Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Budapest marking Hungary’s National Day and the failed anti-Soviet uprising of 1956.
With an election coming up, many were looking to the future as well as the past with shows of support for and against the government.
It was the biggest rally yet for Viktor Orban’s conservative administration with some 200,000 participants.
In power since 2010, Orban invoked the spirit of Hungary’s rebellion, urging supporters to mobilise for a new battle against the heirs of the communists. He says he saved the country from economic collapse.
“We came here because we want to know what is going on and what we have to do to make things happen as we wish,” Orban said in a speech in Budapest’s Heroes’ Square, where he first made his name by calling for a pullout of Soviet troops in 1989. “There is no need to rush, but slowly we have to start campaigning. We have to prepare for the fight, just like we did in 2010.”
Our correspondent in Budapest, Andrea Hajagos, said: “On October 23 in Hungary, we commemorate events that are well-known throughout the world. However in recent years most of the discussion has been focused on today’s domestic politics – especially now, six months before the next elections.”
Opposition leaders like Gordon Bajnai, Hungary’s former technocrat prime minister, failed to draw the crowds they had been hoping for despite moves by the left and liberals to put on a united front. The opposition turnout was only around 25,000 people.
As Hungary marks its history standing up to Soviet domination, Orban’s critics claim his government today has passed legislation to weaken democracy.