Dueling left and right rallies rock Budapest

Thousands of followers of the far-right Jobbik party protested against the EU in Budapest Jan. 14. Two Jobbik MPs set an EU flag on fire at the protest in front of the European Commission offices. “This week the EU declared war on Hungary in a very harsh and open way,” Csanad Szegedi, a Jobbik member of European Parliament told the crowd of some 2,000. The EU had threatened legal action against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s conservative government over new constitutional measures that centralize power in the hands of the executive, and that European leaders say undermine the independence of Hungary’s central bank. On Jan. 2, tens of thousands of socialists, Greens and other leftists marched against the constitutional changes, which include imposition of flat tax, accusing Orban of being a “Viktator.” They massed outside the Budapest opera house as Orban’s ruling Fidesz party held a gala celebration inside.

Orban also pushed though other controversial measures, including a law on religion that lowers the number of recognized faiths in Hungary to 14 from more than 300. These include major Christian denominations and Judaism. Congregations not covered by the law—including Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu—will have the opportunity to apply for recognition only if they can provide proof they have been operating for at least 20 years in the country. Three Hungarian journalists have also been on a public hunger strike for nearly a month outside the state media compound, protesting government interference. (Reuters, Jan. 14; Global Post, Jan. 10; Transitions Online, Jan. 6; RFE/RL, Jan. 4; RFE/RL, Dec. 30)

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