Saturday, December 4, 2021

Rally of tens of thousands for Orban in Budapest

Tens of thousands of supporters of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his right-wing government marched in Budapest on Saturday, demonstrating unity in support of the populist leader’s controversial policies that have challenged his power in both Hungary and the European Union.

The rally was called the “Peace March” and the participants gathered along the western bank of the Danube River and headed across the Freedom Bridge, zigzagging through the center of Budapest to the site of a rare public speech that Orban gave to his supporters.

Orban painted a grim picture of what Hungarians can expect if he is defeated in the national elections scheduled for next spring, which are expected to be the most serious challenge to his power since taking office in 2010.

Orban listed the economic achievements of his government and criticized Hungary’s previous socialist government, which he accused of leading the country to financial ruin.

“It took us years to fix the collapse of the left wing,” Orban said. “The socialists and their leader remained on our necks.”

The march was organized by the non-governmental organization Forum of Civil Unity, an active advocate of the politics of Orbana Fidesz, which has dominated the Hungarian parliament since 2010 with a two-thirds majority.

The group’s chairman, Laszlo Cizmadia, told the Associated Press ahead of the march’s departure that the event was meant to demonstrate Hungary’s sovereignty over the EU, which he said had “undeservedly” attacked Hungary in its recent ruling efforts in what the bloc sees as a retreat from democracy. …

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“We believe that we have the right to express our opinion in the European Union in the long term,” Chizmadia said.

Orban also targeted the EU, claiming that Brussels has consistently attacked Hungary because of its economic and immigration policies, which have put his government at odds with the bloc’s leaders.

“Dozens of prime ministers attacked Hungary. We are still here, but who can even remember their names? ” he said.

Laszlo Chendes arrived on the march from Veszprem, a town 75 miles (120 km) southwest of Budapest. He said Orban’s activities since 2010 have brought Hungarians to “prosperity” and improved economic conditions.

“There are new jobs, you just have to look around,” Chandes said. “There is money for everything and everyone.”

Orban’s persistent anti-immigration government is facing growing pressure both in Hungary and around the world. The EU, of which Hungary is a member, is considering imposing financial penalties on the country over fears that Orban has undermined democratic institutions and the rule of law in pursuit of what he calls “illiberal democracy.”

At home, Hungary’s six largest opposition parties have pledged to postpone ideological differences and form a coalition to challenge Orban’s party in the upcoming elections.

A child sits on a man’s shoulders as supporters of the Hungarian opposition listen to Prime Minister candidate Peter Marky-Zai speak during the 65th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution in Budapest, October 23, 2021.

The parties argue that a strategy of unity is the only way to overcome a media environment dominated by government agencies and an electoral system created and endorsed unilaterally by Fidesz, which they say gives the ruling party an unfair advantage.

The six-party opposition coalition ended a primary race last week in which voters selected independent candidate Peter Marki-Zaya to run Orban’s prime minister on the Unity List. Marki-Zai, who calls himself a conservative Christian, has argued that he can appeal to both Hungarian liberal voters and disaffected Fidesz supporters.

At a joint demonstration by opposition parties that brought together several thousand supporters on Saturday, Marki-Zai told AP that he will lead a coalition to fight corruption, media repression and abuses of government institutions that he said took place under Orban’s rule. …

“Our main goals for all of us, left and right, are for Hungary to be a democracy, to govern the rule of law in a market economy and as part of the European Union,” Marki-Zai said.

But some participants in the pro-government Peace March, many of whom hold placards criticizing the opposition movement, have expressed anger over the coalition’s ambitions to defeat Orban’s government.

“I don’t think they can manage, they don’t have any concepts,” said Judit Nemeth, a protester from Budapest. “They have only one goal – to overthrow Orban, who, I believe, is the best politician in Europe.”

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