On the evening of October 22...
On the evening of October
22, I and a few friends went to the Szabads�g t�r (Freedom Square)
where we heard there would be a demonstration, which was to include
some of the characters prominent in last autumn�s events: L�szl�
Torockai, head of the 64 Counties organisation (64 was the number
of counties in Hungary before the country was dismembered by the
post-World War I Treaty of Trianon), Gy�rgy Budav�ri, and a chap
who called himself Tomcat. We were peacefully drinking in a Mexican
restaurant in a side street that led to the square when a battalion
of police materialised. They stood there for a while, then suddenly
donned riot gear. I ran off to the Square to see what was happening.
There were about a thousand or two people listening to a rock
group called Haza�arul�, Gyurcs�ny Takarodj Egy�ttes (Traitor,
Gurcs�ny, Get Out, Band). Things looked quite peaceful, so I returned
to my friends. Then suddenly the police moved. I asked one of
them what had set them off. He replied that the police had been
pelted with rocks.
My friends decided they weren�t
going to risk getting beat up or thrown in jail for a bunch of
provocateurs, for that is what we thought this was about. In any
event, I and many others believed there would be provocation on
the part of the government. After a year of making things very
difficult indeed for people in his country, Gurcs�ny was looking
very bad. His poll numbers were in the cellar at 16 percent. His
one card was scaring people at home and abroad with the far-right
and anti-Semitic danger. He pretended to be the only bulwark that
stood against a far-right populist take-over.
Not to mention that it would be
in his interest to scare Hungarians into staying at home instead
of celebrating outside the 51st anniversary of the �56 Revolution.
The fewer people attended the Fidesz, (Young Democrats� Alliance)the
main opposition party rally on the 23rd, the better for him.
There were a hundred or so demonstrators
or just bystanders straggling along Arany J�nos utca. I headed
for Andr�ssy �t, the long avenue on which stood the opera. The
whole avenue was blocked off by police. The Prime Minister was
attending the opera, and the entire neighbourhood was completely
off limits. So I walked back. All along Bajcsy-Zsilinszky avenue,
the side streets were blocked by police. This made me very nervous,
for under such circumstances one naturally looks for a bolt hole.
Then fortunately I bumped into Krisztina Morvai, president of
the Civil Jog�sz Bizotts�g [Civilian Jurist Committee] and Tam�s
Gaudi-Nagy, president of the Nemzeti Jogv�d� Alapitv�ny [National
Foundation for the Defense of Legal Rights]. All last year they
had interviewed hundreds of people beaten and detained and came
out with a hard-hitting report. Hundreds of police headed toward
us, we ran, for we did not wish to be caught. Also enormous lorries
carrying water cannon passed us. The air was bitter with tear
gas, which wafted from Nyugati (the Western Train Station) and
from Andr�ssy �t. We heard on our mobile phones that there were
encounters at Nyugati and rumours that the police had overturned
some cars on Andr�ssy �t. We also heard that someone had been
hit in the leg. Later in finding refuge in a pub we saw confirmation
of this on H�r TV (the main opposition channel). This when the
government had promised to refrain from using rubber bullets!
Apparently, no one knew what precisely had caused the wound, but
it certainly looked like the result of a rubber bullet. Several
other people bore similar wounds.
We huddled in a shop doorway.
Morvai phoned Ilona �kes, a Fidesz MEP, who had done great work
with the victims of last autumn�s disturbances, and she joined
us. What appalled us was the overkill. As I said, there were only
a few, perhaps a hundred or two people standing about in the rain,
and the police were everywhere, blocking side streets, marching
down the main streets�all in sinister black. We also heard that
the police had charged because although permission had been given
to demonstrate in place, people weren�t allowed to move or march.
We then received information that a group of about seven young
people had been arrested and held, forced to hold up the wall
for an hour and a half in the cold and rain. We took off immediately,
but by the time we arrived they had been taken away. Two cars
had been overturned (no one knew who had done it). We then went
to the Seventh District Police Station where the young people
had been taken. The station was chock full of police in riot gear;
it was pure science fiction. They looked like Robocops. We went
to some of the young people, two looked very young indeed, and
they were, 16 and 17 years old. Just children and they were very
scared. The mother of one of them, a nineteen- year-old girl said
that while they were forced to prop up the wall, her daughter
had been taken ill, but no one helped her. Quickly a sergeant
came over to us and herded us away. We weren�t allowed to talk
to the detained. The police sergeant was a large, coarse man who
called the demonstrators cs�t�ny (cockroaches) and said he was
the broom who would sweep away the dirt. We all shivered.
What we did gather from the few
minutes we were allowed to talk with the detained was that they
had been arrested for nothing more than taking pictures of the
overturned cars. In the meantime, the police made the young people
who had been sitting stand up and stay there facing the wall again.
But quickly they were taken away. Krisztina Morvai and Tam�s Gaudi-Nagy
insisted on being allowed to talk to them, but to no effect. In
the event, we were left there cooling our heels. Subsequently
Gaudi-Nagy was allowed to talk to
one person. Finally around two o�clock in the morning (we had
been there since around ten) they let the detainees go without
booking them. I do believe that our presence had its effect. Morvai
and Gaudi-Nagy�s work with those who had been beaten and arrested
last autumn had borne fruit. They were well known and I believe
the police did not wish to make trouble for themselves. Also we
saw that the police this time were wearing identification numbers.
So they had learned some lessons from last year.
Today we are waiting to see what
will happen on this day of celebration. We hope it will be peaceful,
but as I have said it would be in the government�s interest to
Free-lance journalist, writer, translator, editor, former correspondent
for Hungarian BBC radio, and
present secretary of Writers for Peace Committee of International