On Saturday, as announced, many thousands took to the streets in Hungary, marking the first march by Hungarian protesters at the dawn of 2019. The marchers have returned in force, after taking a Christmas break following weeks of demonstrations against Viktor Orbán’s system.
The protests are focused against the law that increases the allowed hours of overtime per year, but they are also making a stand against a law establishing special courts and against maneuvers being carried out by the government, which, according to the protesters, is trying to further extend its control also over the academic world.
These are the most powerful issues driving the protest, which is an indicator of the existence of heavy discontent among a significant portion of the Hungarian population. This dissatisfaction has broken out on several occasions during the long years of the Fidesz government, which has been in power since 2010, and today the protesters come from the full range of the political spectrum, with the flags of far-right Jobbik also visible in the marches, while liberal and center-left parties and supporters are dominant. The demonstrators are raising up a hue and cry on the streets of the capital, with shouts of “Orbán go away,” as well as well-known wordplay like “Viktatura” (“Viktatorship”) and signs and banners against the policies of the prime minister.
The unions are shining a spotlight on the clear pro-employer bias of the government in labor matters, expressed first and foremost in the Labor Code that came into force in 2012, and now confirmed once again by the overtime law. Organized labor is denouncing the blackmail logic of the provisions of this law, which claims, on a purely formal level, that it leaves the workers free to accept the overtime or not. The government is trying to portray it as a positive outcome for everyone, both for the companies that are complaining of a shortage of skilled labor and for the employees who will be able to earn more.
The unions, however, point out that the payment for such overtime can come very irregularly, or even be delayed indefinitely. Beyond the specific targets of the protest, it can be said that those who took to the streets on Saturday represent that part of the country which is weary of the discriminatory policies which favor the government’s friends, which fuel hostility against those who are different and encourage fears and tensions.
The protesters are making their exasperation known after the government’s endless appeals to the need to defend the country from its purported external enemies, like Soros, migrants and the Brussels technocracy, and their supposed agents in Hungary. It is a fact that people are wary of this—however, there remains the problem of formulating an alternative, as it is equally true that the opposition parties are taking part in the protests but don’t seem to have a program of their own which would outline a different future for the country.
Nowadays, people are marching in the streets under the generic slogan “All against Orbán,” but it remains to be seen whether any political force will be able to take advantage of this situation of turmoil. One must also keep in mind the fact that there are plenty of people in the country who continue to believe in the current government. The protesters are up against a system of power that will not remain idle in the face of these initiatives, and which appears determined to push forward along its chosen path.
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