Elections Hungary

Anti-gov’t protests turn up heat on Orban

| 2024-02-18 2 min read

Anti-gov’t protests turn up heat on Orban

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied against the presidential pardon scandal in Budapest on Friday evening. The catalyst for the protests is what the BBC described as “the biggest threat to (Hungarian) Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s rule since he returned to power in 2010”.

Papal visit prompted controversial pardon

Last week president Katalin Novak and erstwhile justice minister Judit Varga both resigned over the decision to grant clemency to former state orphanage deputy director Endre K, who received a three-year prison sentence for persuading children to withdraw testimonies of sexual abuse against his boss. 

Endre K. was one of 25 people pardoned by the president during a papal visit last year, although his name only became public on 2 February. The independent outlet 444, which broke the Endre K. story, said one of its readers had drawn its attention to the matter.

Novak was earlier Orban’s family minister and a key figure in his cornerstone policies of traditional values and child protection. Varga was lined up to play a key role in the European elections in June, where she headed the party list of MEPs.

Orban’s personal adviser on religious matters Zoltan Balog, human resources minister from 2012-18, is alleged to have lobbied for the pardoning of Endre K. He denies this allegation.

Orban attempted to pre-empt crisis

The day before Novak’s resignation, Orban said on social media “paedophiles get no mercy. In the case of crimes committed against children, perpetrators will not be granted pardons.”

Orban has also promised new laws, including a 13th amendment to the Hungarian Constitution banning the granting of clemency to those involved in child abuse cases. 

However as the anti-government protests grow in Budapest, Orban is increasingly subject to wider allegations. Opposition parties have tabled demands to investigate how the clemency was granted, how the state is run, and for the direct election of the next president.

“The clemency case is just the tip of the iceberg of Hungary’s systemic problems,” influencer Zsolt Osvath told the crowd of protesters on Friday.

Ex-inner circle member goes rogue

Varga’s ex-husband Peter Magyar has severely criticised Balog, Orban’s wealthy son-in-law Istvan Tiborcz and communications chief Antal Rogan, in a series of Facebook posts, and also speaking to independent outlet Partizan

Hungary assumes the EU Presidency in July, just after the European Parliament (EP) elections. Orban said in his annual “State of the Nation” speech on Saturday, that his government would emerge stronger from the scandal, focusing on the economy and boosting rightwing forces in Europe and Brussels at the EP elections in June. Orban-friendly journalist Zsolt Bayer proposed “a show of strength” from government supporters on the national holiday 15 March.

In 2012, Pal Schmitt stepped down as head of state of Hungary after it was revealed that he had plagiarised his PhD thesis.