Thousands demonstrate in anti-Orban protest in Hungary


Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in downtown Budapest to protest against the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The protest on Saturday was led by Peter Magyar, 43, a former government insider turned critic who used to be married to Orban’s ex-justice minister Judit Varga.

Magyar addressed a crowd that filled the sprawling square near the parliament building in Budapest, announcing his creation of a new political community aimed at uniting both conservative and liberal Hungarians disillusioned by Orban’s governance and the fragmented, ineffectual political opposition.

“Step by step, brick by brick, we are taking back our homeland and building a new country, a sovereign, modern, European Hungary,” he said, adding that the protest was “the biggest political demonstration in years”.

Reports said more than 10,000 people were expected to join the demonstration.

Some of the protesters marching towards parliament shouted, “We are not scared” and “Orban resign!”

Many wore the red-white-green national colours or carried the national flag, symbols that Orban’s party used as their own for the past two decades.

“These are the national colours of Hungary, not the government’s,” 24-year-old Lejla, who travelled to Budapest from Sopron, a town on the country’s western border, told the Reuters news agency.

Magyar became widely known in February when he became the government’s whistleblower and delivered incendiary comments about the inner workings of Orban’s administration.

In March, he published a recording on his Facebook page of a January 2023 conversation with his ex-wife Varga, in which she detailed an attempt by aides to Orban’s cabinet chief, Antal Rogan, to interfere in the prosecution files in a corruption case centred on former Ministry of Justice State Secretary Pal Volner.

“They suggested to the prosecutors what should be removed,” Varga says in the recording.

Magyar said the tape proved top officials in Orban’s government are corrupt, and that he had given the recording to the Metropolitan Public Prosecutor’s Office in Budapest, to be used as evidence.

The office has said it would analyse the tape and further evidence would be collected.

At the march on Saturday, Magyar said: “More than 20 years have passed as our elected leaders have incited the Hungarian people against each other. Whether the fate of our country went well or we were close to bankruptcy, we were pitted against each other instead of allowing us to band together.

“We will put an end to this now.”

Orban under pressure

Hungary’s government has dismissed Magyar as an opportunist seeking to forge a new career after his divorce with Varga and his loss of positions in several state companies.

But his rise has compounded political headaches for Orban in advance of European parliamentary elections in June.

It also follows a sex abuse scandal that brought down two of the prime minister’s key political allies – the former president and Varga – in February.

According to data by pollster Median, published by news weekly HVG in mid-March, 68 percent of voters have heard of Magyar’s entry into the political field and 13 percent of those said that they were likely to support his party.

On Saturday, some protesters also said Magyar appealed to them because he had been close to the Orban government and has an inside knowledge of how it works.

“We had known that there is corruption, but he says it as an insider and confirmed it for us,” Zsuzsanna Szigeti, a 46-year-old healthcare worker wearing a Hungarian flag that covered her entire body, told Reuters.

She added that she was concerned about the education and the healthcare systems, and worried about corruption.

“I trust that there will be a change,” she said.__Al Jazeera