In Hungary, violent street protests against Viktor Orban’s regime are growing

  • Protests in the past week have been the most violent in Hungary for over a decade
  • Hungary’s opposition parties have vowed to emulate the French Yellow Vest movement
PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2018, 11:20am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2018, 10:54pm

Thousands of Hungarians rallied in Budapest on Sunday in the fourth and largest protest in a week against what they see as the increasingly authoritarian rule of right-wing nationalist Viktor Orban.

Braving sub-zero temperatures, setting off flares and waving Hungarian and European Union flags, about 15,000 demonstrators walked from historic Heroes’ Square towards parliament and then state TV in a march dubbed “Merry Xmas Mr. Prime Minister”.

The march was largely peaceful until police fired tear gas at protesters jostling outside the TV station late at night.

Footage showed people crouching and blinded by the gas.

It was the first rally since Orban returned to power in 2010 to bring together all opposition parties, from greens to the far right, under the same banner.

Protesters demanded a free media, withdrawal of a labour law increasing overtime, and an independent judiciary.

“All I want for Xmas is democracy,” read one banner.

Protests in the past week have been the most violent in Hungary for over a decade with dozens arrested and at least 14 police injured.

Hungary’s opposition parties have vowed to emulate the French Yellow Vest movement – which managed to win concessions on pensions, taxes and the minimum wage after a month of protests – but it’s far from certain that the same will work on Orban.

Pro-government public and commercial media have portrayed the protesters as anarchists and “mercenaries of George Soros”, the Hungarian-born US billionaire.

Soros is a strong critic of Orban but denies claims against him as lies to create a false external enemy.

Orban, who won a third straight term earlier this year, has converted state media into a government mouthpiece that rarely gives fair airtime to opposition viewpoints.

Complementing that is now one of Europe’s biggest pro-government media empires, comprising hundreds of commercial outlets brought under a single legal umbrella last month and which Orban exempted from regulatory checks.

Late on Sunday, several opposition lawmakers gained access to the state TV building in Budapest seeking to have a petition read out, but security personnel told them that was impossible.

“The TV is lying!” shouted protesters, of the state channel viewed as mouthpiece for the government.

“Dirty Fidesz!” they added.

“Discontent is growing,” said Andi, 26, a sociology student who did not want to give her full name.

“They have passed two laws this week which … won’t serve Hungarian people’s interest,” she added, referring to the labour legislation critics dub a “slave law” and new courts for sensitive issues such as elections, protests and corruption.

Frequently clashing with the European Union over his policies, Orban has tweaked the election system to favour his ruling party Fidesz and put loyalists at the head of institutions, while allies have enriched themselves.

But he has rarely angered large voter groups at home, and the opposition is weak and fragmented.

Reuters, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse