Youth movement Momentum led a march of a few thousand from Szabadság tér (Freedom Square) to Heroes’ Square on Monday night, culminating in a rally where the group’s leaders declared that “there is one year, there is hope” for change in the 2018 parliamentary elections.
The demonstration focused heavily on Russian influence in Hungary, with the crowd chanting anti-Kremlin slogans and organizers handing out “Let’s Stop Moscow” and “Let’s Stop Orbán” stickers. As protesters marched along Andrassy boulevard, passing the Russian embassy compound—which was surrounded by lines of riot police—demonstrators booed and shouted.
“I’ve heard enough nightmare stories from my parents, I don’t want Orbán and Putin to bring back that world,” Momentum activist Tamás Soproni told the crowd on Heroes’ Square. Soproni referred directly to Russian intelligence activities on Hungarian territory, as well as alleged secret deals surrounding the Paks nuclear power plant and the appearance of a Chechen who recently threatened a Hungarian activist. He also criticized the Hungarian government for formally deeming Russia not to be a threat to Hungary.
András Fekete-Győr, Momentum’s leader, also highlighted the Russian threat, but focused most of his speech on the need to combat fear in Hungarian society.
“Orbán creates fear because he is afraid… most of all he is afraid of us, people,” Fekete-Győr told the protesters. Urging the crowd to put aside differences, he pledged that Momentum will help those who fear losing their jobs or facing other kinds of retribution for speaking out against the Orbán government. “We will protect you,” he said.
The protest displayed signs of a high level of organization, with activists carrying Momentum flags and the stage lighting even matching the movement’s color, purple.
But despite the relatively high turnout and professional-style organization, the movement’s precise ideological direction and policy aspirations remain unclear. While Momentum’s leader introduced his speech by saying that he will now explain what must be done over the next year, no concrete policy ideas were mentioned. According to Fekete-Győr, Momentum will continue travelling around the country to hold a “real consultation”, and plans to present its policy agenda in the fall.
Following the end of the formal protest, a group of several hundred demonstrators moved toward the nearby headquarters of ruling party Fidesz, and from there marched to the city center, and as in several recent protests, occupied Oktogon intersection. As of 10:20pm local time, protesters were still in the streets of central Budapest.
Budapest police are now implementing a strategy of targeting street protesters who display leadership. While protesters walking on Andrássy and occupying Oktogon are not detained, protesters who try to direct the crowd—for example by calling out a new location where protesters should head—are targeted. A young man who called out “Oktogon” repeatedly on a megaphone was pulled aside and asked to present identification papers.
The Momentum-led protest notably did not formally include any other political parties or movements. Earlier in the day, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and the Democratic Coalition (DK) each held its own event in City Park, a May 1 tradition. Momentum plans to run as a political party in next year’s election.