to secure attention, some other opposition parties are better at positioning themselves for the next elections —the 2024 EP elections and the 2026 parliamentary elections. As Hungarian Conservative has reported, the Democratic Coalition (DK) has considerably increased its membership since the last election, openly aspiring to becoming the dominant opposition party in Hungary. The leadership of DK welcomed members from many other opposition parties also in the last couple of weeks, openly applauding their choice to assist DK in becoming a home for all those who oppose Fidesz. The politicians who defected from their alliances now include former Jobbik politicians as well, as most recently, two municipal representatives from the city of Miskolc left Jobbik to join the Democratic Coalition. DK is allegedly willing to use both persuasion and coercion to make politicians depart their parties and join DK’s ranks. In total, the party claims to have increased its size with 900 new members since April 2022.
But it is not only DK that is positioning itself for the next election as the most viable opposition party, but Jobbik–Conservatives, too. Jobbik started the preparations for the upcoming elections by changing its name to include the word ‘Conservatives’, clearly because due to the party’s antisemitic past, for most of the Hungarian electorate the word ‘Jobbik’ sounds quite tainted. Jobbik is obviously attempting to pose as a decent right-wing formation now, also seeking the approval and sympathy of their newly fouND Anglophone friends. Jobbik President, Márton Gyöngyösi, who infamously called for the listing of Hungarian MPs of Jewish ancestry some years ago, was recently invited to celebrate Pesach at the residence of US Ambassador David Pressman. When Márton Gyöngyösi called for creating the above-mentioned list, he justified the call by arguing that Hungarian Jews sitting in the parliament pose a national security risk to Hungary—which we commented on in a recent op-ed. While Márton Gyöngyösi claimed to have changed his views and reformed his ways, his invitation to the Pesach dinner understandably caused a scandal in Hungary. And yet, his presence at the Pesach seder did increase his and his party’s visibility, which is an important step in the preparation for the upcoming elections.
It remains to be seen, however, if this desperate craving for attention, and the aggressive and violent actions that the opposition engages in are appealing to the Hungarian electorate. It is more likely that meaningful, constructive actions, and a comprehensive and relevant political agenda would benefit opposition parties more than any of the stunts DK, Momentum and Jobbik-Conservatives have been recently engaging in.