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Saturday, October 07, 2006

"The People" and "A Mob" -Spot the Difference

Heres' my piece on recent developments in Hungary, from today's Morning Star.

When are a crowd of protestors “the people”, and when is it “a mob”?
The answer depends not on the amount of violence used, or even the size of the demonstration, but whether western capital approves of the protest in question.

No other conclusion can be reached when one contrasts the way the West has portrayed recent anti-government protests in Hungary, with similar anti-government protests in Serbia, Georgia, Belarus and the Ukraine, of which the West approved.

In Hungary, the protests were triggered by the confession, captured on tape, of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, that he had deliberately lied about the state of the economy to the electorate in this summer’s elections. Understandably, Hungarians, having to face yet another round of austerity measures imposed by a multi-millionaire Prime Minister and his wealthy cohorts, felt incensed and took to the streets.
But this clear expression of ‘people power’ got little sympathy from the west.

The Wall Street Journal, like most of the corporate media, said that the right way to remove democratically elected governments was not through street demonstrations, or storming the headquarters of state television, but ‘through the ballot box’. Yet the same paper, like others in the U.S. and Europe, took a rather different line when protestors stormed Serbian state television studios in Belgrade in 2000, as part of the US-funded coup d’etat to topple the democratically elected Socialist government of Slobodan Milosevic. The violence of that night, when the director of state television and several other journalists were severly beaten with crow-bars, makes the clashes which occurred in Budapest look tepid in comparison.

The western media also commented on the alleged anti-semitism of some of the Hungarian protestors. “Who is madder, Hungary’s foul-mouthed, lying prime minister or his nationalist enemies with their anti-Semitic pasts" ? asked the Times journalist Roger Moyes, writing in the New Statesman. As evidence of the protestors’ anti-Semitism, Boyes includes extracts of an interview with a single protestor Zsuzsa Frigyes, a member of the ultra-nationalist MIEP Party. Anti-semitism undoubtedly exists in Hungary- as elsewhere in Europe- and should be unequivocally condemned. It is revealing, however, that the presence of openly anti-semitic groups in Ukraine’s ‘Orange’ Revolution went unreported in the western media. Dr John Laughland, of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group, who observed the ‘Orange Revolution’ at close hand, highlighted the involvement in the Ukraininian opposition of the para-military, anti-Semitic group UNSO, which originates in western Ukraine. He commented: “Despite its usual distaste for any manifestation of anti-Semitism, Washington isn’t worried. One Republic Party insider commentated that there wasn’t a problem; there is “no anti-Semitism in Ukraine”.

Unlike the Ukraine and Georgia, Hungary’s embryonic revolution was not colour coded (a sure sign of western disapproval). Instead, demonstrators referred to dismissively as a ‘shell-suited rabble’ or- even worse- ‘football hooligans’. Yet six years ago, the west had no problems with ‘football hooligans’ trying to affect political change, when the ’Delije’ (The Strong Ones) an infamous group of Red Star Belgrade fans, were enlisted by the opposition in their attempt to overthrow Milosevic. “As far as the Delije were concerned, it was they who led the internal opposition, they who enacted Serbia’s anti-communist revolution’ writes Jonathan Wilson in his book ‘Behind the Curtain’. Wilson describes how the Delije- together with members of the U.S. financed student organisation OTPOR, smashed open the doors of state television and set the building on fire.

The west has also demonstrated glaring double standards when it comes to the way authorities clampdown on political protest. When, an alleged 108 anti-government protestors were arrested after the elections in Belarus in March, there was loud condemnation from the US and EU. Yet over three weeks on from the original demonstrations, 145 protestors are still held by the authorities in Hungary, and the US - and the EU stays silent.

Many liberal-left commentators in the west have sought to portray all those opposed to the current Hungarian government as ‘far right’ extremists.
In doing so, they are demonstrating an ignorance of Hungarian politics. It is the nominally ‘socialist’ MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party), who together with their staunchly neo-liberal coalition allies the SZDSZ (Free Democrats) which is the favoured government coalition of global capital, and not the ‘conservative’ opposition party ‘Fidesz’, which favours public ownership of key assets and a policy of ‘economic patriotism’. Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurscany, whose personal fortune of $17m was made from privatisation deals in the early 1990s, is the darling of the US Embassy and foreign capital- not just for his support for the Iraq war, but for his zeal in following a neo-liberal economic agenda- which has involved selling off more than 160 state enterprises, imposing VAT on medical prescriptions and abolishing a tax on stock market profits. “Gyurcsany’s a socialist, but he’s our kind of socialist”- is the verdict of one U.S. junk bond trader- while US ambassador George Herbert Walker III (who is George Bush’s cousin) says: “Hungary’s immediate future is in safe hands”.

While it is true that many of those involved in recent government protests are staunch anti-communists, the non neo-liberal left should have no qualms in joining up with non-racist, conservative- nationalist forces to build a popular front against neo-liberalism, not just in Hungary, but elsewhere in eastern Europe too. Such a rapprochement is already starting to happen. Co-operation between Fidesz and the Marxist Workers Party would have been unthinkable a decade ago, yet co-operate is what they did in 2004 in their successful campaign to force a referendum on government plans to privatise health care. Fidesz leader, Viktor Orban, who once referred to Hungarians who had grown up under communism as “the lost generation”, now concedes that for most Hungarians, life is much harder today than it ever was under the progressive communist leadership of Janos Kadar.

It is the hardship of everyday life in Hungary that is propelling people on to the streets-though the economic reality facing most people in the country is totally ignored by western reporters in their attempts to explain the recent disturbances. The Hungarians are of course, not alone in their discontent. All over the world, ordinary people are beginning to mobilise in opposition to the iniquities and injustice of a global economic system which enriches the few, but which impoverishes the many.

What the disturbances in Hungary and elsewhere demonstrate is that the real division of our time is not so much between ‘left’ and right’ but between those who support the neo-liberal agenda of privatisation, tax cuts for the rich and running the economy for the benefit of western multinationals- and those who believe countries should maintain economic and political sovereignty.

As a life-long socialist- I’m with those demonstrating against the Hungarian ‘Socialist’ Party. How about you?

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