A demonstration was attended by tens of thousands of protesters in Budapest’s Heroes Square on Wednesday afternoon in protest against a bill concerning civil organisations, which aims to stigmatise many of them. The protest was organised by the Civilizáció group and supported by about 100 others including Amnesty International, the Eötvös Károly Institute, Greenpeace Hungary, Háttér, the Krétakör Foundation, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Ökotárs, Transparency International and TASZ. The protesters said the bill, aimed at the registration of civil organisations using foreign donations would curb the freedom of thought and hinder the operations of civil society.
Addressing the crowd, CEU student Luca László said that while the government sees civil activists as foreign agents, they are actually the ones that stand up for a free and democratic Hungary. The government’s bill, if passed into law, will stigmatise those that unselfishly work for Hungarian people. TASZ managing director Stefánia Kapronczay said that the government seeks to scrap her organisation, which works to ensure the freedoms that everyone is entitled to. The government wants to eliminate the free press because they cannot tolerate different opinions.
Ökotars Foundation director Veronika Móra said the work carried out by civil organisations was essentially important for society. She said her foundation would continue on with its operations, arguing that “we were here before the government and we will be staying longer than them”. Móra said the state also receives funding from abroad. “Is it okay for the government to waste the billions it receives from Brussels?” she asked.
Nóra L Ritók, head of education foundation Igazgyöngy, said civil organisations fill in the operational gaps in the workings of the state. She said civil groups also functioned in areas “that don’t even exist to those in power”, for instance, among those living in poverty. She said her organisation was forced to accept funds from foreign foundations such as those backed by US financier George Soros or from Swiss and Norwegian funds, because their applications for government and European Union funding regularly gets rejected.
Protesters held up signs reading “We are civilians, Hungarian, and free” as well as “I stand with CEU” in reference to Budapest’s Central European University, impacted by a recent higher education law amendment. The protesters held up a huge CIVIL sign in the square and formed a heart around it to symbolise society’s support. Demonstrations for civil society were also held outside Budapest, in Pécs, Szeged and Miskolc.