100,000 Hungarians rally to denounce ‘Viktator’ Orban’s rule

Nationalist leader’s allies accuse George Soros’s ‘network’ of being behind protest

Anti-Orban demonstrators gather at the building of the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest on Saturday. Photograph: Zsolt Szigetvary/MTI via AP

About 100,000 Hungarians have rallied in Budapest to denounce the Eurosceptic, anti-immigration rule of nationalist prime minister Viktor Orban, a week after a crushing election victory gave him a third consecutive term in office.

The march to parliament beside the Danube river was perhaps the biggest protest in Hungary since Mr Orban retook power in 2010, and began sweeping reforms that critics say undermine democracy and the rule of law.

After a campaign dominated by Mr Orban's claims that immigrants from the Middle East and Africa are a danger to Hungary and Europe, and that liberal philanthropist George Soros was plotting to oust him, his Fidesz party again took two-thirds of seats in parliament.

Marchers on Saturday said the electoral system was rigged in favour of Fidesz, however, and called for alleged voting violations to be investigated and for freedom to be restored to a Hungarian media scene that now largely parrots Mr Orban’s views.


“The people here, mostly young and from Budapest, know where to find trusted information,” said Peter (20), a student from the capital.

“But for older people and in smaller towns and villages, if they put on the TV or read a local newspaper they only see Orban propaganda.”

His friend Maria (21) said "it's becoming like Russia. One man and one party will always win the elections, because that's how they are set up."

“It feels like we’re moving away from Europe. And at the same time lots of young people are going from Hungary to find some future.”

Budapest exception

Mr Orban’s message that Hungary is threatened by refugees and migrants, a “meddling” EU and Mr Soros’s supposed network of politicians, activists, journalists and academics resonated in most of the country but not in much of Budapest.

While opposition parties took most districts in the capital, however, their challenge to Mr Orban failed due to their failure to inspire and mobilise voters in the regions or to agree on single candidates to fight Fidesz in winnable constituencies.

Protest organisers demanded that opposition leaders co-operate in future to beat a Fidesz party that controls all levers of power and has wealthy backers who dominate Hungarian business and media.

Marchers chanted “Regime change”, called for “New elections!” and denounced a leader they dub the “Viktator”, before ending the evening by singing the Hungarian and EU anthems outside parliament.

Following the election, Fidesz has vowed to pursue reforms to dramatically tighten state control over NGOs working on migration issues; a major opposition newspaper and radio station have closed for financial reasons; and the future of the Soros-funded Central European University in Budapest is still unclear.

"Saturday's demonstration was not a private initiative, it was organised by the Soros network with Soros's money, because he cannot accept last week's elections," said senior Fidesz member Antal Rogan.

“Hungarians clearly would like Hungary to remain a place for Hungarians. On the other hand, George Soros would like to manipulate the elections with opposition parties and so-called independent civil organisations.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe