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2nd Mar 2024

Hungarian leader accused of 'dictatorship' over new constitution

  • Viktor Orban has already been slammed by MEPs for his 'censorship' policies (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Tens of thousands of Hungarians on Monday (2 January) went on the streets of Budapest in protest against controversial constitutional changes enacted one day earlier by centre-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban, with former dissidents accusing him of "dictatorship."

According to the organisers of the rally, up to 100,000 people marched outside the opera house in central Budapest where Orban and other politicians celebrated the new constitution.

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Protesters chanted slogans denouncing Orban's "dictatorship", holding up boards saying "Enough!" and "Orbanistan" as dignitaries arrived for the event.

"Viktor Orban and his servants turned Hungary from a promising place to the darkest spot in Europe," Socialist MP Tibor Szanyi said according to AFP.

Earlier that day, in a statement entitled "The decline of democracy - the rise of dictatorship", 13 former Communist dissidents, a group to which Orban once belonged, accused him of "removing checks and balances and pursuing a systematic policy of closing autonomous institutions."

The letter also urged the EU not to "sit back and watch as [Hungary] is being held hostage by an outdated, provincial tyrant," and to "make a stand against" him.

Thanks to his super-majority in the Hungarian parliament, Orban last year passed a series of constitutional changes which critics say will limit media freedom and judicial independence. He also passed a banking law which has drawn the ire of the EU, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank for putting the Hungarian central bank under Fidesz party control.

The constitution now references God, defines marriage as a union between man and woman and life as beginning at conception, sparking criticism from international organisations and EU members.

In Orban's view, the new legal text "marks the end of the country’s transition to democracy from Communism" - as he explained in an interview with the Magyar Nemzet newspaper on 24 December.

Foreign journalists are "right when describing what happens in Hungary not just as simple governance, but a regime change," he told the newspaper.

"They say this in a disparaging way but I think this is a compliment. We Hungarians have failed for over a hundred years to show western Europe our own virtues."

For his part, Mark Palmer, a former US ambassador in Budapest during the country's last years of Communism until 1990, told the main opposition newspaper Nepszabadsag that "Hungary's ejection from the European Union is now no longer unthinkable."

The country "won’t be tolerated if it no longer counts as a democracy."

The former diplomat's outrage at Orban's constitutional reforms comes one week before an attempt in Washington to resume informal talks between the Hungarian government and the International Monetary Fund for a loan to prop its ailing economy.

An initial round of talks broke off last month because Fidesz approved a law curbing the independence of the central bank.

Orban defied two letters from EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and approved the bill. His country's credit rating was also downgraded to "junk" by Standard & Poor's and Moody's.

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