Do the protests in Hungary pose a threat to Orbán?

For around a week now thousands of people have gathered on Hungary's streets to protest a new labour law and the policies of the national-conservative government. The rallies are also supported by a broad alliance of opposition parties and unions. Some commentators doubt they will lead to significant changes. Others warn that the situation could become extremely dangerous.

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Večer (SI) /

Opposition has a lot of work to do

There is little chance of change in Hungary, Večer believes:

“Such change is still a long way off. Orbán currently enjoys the support of a majority of the population, which he has convinced using his propaganda machine that he's the sole representative of the Hungarian nation and state. Orbán is still sitting firmly in the saddle. For that reason the opposition, which has now shown signs of life for the first time in a long time, has a lot of work to do if it wants to achieve its goal: namely a change of government.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Danger of a civil war in Hungary

The EU must intervene in Hungary on the double, the Tages-Anzeiger stresses:

“Perhaps the protests will die down over the Christmas holidays. But if not, the situation will become extremely dangerous. The propaganda has brainwashed Orbán's supporters. A cue from him would be enough to send them into battle against the purported 'servants of Soros'. As well as the head of government's own special police unit, which drives through Budapest in tanks. Many in the ranks of the far-right Jobbik party have paramilitary training. In view of the potential for violence, the EU would do well to deploy mediators and set up a taskforce in Hungary. While all eyes are trained on the Brexit, a civil-war-like situation looms in the east.”

Origo (HU) /

Protests anything but spontaneous

Everything the opposition has to say about the demonstrations in Budapest is just propaganda, the pro-government news site Origo writes:

“According to this opposition narrative, popular outrage has led to a grass-roots initiative which has driven the masses out onto the streets. Now that a few days have gone by it's becoming ever clearer that these demonstrations were not at all organised at the grass-roots level. What's more, they were anything but spontaneous. ... Not only the politicians of the Soros network but also the activists of this supporter of migration at the universities were quick to prepare aggressive rallies.”

Index (HU) /

Opposition with a new attitude

The opposition is playing a central role in the protests, writes the independent news portal Index:

“They no longer have a problem taking the initiative, joining forces and engaging in symbolic politics. Within a week their relationship to the Orbán system has changed fundamentally. ... We'll see in the long run whether Orbán had the right instinct and was right to stick to the 400 annual overtime hours and accept the opposition becoming radicalised. However, if the opposition can keep the topic on the agenda and get people to come out and demonstrate, a new camp could emerge that uses whistles, sirens and smoke bombs - and no longer fits in at all with Orbán's system of national cooperation.”

Der Standard (AT) /

What Orbán has forgotten how to do

Orbán only has himself to blame for the Hungarian people's protests, Der Standard explains:

“Orbán has forgotten how to conduct social debates. He doesn't need compromises in parliament, the bullied media aren't critical, a cosmopolitan university has been frozen out of the country, alleged surveys are full of suggestive questions. And when there is resistance the scapegoat - as with the current protests - is called George Soros. It's still hard to tell at this stage whether the new movement that spans from the left to the far right and is also targeting corruption now can do any lasting damage to Orbán. What is for sure is that as a political concept, refusing to enter a dialogue has no future in Hungary either.” (SK) /

Orbán creating Hungarian yellow vest movement

The Hungarian prime minister has made too many mistakes at the same time, the news website comments:

“So far Orbán's arguments have failed to convince the demonstrators. And you can see why: the law isn't in the interest of the working people. What, for example, will happen if after three years, when it's time for mandatory overtime to be paid, the company no longer exists? On top of that Orbán angered the intellectuals with a kind of judicial reform: a tactically unwise move. The prime minister has managed to infuriate both the unions and the intellectuals. It wouldn't be surprising if the protests acquired the massive dimensions of the French yellow vest movement.”

Polityka (PL) /

Just a warning for now

The Hungarian government has no need to fear the demonstrations for the time being, Polityka predicts:

“The protests in Budapest will hardly precipitate a political crisis. The governing party Fidesz is still popular while the opposition is weak and divided. But Fidesz has received a yellow card. The party has been given a warning by voters, who've shown with their protests that they're more willing to fight for their social rights than for democracy. In every major social protest, including the Polish Solidarność movement, the same logic could be observed: as time passed the social demands expanded into political demands. The same could soon happen in Hungary.”

Krónika (RO) /

Violence has no place in a democracy

There's a parallel between the demonstrations in Paris, Bucharest and Budapest, Krónika comments:

“The radicals protesting against Macron's policies by wreaking havoc in Paris, the rabble-rousers in Bucharest who hijacked the peaceful movement of the Romanian diaspora, and some of the Hungarian demonstrators who are ready to resort to violence on the streets of Budapest mistakenly believe you can topple a democratically elected government using undemocratic means - such as attacking the police and parliament. One should not forget that this is not 1989. We are not living in a dictatorship. For that reason violence, smashing the windows of parliament buildings and clashes with security personnel are not an option.”

hvg (HU) /

No cooperation with this government!

The opposition must draw the right consequences from the government's policies, leftist philosopher Gáspár Mikos Támás writes in hvg:

“It must show the country and the world that it is no longer willing to assist with the implementation of regulations that are aimed against society. Regulations against which the workers are protesting and which are rejected by a large majority of the population, while parliament is nothing more than a stage for a comedy directed by the dictatorial executive. If the government limits itself to furthering the interests of international and local big business while disregarding the justified interests of the workers and humiliating demonstrators by wielding the power of its media holding [a conglomeration of pro-government media in Hungary], there can be no question of cooperating with it. Cooperation can never be one-sided. One-sided cooperation is subjugation.” (HU) /

Demonstrators instigated to march

There is only a minority protesting there, the pro-government website 888 comments:

“The majority of people condemn the vandalism of the Soros pack. And the clownish antics of the opposition in parliament hasn't gone down well with most Hungarians. The peaceful demonstrators - the majority of whom don't even know what issue the government has decided on - have taken to the street because of the lies of the Soros provocateurs. The figures, provocateurs and politicians who belong to the Soros network aren't interested in facts. They only break and smash things and sometimes play the martyr.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Orbán is vulnerable on social issues

Unlike former protests the current rallies could pose a real threat to Orbán, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung believes:

“Although the opposition has managed to bring many people onto the street in recent years, it was mostly over abstract values like democracy, press freedom or the rule of law. While such topics do motivate a very active segment of the urban population, they fall flat in large parts of the country. The law that raises the maximum legal number of overtime hours to 400 in a year, however, potentially affects the daily lives of many Hungarians. And if it really is misused in the way that the opposition and the unions fear it will be, in the long term it could undermine Orbán's power base. Social issues are the Achilles' heel of authoritarian rulers.”

Népszava (HU) /

An unfair offer

The law is not in the workers' interests no matter what the prime minister says, Népsava believes:

“What would be in their interest is for them to work eight hours a day, with all the rest periods and holidays they are entitled to, and to earn a salary that corresponds to European levels and finances the costs of having a home while allowing them sufficient rest and relaxation. The fact that in a country with one of the lowest wages in Europe higher wages can only be secured in exchange for more work is unfair. But our case is even more drastic, because overtime is the cheapest way of creating manpower.”

Válasz Online (HU) /

Workers exploited for political confrontation

A more nuanced view of the law is no longer to be expected, laments the independent conservative web platform Válasz:

“A modification of the law has become impossible since the 'political panopticon' took to the street and the government turned its back on the agreement with the big trade unions. Amid the noise of the political political battle in which the speaker of parliament is denying the opposition's right to speak, a discussion about content is impossible. ... Developed countries can't function without well-organised workers. However, here in Hungary it is not just the trade union presence that is weak but also the state supervisory bodies and the worker protection agencies. Good laws enhance the protection of workers, but when a change to their conditions of employment is gravely oversimplified for political confrontation, exactly the opposite happens.”