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In Hungary, it is customary to pity those who resign or are pushed, and this sympathy often obscures the true reasons for a senior figure's departure.

Before we portray Peter Gergenyi as a sacraficial lamb, let us just list the serious errors the chief of the Budapest police force made over September and October. He is personally responsible for the failure to protect the television headquarters on 18 September and for the brutal way in which police acted against certain people on 23 October under the guise of dispersing a crowd. He also made serious mistakes in the way he dealt with the protests on Kossuth ter. As if this were not enough, Gergenyi's public statements make it quite clear that the police chief had no idea what he was doing and what he was talking about.

We can only hope that Gergenyi's retirement will also bring an end to a certain kind of police behaviour that is characterised by indecisiveness and ill-preparedness. But we're not holding our breath.

Things will not be easy for his successor, not least because of the capital's high crime level, which remains high - though lower than in similarly-sized Western cities - despite Gergenyi's three years of self-proclaimed zero tolerance policing. But the main problem stems for the political environment. Police chiefs have to be more sensitive to the political wind than ever before. His successor may take care to be more cautious - but however successful he or she is, he will be judged according to political criteria. Yet the two political camps cannot agree even on fundamental questions like whether the police's role is primarily to preserve order in the country or not. This is why our political parties were unable to accept the following simple fact:

on 23 October, their police had not just the right but the duty to disperse an unregistered demonstration; in doing this, however, they made many mistakes and some police officers committed their own crimes while carrying out their orders.

If the politicians can learn to accept fundamental facts like these, then the question of who follows Gergenyi as police chief will matter.

As things stand, however, it hardly matters who his successor is.

Zsolt Zádori

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Agora-phobia

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English version

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Many, but small

Police have received a wave of applications to hold demonstrations on the 50th anniversary of the crushing of the 1956 revolution. Kossuth ter remains off-limits to demonstrators, but other parts of the centre are open.

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Helsinki Committee

The police were far more professional on 23 October than one month ago. There were some police abuses, however. Not even a full parliamentary enquiry together with police and prosecutorial investigations will reveal the whole truth. Ferenc Koszeg, president of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, called for civil oversight of the police.

hvg.hu English version

We insist

Are the police allowed to gather information about rioters in Budapest from hospital lists of the injured? Civil rights activists are not sure.

HVG English version

Interview with Fitchs David Heslam

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HVG English version

Ferenc Koszeg

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