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human rights

More demonstrations announced, fewer Hungarians attended them in the past year

The number of announced demonstrations has increased in the past one year, but the organizers expected fewer people to participate. What main trends can be drawn from the police data required by Hungarian Civil Liberties Union? Where were the largest demonstrations held and why?

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This article is a follow up of our previous analysis here on demonstrations and rallies announced beforehand to the National Headquarters of the Hungarian Police. Now that we have fresh data for the year 2019, we can see more clearly some basic tendencies from 2015 onwards and after the new Assembly Law was accepted in 1st October 2018.

Before the analysis we must highlight two important changes brought by the law. Previously organizers did not have to tell the police in advance about election assemblies, thus the political rallies during the national election campaign period in April 2018 are not included in the dataset, but those organized during the EU election, and local election in May and in September 2019 are not in the survey. The second important change in the regulation is that the old easy way of announcing an assembly by e-mail have became more difficult on the Police’s online form. These two changes generate opposite trends.

Between November 2015 and October 2019 5 957 demonstrations were announced and 2 077 621 attendees were expected to them. The upper graph shows a remarkable densification in the number of demonstrations after the new law, but on the graph below we can read that the expected number of participants decreased.

This trend is more clearly visible if we focus on just the demonstrations with over 5 000 attendees.

But if we dig deeper in the data, we can see that the average of the expected number of participants is very low. The arithmetic mean is just 351, but even this small number is distorted by demonstrations with extreme high attendance like the Peace March (Békemenet), or the protest of the I Would Like to Teach Movement (Tanítanék Mozgalom). If we calculate the median (the value in the middle of a sequence of numbers) we can see a more realistic picture of the average attendance. To focus on the multitude of the most frequent values, we use a logarithmic scale for three types of cities in the data: the capital Budapest, the county capitals and all other towns. Based on this calculation the median of the expected participants in Budapest is 50, in the county capitals it is 30 and in the other towns it is 20. Therefore we can say that most of the protests and demonstrations were planned to be really small.

We were interested in specific themes and some trending topics of the protests. We assume that there are classic topics (poverty, education, health care, government), themes regarding human rights (freedom of press/speech, labour rights), and some trending topics, like environment and climate change. The data show that while the number of announced protests in these topics didn’t decrease dramatically, the expected number of participants practically diminished in 2019. There are a few exemptions, like the series of protests after the so called “Slave law” in January 2019, or the demonstrations for joining the European Public Prosecutor’s Office. Single issues, like education, health care, poverty and the freedom of press, although presented by the Hungarian and international press as the most problematic topics in the country, faded away in 2019, and they weren’t channelled into large anti-government protests. One possible explanation can be that people “protested by their votes” at the municipal elections.

Not surprisingly most of the demonstrations were held in Budapest, and after the capital, in the county capitals. In the past four years there were some kind of assemblies in 427 municipalities, which is 13% of the total number (3155) of settlements of Hungary. 43% of the protests were held in Budapest, and 76% of the participants also attended demonstrations in Budapest.

If we filter out the capital, we can see a more interesting picture in the rankings. Baranya county’s capital Pécs holds the number one position in the number of protests as well as on the attendance ranking. While most of the county capitals are in the top zone of the rankings, some of them, like Szolnok, Békéscsaba and Eger did not appear in the top50 according to the number of demonstrations. Tapolca, a small town in Veszprém county holds the rank 6. and 11. due to a series of pro-government and pro-Orbán assemblies during the EP-elections.

All of the protests with over 5000 expected participants were held in Budapest. The two largest of them were the aforementioned pro-government assembly Peace March with 200 000 participants and the protest of the  “I would like to teach Movement” with 50 000 participants expected. The largest demonstration outside the capital was held in Szeged, ranked as the 104th.

There were whole regions where no demonstrations were held at all in the past four years according to the police’s data: large parts of Győr-Moson-Sopron, Vas, Zala and Tolna counties, where – speaking about the western part of the country – the density of the settlements (mostly rural, small villages) are large compared with other regions of Hungary. Other counties, like Hajdú-Bihar or Békés in the eastern part of Hungary have sporadic density.

What can we conclude from the data? First, while the new law made organization of assemblies more difficult, we can see that the number of them increased. One plausible explanation for the decreasing number of attendees can be that due to the more rigorous regulation the Police requires more organizers and security guards for large protests and that’s why the organizers announce smaller numbers for the expected participants. Currently we only have data for the past four years and we can’t see the trends for a longer period.

The number of participants is not just a question of the regulation, but it can reflect social and political circumstances. With the aim of promoting the right of assembly, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union created the site tiltakozz.hu, where everyone can gather the information on how to organize assemblies and what is the regulatory framework for that.

Methodology, and limits of data

The data was provided by the National Headquarters of the Hungarian Police after the HCLU filed a FOI request. The database contains just the announced protests with an estimated number of expected participants, therefore we don’t know whether an assembly was held, how many people attended it, or if the police later banned it. Until 30th September 2018, the announcer of an assembly could only be a “natural person”, thus companies, associations, parties or foundations could not initiate an assembly.

Attila Bátorfy – Attila Szabó (HCLU) – Szabolcs Hegyi (HCLU)



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