Two documentaries about the 2006 protests, riots, and police brutality in Hungary on the 15th anniversary

15 years ago, in 2006 there was a series of anti-government protests in Hungary as a consequence of the leaked speech of PM Ferenc Gyurcsány. This year, two documentaries were made about the protests, the subsequenting riots, the violence against the police, and the brutality of the retaliation against innocent civilians. Tamás Bodoky, editor-in-chief of Atlatszo was covering the events back than as a journalist, now he was interviewed in the documentary by the Hungarian Helsinki Commitee, and participated as a reporter in the documentary by director Fruzsina Skrabski.

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The 2006 protests in Hungary were a series of anti-government protests between 17 September and 23 October organised in the capital, Budapest, and several other Hungarian cities as well. It was the first sustained protest in Hungary since 1989, triggered by the release of an audio recording which contained Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s private speech confessing that he and his party, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) had lied about the state of the economy in order to win the parliamentary eleciton.

„There is not much choice. There is not, because we screwed up. Not a little, a lot” – says the infamous quote from the leaked speech.

This year, at the 15th anniversary of the infamous speech of the former Prime Minister and the subsequenting protests and riots, the ruling party (Fidesz-KDNP) and current PM Viktor Orbán still uses the events as a negative example of the former rule of the now united opposition, thus, serving as an excellent campaign theme for the upcoming elections of 2022. It is not a coincidence that a political thriller made from 800 million HUF, called „Elk*rtuk” will also be released on 21 October 2021.  The movie was produced by the company of Gábor Kálomista, a well-known supporter of the current ruling party, Fidesz.

Documentaries about the victims

At the same time, two documentaries were produced in parallel about he events of 2006: one by an NGO, Hungarian Helsinki Committe. The movie called „Erőnek erejével” (By Force) presents the mass police violence that went largely unpunished and its consequences that continue to this day. “The current film does not deny that in the autumn of 2006, there was a need for strong police action against rioters. However, the legal limits of necessary and lawful violence were overstepped by the police on a massive scale and without consequences,” – states a related Helsinki Committee press release.

The documentary features archive footage from 2006 and also contains interviews with various people involved: those who were assaulted by police officers, their lawyers and journalists who documented the events.  Among them is Tamás Bodoky, editor-in-chief of Atlatszo, who, as a journalist of Index, reported on police violence in a series of articles between October 2006 and August 2008 (for which he received the Göbölyös-Soma Award in 2008), and then wrote a book on the subject entitled Trespasses (Túlkapások).

The Helsinki Committee press release points out that the police brutality of 2006 is still an existing phenomenon: In five years, there have been more than 100,000 enforced returns ruled illegal by the EU courts in Strasbourg and Luxembourg, and the number of victims of arbitrary police violence is conservatively estimated in the thousands.

Bruises, fractures, deep wounds, dog bites – all without consequences. But these victims do not even receive the same publicity, help and sympathy as their fellow victims in 2006. – writes the Helsinki Committee.

Another documentary about the victims of the 2006 protests, the subsequenting riots, the violence against the police, and the brutality of the retaliation against innocent civilians on the streets of Budapest was made by director Fruzsina Skrabski. Szabolcs Kisberk, former correspondent for the news television HírTV, and Tamás Bodoky also contributed to the filming of Victims 2006 (Áldozatok 2006).

During the research work preceding the making of the film, the creators received numerous recollections and stories about the events, one of the most harrowing of which was that of a then-novice police sergeant who had been sent straight from the police college to the temporary police base set up in the headquarters of Hungarian Radio.

„I’ve seen my colleagues fighting and having serious battles with people. They were defending the MTV headquarters, but with inadequate equipment, so many police officers suffered serious injuries due to the savage behaviour of the angry mob” – the police officer recalls. Then he also talked honeslty about the police brutality, for example when he heard that one of the group commanders, said loudly that anyone in his group should make an arrest should do it harshly, preferably resulting in a broken arm or finger.

From his words, it becomes clear that not only the protesters who can “behave like animals”, but also the police. Hundreds of false reports about the brutal measures were prepared to make the police work look professional and legal. He also recalls that in the yard of the Hungarian Radio, security guards were washing the blood of the detainees from the entrance corridor, and in the police station he saw about 30 arrested people, beaten to a pulp, some of them laying unconscious on the ground.

„I would not wish that day, 23 October 2006, to anyone, it was horrible.”

Translated by Zita Szopkó. The original Hungarian article about the documentary of Helsinki Committee can be found here. The story of the other movie, and the longer version of the testimony of the police officer is available and here. Cover photo: Budapest, October 23, 2006 – Police officers on Alkotmány Street on the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution and War of Independence. MTI Photo: Zsolt Szigetváry

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