Czechs Hun­gar­i­ans protest close­ness to Krem­lin

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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