Can the police not keep up with the progression of Budapest Pride?
Despite its progressive nature at its core, the new law on assembly may still allow for the police to take great steps back. The Budapest Police Headquarters adopted a restrictive decision last week setting out that once again, the Budapest Pride March can only be held fully fenced off. We have appealed the decision in collaboration with TASZ (Hungarian Civil Liberties Union).
As organizers of Budapest Pride, we have been working for years to ensure that in a European country we would not have to choose between freedom and safety, and that tens of thousands of us could freely stand for acceptance and diversity. Hence we do not understand why the decision was adopted - it is a clear step back after the marches of the past years.
In 2017, for the first time in years - although due to a last minute decision of the organizers, later found a misdemeanor - the participants of the march were able to walk through the city partially without fences. In 2018, for the first time, Budapest Pride was truly free for all: anyone could join the march at any point.
Organizing this year’s march, we had envisioned the same: we wanted the march to be as open, if not more, than in the past years, free from any restrictions.
Yet we have encountered the following:
- Registering the event was difficult due to the law on assembly: the text of the law does not clearly define the point from the organizers need to register the event 3 months in advance;
- We therefore submitted our registration to the police on both 6 and 7 of April, electronically through the online General Form Filing System;
- We did not receive a confirmation of receipt, but could see on the online platform that our form was successfully submitted;
- In lack of a confirmation email, we again submitted the registration on Sunday, and additionally emailed the police that we had registered the event;
- Despite all these steps, the police informed us that they only received the registration later (at 7.42am on Monday), and that the 48 hours within which they need to respond starts from this point;
- On Monday morning the police called the person under whose name the event was officially registered, and asked for an in-person coordination meeting;
- At this meeting, we repeatedly told the police that we plan to hold Budapest Pride without fences and without it being fully fenced off, to ensure that anyone can join at any point;
- The police acknowledged and recorded this in their official meeting minutes, and raised no concerns whatsoever;
- The coordination continued smoothly, reflecting the good collaboration between organizers and the police in the past years;
- On Monday afternoon, the police called us again to ask for another coordination meeting the next morning;
- We did not understand the need to have another meeting (they did not tell us on the phone), but we attended, showing our willingness to cooperate;
- This meeting, on 9 April was strikingly different, despite the attendees from both parties being the exact same people;
- The police expressed serious concern about the march being open for anyone to join the march at any point;
- Although we asked them to give us a formal justification why their opinion had fundamentally changed from that of Monday’s, they simply said it was safer and easier to close off the whole territory;
- In the end, the police offered that people can join the march at 3 entry points, one at the beginning and one at the end of the march, and stated that they will fence off the rest of the march;
- As the purpose of the coordination meeting is to find a compromise between the police and the organizer of the march, we offered an alternative option, i.e. that Pride volunteers would be there to allow entry to people throughout the whole length and duration of the march, similar to last year;
- At this point we learned the the police has no alternative option to offer in an effort to find middle ground;
- Half an hour after the coordination meeting, the restrictive decision of the police was formally released, setting out that the event may only be held in the way that was determined by them and not accepted by us. Does this mean the police chose the easier way for them instead of safeguarding our freedom of assembly?
In our view, the main issues are the following:
- The new law on assembly sparks problems in interpretation, leaving space for demonstrations to be impossible to hold, e.g. the police can decide from what point the registration must take place and therefore when their 48 hour deadline to respond ends;
- It is unclear how something that the police had no concerns about on 8 April, can turn into a restrictive decision on 9 April;
- It is unacceptable that compromise to the police means that the applicant accepts all their views, and that the police does not try to find common ground, or consider alternative options with regard to ensuring safety;
We believe that following the successful demonstrations of the past years, it is unjustifiable and unacceptable that the police wants to force Budapest Pride behind fences once again. As organizers of the march, we can affirm that the ways we organize the march have immensely improved in the past 12 years: we have increased the number of Pride march volunteers from 50 to 250; legal monitors help us secure the event by recording any potential atrocities with video cameras; we have provided more frequent and in-depth training to our volunteers. We are sorry to see that the police has failed to implement a similar progression on their end. In our view, the task of the police is to handle a handful of violent counter protesters, which would provide a real solution instead of forcing tens of thousands of peaceful marchers behind fences.
We believe that safety does not have to mean that participants of a peaceful demonstration are forced into a cage, but that instead, it is a system based on justice and equality. Therefore we will continue to work to ensure that freedom and safety are not mutually exclusive. We have appealed the decision of the police, and are receiving legal representation from TASZ (HCLU).
See you on 6 July at 3pm at Kossuth tér. Let’s show together that we stand up for openness, acceptance, freedom and diversity. https://www.facebook.com/events/271990513515236/