Czechs Hungarians protest closeness to Kremlin
Czechs and Hungarians protested against their governments’ warming ties to Russia as EU member states remain divided on increasing sanctions on Moscow over the crisis in Crimea and the Ukraine.
More than 10,000 Hungarians took to the streets in Budapest on Monday in what was dubbed a “Day of Public Outrage” to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, accusing him of employing corrupt civil servants and cosying up to the Kremlin.
The numbers who turned up at parliament for the rally were much smaller than the crowds which protested a planned tax on the Internet last month and forced Orban to shelve the plan.
Alleged corruption has become a new rallying cry for Orban’s opponents after the U.S. said it was barring entry to six Hungarian public servants, including the head of the tax authority, on suspicion of being associated with graft.
Orban has raised concern in the United States and European Union with policies that his critics say have penalised big businesses, limited democratic freedoms and pulled Hungary closer into the Kremlin’s orbit.
The Internet tax and the corruption allegations have weakened public support for Orban’s centre-right Fidesz party, but it still leads by a huge margin over the fragmented opposition, which includes several left-wing parties, and the far-right Jobbik.
Several opposition politicians were among the crowd but there were no party symbols, with protest organisers - a loose collective of students, activists and artists - saying that they have tapped into a groundswell of indignation.
Meanwhile, Czechs also protested on Monday by taking to the streets to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in Prague, this time waving red cards, rather than jangling their keys to serve notice to unpopular rulers.
Over 5,000 people rallied in the capital to raise the soccer-style penalty warning against President Milos Zeman, accusing him of drifting too close to Moscow, recalling the power centre that dominated their country from 1948 to 1989.
Others lit candles and remembered the day 25 years ago, when police violently broke up a student march, sparking the Velvet Revolution that topped the communists and brought dissident Vaclav Havel to power.
Growing numbers of Czechs feel that ideals of their peaceful revolution, such as the defence of human rights, once a trademark of post-1989 Czech foreign policy, have been sidelined by economic interests.
Zeman has defended Russia over sanctions for its involvement in Ukraine and has described Pussy Riot, the punk group jailed for denouncing President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral, as hooligans who should not have been treated as political prisoners.
The country’s foreign policy is in the hands of the centre-left cabinet, which backed EU sanctions, but only after negotiating their softening.
The foreign ministry has also said it was looking for a less confrontational approach to promote human rights, suggesting a departure from the country’s tradition in backing opposition in countries like Cuba or Myanmar.
Zeman, 70, a former leftist prime minister, won a direct election last year, and still retains support of about half the voters.