The Kossuth ter protesters are refusing to leave the square even for the events commemorating 1956. They are threatening a repetition of 1956 if policemen try to remove them from the square. As it stands, a square full of tents and cauldrons of stew with the atmosphere of a village wedding is unlikely to make a positive impression on the dignitaries who will arrive from all around the world, and nor will the expected disorder. The TV news crews will be happy, at least: any disturbance would help them spice up their coverage of the commemorative events.

It is not hard to imagine what kind of effect it will have on this country's image abroad if, say, the BBC broadcasts a report about a square stinking of urine with the parliament building in the background. On the square, in front of that magnificent building, a sequence of speakers cursing the government in a pub-like atmosphere.

The fall-out from the prime minister's speech in Oszod, the unrest and the political slanging match that has accompanied it all have been a central topic of conversation even in places that tend to be politics-free. People talk about the affair on the metro, in the corner shop, even at crossroads while waiting for the traffic light to turn green. Now a new question arises: who does Kossuth square belong to during the approaching ceremonies?

"The question is whether we will present an equally pathetic face to the world during the national commemorations," Miklos Csapody, a Hungarian Democratic Forum MP, told . Mr Csapody said it was extraordinary that the government didn't have a simple desk diary. The government had spent HUF3.5bn in order to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1956 uprising in a dignified fashion and to guarantee the security of the dignitaries who would arrive in Hungary for the ceremonies. It was right that this money had been spent, he said, but the government had not dared to talk to the protesters on the square, nor taken measures to restrict their activities. Yet the government knew very well that its duty was to represent the country to the world, the MP said. The anniversary would be extensively covered in the international press, he said, and Kossuth ter in its present state was not up to the job, even if the protesters were occupying the square legally. "I'm not prepared to make a speech anywhere in a half-mad country like this," Mr Csapody said.

He had ideas: the prime minister and his staff should have sat down to negotiate with the leaders of the demonstration so they would leave the square for the week in order to clean it up and put it in a fit state for the ceremonies. If this had not worked, it would have been possible to modify the law on public assembly to make it illegal to use Kossuth ter for demonstrations between 16 and 23 October.  He added: "In a constitutional democracy, the government and the citizens have at least this much intelligence. In Hungary, however, there seems to be a lack of intellectual capacity. The leaders of the protesters should understand that the 1956 commemorations were not about the 'plutocratic Jewish-Bolshevik Socialist-Free Democrat' government, but about Hungary."

Many are worried about the situation. Several prominent actors from the National Theatre who were asked to play a role in the major ceremony have withdrawn, saying that the situation might turn out to be humiliating. More than 200 public figures have issued a statement asking their compatriots to withdraw from the square to make it possible to prepare for the ceremonies.

But on Sunday, the Kossuth ter protesters said they would not leave the square on October 23, and they would not move to another location "even temporarily." The protesters nonetheless said they would be "dignified and silent" during the ceremony, and would only start their own "revolutionary" commemoration after the official ceremony had finished.

Andrad Takacs, one of the protest leaders, told that it would be absurd for a group protesting against the prime minister to ask Ferenc Gyurcsany himself for permission to do so.

"This is a continuous political event. We are obliged to register our demonstration, and we have done this. They can complain, they can try to get rid of us, but we're staying. If they send the police to get rid of us, the government will have to decide if it wants another 1956. We will not take down our tents," said Takacs. He said social peace would only be restored if the prime minister resigned immediately. But Ferenc Gyurcsany clearly has no intention of doing so.

23 October will be the first occasion on which the prime minister and the rebels stand on the same square. The atmosphere can easily be imagined. Even in the past, there tended to be jeering at commemorations of 1956. If this happens, and it is broadcast by the assembled TV cameras of the world, then the words of the national anthem - "the name Hungarian will once again be glorious, true to its ancient good name" - will remain a dream. Is this all we can manage?

One week to go. We can still hope.

Anett Sipos
HVG English version

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English version

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English version

After the ultimatum, before Kossuth ter

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