March 15th, 2007 turned out to be anything but expected - at least what our crazy conservative security teacher thought it would be. There were basically two predictions going into the big holiday - that all mayhem would break loose, cops would lay down their weapons, masses of people would swarm in and start a revolution - or most people wouldn't use this event for political gain and not much would happen. The second would eventually turn out - but let's start with just a little history.
So the history of Hungary after 1500 is basically about trying to throw off a greater power - either the Turks or the Habsburgs. In 1848 the Hungarians rose up against their Habsburg oppresors and initiated a full-scale War of Independence for about 9 months. The Habsburgs had many other problems besides the Hungarians so they turned to the Russians to help in shutting down the rebellion. This would not be the last time Russians would occupy Hungary and enforce a harsh law on the public. The Hungarians were mad, but got a large measure of autonomy in 1867 and then full independence in 1918. Ok so now to the juicy current events.
So last fall on October 23, the protestors used the ceremonies commemorating an anti-communist uprising in 1956 to voice their displeasure with the current government. Most people supported these efforts because many link the current government to the former communists.
After the violence was quelled last fall, many thought it would spring up again on March 15th. This didn't happen for several reasons. One of the most important is that the same ideological link wasn't there. This holiday was commemorating rebellions against the Habsburgs, not the communists. Another major reason was that there were international advisors in town and the police were much more accountable and prepared. All these measures allowed most of the festivities to go on without too much trouble.
At night though, there was some fighting. The police had arrested the main leader of the riots of October 23rd, and put him in a cell on the Champs Elysees or New York 5th Avenue of Budapest. Protestors tried to break him out and had several clashes with police, though there were only a few hundred participating. We of course followed the action but we were behind by about 1 hr. My friend Eric kept calling and updating us on what was going on as he was taking it in live, but we were still finishing our dinner. We saw all the remnants of torn down telephone booths and charred benches, but none of it firsthand. From all accounts, it was nothing like what happened on October 23rd. Since I didn't have any good pictures from March 15th, the one is from Alex last semester on October 23rd. You can see me standing next to Szabi in my sweatshirt in the lower left.
It really is too bad that such riots are hurting this country. It has many underlying problems and its economy is struggling. At the turn of transition it was supposed to be the first country to fully transition to a market economy - now it is in last place. And just think if this country after 20 years of peace lots of foreign investment, and many well educated, well meaning indviduals can't get this country working fully - how long will it take for Iraq or Afghanistan to get off the ground?