By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – Hundreds of thousands of Hungarians gathered for rival rallies in Budapest, overshadowed by concerns over who should lead the nation after the April 3 elections with a raging war in neighboring Ukraine.
Hungary’s hardline Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told a massive crowd of up to 700,000 people that Hungary wouldn’t be maneuvered into a war.
The opposition has condemned his perceived cozy relationship with Putin. “The choice is between Putin or Europe,” said opposition speakers about Orbán, who they view as increasingly authoritarian. At a rival opposition rally, they made clear that oil may come from the East, “but freedom comes from the West.”
Yet speaking in front of Parliament following a massive “peace march” of supporters, Orbán stressed it was Hungary’s interest not to be a sacrificial pawn in someone else’s war. “We can’t win anything in this war, but we have everything to lose,” said Orban, who has led Hungary since 2010. “Not a single Hungarian can be left between the Ukrainian anvil and the Russian hammer.”
He claimed that the left-wing opposition has “lost its mind by suggesting to send weapons and troops to the brutal war in Ukraine.” He accused them of making Hungary a military target and threatening the safety of ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine.
However, some Hungarians have told Worthy News that they still recall the 1956 Hungarian Revolution against Soviet domination, which was crushed by Russian troops. They believe that Hungary has a moral duty to support freedom fighting Hungarians.
Orbán’s election campaign — previously focused on socially divisive issues like his opposition to immigration and hostility toward the LGBTQ community. However, he has since had carefully sought to balance Hungary’s fraught relationship with its allies in the European Union and the NATO military alliance with its close ties to Russia under President Vladimir Putin.
Widely considered Putin’s closest ally in the EU, he reluctantly agreed to back the sanctions imposed on Russia by the 27-nation bloc and condemned Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine without mentioning Putin by name.
His balancing act was condemned by his primary opponent for the top job, Péter Márki-Zay. “In 1848, 1956, and 1989 Hungarians were at the right side of history,” he said, referring to fights for freedom and the collapse of communism. “However, when people now see Hungarians, they see the personification of one man,” he added, referring to Orbán.
Backed by a united alliance of six opposition parties, the self-proclaimed conservative and Catholic hopes to oust Orbán, who critics say ruled his with an iron fist for 12 years.
Methodist Pastor Gábor Iványi, an outspoken government critic whose church was recently raided by armed tax authorities, told the rally it was time for real Hungarian freedom. He criticized Orbán for not joining the prime ministers of nearby Slovenia, Poland, and the Czech Republic on their daring trip Tuesday to Kyiv.
He urged compassion to both refugees and Hungarians suffering under surging inflation. Orbán’s government claims to reach out to persecuted Christians, but it has also been halting migrants fleeing war, persecution, and poverty from further away than Ukraine.
Additionally, Orbán has come under EU pressure over what Brussels sees as him limiting the independence of media and the judiciary and ongoing corruption cases.
Also speaking at the opposition rally was former Polish prime minister and EU official Donald Tusk, who said that an “authoritarian, censorious, corrupt state” had developed in Budapest under Orban.
He claimed the prime minister took a controversial position on the war in Ukraine.
“No decent, honest man should have any doubt whatsoever which side he is on in this struggle,” Tusk said, adding that the results of Hungary’s election were significant not only for Hungary but for all of Europe, including Ukraine.
Yet, polls suggest Orbán may still win the upcoming parliamentary elections with Hungarians seeking a strong leader at a time of war and uncertainty about the opposition’s capabilities. The country is also struggling with a quarter of a million Ukrainian refugees, expected more.
Tuesday’s rallies were held on the annual March 15 holiday when Hungary remembers the 1848 Revolution and the fight for freedom against the Austrian Habsburg monarchy. While Hungary eventually lost, the Revolution was another important event in its troubled history of struggles for freedom.
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