By Nicole Bonner
After months of protests, the frustration felt by many Hungarians towards the right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party is not ending anytime soon; rather, it is becoming much more intense. Whilst frustration towards the Prime Minister is nothing new, these protests are strikingly different from ones that have come before. Hungarians across the political spectrum and a normally divided opposition are standing in unity and calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, leading the largest protests since Orban entered office in 2010.
The protests were triggered after a new amendment was made to the country’s labour laws on December 12th 2018, which has been dubbed as the “slave law” by critics. The change increases the amount of overtime employers can ask employees to work in a year from 250 to 400 extra hours. Subsequently, this provides companies with a timescale of three years for the compensation to be paid. This law is total exploitation of labour and I strongly sympathise with the anger many Hungarians feel. Despite being optional, in an economy and job market filled with high uncertainty it is the unfortunate case that most workers would be forced to accept overtime in fear of losing their jobs. President Orban has justified the law by stating that workers wanted more work, yet it seems the law is being used to compensate for a massive shortage of labour which has come about as a large number of well-educated and skilled citizens have left Hungary in frustration with the increasingly undemocratic nature of the government. The party’s response to the large array of public discontent, however, was initially dismissive. President Orban and his party have come out to suggest that the protests have been funded by American-millionaire philanthropist George Soros, who has deemed the ‘root of all evil’.
The “Slave Law” is not the only problem.
While the passing of the “slave law” has caused outrage, it is not the only problem. Over the years, people have been growing more and more frustrated with the level of corruption that is becoming prevalent in their country’s politics. On the same day of passing the “slave law”, the government made further amendments to the judicial system and passed a law which allows the justice minister to oversee the setting up of judicial courts, undermining the independence of the judiciary. Furthermore, Hungarians are using the protests to express their discontent with increasing government control over the media. Opposition MPs have stood with the people on this matter and attempted to publically voice the five demands of the protesters: (1) abolition of the “slave law”, (2) less police overtime, (3) independent judiciary, (4) Hungary joining the European Public Prosecutor’s office and (5) independent public service state media. Despite their attempts, the opposing MPs were forcefully removed from the building of the state-owned television studio by security guards. Such demonstrations clearly show how powerful the government has become in ensuring that the discontent voice of Hungarians will not be heard.
While it remains unclear how long the protests will last, it is certain that people’s persistence and the united front that they present will continue to put mounting pressure on Orban’s presidency. With Hungary’s trade unions calling for a national strike on January 19th 2019, the future of Orban’s and the ruling Fidesz Party’s is veiled with uncertainty and greatly endangered by the voice of the people. .