A protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state visit to Hungary was held in central Budapest Thursday evening, several hundred meters from its original intended location near Parliament. The demonstration, organized by opposition party Együtt (Together), called on Hungarians opposed to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s increasingly cozy posture toward Putin’s Russia to bring horns and whistles and heckle the meeting between the two heads of state.
In addition to horns and whistles and the customary chants of “Orbán, get out!”, signs reading “We won’t be a colony!”, “Russians go home!” and others comparing Putin to Adolph Hitler, were flown above the crowd of several hundred, assembled adjacent to Nyugati square on the corner of Bajcsy Zsilinszky street and Markó street. One small group of Ukrainians waved Ukrainian flags and the flag of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, a nationalist paramilitary formed during World War II. They called Putin a “dictator and terrorist,” and chanted for “no war in Europe.”
Együtt chairman Viktor Szigetvári spoke of the Orbán-Putin alliance as a “dead end,” and called Putin “the kind of war criminal who has blood on his hands and who has no place in Hungary’s Parliament…It is a disgrace that Viktor Orbán brought this shame upon Hungary and accepted someone like this.” He compared Hungary under Orbán to Putin’s Russia, where “the oligarchs rob the country blind,” and he insisted that Hungary belongs to the West, not the East.
“Vladimir Putin has blood on his hands because Russian bombs persecuted hundreds of thousands, even millions, in Syria, and even today Russian oppression ruins the lives of millions in parts of Ukraine and in the Crimean peninsula,” Szigetvári said. “Russian agents are trying to destabilize that order which is trying to live, trying to create peace and to flourish.
“On top of that, [Orbán] attacks the civil organizations that struggle to help asylum seekers, gays, minorities, Roma and others, and they are doing exactly this in Russia. Orbán, as Putin’s ally, is limiting Hungarian press freedom and the freedom of civil organizations, and that’s why Együtt is protesting.”
As Szigetvári spoke, Putin’s motorcade turned onto Bajcsy Zsilinszky from Alkotmány (Constitution) street, 150 meters from the protest, prompting an eruption of whistles, horns and jeers that continued unabated for several minutes. Szigetvári continued, saying that Putin is conducting a “war against the West” that involves the financing of “fake news” portals intent on dismantling Western democracy. He claimed that the Orbán government had instructed Hungarian secret services to take no action “against the Russian disinformation campaign” because if necessary, Orbán can rely on Putin’s secret services to come to Hungary and protect him.
Együtt PM and board member Zsuzsanna Szelényi echoed Szigetvári’s statement that Hungary is only safe when it belongs to the West, and reminded protesters that “the Russians’ imperial ambitions always interfered with our greatest moments of history.” She said Putin’s power is maintained through “helplessness and hopelessness” and there are no citizens in Putin’s Russia, only subjects.
“We do not want that kind of country,” Szelényi said. “We want to live in freedom, independently of Vladimir Putin and free of Viktor Orbán. When we protest against the policies of Putin, we are really protesting against the Orbán regime.”
Finally, Együtt co-chair Péter Juhász took the podium and criticized the Orbán government for disallowing the protest at its originally planned location despite Együtt receiving a permit from police. The protest was originally scheduled to take place at the corner of Alkotmány street and Kossuth square, just in front of Parliament, but attempts by Juhász to enter the area were denied by police Thursday morning, citing an order by Hungary’s counter-terrorism force (TEK) that sealed a large portion of the area around the Parliament building to “ensure the safety of people and facilities.”
According to Juhász (pictured above), Orbán wouldn’t allow the protest to take place in front of Parliament because he fears opposition. He said the police who enforced the order shouldn’t be blamed, because they were only following orders.
“They’re with us!” he said of the police. “They’re the ones who are going to drive Viktor Orbán out in chains along with his mafia!” Juhász said the Fidesz party itself works like a criminal organization.
He detailed problems facing the country under Orbán, and outlined what may be campaign promises going into 2018 elections (Juhász is Együtt’s presumptive nominee for prime minister). Hungary should be the kind of country where doctors don’t have to go abroad to practice, where teachers can teach, where healthcare providers don’t have to skimp on soap in hospitals, and where immigrants and refugees are accepted with old-fashioned, traditional hospitality, Juhász said. The creation of such a country was not only the job of politicians but that of citizens, who must participate in politics and in civil movements.
Viktor Orbán has “gotten used to spitting words down on people from above,” which is why he is unwilling to have debates, Juhász said. He urged protesters to come to the Castle Bazaar on February 10, when Orbán is scheduled to give a state of the nation address, to heckle the prime minister once again.