A demonstration with a difference was held in Budapest on Saturday.
An estimated 4,000-5,000 Hungarians joined a rally against Prime Minister Viktor Orban – that’s not unusual – but this one employed humour as a weapon.
“Let’s meet Putin”, read one banner, “Long Live Viktor” another – while others said “down with press freedom” and “we don’t need elections”.
A satirical comment on what they call the Hungarian government’s attacks on democracy and human rights.
“It is a pro-government and pro-Russia protest and it is against the NGOs and against literally everything which is not the Fidesz (party),” said Gergely Kovacs, Chairman of the Two-Tailed Dog Party.
Fidesz is the ruling party; the Two-Tailed Dog Party the spoof group which has ridiculed Hungary’s rulers before.
Other banners bore the slogans “we want more Moscow” and “we want two Orbans”.
But there are serious accusations behind the humour.
“Fidesz is slowly but surely erasing democracy and fortunately with the case of the CEU (Central European University) a lot of people have somehow realised this, the university case has ignited something and now many people are protesting against deeper problems,” said protester Laura Kelemen.
The university law passed by parliament earlier this month is described by critics as an attack on academic freedom and is widely seen as targeting the Budapest institution set up by Hungarian-born financier and philanthropist George Soros. It sets tougher conditions on foreign-backed campuses which the CEU has said would bring it under government control.
Want to get me to defend the Soros university in Budapest? Try to shut it down. Nice goin', Boss Orbán. You've accomplished something rare.— Jay Nordlinger (@jaynordlinger) April 22, 2017
Non-governmental organisations funded by Soros have been critical of the Hungarian prime minister’s migration policies, and he has accused them of interfering in politics.
Orban’s government has drafted legislation to force such organisations to publish data on their funding from abroad, a requirement critics say reflects similar measures in Russia.
The European Commission has threatened Hungary with legal action over the university law.