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Thousands hold peaceful protest against PM Viktor Orban

About ten thousand protesters marched through the streets of Budapest Sunday evening, rallying in front of the Hungarian parliament. The "We're Not Giving Away Our Future, We're Staying Here" demonstration was organized by civil society groups and drew a diverse crowd, from young people to pensioners.

The protesters' grievances revolved around the so-called "Lex CEU" that would effectively force Hungary's most prestigious private university to close, the draft law on foreign-funded NGOs that would stigmatize them as foreign agents, the treatment of minorities and asylum-seekers, rampant government corruption, and the misuse of EU funds. Gathering on the Buda side of the Danube river, participants marched across the Chain Bridge and through downtown Pest to the parliament building.
"I'm here today to warn you that we can't let the country become like Felcsút," anti-corruption activist Gábor Vágó told the crowd, referring to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's home village, which has come to symbolize both government corruption and the profligate use of EU funds. "Their biggest sin is that they stole our future," he said. "Be active while it's still possible," added the former LMP (Politics Can Be Different) member of parliament.
Others speakers also stressed the need to stand up for democratic values.
"A lot has happened in the name of Christianity [...] the regime is neither Christian nor democratic," said Katalin Lukácsi, a former member of Fidesz-allied Christian Democrats (KDNP). Arguing that the government's treatment of refugees and shutdown of left-wing print daily Népszabadság are not in line with her Catholic values, Lukácsi said "we need to stand by our values."
"To choose Árpád Habony over Pope Francis is nonsense," she said, referring to the so-called informal advisor to Orbán tasked with building a new pro-government, pro-Fidesz media empire mostly funded by state advertising.
Protesters promoted a lighthearted mood, with some dancing along the route. A rock band performed at parliament's Kossuth Square. Speakers included a Central European University researcher and student, as well as NGO leaders.
But many of the activists present believe more needs to be done.
"We need more active citizenship than just protests," Dóra Papp, the head of NGO Krétakör, told the Budapest Beacon during the march. "We need to change how civil society is viewed in Hungary."
Since April there has been a string of street demonstrations in Budapest, triggered by a new law that could force the Central European University funded by US financier George Soros to leave the country.
"There were 40 years of communism here, that was enough. We would like a better future, I don't understand why they want to drag us back to the past. We want to look ahead, we are here, because people don't feel that they are capable of doing something alone, but we are many not just a few now," said one protester.
Orsolya Karafiáth who is a celebrated Hungarian poet and author was firm in her commitment to participating in the protests:
"I think we should come to all these demonstrations, no matter how many we are. Fortunately our number is growing, and we will be even more soon. If people see that it is possible to organise ourselves and that we can raise our voice, then they'll see we can force some changes."
In the past seven years, Orban 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.
With parliamentary elections due next year, critics claim Hungary's nationalist prime minister has launched a crusade against Soros whose liberal and internationalist world view is at odds with that of the nationalist-minded Hungarian leader.
Reporting for euronews, Gábor Kiss explained:
"In recent weeks the European Parliament and the European Commission have sent more and more serious warnings to the Hungarian government for breaching the founding values of the Union. The demonstrators' message to Prime Minister Viktor Orban is the following: CEU should remain in Budapest, civil society should remain in Hungary, and Hungary should remain in the EU."
Orban has rejected accusations Budapest was threatening the Central European University (CEU) and dismissed Soros, whose Open Society Foundations has been active in Hungary for three decades, as a "financial speculator".
Following the protest, a group of young people marched to CEU where a few set up tents and squatted in Nádor street. As of 11:30 pm local time, some ten protesters were blocking the street in front of CEU and holding an informal forum on the future of the protest movement.

Recent demonstrations in Hungary have been organised by "agents" of US billionaire George Soros, the group leader of Fidesz told state news television M1. "Organisations and activists financed by Soros stage these protests," Lajos Kósa insisted. "Soros has long maintained that Europe should receive several million migrants each year and should take out loans amounting to 100 billion euros; from him, naturally, because that is good business," Kósa claimed. Soros is against all governments working to stop migration, he said, and suggested it was why he keeps "attacking" the Hungarian government. Kósa also insisted that "Hungary is a democratic country with a freedom of speech and assembly, and anyone can stage a demonstration... even if they do so for an unreasonable cause".

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 May 2017 07:07

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