Hungarians blast new charter

Hungarians blast new charter

Hungarians blast new charter

A man holds up a sign during a protest in central Budapest. The demonstrators protest the new constitution in a show of angst at what they say is the ruling Fidesz party’s heavy-handed policies. REUTERS photo

Tens of thousands of Hungarians protested in Budapest Jan. 2 against the government and its new constitution, accusing the government of exerting control over everything from the media to the economy and religion.

The demonstration, called “There will be a Republic again,” was organized by civil groups that said nearly 100,000 people gathered on one of Budapest’s main avenues to denounce the government of Viktor Orban. Protesters with placards saying “Viktator,” “Orban dictatorship” and “Orbanistan” chanted anti-Orban slogans, while on the same avenue government dignitaries and President Pal Schmitt arrived to the gala event held at the city’s opera house to celebrate the constitution’s enactment.

Hungary’s constitution was approved in April by the governing Fidesz party during an opposition boycott and went into effect Jan. 1. While the government said the new basic law completes the transition from communism to democracy that began in 1989, opponents said it entrenched the current government’s power and forced a conservative view on the whole country.

Parliament forged ahead with the legislation despite a plea from United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a rethink and a letter from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso asking Orban to withdraw two key bills. The dispute has also cast doubt over talks with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund about a new financing agreement, seen as crucial for Hungary to shore up market confidence.

Eroding the democratic system

Opposition activists and civil rights groups said Orban and his center-right Fidesz party, which has a two-thirds parliamentary majority, have passed laws eroding the democratic system of checks and balances by increasing political control over the judiciary, the central bank, religious groups and the media. Critics said the new laws curtail the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court in key matters like the budget, rewrite the electoral system in a way that favors Fidesz and could erode the independence of the central bank.

A new media law also drew strong criticism and journalist protests recently. The new constitution will also allow Fidesz appointees to control key public institutions well beyond the government’s electoral term.

Schmitt insisted Hungarians could be proud of their new constitution, which he said was long overdue and should have been adopted after the fall of communism. “This constitution was born of a wide consultation, building on national and European values,” Schmitt said during the celebration. “Our Basic Law defines the family, order, the home, work and health as the most important, shared scale of values.”

The protest was peaceful except for a brief scuffle between a few dozen right-wing extremists holding a counter-protest and a group of Socialist Party politicians attending the street rally.

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.