Apart from the stated goals of the rally about showing support for self-determination, sovereignty and the ability to participate in meaningful elections there was another interesting aspect of the demonstration. Participants were protesting about the way the foreign press was treating Hungary. But what sort of issues could cause hundreds of thousands to protest? This can be illustrated on three examples, Kim Scheppele, Adam LeBor, and Charles Gati.
Kim Scheppele‘s writings represent perfectly the lies, distortions, half-truths, and falsehoods spread about Hungary. Scheppele single-handedly wrote more of these than just about anyone else. Ambassador of Hungary to the US, György Szapáry called what Scheppele was doing “tabloid journalism, not serious scholarship” while noting that there were “factual errors or misconceptions” in his Dec 27th letter. But after Dec 27th Scheppele increased the number of distortions, which were often corrected in the comments sections of her various posts, but never in the articles themselves. There was also no apology or comment regarding the previous pieces. Together the number of factual mistakes and their severity completely undermined the credibility of Scheppele. At one point she even wrote that Miklós Horthy was a Prime Minister of Hungary (whereas in reality he was the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary). It’s like calling Abraham Lincoln “The King of America”. Still Scheppele is just one example, the demonstrators were really protesting about all the distortions and half-truths written about Hungary.
Adam LeBor is a journalist with integrity, who generally researches his stuff well. He also knows much more about Hungary than the group of commentators represented by Scheppele. LeBor rarely makes a factual mistake, but his opinions are not shared by most Hungarians. Still there is no reason to protest him, so why is he even in there? There is a single sentence written by Adam LeBor that is now known by more people in Hungary than all of his other works combined. This sentence was the following:
…Mr Orbán seems increasingly out of touch. His future will likely be decided not in the gilded corridors of the Hungarian parliament, but in Brussels and Washington DC.
One of the main messages of the rally (“We will not be a colony” on the banner) clearly seems to be a reference to LeBor’s above sentence. At first glance the notion that Hungary is a colony might seem ridiculous, even laughable, so why is it even mentioned in the protest? Yet the above sentence flatly states that Hungary is already “likely” to be ruled from “Brussels and Washington DC”. This directly contradicts the basic democratic principle of the right to have free and fair elections. Why even have them if the result can be undone at the whim of Washington DC or Brussels? The Hungarian press wrote at length about this sentence and it was discussed on internet forums and TV shows as well. The organizers themselves were definitely aware of it too. It’s not certain that this is what they were referring to, but it’s quite likely.
Charles Gati is an aging Hungarian communist, who left then Communist Hungary in the 1950s. Gati went on to achieve a massive career in the west leaving his past behind, very much like Paul Lendvai. Before leaving Hungary, Gati was a journalist for Szabad Nép, the infamous propaganda paper of the Communist times, a publication with journalistic integrity and style similar to Völkischer Beobachter (this has been denied by Gati in a Népszabadság article). Gati who is very successful and wields large influence within the US is still very much fond of the left-wing in Hungary. Reportedly Gati had a caricature of Viktor Orban in his room already in 2003, indicating a much earlier dislike than any new law or decision made by the government since 2010. But still, this is hardly enough for a protest. A recent comment of Gati however, raised the ire of many in Hungary. Gati was commenting on the possibility of removing the present Hungarian government from power, mentioning five points. Point five reads: Civil war. According to Gati this can be realized if “the irrational and defiant rejection of western suggestions and criticism continues”. Gati’s words can easily be interpreted as a threat (especially by linking them to rejecting criticism) or wishful thinking by Gati, or even in a more benign way. Gati may only be afraid of such an event and is worried for Hungary. Needless to say the mention of civil war was not well received within Hungary no matter the interpretation. But is there any reason to think that the protesters have referred to Gati as well? According to press reports, a peace walk participant said of the huge crowd “let Charles Gati see this”. The reference is clear: communist old timers and liberal extremists are few in number and they aren’t known for their fighting prowess either. Seeing the size of the crowd this could become the shortest civil war in human history.