Ten thousands of Hungarians demonstrated against their government last week, after Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany admitted he lied about the economy to win the election in April. In Budapest the protests turned into violent riots. Hungarian students Eszter Nemeth and Bea Horvath are surprised this happened in their country.
If Bea had been in Hungary, she would have been on out on the streets, she says. ‘I’m sure. It’s a shame we have a president like this. I really think it’s important to demonstrate against the government, although I don’t think the riots are good. Most people don’t want violence.’
‘They are just like football hooligans’, says Eszter about the people who started the riots. ‘They destroyed a lot of cars and damaged and occupied the building of the national television. They destroy just for fun. They are glad there is chaos now.’ The riots caught the Hungarian people by surprise. ‘I’ve never seen that before,’ says Eszter. ‘It’s new for Hungary. The police couldn’t handle the situation.’
The week before there had already been protests against the introduction of higher taxes, health charges and student fees as measures to deal with the deficit the Hungarian economy faces. In a tape leaked to the media over the weekend and broadcast by Hungarian radio, Gyurcsany told his party that the government had lied about the budget deficit. He also said his government had achieved nothing during its previous four years in power.
The students think the lying is not the only thing people are angry about. ‘It’s also about the changes we have had to make since we have joined the European Union,’ says Eszter, pointing at democratic and economic reforms. ‘It’s too much for Hungary. It’s like building a house, it takes time.’ Eszter doesn’t have a strong opinion about the government. ‘I’m not really interested in politics. I’m from a little town in the north and people there are busy with other things.’
Bea, who is from Budapest, doesn’t like this government. ‘The worst thing they decided was that Hungarian people who live outside the current borders are not entitled to Hungarian citizenship. We lost a lot of land after the First World War, but the people who lived there were Hungarian. This government now says they are not.’
She is not happy with the new measures, except the introduction of fees for university education. ‘There are too many highly educated people in Hungary. There is not enough work for them. If you have to pay to go to university, there will be fewer people who do that.’
Now the rioting is over, but Prime Minister Gyurcsany has not resigned. ‘We will just continue in the same way,’ says Bea. ‘The Hungarian people don’t really want to change. We will forget these things.’ She is also a little pessimistic about the future. ‘Hungarian people are lazy. They don’t want to work. If we want to be a part of the European Union, we will have to work for it.’ She admits the problems are not only this government’s fault. ‘All governments make mistakes. But maybe this government made more mistakes.’
Eszter is more resigned: ‘I think they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
Next week on 1 October there will be local elections. Only then will it become clear whether the events have damaged the Socialist Party.