The snow that first blanketed western Europe eventually reached Hungary by March 15, the day of an important national holiday. Heavy snowfall left thousands stranded on the roads of this eastern European country, and the Hungarian government received harsh criticism for not being able to handle the situation (even though before the winter's coldest period started, it entertained citizens by nominating the director of the National Directorate General for Disaster Management as the government's “Commissioner of Winter Preparations” [hu]). The events planned for the March 15 national holiday, among them regular celebrations as well as anti- and pro-government rallies, were postponed for a few days.
The anti-government protests were ignited by the adoption of the Fourth Amendment to the Hungarian Constitution, which was passed on March 11 and approved with the President's signature on March 25 [hu]. Many people in Hungary fear that the activities of the current right-wing government are wresting the country from the democratic environment it first entered after 1989 (re-confirming its position in 2004 with the accession to the European Union).
The Fourth Amendment joins the list of the many steps taken by the Hungarian government that draw criticism from international human rights organizations and the Hungarian citizens:
- In December 2012, the cutbacks in higher education started a series of protests;
- Recently, the news that the former Economy Minister and the PM's close ally took over as the head of Hungary's Central Bank generated international criticism;
- The government's handing of a journalism award to a TV anchor infamous for his offensive and racist comments was also attacked;
- A well-known cultural center in Budapest has been ordered to shut down after the holidays – apparently, in an attempt to silence some of the anti-government protesters;
- On the early morning of March 29, the police took activists who participated in the occupation of the governing party's headquarters to a hearing for disorderly conduct. (In the wake of another weekend of protests, Hungarian journalist László Szily saw this [hu] as a method communist law enforcement would have used before 1989 to humiliate citizens.)
Young Hungarians are also shocked by the government's stubborn refusal to acknowledge their protests and their demands for a more democratic decision-making. To get their message across, four young people launched a new blog on March 22, asking fellow citizens to send 1- to 3-minute-long video messages to the Prime Minister with their thoughts on his governance.
On the blog “Send a message to Viktor Orbán!” [hu], there are already many video messages recorded by people from all walks of life. The latest one [hu] comes from a BSc student in her third year who complains about the limited resources in Hungarian education. There is a video [hu] sent by a Hungarian IT professional living in Oxford, UK, who recalls how much the prime minister has changed from a young man fighting for democracy during Hungary's transition to “a regional director who is badly managing his limited company.” An eighth-grade school student also recorded a message [hu] to the PM pointing out that she didn't know what would happen in four years, when she would have to apply to a university, because at the moment her school's existence is also questioned after a cutback of financial resources.
The blog is run by Asia Dér, a student of the University of Theatre and Film Arts; Dániel Szabó G., a student of the Faculty of Law of ELTE University, activist of HaHa grassroots student union and a blogger of the Faculty of Law Student Government Monitor; Dániel Prinz, activist of HaHa grassroots student union, an economist working in Boston; Borbála Lőrincz, an undergraduate student of Durham University's Anthropology and Sociology program.
Here is how the blog authors described their initiative:
Our website is a citizen initiative to the fullest, we are not connected to any party or political organization. We created this website because recent days, weeks, months have demonstrated that the only effective way of fighting the government's autocracy is speaking up against it individually or together. They can say as many times as they want that there's George Soros, Gordon Bajnai or international interests behind the student and other protests – we prove that it isn't true. It's the Hungarian citizens who are behind the protests […].
This is why we are sending messages to Viktor Orbán, getting the ordinary citizens to tell him how they feel, [without being influenced by] the pro-government media and the public media [currently used as a propaganda tool]. Our messages are symbolic in a sense that we're not the ones who are going to relay it to the PM. But we are hoping that if there are enough people speaking up, these personal messages would reach the rest of [those who voted for the current government and those who talk about foreign and party influence], and would make them think over what they still believe in. In addition to this, we would like to reassure the people that they can and should have a word in the public political discourse, which is part of our everyday lives.