Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Budapest for a fourth day of protests against new laws that critics say erode workers’ rights and codify government control over the judiciary.The protests are quickly becoming the most co-ordinated show of opposition to the manner in which nationalist prime minister Viktor Orban has centralised his power since taking office in 2010
Another protest has been called for Monday evening.Students, union workers and opposition MPs gathered in front of Hungary’s parliament on Sunday and later marched in sub-zero temperatures to the headquarters of MTV, the public television broadcaster.An estimated 15,000 Hungarians participated throughout the day, with police using tear gas against a crowd of about 2,000 outside MTV, where 10 opposition MPs asked to read protesters’ demands.The protests were triggered by the approval last week of a law that would allow employers to seek up to 400 hours of overtime a year.
Opponents have dubbed the measure a “slavery law”.The measure was approved amid chaotic scenes with opposition MPs whistling, blaring sirens and throwing pamphlets from the parliament balcony in a failed attempt to disrupt the vote. The law nevertheless passed easily because Mr Orban’s Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority in parliament.Students, union workers and opposition MPs gathered in front of Hungary’s parliament © ReutersThe group is also calling for “independent public media”, citing the continuing consolidation of media in the hands of Orban loyalists, including an initiative announced last month to donate almost 500 government-friendly titles to a foundation run by an ally of Mr Orban.
The flagship public channel began its morning broadcast on Monday without a mention of the previous night’s protest.Balazs Hidveghi, a spokesman for Mr Orban’s Fidesz party, said on Monday that it was “quite obvious” that “the Soros network” is behind the protest, referring to George Soros, the Hungarian-American billionaire financier who has been a frequent target of Mr Orban’s government.Mr Hidveghi alleged that protesters and opposition MPs had been “provoking” the police “in order to produce bad news about Hungary”.A protester kneels in front of riot police outside the Hungarian state television headquarters Csaky, research director at the democracy watchdog Freedom House, said the protests were significant for the extent of outrage and anger, unseen since 2006 when violent riots broke out against the then-ruling Socialists after a recording of the party leader admitting that the party lied to win the elections was leaked to the media.
Ms Csaky compared the recent protests to previous demonstrations against government attacks on the Central European University, a Soros-founded institution. CEU announced last month that it would move many of its operations to Vienna due to political pressure.“Previously everyone was so well behaved. Even if 50,000 people participated in the protests for Central European University last year, there was an almost festive atmosphere. This time it is different,” said Ms Csaky.Mr Orban has been under increased fire from Brussels over his anti-migrant policies and his party’s consolidation of power. The European Parliament voted in September to initiate so-called Article 7 proceedings, a process that could culminate in sanctions including a loss of Hungary’s EU voting rights, although this is highly unlikely.Another set of laws approved on Wednesday pave the way for a new administrative court system under the supervision of the justice minister.
The new body, which will deal with government-related activities, will start functioning in January 2020 and cases before it will not be subject to final review by the supreme court. Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, has called for Hungary’s president to send the laws back to parliament “to enable a fully informed review of the package”.On Monday, a joint panel of legal experts from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, which advises on constitutional matters, criticised another set of laws passed this summer, known as the “Stop Soros” laws, which imposed a 25 per cent tax on activity deemed to be “promoting migration”.The panel found that the laws constituted “unjustified interference, with the right to freedom of expression and of association of the NGOs affected,” the Council of Europe said.