Hungary's government announced on Wednesday it would withdraw Budapest's bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games, citing a lack of political and national unity behind the application that it blamed on the opposition.
Bidding alongside powerhouses Los Angeles and Paris, Budapest had been considered a long-shot candidate, pinning its hopes on the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Agenda 2020 initiative.
Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos had suggested the city might quit the race after local opponents of the bid last week submitted more than a quarter of a million signatures (around 20% of all voters in Budapest) in a petition demanding a local referendum in Budapest on the issue.
"For Budapest and Hungary the Olympics is a national issue," the government said in a resolution published on national news agency MTI.
"In recent months, the earlier unity has broken down and the issue of the Olympics has turned from a national issue into a party issue. Opposition parties are responsible for this, those who backtracked on their earlier decision (to back the bid)."
Wednesday's decision was made at a meeting between Tarlos, Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the chairman of the Hungarian Olympic committee.
The IOC said it would await official notification from the national Olympic committee of the country, the only authority which can officially withdraw a bid.
According to a survey published on Wednesday by pollster Median, half of Hungarians wanted Budapest to withdraw its bid, with only a third supporting it nationally. In Budapest, 56 percent of voters were against the bid.
Sentiment changed as a group of young professionals and students collected more than a quarter of a million signatures in a month to press for a referendum on the Olympic bid.
The Momentum movement has burst on to Hungary's political scene to challenge Orban's government and opposition parties a year before elections in 2018.
No opposition group has had such an impact on a major issue since Orban rose to power in 2010. In targeting the Olympics, Momentum has challenged an event seen as being of symbolic importance to the prime minister.
Momentum spokesman Gergo Papp told local website Index.hu that the government had backtracked on the bid "in a cowardly manner", saying they had taken away a chance for the people to vote on the project.
Organizing their campaign from a decrepit basement, a group of young professionals and students collected a quarter of a million signatures in a month to successfully force Budapest to abandon its bid to host the 2024 Olympics.
And that could be just the start for a youth-oriented political movement that could be a new threat to right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban's dominance of Hungary.
The group, Momentum, demanded a city-wide referendum in the capital on the Olympic bid and said Hungary wasn't yet rich enough to host it. It has now announced plans to set itself up as a political party next month and launch a campaign for parliament next year.
Although it does not yet even register in polls, political analysts say it has a shot at winning seats at the expense both of both Orban's ruling Fidesz party and opposition groups that have faded as the prime minister has consolidated his power.
In challenging the Olympics, Momentum targeted an event seen as symbolically important to the prime minister, and which had support from most political parties when Hungary submitted its bid.
Public support for hosting the Olympics appeared to vanish almost overnight during Momentum's campaign for the referendum, backed by 1,800 volunteers and around EUR 60,000 in cash raised through crowdfunding on the Internet.
Momentum's leader, bearded lawyer Andras Fekete-Gyor, was born in 1989, the year Hungary escaped Communism, and says that revolution was never quite finished, leaving the country still in the grip of leaders with authoritarian instincts.
"We think that the system change was in the end a failure, so it is not an accident that we are living now in an illiberal state in Hungary and that people want to leave," Fekete-Gyor said in an interview before the announcement that the Olympic bid would be withdrawn, sitting in a shabby armchair in the dim cellar. "We would like to start a new era."
Momentum activists plan to travel around the country in coming weeks to establish action groups, seeking to broaden its appeal beyond its initial base of urban intellectuals.
"We are not a left or right party ... we will have strong views on policy matters, we are going to start with healthcare," Fekete-Gyor said.
As the latest among dissident political groupings that have sprung up across Europe to challenge the establishment, Momentum faces major hurdles if it hopes to translate its impact over the Olympics into wider political significance.
Orban's party, Fidesz, has a strong lead in opinion polls, rival leftist parties are scrambling to poach floating voters, and the radical nationalist Jobbik party is moving towards the center.
But Momentum's focus on the Olympics proved "painful" for Fidesz, said Zoltan Novak, project director at the Centre for Fair Political Analysis, a Budapest think-tank.
If Momentum can attract young voters "then they have a realistic chance of getting into parliament in 2018", Novak said. "We don't know at this stage how strong the movement is."
The government dismisses Momentum's account of itself as a spontaneous civic-minded activist group. Government spokesman Kovacs said Momentum was created for political purposes and its anti-Olympic campaign had "divided national unity on the issue, and a large part of the opposition parties assisted in this".
The group claims just 150 members, most, like its leader, in their late 20s or early 30s, born around the time when Orban himself was a young dissident making his mark with his Fidesz party as a fresh, liberal force confronting Communism.
Fekete-Gyor holds a law degree from the same university as Orban, has studied in Germany and worked in Paris. He was just three months old when Orban delivered a landmark speech calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops.
"I would have joined Fidesz at that time and then after a couple of years I would have left Fidesz," Fekete-Gyor said, referring to Orban's subsequent shift to the political right.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 March 2017 20:53