Hungary slave law protests, forcing overtime on workers.
Thousands of protesters in Hungary braved snow and freezing temperatures on a march against Viktor Orbán’s rightwing government, denouncing harsh new legislation that has been dubbed the “slave law”.
Passed in December, it allows companies to demand that staff work up to 400 hours overtime a year – or the equivalent of an extra day a week.
Hungary’s opposition has been fractured and ineffectual as Orbán has steadily amassed power since he was elected prime minister in 2010, but the “slave law” has created a rare rallying point.
At least 10,000 people marched through Budapest, from the historic Heroes Square to the parliament building on the banks of the Danube. Many also channelled wider concerns about attacks on academia, the judiciary and media.
Some were protesting against new courts that critics say could be politically manipulated. Others, in an apparent attack on bias in state-controlled media, shouted: “The TV is lying.” Banners included slogans such as “sweep away the regime”, or called for a “national strike”.
“We disagree with almost everything that is going on since this government got into power, from corruption to pseudo-democracy,” Eva Demeter, a 50-year-old woman, told Reuters. She said more Hungarians were pouring on to the streets because the slave law “affects a bigger crowd”.
Orbán’s Fidesz party, which has widespread support, won elections with a landslide last year to seal a two-thirds majority in parliament.
His government has wrested control of previously independent institutions, and last year the European parliament voted to bring disciplinary proceedings against Hungary for putting the rule of law at risk.
In early December the Central European University also announced it will leave Budapest for Vienna after a protracted battle with the Hungarian government, in the first case of a major university being pushed out of an EU country.
rally was organised by opposition parties, trade unions and civic groups. Zoltán Mucsi, who leads the union at the steelmaker Dunaferr Vasas, said the “slave law” was undemocratic. The big trade unions may call a strike if the government does not sit down with them to negotiate, he told Reuters.
When it was put forward in parliament, opposition MPs whistled, jeered and sounded sirens in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to block its passage.
Then they took to the streets, and some camped out inside state television headquarters for nearly 24 hours, demanding a chance to read a list of demands on air, as protesters marched through Budapest.
Previous demonstrations have mostly been peaceful, though there were some clashes with police who used teargas. The latest march appeared to end peacefully, with demonstrators singing the national anthem. Orbán has so far been defiant in the face of the protests. István Hollik, a government spokesman, repeated the claim that George Soros, a Hungarian-American billionaire, was funding the marchers; in December officials also accused the opposition of “unprecedented” behaviour in parliament.
Soros is a frequent target of official attacks, including a poster campaign that was widely criticised as antisemitic. The posters were part of a campaign about immigration, an issue which has been at the heart of repeated government campaigns.
Orbán’s government has taken a fierce nativist line, portraying itself as fighting powerful and “shadowy” pro-migration forces. Critics point out that hundreds of thousands of Hungarians themselves have migrated to other countries, and say he is stirring up xenophobia to distract the electorate from issues from more pressing issues including corruption and economic woes.