TENS OF thousands of Hungarians rallied yesterday against the government’s moves to concentrate power in its hands and over its failure to energise a stagnant the economy.
Support for the ruling centre-right Fidesz party is on the wane after it introduced austerity to kick-start one of the European Union’s most indebted economies and used its two-thirds majority in parliament to steamroller opposition to controversial reforms.
Ignoring growing dissatisfaction at home and frequent criticism abroad, prime minister Viktor Orban has changed Hungary’s constitution, introduced a controversial new media law and pushed through changes to labour rules since taking power last spring.
Critics accuse him of using his power to take all key institutions under tight Fidesz control and to dismantle crucial checks and balances built into the system since the fall of communism in 1989.
“They’re enacting anti-democratic and unjust measures and thus build up an anti-democratic and unjust system,” said Peter Juhasz, one of the protest organisers.
One speaker at the rally beside the Danube river said Mr Orban, who emerged as a leading figure in the anti-communist movement, “embodied the change of the political regime and now embodies its [democracy’s] fall”.
The so-called “I don’t like the system” rally took place on the anniversary of the 1956 revolution when Hungarians took up arms to challenge Soviet rule.
Five years ago, 1956 anniversary demonstrations erupted into riots against the then Socialist government of premier Ferenc Gyurcsany. Mr Gyurcsany had been heard in a secret recording of a party meeting admitting that he had lied to secure a second term in office.
Mr Orban benefited from the subsequent collapse of Socialist support to win two-thirds of seats in parliament at last year’s election, a position that allows his government to push through any legislation. “We are here both to remember 1956 and because of the situation now,” said one demonstrator, who gave his name as Laci (62). “This government gave up on the values of 1956. It is like a dictatorship,” he added.
On Saturday, a smaller group led by prominent Hungarian actors protested against the appointment of two nationalist figures to lead a major Budapest theatre.
Last week, German conductor Cristoph von Dohnanyi cancelled appearances at the Hungarian State Opera, saying he did not want to “appear in a city whose mayor entrusted the direction of a theatre to two known extreme right-wing anti-Semites”.