Thousands march on Hungarian parliament

May 22, 2017

Several thousand protesters marched through the streets of Budapest Sunday evening, rallying in front of the Hungarian parliament. The “We’re Not Giving Away Our Future, We’re Staying Here” demonstration was organized by civil society groups and drew a diverse crowd, from young people to pensioners.

The protesters’ grievances revolved around the so-called “Lex CEU” that would effectively force Hungary’s most prestigious private university to close, the draft law on foreign-funded NGOs that would stigmatize them as foreign agents, the treatment of minorities and asylum-seekers, rampant government corruption, and the misuse of EU funds. Gathering on the Buda side of the Danube river, participants marched across the Freedom Bridge and through downtown Pest to the parliament building.

“I’m here today to warn you that we can’t let the country become like Felcsút,” anti-corruption activist Gábor Vágó told the crowd, referring to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s home village, which has come to symbolize both government corruption and the profligate use of EU funds. “Their biggest sin is that they stole our future,” he said. “Be active while it’s still possible,” added the former LMP (Politics Can Be Different) member of parliament.

Others speakers also stressed the need to stand up for democratic values.

“A lot has happened in the name of Christianity […] the regime is neither Christian nor democratic,” said Katalin Lukácsi, a former member of Fidesz-allied Christian Democrats (KDNP). Arguing that the government’s treatment of refugees and shutdown of left-wing print daily Népszabadság are not in line with her Catholic values, Lukácsi said “we need to stand by our values.”

“To choose Árpád Habony over Pope Francis is nonsense,” she said, referring to the so-called informal advisor to Orbán tasked with building a new pro-government, pro-Fidesz media empire mostly funded by state advertising.

Protesters promoted a lighthearted mood, with some dancing along the route. A rock band performed at parliament’s Kossuth Square. Speakers included a Central European University researcher and student, as well as NGO leaders.

But many of the activists present believe more needs to be done.

“We need more active citizenship than just protests,” Dóra Papp, the head of NGO Krétakör, told the Budapest Beacon during the march. “We need to change how civil society is viewed in Hungary.”

Following the protest, a group of young people marched to CEU where a few set up tents and squatted in Nádor street. As of 11:30 pm local time, some ten protesters were blocking the street in front of CEU and holding an informal forum on the future of the protest movement.