Far-Right Protests Sziget

About 30 members of one of the country’s far-right organisations protested at the entrance to Hungary’s Sziget Festival Aug. 12.
The 64 Counties Youth Movement believes the internationally known festival has become too international.

Eleven years ago the group set up its own Magyar Sziget at Verÿce, which annually pulls about 7,000 people from nationalist organizations all over Europe.

The protest itself appeared to be more of a publicity stunt than a genuine attempt to disrupt the real Sziget Festival, where many of the 50,000 or so music fans would have been unaware it was even happening.

Protesters blocked the pedestrian footbridge fans use to access the festival’s island site from the Buda side of Budapest, but fizzled out about an hour later with the arrest of Hungarian Member of Parliament Zagyva Gyula.

Gyula, a politician known for his extreme right-wing views, didn’t spend long in custody. In Hungary, as in many European countries, the police cannot pursue legal action against an MP without parliamentary approval.

The 64 Counties Youth Movement originally had permission to hold its protests from Aug. 1 to Aug. 20, but that was revoked when none of its members turned up and police resources were being wasted. The reason for the protest was given as “high gas prices.”

Sziget managing director Gábor Takács told Pollstar that the movement’s membership includes some of the city’s most heavyweight lawyers, who may have worked behind the scenes to get the permit restored.

“I think they do it to raise money,” he said, pointing out that the movement has previously sued the police for the way they’ve reacted in certain situations.

The morning after the protest, Takács held a press conference to explain the festival’s point of view to international journalists.
Sziget, which is a European festival as much as a Hungarian one and this year had 59 acts from 43 countries, has previously had run-ins with the far-right.

Earlier in the year it had to negotiate with Budapest Mayor István Tarlós over the rent for the 108-hectare island site.

Tarlós, a right-wing politician who spent 10 years as mayor of the district where Sziget is held, wanted to impose a fee of euro 9 million ($12.2 million). It was nearly equal to the festival’s entire budget.

The two sides reached a compromise at around 2 percent of that at euro 180,000 ($244,000), but the festival also has to guarantee the sale of euro 360,000 ($488,000) worth of special tourist passes for the city of Budapest.

Takács reckons the festival has sold about 80 percent of that quota and will need to find close to $100,000 to top up the pot.
Although official attendance figures for the Aug. 10-15 gathering haven’t come through, Takács says it’s less than the 382,000 people who attended six days in 2010.

There will certainly be a drop in the number of Hungarian visitors, as many will have taken a financial hit because the loans they’ve used to buy their homes and cars have to be repaid in Swiss Francs, a currency that’s strengthening to record values.

The Swiss cabinet met Aug. 8 to discuss the strength of the currency after the Swiss National Bank cut interest rates in an attempt to curb its advance in relation to other currencies.

The acts helping Sziget remain one of Europe’s most successful multi-national and multi-cultural events included Prince, The Prodigy, 30 Seconds To Mars, Judas Priest, Pulp, White Lies, Kaiser Chiefs, Gogol Bordello, Deftones, and Kate Nash.