Hungarian opposition figures rally in Budapest

Hungarian opposition figure Péter Magyar (center) and supporters stand before a crowd of tens of thousands of demonstrators in Budapest on April 6, 2024.

(Photo: Arpad Kurucz/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Orbán Challenger Promises New Era of Hungarian Politics at Massive Budapest Rally

"We were pitted against each other instead of allowing us to band together," said political newcomer Péter Magyar. "We will put an end to this now."

At least tens of thousands of Hungarians took to the streets of Budapest on Saturday to rally against right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and in support of a political newcomer who recently launched a movement that plans to field candidates in European and local elections in June.

Demonstrations against Orbán's increasingly autocratic 14-year rule were sparked by Péter Magyar, a lawyer and former associate of the prime minister who recently released an audio recording exposing corruption in the ruling Fidesz party. Protesters gathered Saturday in Kossuth Square outside Parliament, waving Hungarian flags and chanting "Orbán resign!", "We are not afraid!", and other slogans.

"Step by step, brick by brick, we are taking back our homeland and building a new country, a sovereign, modern, European Hungary," Magyar, 43, told supporters.

"Our elected leaders have incited the Hungarian people against each other for the past 20 years," he added. "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."

One protester toldAgence France-Presse that "something needed to be done because it's insane how much this government has gotten away with."

Magyar, the ex-husband of former Justice Minister Judit Varga, last month released an audio recording of his ex-wife discussing an attempt by members of Orbán's inner circle to interfere in a corruption case. Varga and Hungarian President Katalin Novak resigned in February over an unrelated child sex abuse pardoning scandal.

Zsuzsanna Szigeti, a 46-year-old healthcare worker attending Saturday's rally, toldReuters that "we had known that there is corruption, but [Magyar] says it as an insider and confirmed it for us."

Domestic and international critics have accused Orbán of systematically eroding Hungary's democratic institutions, tightening his grip over the country's political system, and consolidating control over much of the media to strengthen Fidesz and its parliamentary supermajority. European Union leaders have condemned Orbán's rule, calling his government a "hybrid regime of electoral autocracy." Orbán describes it as "illiberal democracy," while touting its universal appeal to international conservatives, including former U.S. President Donald Trump, the presumptive 2024 GOP presidential nominee.

European leaders also bristle at Orban's warm personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, although the Hungarian leader did condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine and voted along with the rest of the 27-nation E.U. to impose economic sanctions on Moscow.

Human rights have deteriorated markedly during Orbán's tenure, especially for LGBTQ+ people, migrants, women, and Roma. The E.U. has withheld billions of dollars in funding in response.

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