Former Fidesz insider draws tens of thousands for protest against Orban regime

Former Fidesz insider draws tens of thousands for protest against Orban regime
Politcal rally by former Fidesz insider Peter Magyar draws 40,000 people in Budapest on national holiday on March 15. / bne IntelliNews
By Tamas Csonka in Budapest March 18, 2024
Tens of thousands of people joined a protest on March 15 called by an emerging figure of the Hungarian opposition, Peter Magyar, a former Fidesz insider, who announced the set-up of a new political force to topple the ruling Fidesz party.

On the same day, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in what may be one of the most radical speeches by Hungary’s radical rightwing leader in years, railed against the EU and called his opponents traitors. "If we want to retain Hungary's freedom and sovereignty, we'll have no other choice but to occupy Brussels," Orban said.

The contrast between the commemorations of the 1848 revolution could not be different. Only those who pre-registered could watch the prime minister in the garden of the National Museum after a strict screening. The audience primarily consisted of older people, largely representing Fidesz's core base, many of whom were transported from rural areas to the vicinity of the museum. Dozens of buses were parked nearby, indicating the extent of the organised attendance.

Despite the limited time frame, Magyar's rally, held at the iconic Andrassy Boulevard, was professionally organised. Individuals pooled resources to travel to Budapest, arranging shared rides. The crowd was mixed and diverse, with many young faces and the atmosphere was jubilant.

Magyar drew an estimated 30-40,000 people, compared to Orban’s 20,000, according to local media. 

Magyar, a lawyer, businessman, and former diplomat, burst into the public eye after the Fidesz paedophile pardon scandal rocking Hungarian politics, which led to the resignation of former Hungarian President Katalin Novak and also Magyar's ex-wife, former Justice Minister Judit Varga.

He has been levelling accusations against the government in the last few weeks, touching on issues from corruption to the machinations of its propaganda machine.

In his first interview, he ruled out entering politics but in subsequent posts he delved into topics such as healthcare and education, which have emerged as primary concerns for ordinary citizens.

The majority of Hungarians have lost confidence in the entire politician elite that has been running the country for 30 years, Magyar said. People no longer believe the government or the compromised opposition. Artificially created disputes are only meant to cover up the workings of the power factory and the transfer of national wealth to a narrow circle of friends, he added.

Hungary’s national wealth, hotels, farmlands, motorways are being transferred without control to a group of people, while despite the massive inflow of EU transfers over the last 20 years, Hungary has become the second poorest and most corrupt country in the bloc.

"Living without democracy is conceivable, but hardly desirable," he remarked. He further argued that Orban's government could be defeated in democratic elections and that could come sooner than anticipated.

According to recent statistics from pollster Median, as reported by news outlet HVG this week, 68% of voters are aware of Magyar's foray into politics, with 13% expressing potential support for his party.

Magyar said he would set up a new party and in the meantime, he announced the launch of a new movement called Arise Hungarians (Talpra Magyarok), after the first line of a patriotic poem written by Sandor Petofi that is said to have inspired the 1848 anti-Habsburg revolution.

In his speech extending beyond an hour, Magyar touched on issues that have been at the forefront of the opposition agenda. Joining the European Public Prosecutor's Office, the fight against corruption, independent public media and fundamental changes in social care, healthcare and education, sectors that have been neglected and underfunded by the government.

His critics say that even as he presents himself as a fresh force, his presence could further divide the opposition landscape. Despite the cost of living crisis and its  recent pardon scandal, Fidesz has little to fear in the upcoming elections. The ruling party could still gain the majority of the seats in the EP elections, and retain its dominance in the countryside in the local elections.

Nevertheless, the recent political developments have shown that the regime is weakening and the first cracks have appeared in the wall.

That could also explain why Prime Minister Viktor Orban went on the offensive during the March 15 commemorations, which served as the launch of his election campaign.

The prime minister's statements comprised the usual themes and could be seen as the compilation of his "best-ofs" but in a more radical manner. Orban accused Brussels of abandoning European people, saying more and more people are turning against it. It is not the first empire that had designs on Hungary, but in the past 500 years, all empires from the Turkish Ottoman to the Habsburgs and the Soviet Union failed against Hungary. He compared the disputes with the EU as a fight between David and Goliath.

According to Orban, "what Brussels has given Hungarians was war rather than peace, fuss around the rule of law rather than security, and financial blackmail rather than prosperity".

"They have deceived us and it is time we revolted and restored the self-assurance and self-esteem of European people," the prime minister said. This statement sums up Orban’s main goal of instigating a rebellion against Western values, wrote Laszlo Bartus, an ardent critic of the prime minister on Amerikai Nepszava.

Orban expressed hope of a breakthrough by what he called sovereign forces in Europe, which could "restore normal life and open a new, great epoch for Western nations, in which everybody could prosper except for those that breached their oath to serve their nation". He went on to blast opposition politicians, calling them traitors for standing up against the government in the rule of law debates and accused them of supporting the freezing of EU funds.

The prime minister stressed that if Hungarians want to maintain their freedom and sovereignty they must occupy Brussels and bring change to the European Union.