Protesters have damaged the unfinished pedestal of the controversial monument to victims of the German occupation of Hungary in 1944 after breaking down fencing around the construction work in central Szabadság tér. In another development as anger mounts over the government’s move to build the monument without consultation, the opposition Hungarian Socialist Party has launched a local referendum on whether the District V council should abandon the project.
Demonstrators have broken through the fencing several times since Tuesday 8 April, when construction began only two days after the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was returned to power in the national election on 6 April. In February Orbán had told the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Faith Communities that he would consult with them after Easter about their opposition to the planned memorial. The federation says it is astonished that Orbán has not kept to his word.
Opponents of the structure, which is scheduled to be completed by 31 May, say it is designed to whitewash Hungarian complicity in the deportation of Jews in the Holocaust.
The protesters did their damage after dismantling some of the steelwork reinforcing the pedestal’s foundations. They placed flowers and candles at the scene. One flashmob enter the site and said Kaddish, the Jewish mourning prayer.
Pál Steiner, an MP of the Hungarian Socialist Party, told a press conference at Szabadság tér that until a referendum is held, all building work should stop. However, if it goes ahead and the citizens of District V vote against the memorial, a court would validate their will, he said.
The government information centre referred to a government decree that states the government considers it a priority to erect a monument to pay tribute to the victims on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Hungary’s occupation. Originally, the government had planned to have the monument completed by the anniversary, 19 March, but later decided to postpone construction until after the general election.
Before the official results of the election on 6 April were even available, Orbán was already flexing his muscle. Only two days after voting a group of about 15 workers was sent to Szabadság tér to begin the foundation of the much-disputed memorial.
The left-side demonstrators showed up quickly. Politicians of the opposition Democratic Coalition, Hungarian Socialist Party and Dialogue for Hungary parties were especially active during the protests.
Szabolcs Kerék-Báczy, of the Democratic Coalition, called the civil action a symbolic step: Orbán himself had participated in pushing down the fences placed in front of the Parliament building at the riots after the infamous “lies speech” of former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány was made public in 2006.
Some of the action has been initiated by anti-government blog Kettős Mérce. Vilmos Hanti, president of the Hungarian Association of Resistance Fighters and Anti-Fascists, said he saw the action of the left parties as more a tactical step than a real interest in the memorial. Asked about their motivation, he answered: “The elections for the European Parliament are near.”
András Schiffer, the leader of the green party Politics Can Be Different (LMP), asked people for restraint rather than hysteria, and for them to think for a moment about how the opposition should react in such a situation when it had no real power to change it.