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"We belong to Europe" - Hungarians send message to Orbán in march supporting European Union

Thousands of Hungarians marched across central Budapest on Monday in a show of support for the European Union, protesting against what a new political movement sees as a creeping rise in Russian influence under Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The rally follows a series of major demonstrations in Budapest in recent weeks, triggered by a new law that would drive out of Hungary a top university founded by U.S. financier George Soros.

pro EU rally

Momentum, an upstart political movement that called for Monday's rally dubbed "We belong to Europe," announced it would run at a parliamentary election next April.
The demonstration focused heavily on Russian influence in Hungary, with the crowd chanting anti-Kremlin slogans and organizers handing out "Let's Stop Moscow" and "Let's Stop Orbán" stickers. As protesters marched along Andrassy boulevard, passing the Russian embassy compound—which was surrounded by lines of riot police—demonstrators booed and shouted.
"I've heard enough nightmare stories from my parents, I don't want Orbán and Putin to bring back that world," Momentum activist Tamás Soproni told the crowd on Heroes' Square. Soproni referred directly to Russian intelligence activities on Hungarian territory, as well as alleged secret deals surrounding the Paks nuclear power plant and the appearance of a Chechen who recently threatened a Hungarian activist. He also criticized the Hungarian government for formally deeming Russia not to be a threat to Hungary.
András Fekete-Győr, Momentum's leader, also highlighted the Russian threat, but focused most of his speech on the need to combat fear in Hungarian society.
"Orbán creates fear because he is afraid... most of all he is afraid of us, people," Fekete-Győr told the protesters. Urging the crowd to put aside differences, he pledged that Momentum will help those who fear losing their jobs or facing other kind of retribution for speaking out against the Orbán government. "We will protect you," he said.
The protest displayed signs of high level of organization, with activists carrying Momentum flags and the stage lighting even matching the movement's color, purple.
But despite the relatively high turnout and professional-style organization, the movement's precise ideological direction and policy aspirations remain unclear. While Momentum's leader introduced his speech by saying that he will now explain what must be done over the next year, no concrete policy ideas were mentioned. According to Fekete-Győr, Momentum will continue travelling around the country to hold a "real consultation", and plans to present its policy agenda in the fall.
The group gained national prominence with a referendum campaign that torpedoed Orban's bid for Budapest to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Orban, a former critic of Moscow, changed tack after returning to power in a 2010 landslide. In a key speech, he called for transforming Hungary into an "illiberal state," citing Russia and Turkey as templates for success.
He still holds a firm lead in opinion polls. But on Saturday he told leaders of his center-right EU political group he would comply with demands from Brussels to change measures branded an attack on academic freedom.
"Viktor Orban's performance at the European Parliament has shown that it is not only Hungarians who are tired of Orban and his Fidesz party," said Daniel Kiss, a 23-year-old university student, who carried EU flags at the rally with his girlfriend.
"He blasts the EU, but at the same time we need European money to stay afloat," he said. "We have had enough."
Orban has said Hungary should remain a member of the EU, but is also seeking reforms and wants to avoid a further loss of national sovereignty.
In the past seven years, Orban, 53, has eliminated checks on his power by taking control of the public media, curbing the powers of the constitutional court, and placing loyalists in top positions at public institutions.
But Orban's unorthodox fiscal stabilization measures have slashed the budget deficit, sent unemployment to record lows and Budapest forecasts economic growth above 4 percent this year and next, which would be the fastest rates since Orban took power.

Despite the street protests, the fragmented Hungarian opposition so far looks unable to mount a serious challenge.The Momentum-led protest notably did not formally include any other political parties or movements. Earlier in the day, the Hungarian Socialist party (MSZP) and the Democratic Coalition (DK) each held its own event at the city park, a May 1 tradition. Momentum plans to run as a political party in next year's election.
An April survey by think tank Zavecz Research put support for Orban's Fidesz party at 27 percent of voters. The Socialist party scored 13 percent, the nationalist Jobbik 11 percent and Momentum just 2 percent.
Even some protesters, like 26-year-old Bence, who wore a mask of Russian President Vladimir Putin on the back of his head, were skeptical of a breakthrough next April.
"In such an election system, even Momentum or some other smaller opposition party getting into parliament would be a big deal," he said. "But that is just what this is all about."
Source: Reuters;

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 May 2017 08:04

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