Like clockwork, last night’s March 15th celebrations in Budapest ended in riots downtown, in which skinheads and other right wing supporters set up burning barricades and faced off against the police. It looks like holiday rioting is going to be a new Hungarian tradition. Hungarian National holdidays will be like the May Day anarchist riots in Berlin - but it is right wing skinheads doing the rioting here. In Hungary, March 15th commemorates the progressive Rebellion of 1848, and is usually a non-political day for families to go out and welcome the spring. Now it means screaming wingers blocading the street and calling the municipal police a bunch of "commies."The big loser from the riots is most likely Orban Viktor, the former Prime Minister and leader of FIDESZ whose megalomaniacal addiction to power won’t allow him to recognize that he lost the elections in May 2006 for a second time. Since the burning of the Hungarian TV headquarters in September 2006, and the Kossuth Square protests and subsequent riots on October 23, Orban has continued to run as if in a campaign, trumpeting his rejection of the legitimacy of the elected Socialist led coalition government. Denied success at the voting booth, Orban advocates changing politics by the force of street crowds. Essentially the aging Orban is trying to relive his golden years in the late 1980s when he was an electrifying (and, I can add, a very liberal) student leader.
Said Orban during his speech yesterday: “The people have a right to chase away the government, even in a democracy, if it doesn't govern based on public will.” Huh? This guy lost two elections in a row. FIDESZ has never had a strong tolerance of the democratic process when it doesn’t see their party elected to (lucrative) public office. Orban does have a strong tolerance, however, for the Arpad Flag, the right wing's new public symbol. And the Arpad flag is a symbol of the deepest kind of intolerance. Recently, Mr. Orban has spent a lot of hot air publicly defending the use of the red-striped "Arpad Flag" used at right wing rallies, where, in fact, Mr. Orban spends a lot his own time making speeches. The Arpad flag has a long history in Hungary, but most recently it has been the symbol of the radical right wing, especially the racist and antisemitic skinhead and "Hungarist" radicals who draw a lot of their support from football ultra hooligan clubs. More sober commentators have asked the FIDESZ leadership to distance themsleves from these flags, but apart from a weak attempt to discourage their use while the TV cameras are focusing on FIDESZ' ostensibly middle-class-family-friendly rallies, Mr. Orban has never himself told any of his followers to put these flags away. In fact, FIDESZ itself sponsored a bogus "historical conference" last week to play up the role of the Arpad flag as a universal alternative to the Hungarian tricolor.The Arpad flag is merely one of the objects or arguments that have become symbolic of the psychological wedge being driven between the "two Hungarys" - one being the European-centric, liberal Humanist Hungarian tradition which looks to the late Hapsburg era for inspiration, and the other being the nationalist, xenophobic, authoritarian Hungarian tradition harking back to the Horthy period previous to Hungary's humiliating loss in World War Two. Admiral Horthy, however, wasn't quite fascist enough to provide a symbol for the contemporary Hungarian right wing. They had to look to the symbol of the Arrow Cross Party, who took power in the October 1944 after the Germans kidnapped Horthy for not allowing further deportations of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz to complete their "Final Solution." The Arrow Cross flag looked like this: The Arrow Cross Guards, in particular, were drawn from the lower classes - previously Hungarian nobility were involved in all forms of government, and the nobility historically maintained a soft spot for Hungary's Jews. The Arrow Cross, however, saw the Jews as a symbol of the wealthy classes and took particular delight in persecuting them. "As conditions in Budapest worsened and the Szálasi government took off to Western Hungary towards the end of December, the capital remained in the hands of local Arrow Cross leaders, who terrorized the entire population and, among other things, regularly took out inhabitants of the Protected Buildings to shoot them into the nearby Danube River."Author György Konrád wrote about his memories of the Arrow Cross in 1944: "The Russians were getting very close, but the Arrow Cross was still doing away with Jews and Christian defectors in the neighborhood. This verb-"do away with"-was on every public poster, and it meant kill on the spot, and leave the body there... The men in armbands with guns in their hands had plenty of people to shoot, though they had begun to sense that they couldn't execute every single Jew. They probably had trouble getting into the mood for man-hunting every day. Filling the Danube, where the ice was now breaking up, with old ladies and little girls, was an ornamental art whose charm was only intermittent. Even these defenceless people, of whom they could have killed as many as they felt like-even these expressed, if nothing else, at least the gentlest resistance in their eyes, reinforced by the gaze of passersby, who watched the quiet winter coats being led down to the riverbank with some degree of empathy. Of course you needed to make time for other things too, like drinking and getting warm…. It was more dangerous to shoot at Russians, but the Jews were fish in a barrel. Life is a matter of luck, and death bad luck. You can do something for yourself, but not much, and sometimes pride keeps you from doing even that much. Several people were taken from the apartment the previous night. From the next room, by chance, and not from ours."Basically, if you are a Hungarian Jew you are either a survivor of the Holocaust, or a descendant of a survivor. To us, and probably to the majority of non-Jewish Hungarians, the red-striped flag only means one thing. It is a fascist symbol of the worst excesses of the Nazi era. Hungary has had many flags in its history - there are lots of alternatives for Mr. Orban and his followers to chose from - but in 1848 the leaders of the Hungarian Revolution chose the red-white-green tricolor to represent Hungary, and so it has been ever since. In the early 1990s, racist and openly antisemitic skinhead groups began to revive forms of the Arpad flag as their symbol after a new law came to ban "symbols of hatred" such as the swastika, the hammer and sickle, and the arrow cross.Back in 1992, Viktor Orban publically spoke out against the sight of these red striped flags paraded in the streets by newly organized skinhead gangs. Obviously, Orban has changed significantly since those days. (Photos from index.hu)