All heavy traffic access roads leading into downtown Budapest were supplied with new, “cautionary” road signs last week – in record time when one considers the average tempo of city road construction projects, or how long it usually takes to replace a broken traffic light.
The signs prohibit entry for agricultural machinery, e.g. tractors, a move city leaders hope will prevent a threatened mass demonstration by farmers in the capital. According to Mayor Gábor Demszky’s reasoning, the appearance of tractors on the streets of Budapest under current conditions would distress the local population and make it difficult to enforce traffic regulations.
However, memories of last year’s tractor protest (in reaction to a price subsidy scheme) are not exactly grim enough to justify such a move. What’s more, that protest actually became something of a cause célèbre, as neat rows of impeccably polished farm vehicles parked on Felvonulási tér. As many city kids rarely get the chance to see a tractor – at least up close – Budapest parents were provided with an opportunity to whisk the whole family to the site for an impromptu educational visit.
Indeed, a few fathers were no doubt astounded to learn – while munching pretzels and buying cotton candy – that Lamborghini, generally known as a sports car manufacturer, is also renowned for its tractors.
Joking aside, here’s the real point: Tractors should be the least of our worries.
If traffic problems are the issue, wouldn’t it be far more sensible to rein in giant tour buses that keep making illegal turns on the körút and always park in the red for lack of a better option when homing in on downtown hotels? And if Prague has banned traffic from its inner city, maybe we’d feel less guilty about forcing lazy tourists to walk a few blocks to their luxury hotels. As far as terrorizing the locals, ear-splitting car alarms, deafening custom-built motorcycles and urban drag-racing exploits are far greater cause for concern.
It’s unfortunate the mayor should resort to such tactics. He, if anyone, should be familiar with his own liberal principles, which include freedom of expression and due recourse before the law.
While the possibility does exist that some visiting farmers might engage in extralegal activity during their planned stay in Budapest, we must tolerate any and all legal behavior in the best interests of democracy – no matter how inconvenient for politicians.
The mayor has a variety of tools at his disposal to protect the peace if and when it’s disturbed. And the police should be able to keep order without being called upon to take pre-emptive, provocative measures that are likely to only further strain already uneasy relations between Hungary’s urban and rural populations.