“Let’s stop Felcsút” anti-corruption protest draws hundreds

May 21, 2017

Protesters marched through Felcsút, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s home town,  on Saturday in a demonstration against government corruption. While the turnout was relatively small — less than 200 people attended — the event drew high-profile members of the opposition and a number of anti-corruption activists.

Situated 35 kilometers due west of Budapest, Felcsút (population 1800) is hard to miss. Driving through the picturesque countryside, dotted with small homes and large fields, Felcsút immediately stands out with its tall cranes and large soccer stadium built as part of the local soccer academy.

“We welcome the Soros boys,” read a banner hung along the road at the entrance to the village. A man standing next to the banner shouted a profanity at the Budapest Beacon team.

The protesters began their march at the “Pancho” arena, a soccer stadium which seats 3,800 people built as part of the Puskás Ferenc soccer academy from money diverted from the Hungarian treasury at a cost of HUF 3.8 billion (USD 13.5 million).  From there, they walked to the Orbán family home just across the road, where they threw fake currency in the air as a protest against what they argue is a widespread system of corruption.

“Thieves”,“Justice” and “Orbán go away” were among the slogans shouted by the protesters. They included a group of about ten people who lost money in the Quaestor scandal, as well as activists representing the satirical Two-Tailed Dog Party and the Ligetvédők, a group dedicated to protecting City Park in central Budapest from what they see as construction plans driven by Fidesz politicians’ personal motives.

The group marched, under tight police security, to Lőrinc Mészáros’ office. A childhood friend of the prime minister, Mészáros is the mayor of Felcsút.  The former gaspipe fitter has become one of the wealthiest individuals in Hungary since Fidesz returned to power in 2010, owing to his penchant for winning lucrative state contracts involving copious EU funding.

The protesters stopped at the headquarters of his company, and then walked to his extensive estate at the edge of the village. At the entrance to the estate, protesters found pogacsa — a Hungarian biscuit — and water bottles. Mészáros’ security guards had placed these at the gate, a present from Mészáros. Most protesters declined to accept the gift.

Locals appeared surprised to see the crowd, and many came out of their houses to watch. Their reactions, however, varied.

“Should I have an opinion? I don’t think that would do anyone any good,” said one man, who watched the protest from his garden with his wife and two kids.

The protesters’ slogans are “primitive,” said one older woman, who was picking berries in her yard as the march passed by. “I don’t understand how they have time to do this.”

Other locals expressed their dislike for the opposition.  One elderly couple spat on journalists.

The protest ended at the small train station in Felcsút, which over the past years has come to symbolize Hungarian government corruption. The small-gauge railroad was built at significant cost to European taxpayers in a location of questionable utility.

“Once they’re finished spending all the EU money, Orbán won’t be interested in staying in the EU,” Péter Juhász, the leader of opposition party Együtt (Together), told the crowd assembled in front of the train station. “It’s a mafia family that protects each other.”

Speakers focused on corruption among the Fidesz elite.

“The theft is happening much more in the open now than before,” said Politics Can Be Different (LMP) anti-corruption expert Ákos Hadházy. “Just as Al Capone fell over tax evasion, we can get the prime minister.”

Other speakers included protest organizer Gábor Vágó (right), Hungarian tax authority whistleblower András Horváth (left), independent MP Marta Demeter, members of the Tanítanék (I Would Teach) teachers’ movement, workers’ movement leader Csaba Vámos  and Dialogue for Hungary (PM) MP Timea Szabó.

“We shouldn’t listen to voices that say Orbán can’t be defeated,” Szabó said.