At least 35,000 Hungarian students, teachers and parents blocked a Budapest bridge before filling the main square outside parliament on Wednesday evening, in support of teachers fighting for higher wages and teachers sacked for protesting.
The crowd occupied Margaret Bridge, one of the traffic hubs in the capital, in a bid to force the government to reexamine the current workload on teachers.
Carrying banners with the words "Do not sack our teachers" and "No teachers, no future" the crowd grew into the country's biggest anti-government demonstration since Prime Minister Viktor Orban was reelected last April.
Demonstrators called for civil disobedience and said increasing their wages would serve as a solution to a deepening shortage of teachers. The "I want to teach" campaign is also maintaining its right to strike.
Wednesday's rally started with students who formed a chain stretching for kilometres across Budapest in the morning.
It was purposely scheduled for World Teachers’ Day which is held annually on 5 October to celebrate all teachers around the globe. However, teachers in Hungary say they have been silenced despite benchmarks set by the United Nations on teaching standards and learning conditions.
Hungary's two main trade unions, the PDSZ and the PSZ called for the demonstration.
"I find the current situation in Hungary disheartening and if I could, I would flee... if I could. But now I feel that this is where I belong at the moment and this is my way of showing that it's terrible", said one teacher.
Budapest’s mayor, Gergely Karácsony, said he was on the side of the Hungarian teachers, so the capital’s community support officers would not interfere with the protesters.
While the protest was peaceful, teachers have become increasingly more frustrated since the government restricted industrial action after a nationwide protest was announced by teachers last March.
The government issued a mandate to make strikes in public education almost impossible -- a move which came under criticism from the public sector.
"The fluctuation is extremely high, especially in the last two or three years. One-third of the teaching staff is constantly leaving. There are hourly lectures and an awful lot of overwork" said another teacher.
While the government cited coronavirus restrictions as their reason for banning such protests last spring, the decree has yet to be lifted.
Several teachers were dismissed last week at a Budapest secondary school for joining the protest.
"I receive countless messages and a lot of support. People touch me and hug me in the street. So it's hit everyone's heart" said Katalin Törley, a teacher who was recently sacked.
Orban, who was re-elected for a fourth consecutive term on 3 April, faces a mounting challenge as the economy is heading into a recession next year, with inflation in double digits and the country's currency, the forint, plumbing successive record lows versus the euro.
The government said it would hike teachers' wages once the European Commission releases European Union recovery funds to Hungary which has been withheld amid a rule-of-law dispute.
The teachers' union has called another strike for 14 October.