(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
BUDAPEST - Thousands of Hungarians rallied in Budapest on Saturday against what they said were attempts by the rightwing government to silence critical voices, in the latest mass protest triggered by a new university law.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government, which has been in power since 2010, has faced big protests in the past two weeks after it passed legislation that targets a top international university founded in Budapest by billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros.
Orban said earlier on Saturday that the parliamentary elections next year would decide whether a government fighting for the national interest remained in power or forces serving foreign interests gained control.
Orban has long criticized civil society organizations funded by Hungarian-born Soros, accusing them of opposing his tough migration policies and supporting illegal migration. He says the Soros-founded Central European University (CEU) has violated Hungarian rules - an accusation the university rejects. His government also wants to tighten rules on non-governmental organizations.
Among the thousands of protesters gathered in Budapest at a peaceful rally on Saturday, some carried European Union flags and banners with messages such as "Viktor the game is over" and "I stand with CEU."
"It is unbearable what is happening here, I would like to live in a democracy," said Agnes Bojte, 40, who makes documentaries. "It is like the air is getting thinner and thinner in this country."
"Media, civilians, students and Hungarian people cannot be silenced in their own country," one of the speakers said.
The EU and the United States have sharply criticized the new legislation. Rights groups say it is part of a wider crackdown on dissent in Hungary, after curbs on the public media, state institutions and the constitutional court.