Prejudice and Provocation at Budapest’s Gay Pride Parade

The parade initially was supposed to go up Andrassy ut, a main avenue that stretches from the center of Budapest to Heroes Square and the City Park. From there the parade route was to end at 1956 Square, a former parade ground used during the communist era situated at the other end of the park. With a large number of protesters waiting at Heroes Square, the parade route was diverted to a smaller side street. The protesters then attacked the police, with a cat and mouse chase ensuing over the next hour or so through the wooded park area.

In the end, about 60 people were detained and about 30 people were hurt in the clashes, a third of them police. All things considered, given the scale of violence during protests over the past two years (especially coming from the side of the police), the number of those injured and arrested was not that high. Still, the size of the protest and the violence that accompanied it is cause for concern. Ever since the bloody police crackdown in 2006, some protesters have gone to the extreme. The worry now is that such violent protest will become a feature of everyday life in Hungary. Already blame for the protests and violence has been put on the far right, with homophobia as the driving force. However, there is also a political element to what happened which can’t be so easily ignored.

Hungary has featured a gay pride parade in Budapest ever since 1995, and only since last year have they been disturbed. Hence, Hungary has actually shown a measured tolerance when it comes to the gay pride parade. Yet this tolerance was shattered last year when participants were pelted with eggs and some even physically attacked. Police were then criticized for failing to protect the march.

Disorder surrounding last year’s parade initially led the police to ban this year’s event. The reason given for the ban was the usual line: it would obstruct public transport and traffic in the city. However, after 15 gay organizations signed a protest petition accompanied with pressure from local politicians, including Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky, the police reversed their decision and the ban was lifted.

This flip-flop move by the police is what had inflamed many on the right. Often demonstrations planned by right-wing groups are banned for similar reasons. As a result, many see the police as applying a double standard in this case based on political pressure.

In addition to this, the fact that some leading politicians vowed that they would take part in the march no doubt further inflamed passions. This is especially so of Mayor Demszky who said that he would personally join the march. Demszky is known to attract a barrage of eggs no matter what the occasion, be it a commemoration of March 15th (a sacred event for those on the right) or the gay pride parade (a sacred event for those on the left). Therefore, it should be no surprise that where Demszky is expected to make a public appearance so to will those intent on pelting him with eggs. To the disappointment of many egg throwers, however, Demszky didn’t even attend the parade.

All this has led some to conclude that the gay pride parade was actually used as a provocation by certain political interests. This view was reinforced by the government’s declaration that it has had enough and will not tolerate the situation any further. Reading between the lines, it appears that the authorities have used the occasion of the gay pride parade to provoke a reaction from extremist elements so as to lump all forms of anti-government protest in one basket and treat them accordingly.

Likewise, conflicting versions of events have begun to surface. While initial reports of the violence noted the use of Molotov cocktails and even acid by some of the protesters, this has since been denied by some sources. Police reports that petrol bombs and dangerous substances were found in an empty flat near the parade route have since been denied by the police. The items found have turned out to be not harmful and no evidence of petrol bombs was found either. It’s still unclear who the flat belonged to, raising the suspicion of many that the items were planted by the secret service or even the police themselves.

Finally, as with many of the violent protests which have occurred in Hungary in the recent past, some of those engaged in the violence were actually non-Hungarians. Unfortunately, as the far-right in Europe continues to spread and build cross-border networks, skinheads and other extremists from different countries often lend support to one another during such events as the gay pride parade in Budapest.

Taking all this into account, it can be seen that the protests against the gay pride parade in Budapest is not simply an isolated event and one that can be easily put down to a bad case of homophobia among Hungarians. Sadly, neither is it a phenomenon unique to Hungary. Although homosexuality was legalized in Central and Eastern Europe after the collapse of communism, gay parades have sparked scorn and violence in several other countries in the region. Recently, about 60 far-right extremists were arrested in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, after they tried to break up the country’s first gay parade. Participants in a parade in the Czech city of Brno were also attacked by anti-gay activists last week.

As political and economic conditions throughout the region continue to worsen, so too does the level of tolerance. Far-right extremism finds support foremost among the young and unemployed. Meanwhile, ambitious political individuals seek to exploit the situation in order further their own agenda, thereby compounding the problem further.

Simply labeling a problem as some kind of phobia perpetuated by a group is tantamount to sweeping the myriad issues it is connected with under the rug. In the case of Hungary, these dynamics are quite discernable. Ten years ago, such protest with such a level of violence was unheard of. The question now is if this is a temporary state or whether the country is slowly but surely heading toward an abyss.


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