Hundreds of people protested against a construction project planned at Budapest’s City Park (Városliget), after police removed activists from the site to begin works. After several more protests, the demolition of the old Hungexpo buildings began on Tuesday, but demonstrators stayed behind the fences and promised not to get involved as long as trees are not being cut down.
The demonstration organised on social media sites was addressed by András Lukács, head of the environmental Levegő Munkacsoport, who noted that according to a survey commissioned recently by Greenpeace 86 percent of Budapesters oppose the Liget Project in its current form. A survey taken in January had shown 75 percent opposing the project, which involves the creation of a museum quarter, he said.
The government’s asset manager in charge of the project, Városliget Zrt., had since then spent HUF 300 million on a communication campaign to promote the Liget Project, but “achieved the opposite result”.
Klára Garay, a spokesperson for the Ligetvédők group (Park Protectors), said activists will stay on site “until the rule of law returns”.
The Budapest police said on its website that they had detained 12 people, accusing one of violence against an authority. They said they would file misdemeanour reports against 41 others.
The ruling Fidesz party derided the protests in the City Park as “hysterical” and called on “the opposition and activists” to stop spreading “fake news” over the Liget project. Had it been up to the left wing, Budapest would not have seen any upgrades or developments at all over the past years, Fidesz said.
“They [the left] let City Park and the capital’s other natural and architectural treasures deteriorate during their tenure in government,” the party said. The project would make City Park “greener” and turn it into Budapest’s most beautiful park.
Radical nationalist Jobbik called on national and municipal leaders not to neglect local residents’ disapproval of the project. Jobbik MP Lajos Kepli said “only a handful of entrepreneurs close to the government” would benefit from the Liget project, while hundreds of thousands of locals would suffer.
A municipal representative of the leftist Democratic Coalition (DK) referred to a recent survey and said that most residents rejected plans to erect buildings in the popular park. Erzsebet Gy. Nemeth said the government and Budapest Mayor István Tarlós would still “force onto Budapest plans to replace the little remaining green areas in the city with concrete”. She demanded that Tarlós face the protesters and tell them that “he serves not Budapest but Fidesz”.
The green opposition LMP party expressed support for the protesters at the construction site, saying the party would use civil disobedience to thwart the project. Budapest councillor Antal Csárdi said it was unacceptable that City Park had been “taken over”, based on a document handing legal control over the area to Varosliget Zrt.
Csárdi said four-fifths of Budapest residents disapproved of the Liget project, which he said if completed, would “ruin” the capital for future generations as well.
Benedek R. Sallai, the opposition LMP lawmaker who heads Parliament’s sustainable development committee, said Budapest residents objected to plans to chop down hundreds of trees to make way for the buildings of a planned museum quarter in the City Park. Sallai said a special committee session will take place this Friday to discuss the matter, giving representatives of the government, the Budapest municipal council, the construction company and civil groups a platform to state their positions.
He called on the government to “stop cutting down trees” and “speak out against the abuse of residents who want to express their opinion”.
Ministerial commissioner for the project Laszlo Baán said the opportunity to voice an opinion had been available for five years. Baán insisted that the Liget project was one of the most debated government projects ever. He said the forum would provide an opportunity to share proposals and opinions. “Naturally, some opinions will not be considered,” Baán said. Breaking the law and occupying a building site were unacceptable, and violence would not be condoned either.
The project’s HUF 15 billion budget is Hungary’s biggest ever for revamping a public park, he said, adding that greenery in the park would expand from the current 57 percent to 65 percent. Only 2 percent of 6500 trees would be affected; the majority would be replanted and only “sick or invasive” trees would be felled. Trees that are to be chopped down will be “generously” compensated for by planting new trees, Baán added.
Skinheads beat protesters: DK
The opposition Democratic Coalition (DK) on Monday called on Interior Minister Sándor Pintér to investigate the actions of security guards in Budapest’s City Park. DK accuses the guards of “acting above the law”. Deputy party leader Ágnes Vadai said that in recent months, “groups of young skinheads” had appeared every time the interests of ruling Fidesz or the government had to be protected. Skinheads earlier this year prevented the opposition Socialists from submitting a referendum initiative against Sunday shopping restrictions, she noted, adding that last week, skinheads beat up people who had been peacefully demonstrating against the Liget Project in the City Park. Police have not taken action against them despite recent reports that security guards had even used gas spray against the police, she said. Vadai, who sits in Parliament as an independent, asked Pinter whether any high-ranking Fidesz politicians had instructed the police not to take action against the “skinhead goons”.