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Budapest Pride 2011: A report

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Thousands of people demonstrated in Budapest on 18 June against discrimination of gay, bisexual and transgender people. Unlike the demonstrations in Split (Croatia), Warsaw (Poland) or Macedonia there were no serious problems during the march with right-wing counter-protesters on Budapest Pride 2011. But this was only the case because it marched inside a zone, permanently and rigorously guarded by police and security and subsequently left isolated. Right wing provocations manifested itself in the form of several hundred right wing activists gathered at Oktogon (which is in the middle of the pride’s route).

Although police forces protected the Pride from right-wing attacks it is also clear that we can’t rely on their good will. Not only had the Pride been previously banned and then only finally allowed some days before, but the protesters were criminalized from the very beginning. A group from Vienna was restrained for hours after the march, after they had been attacked by right wing thugs on their way to the bus. Although there were several assaults after the demonstration, the Pride’s organisers didn’t seem to have any clear counter strategy how to deal with the situation.

Criminalising the Pride

The police used one of their well-known strategies during the weeks previous to the pride. The long route (from Heroe’s square to Andrassyroad to the parliament) was forbidden in the beginning of 2011. The police said that this was because the pride would disrupt traffic circulation. The real reason for this was the political pressure from conservative and right wing extremist forces to keep the parade as far away as possible from public view. Only shortly before the beginning of the demonstration the ban on this route was lifted.

But the next provocation was to follow. The day before the pride the police informed the participants that any behaviour that might offend public decency was forbidden. This strategy isn’t new to the Hungarian agencies either. While the parade is suspected to break the law from beginning, right wing extremists are allowed to march and provoke the parade without similar warnings or penalties. It’s obvious that this preventive condemnation of the pride’s participants is not about breaking the laws. It’s about maintaining the dominant attitudes of a conservative-bourgeois family moral that tries to ban from public deviations from their ideal role models.

The strengths and weaknesses of the demonstration’s political message

Despite these previous provocations the Pride counted thousands of participants and could start marching at around 4pm. Before that everyone entering had been checked by the pride’s stewards because right wingers had tried to attack the pride from inside in the past. Apart from the pride’s stewards there were also some securities present, of whom no one could tell, whether they would still guard the parade or even switch sides, if it wasn’t their job.

At the beginning of the protest the police’s negative attitude to the Pride was not mentioned at the rally. Instead everyone was told to follow the police and security force's orders. A speaker from Amnesty International Europe even pointed out that the participants wouldn’t have to worry, as the police were perfectly able to protect the demonstration. Facing the previous provocations of the police it is even more naive to rely on the state’s institutions for repression, especially if this state is central in agitating against minorities and imposing the so called laws against ‘public decency’.

The demands were only pleas directed to the Hungarian government, the European Union and the UN, instead of showing a perspective of resistance to the common attacks on gay, bisexual or transgender people. Even though Stuart Milk, the nephew of (Harvey Milk) the homosexual city councilman of San Francisco who was murdered in 1978, pointed out that the demonstration’s aim was not to plead for tolerance any more but to demand rights, he relied at the same time on a recently passed UN-resolution, that condemned assaults on people because of their sexual orientation. Also he read out a letter by US-president Barack Obama, in which he wrote that gay, bisexual and transgender people are “full members of our diverse society”.

With these statements, completely lacking criticism on capitalist conditions which support and reproduce discrimination day by day because of so-called family values the core of the problem remained untouched. While the demand for equal rights has to be central even within bourgeois society, we need to go further than just demand acceptance by a bourgeois system of values. Politically we need a fundamental criticism of capitalism, whilst organisationally we need the establishment of committees for self-defence – both are central in order to put forward radical criticism and to be able to defend our selves independent of the police. The concentration on rights provided by law misses out, that - especially in Hungary – it is more important for progressive forces to stand up to reactionary mobilisations on the streets, than to gain formal acceptance by the law. Indeed the law will ultimately reflect the actions of the people if we are militant and strong enough – homosexuality was illegal in most countries but mass protests and organisation by gay-rights groups has forced changes in the law and peoples attitudes.

Also Hungarian nationalism was present at the march. In last years the Hungarian national hymn was sung, and Orban’s declaration for national unity was carried at the Pride. This year the organisers were combining the rainbow flag with the Hungarian one. “Hungarianness cannot mean an exclusionary system of values”, is what the organisers say to justify the presence of the national flag. But this policy is exclusive, because it works only within a nationalist framework. The important solidarity with Hungarian minorities – with or without Hungarian citizenship – is undermined. Especially Roma, who are under permanent threat of being attacked, probably won’t have positive associations with the Hungarian national flag. Attempts to use or win back the national flag for progressive means are predestined to fail, because they leave the question – who determines the ruling conditions in that particular country – untouched. The existing bourgeois rule is thereby excluded from any criticism which is replaced by the unclear imagination of some – even diversified – unity of the Hungarian nation. The pride organiser’s attempt to appeal to nationalism positively is understandable in the face of enormous pressure from conservatives and right wingers, but serves only nationalist forces in the end.

Right wing provocations

During the travel to the pride it was possible to spot Nazi’s, some of them had already gathered at the Oktagon. Laszlo Toroczkai, the founder of extremely right wing HVIM that campaigns for the re-establishment of Great Hungary and is known for its anti-Semitic slogans, had announced a rally there. In October 2010 the HVIM had organised a commemoration ceremony for the 1956 rising together with other organisations. On this occasion they wore flags and uniforms which reminded of the fascist Arrow Cross Party under whose rule approximately 76,000 Jews were deported. At this commemoration ceremony openly anti-Semitic speeches were held: “We will have to defend ourselves in the future, because Jewish emperors will come with modern means of warfare.” was one of the claims made at that event.

As the right-wingers and Nazi’s rally was taking place directly on the pride’s route, the police routed the demonstration through side streets alongside the rally. Right wingers and Nazis still gathered on a couple of places to provoke the parade’s participants. The outstretched right hand for the Hitler salute was not a rarity and could be documented a couple of times.

In front of the parliament dozens of Nazi’s gathered in order to provoke and insult the participants. After some anti-fascist slogans had been shouted, the police and the securities pushed the parade back. While the Nazi’s were allowed to stand very close to the police fence and provoke the demonstration, the police were repressing the anti-fascists.

Attack on the bus from Vienna

Also if there have been no direct attacks during the pride, there have been several assaults on participants of the demo after the final rally ended close to the parliament. There was also an attack on activists from Vienna, amongst them four comrades of the Austrian section of the L5I, when they were trying to get to their bus.

The participants from Vienna were attacked with an irritant spray when entering a small street in which the bus was waiting. Several Nazis came running and threatened the participants from Vienna until the police intervened. But although it was the fascists who attacked, the participants of the Pride were the ones who are now being investigated and potentially prosecuted by the police. The bus was stopped from leaving the place and police demanded to check the identities from the participants in the bus, which they achieved with the use of force as they dragged people out of the bus. While the people were being dragged out, a fascist photographer was taking pictures and filming the people from Vienna without being stopped by the police.

After the police tore the people out of the bus, their passports and identity cards were collected and they were forced to line up in front of three Nazis for an identity parade. It was up to the fascists to tell the police who was guilty. While the fascists firstly accused a person with shorts and blond hair, they afterwards picked out two people not wearing shorts and not having blonde hair. Everybody had to line up in front of them. While one of the people from Vienna was brought in front of them, one of the male Nazis was nodding, the other right-wingers followed suit and nodded as well. The same happened with another participant from Vienna. An independent statement was therefore not at all guaranteed, much more the right-wing attackers could make an arrangement whom to choose. The two people were then brought to the police station and investigated till early morning the next day.

Although the police said several times that it was not true that the attackers were Nazis, it was obvious that they were. One of the attackers was wearing a shirt of the right-extremist HVIM and was leaving the place after giving a Nazi salute and shouting “Sieg Heil!”

Conclusion

On a superficial level it was clearly to be seen that the appearance of the pride was more open than in the years before. Also several transgender people were openly participating at the Pride, the mood was more enthusiastic and energetic than in some of the parades before. Also some observers were waving from windows or cafes around the Pride march to show their support.

Nevertheless it should be concluded that Pride wouldn’t be possible without the protection of the police. This dependency on the good will of the police is anything but calming. Although the police protected Pride, it was also the police that contributed to the criminalisation of the Pride and also was part of an ideological campaign against it. Why else should the police warn the Pride that it shouldn’t do anything against good morality if they wouldn’t want to support a discourse arguing that all the people on the Pride are “perverts”? Also the fact that the police union TRMSZ, is close to the right-wing party Jobbik, represents about 10 per cent of the police force shows that we cannot rely on the police. Their actions in collaborating with the Nazis to pick out trouble makers and fit people up for interrogation shows you were their sympathies lie. Building up action-committees and committees for self-defence is therefore a key issue to protect gay clubs and pubs but also to tackle the wider issue of defending Jews and Roma villages from attacks and to force back reactionary trends within Hungary.