An estimated 80,000 protesters took to the streets of Budapest Sunday to demonstrate against the government’s new higher education bill, which threatens to hinder the continued operation in Hungary of Central European University. The rally, one of the biggest since the anti-internet tax protests in 2014, began with a march from the Várkert Bazár in Buda, across the Lánchid (Chain Bridge) to the steps of Parliament. Additional actions took place after the end of the official demonstration, with protesters estimated at over 1,000 shutting down traffic on the Nagykörút (Grand Boulevard) and Andrássy út as they made their way to the headquarters of the ruling Fidesz party.
The following is a photo report prepared for the Budapest Beacon by Balázs Pivarnyik.
Just before 5 pm the area in front of Várkert Bazár, the starting point of the rally, was already crowded with people. Organizers made a last-minute change to the initial location of the protest due to the high number of respondents.
Newly arrived participants were asked to gather behind the stage.
People carried a variety of humorous pro-CEU and anti-government banners.
After brief speeches, the rally started off and crossed Chain Bridge with a heavy police escort.
The front of the rally leaving the Chain Bridge, carrying the national and the EU flag.
The rally went past the downtown campus of CEU but this time there were no speeches.
The crowd billowed down the narrow Nádor utca, heading to the Parliament. By the time the front of the march had reached Parliament, the tail of the crowd had still not gotten onto Chain Bridge in Buda.
People arriving at Kossuth tér outside Parliament. Organizers reported that by this time the tail end of the rally was still in front of Várkert bazár.
Organizers pass four rolls of paper, each more than 20m long, with names of all the people who publicly stood for CEU.
Kossuth tér was full. Those who arrived later had to find a place behind the stage. According to organizers, by the time the speeches had finished, a huge part of the rally had still not arrived at the square.
The protest officially ended around 7 pm. Protesters raised their phones in the air – an act that has become a tradition since the successful protests against the planned internet tax in 2014.
Several thousand stayed at Kossuth tér well after the protest officially ended, gathering at the steps of Parliament in front of a cordon of police.
There were minor clashes with police, but no injuries were reported.
Around 9 pm the protesters decided to go to the nearby Ministry of Human Capacities. Police personnel were caught off guard at the entrance to the ministry. Tensions rose between protesters and the police but, after a brief skirmish, the rally continued toward ruling party Fidesz’s headquarters on Lendvay utca.
The rally occupied the Nagykörút, one of the main roads of Budapest. Police tried to contain the crowd, but most protesters could evade their grip.
People chanted anti-government slogans and urged bystanders to join the rally.
Until the rally reached Andrássy út, police allowed the crowd to proceed freely. By the time the rally arrived at Lendvay utca, the location of Fidesz headquarters, riot police blocked every cross street nearby. The rally was halted by riot police before it could reach Fidesz’s headquarters.
A woman held a banner reading “You don’t have to fear knowledge!” Protesters made their way to Hősök tere and sat down peacefully facing riot police protecting Fidesz’s headquarters. A protester addressed the crowd through a loudspeaker and urged the remaining demonstrators to go back to Oktogon, a busy intersection where Andrássy út crosses the Grand Boulevard, and halt traffic there. Several hundred people remained there well into the night.