An estimated 100,000 took to the streets in Hungary to protest the media policies and campaign against non-governmental organisations by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, according to organisers.
Protesters carried signs accusing Orban of corruption and ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
They also called on the European Union to take action against “illiberal” government policies, specifically those targeting media freedom.
Orban’s Fidesz party won national elections in April with 49 percent of the vote, maintaining its 133-seat absolute majority in parliament.
Much of Hungary’s media receives funds from the state or has ties to the ruling party, causing many to allege pro-Fidesz propaganda.
In the weeks after the April 8 election, the main conservative opposition paper, Magyar Nemzet, ceased publication.
The paper cited Orban’s restrictive media policies as a contributing factor for its closure. Magyar Nemzet was also facing financial woes.
Grassroots organisers have called for the establishment of an independent body to oversee media in the country, which have adopted talking points of the campaign against Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros.
The Fidesz campaign targeted NGOs and civil society for their alleged support of “illegal migration” consisting of asylum seekers, mostly from Muslim-majority nations.
Most of these groups receive funding from Soros, known for his support of liberal causes.
After the election, Hungarian weekly Figyelo published a list of names of civil society workers whose organisations received funding from Soros. The people were called Soros’ “mercenaries” by the pro-government paper.
Left-wing organiser and politician Atilla Vajnai said on social media that Hungarians had “enough” of Hungary’s pro-government media, calling for a “vote on a new media law”.
Fidesz has said it will pass a legislative package called the “Stop Soros” bills that would place a tax on civil society organisations that receive foreign funding, as well as banning any new foreign-funded NGOs.
Protesters and members of the EU Parliament have called on the EU to initiate Article 7, which would suspend some of Hungary’s rights as a member of the transnational body for its campaign against Soros and asylum seekers, among other reasons.
Fidesz politicians remain confident, however.
Orban has stated that Hungarian voters have spoken and given his party a mandate to pass the “Stop Soros” law.
At a debate in the EU parliament last Wednesday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that Brussels and the United Nations “want illegal migrants to come to Europe”.
Szijjarto stated this was against the will of the Hungarian people: “No matter how many times George Soros goes to Brussels and the issue of illegal migration is put on the agenda; no matter how many allies Soros has in Brussels, we will not back down. Illegal migrants will not come here”.