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Hungary: Cycling Is “Chic” – but “Fascist”

Apropos of European Car Free Days, the main cycling event of Hungary – Critical Mass (CM) – was organized again two weeks ago, with some ten thousand bicycle-riders participating.

After the first CM in 2004, in Budapest, cycling enthusiasts organized several other rallies every year not only in the capital of Hungary but in almost every other big city (HUN).

The main website of the event and the movement of cycling enthusiasts proudly announced that they broke the international record of the number of participants in 2006, and it could still increase:

[…] The first Critical Mass ride in Budapest was organised on Car Free Day, September 22, 2004, though it was preceded by at least 50 similar bicycle events initiated either by organisations, groups of bicycle couriers, or other pockets of non-affiliated individuals. The September 2004 ride, however, was significant in that it combined almost every previous organiser into one mass of cycling enthusiasts and concerned citizens. That event drew a surprising 4000 participants. By Earth Day 2005, the number of Critical Mass participants reached 10,000, and doubled again for the September 2005 event, reaching 20,000. On Earth Day 2006 an international record of 32,000 participants was reached, to be topped only by next year’s similar event, with a turnout of 50,000, reaching as many 80,000 by April 2008. […]

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This photo was taken at Critical Mass Budapest last year by Zsolt Bugarszki of The Budapest Daily Photo. Bike lifting is always the main attraction of the Budapest Critical Mass (HUN, ENG) events.

This year there were two bike lifts preceded by a new cycling movement united with the ride. The Kidicalmass (HUN, ENG), the children’s protected ride, was to promote healthy lifestyle among children and to create appropriate cycling conditions for the future generation.

The first bike lift took place at the City Hall in the afternoon. As you can hear in the video below, not only Hungarian but foreign citizens also ride and lift at CM:

The second, event-closing bike lift was held in the evening at Deák Square:

In the evening, the Cycle Chic (HUN) blog had a cycling chic party with a cycling clothes fashion show (HUN) tied to the event.

Cycle Chic uses an alternative way to get people's attention by taking photos of ‘chic’ cyclists in the city. This photo below of Gréta Gaál about the fashion show illustrates well their definition of trendiness in riding a bicycle:

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By bike? How does that look like? There are more and more who realize that there're other styles than trash waistcoat [high visibility waistcoat] and cycling tights. This site is about them, you, who are cycling chic. Woman, man, Hungarian, tourist, riding to work, to school, to party, in the countryside, or in Pest, their place is here. Because cycling is not only a sport but the most natural thing in the world!

However, CM is also a way of having fun together, it covers many different topics of society. Journalist Greg Spencer warned on his blog (ENG) the participants and other citizens concerned that Car Free Day is more of a political event:

[…] Unlike the Earth Day Critical Mass in the spring, which is a celebratory, weekend parade for the whole family, the ride on Car Free Day is more of a hard-nosed, politically-pointed affair. It takes place during a weekday rush hour, and only parts of the route are cordoned off from other road users. For the most part, participants ride in traffic as they would during a normal evening commute. It's in the spirit of the original Critical Masses in San Francisco, which were spontaneously organised rides to show that cyclists are part of the traffic. […]

Organizers write on Critical Mass website, they are aware of the power that could be used for party-political intentions, and they try to do their best to stay independent but fight for the rights of cycling citizens using all the means they can:

[…] Critical Mass is completely independent of any political parties, organisations or movements. It is not a registered organisation, but rather an “organised coincidence” (as it is often called in other places). […]

The largest ride so far was the April 22, 2008 Critical Mass/Earth Day demonstration, which attracted an estimated 80,000 cyclists, and was officially launched by the Dutch ambassador to Hungary, Ronald A. Mollinger, symbolising the popularity of cycling in the Netherlands now spreading to Hungary. László Sólyom, president of the Republic of Hungary also participated on two occasions (in 2006 and 2007), and rode along with the participants, rendering – at that time – unprecedented esteem to an unprecedented turnout in Hungarian as well as international terms. Other prominent individuals among participants included government ministers, the Mayor of Budapest, and many celebrities.

The Budapest City Council gave Critical Mass a Pro Budapest award for their efforts in promoting cycling as an alternative mode of urban transport and improving the transportation culture in the capital city. […]

As the number of the participants gets higher and higher, Critical Mass is more and more supported also by foreigners. Preceding the event of September 22, Greg Dorey, the British Ambassador in Budapest, sent a video message to bike-riders who fight for a more environmentally-friendly world:

Greg Dorey mentioned that critics say CM wouldn't make any difference, but it seems the event started a tense debate on the capital's transportation system. Several bloggers reposted the announcement of this week from Emberibb Parkolásért Mozgalom (EMPAMO) (HUN, ‘For A More Humanoid Parking Movement’), which is an organization representing car-drivers’ interests. The scandal broke out because of several statements in the announcement:

The Critical Mass is more and more violent, though it fights for its own rights, it doesn't consider the rights of others in traffic! Though it lifts up the voice for the protection of the environment, it induces giant traffic jams, and by appropriating additional routes of transport it would generate even bigger traffic jams. Though it [still CM] promotes: bicycle is an alternative, but it would use openly fascist methods against car-drivers, its organizers in turn run enterprises which use cars too for deliveries. […]

A well-known Hungarian right-wing blogger Tomcat also reposted and commented (HUN) on the message of EMPAMO:

[…] I kiss your hand [Hungarian greeting phrase], Critical Mass is an interest-protecting demonstration. It doesn't just exist for the hell of it, but those hundreds of thousands people want to achieve something. It becomes “more violent” because there are more who participate in it. […] I didn't know until now that we definitely need the Critical Mass to make traffic jams, until now I thought that cars can manage it by themselves. […]

CM website collected the reports and interviews (HUN) covering the recent scandal, emphasizing that two weeks ago CM didn't make it to the public TV's show debating public life Az Este (HUN, ‘The Evening’), but “fascist” Critical Mass is already interesting enough to broadcast.

2 comments

  • palko

    Just a short remark on your title. Quite appealing indeed but not really delicate. I think Critical Mass is about everything but fascism and by putting it in the title you create confusion. There are other ways to express controversy! The danger is your title appearing in links on international pages. Hungary-bikes-fascism: quite misleading isn’t it?
    chrs from paris

  • […] gay pride parade, a law banning nightlife after 10 p.m. in Budapest's District VI, and a showdown between cyclists and drivers during a Critical Mass event. Posted by David Sasaki  Print version Share […]

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