What happens when the tyranny of the minority succeeds in a western democracy? When does a minority become a majority? Could this happen elsewhere in Europe…or America? Is this an objective of those who want to tear down existing institutions to replace them with “new faces?”
Opposition Protests Constitution in Hungary
While Hungarian officials celebrated the country’s new Constitution at the National Opera in Budapest, thousands protested outside. By PALKO KARASZ and MELISSA EDDY, Published: January 2, 2012
BUDAPEST — As the governing party celebrated its achievements inside, tens of thousands of Hungarians rallied outside the nation’s 19th-century opera house on Monday in a rare opposition protest of what critics see as a campaign by Prime Minister Viktor Orban to undermine democracy and consolidate his power. Police officers moved in after scuffles broke out.
The protest — a day after the country’s new “majoritarian” Constitution took effect — was the first time that opposition groups, from political parties to civil organizations, joined forces to rally against the new Constitution, which was drawn up and ratified by Mr. Orban’s Fidesz party in defiance of criticism from Europe and the United States.
Fidesz used its two-thirds supermajority in Parliament to adopt the Constitution, which critics say tightens the government’s grip on the news media and the courts and dismantles democratic aspects of the judiciary. Last month, the government passed a measure that critics said seriously weakened the independence of the nation’s central bank.
While various organizations have staged protests over the past year, Monday’s rally was a previously unseen show of unity by various opposition parties and civil groups, and timed to coincide with the extravagant gala organized by Fidesz to celebrate the signing of the Constitution. Thousands of disgruntled Hungarians poured into Budapest’s Andrássy Street, which is lined with luxury shops leading down from the opera house.
“Democracy has disappeared in Hungary — they even took the republic from us,” said Tamas Kollar, 56, referring to his nation’s name change, from the Republic of Hungary to simply Hungary. Mr. Kollar said he felt robbed of his rights under Mr. Orban’s government.
Organizers addressing the crowd estimated that tens of thousands had turned out to fill the square outside the ornate National Opera, in the heart of the city. Riot police officers had secured the area and moved into the crowd after scuffling broke out among protesters and members of the far right, identified by the red and white flags they carried, who then dispersed.
The far-right Jobbik party said in a statement that it would not participate in the protest, but called its supporters to a parallel demonstration nearby, leading to fears of clashes reminiscent of 2006 riots over demands that Ferenc Gyurcsany, then the prime minister, step down.
Since then, Hungarians have seemed reluctant to take to the streets. Although protests took place throughout 2011, they were relatively small. Monday’s turnout fed opposition hopes that a sizable crowd could send a clear message to the government.
Petr Konya of the Hungarian Solidarity Movement, which helped organize the demonstrations, told the cheering crowd that 2012 would be a year of hope.
“We want the rule of law back and we want the republic back,” Mr. Konya said, to loud cheers. “Viktor Orban forgot that the power belongs to the people, it belongs to us, and we will get it back from them.”
Mr. Orban and his supporters insist that the changes to the Constitution and other laws are only steps that make good on campaign promises to do away with the old order and complete the transition from Communism that had stalled under previous governments.
Palko Karasz reported from Budapest, and Melissa Eddy from Berlin.