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Hungarians protest again over clampdown on university, NGOs

A protester at Sunday's rally. Source: Reuters/Laszlo Balogh

Thousands of protesters marched to Hungary’s parliament on Sunday in the latest mass rally against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s clampdown on a top foreign university and non-government organisations ahead of a parliamentary election due next year.

The string of major street demonstrations in Budapest since early April has been triggered by a new law that would drive out of Hungary a top university founded by United States financier George Soros.

The European Commission started legal action against Hungary over the new higher education law, while the European Parliament condemned Budapest for what it called a “serious deterioration” in the rule of law and fundamental rights.

Thousands marched on Sunday. Source: Reuters/Laszlo Balogh.

Budapest says those moves are part of a “vendetta” against Orban, one of the toughest opponents of migration to Europe who has called for transforming Hungary into an “illiberal state,” citing Russia and Turkey as models of success.

Less than a year before a parliamentary election in April, Orban has launched a crusade against Hungarian-born Soros, whose liberal and internationalist worldview is at odds with that of the nationalist-minded Hungarian leader.

Orban has rejected accusations Budapest was threatening the Central European University(CEU) and dismissed Soros, whose Open Society Foundations has been active in Hungary for three decades, as a “financial speculator”.

“It is the government’s arrogant tone that upsets me the most,” said Sandor Zsuga, a 30-year-old IT engineer, one of dozens of demonstrators carrying a European Union flag.

“I think the identity of George Soros is irrelevant. It does not matter what he is doing. They only needed to create a villain. Now they pulled him out of the hat because he supports civil organisations,” he said.

In the past seven years, Orban has eliminated checks on his power by taking control of the public media, curbing the powers of the constitutional court, and placing loyalists in top positions at public institutions.

Sunday’s rally continues the string of street demonstrations against Orban. Source: Reuters/Laszlo Balogh

Under another bill, non-governmental organisations with foreign donations of at least HUF7.2 million (US$26,172) will be required to register with authorities and declare themselves as foreign-funded. The NGOs have said the bill stigmatised them.

A survey by pollster Median put support for Orban’s ruling Fidesz at 31 percent of the electorate in April, down from 37 percent in January. Nationalist Jobbik was backed by 14 percent of voters, while the Socialists came third with nine percent.

The Fidesz party said in a statement Sunday’s protest was another attempt by the “Soros-network” to put pressure on Hungary over its migration policy.

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