Friday

23rd Jun 2017

Hungarians march against Orban crackdown

  • The CEU, the unversity targeted by Orban, has been founded in Budapest in 1991 (Photo: CEU Hungary)

Thousands of demonstrators marched through Budapest on Sunday (21 May) in protest against Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban's attempts to target a top foreign university and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Demonstrators wanted Orban's government to amend a higher education law which, critics say, attempts to the drive Central European University (CEU) out of Budapest. The university was founded by Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros.

Demonstrators also wanted the government to repeal a bill that would intimidate NGOs which received funds from abroad.

The CEU law is under scrutiny by the European Commission. Orban has also been called on by his party allies in the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) to amend the controversial higher education legislation.

Hungary is due to answer the commission's legal concerns this week.

The EU executive likewise warned Orban's government to scrap a planned law that would require NGOs that receive funding from abroad to be labelled as "foreign funded".

Amid growing frustrations with Orban, the European Parliament took an unprecedented step last week and moved to trigger the EU's so called Article 7 procedure, which can impose sanctions on countries that infringe EU values.

The EU parliament warned of a "serious deterioration" of democracy in Hungary.

Orban is unlikely to back down, however.

Last Friday in a radio interview, he stressed that Hungary was willing to go all the way to the EU's top court, the European Court of Justice, to prove that the CEU legislation did not breach EU law, as the commission says.

He also accused Soros of pulling the strings in Brussels.

Orban aims to crack down on organisations linked with Soros, whose idea of an open society runs in contrast to Orban's plans to build an "illiberal" state in Hungary.

Soros is the latest bogeyman created by the Orban government, as Hungary moves towards general elections a year from now with Orban's ruling Fidesz currently leading in the polls.

Sunday's was the latest in a series of protests that have sprung up since early April, sparked by the legislation on CEU and NGOs.

Demonstrators carrying EU and Hungarian flags chanted "Democracy! Freedom for Hungary!" as they made their way to the parliament building in Budapest.

In a short statement, the Fidesz party said that Sunday's protest was another attempt by the "Soros-network" to put pressure on Hungary over its anti-immigration policy.

MEPs vote to start democracy probe on Hungary

The European Parliament took the first step towards launching the Article 7 procedure against Hungary for backsliding on democracy. The process might lead to sanctions, but Orban is not backing down.

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During a hearing at the EU's top court, Hungary and Slovakia defended their decision not to take in asylum seekers based on a mandatory quota system, while the European Commission, Germany and others stressed the need for solidarity.

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