Anti-government demo forms giant heart in Budapest

Thousands of participants attend a protest against the draft law on civil society organisations' transparency at the Heroes' Square in Budapest. Hungary, 12 April 2016. [Zoltan Balogh/EPA]

Thousands of Hungarians joined fresh protests in Budapest yesterday (12 April) denouncing the government’s moves against NGOs and the respected Central European University founded by US billionaire George Soros.

An AFP photographer estimated that some 10,000 demonstrators rallied in a city square, spreading out to form a space in the crowd shaped like a huge heart.

In the centre of the heart, the word “civil” was written in large letters, a reference to the civil society groups seen as targeted under the government of hardline Eurosceptic Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

“The people are ashamed to be Hungarian,” 18-year-old high school student Gergo said as he joined Wednesday’s protest. “Orbán has to understand that the masses are angry with him.”

Tens of thousands of people had protested at the weekend against higher education legislation that bars institutions based outside the European Union from awarding Hungarian diplomas without an agreement between national governments.

They will also be required to have a campus and faculties in their home country — conditions not met by the CEU, which is registered in the United States.

The legislation has attracted widespread criticism abroad, including from Washington, Brussels and academics.

Critics see the move as another attack by Orbán on Soros, whom he accuses of seeking to meddle in politics and undermine Europe by promoting immigration into Europe.

Education Minister Laszlo Palkovics gave an interview Wednesday to the HVG website in which he appeared to sketch out a path for negotiations that could allow the university to “continue to function without problems”.

Along with the education law, protesters are also blasting forthcoming legislation that will oblige NGOs receiving a certain amount of foreign funding to register and stamp any publication with “foreign-funded organisation”.

Commission to consider minor penalties against ‘illiberal’ Hungary

The European Commission said today (12 April) it will decide by the end of the month on the possibility of launching infringement procedures against Hungary, stopping short of mentioning heavier punishments.

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