Protest in Hungary, a year after leak of PM’s “we lied” speech

History

Some 2,000 people marched across Budapest Monday calling for the resignation of Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, a year after the broadcast of a secret speech in which he admitted the government lied about the economy to win the 2006 elections.

“The government has to go and we’re continuing what we started a year ago,” said protest organizer László Gonda, before the march. „Hungary cannot recover until Gyurcsány and his gang have gone.” The march started near the Corvin Cinema, one of the key battlegrounds of the 1956 anti-Soviet Revolution, and ended at Kossuth Square, outside parliament, where around 5,000 people gathered to hear anti-government speeches.

No major violence was reported, although some protesters threw a few cans and bottles at the cars of parliamentary deputies from the government parties on their way home from meetings in the legislature. No one was injured. Despite protesters calling for the government’s resignation, analysts say Hungary’s political system has been stuck in a rut for the past 12 months. A tape of Gyurcsány speech at a closed meeting of Socialist Party deputies on May 26, 2006, in Balatonőszöd, a resort town on Lake Balaton, south of Budapest, was leaked to Hungarian state radio, which first broadcast excerpts on September 17 last year.

In the speech, Gyurcsány could be heard often using foul language to tell his party that the government had “screwed up,” that “no country in Europe has done something as boneheaded as we have” and that „we lied throughout the last year-and-a-half, two years ... we lied morning, evening and night.” While the government insisted before the elections that the 2006 target of 6.1% of gross domestic product for Hungary’s state budget deficit was attainable, it was soon revealed that the actual figure was closer to 10% of GDP. Since 2005, Hungary has had the largest budget deficit in the EU compared with the size of its economy.

Reacting to the speech, several thousand people gathered outside parliament on the afternoon of September 17, 2006, calling for Gyurcsány’s resignation. The protests continued around the clock for a few weeks. They included several nights of rioting, notably the siege of the Hungarian state television headquarters on September 18 and a daylong clash between protesters and police on October 23 — the 50th anniversary of the start of the 1956 revolution — in which hundreds of participants, bystanders and police were injured. As demands for Gyurcsány’s dismissal increased — even President László Sólyom said he should be replaced — the coalition parties backed the prime minister in a vote of confidence in early October, creating a deadlock that has yet to be broken.

The protesters chanting against the government Monday carried Hungarian flags and the red and white Árpád Stripes, an ancient national banner. Sólyom last week said the Árpád Stripes should not be used, as they closely resemble the flag of the Arrow Cross, a World War II pro-Nazi party responsible for killing thousands of Jews. “I think the biggest problem is that were are in 2007 but Hungarian politics are still captive of the events of 2006,” political analyst Gábor Török said on state television. (Read more)

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