By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
PRAGUE/BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – A tense calm has returned to the Czech capital Prague after at least 70,000 people rallied against energy price hikes, the European Union, and NATO military alliance in the largest anti-government protest in years.
This weekend’s demonstration underscored mounting frustration among Europeans about the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and related policies on their lives.
Organizers of the demonstration included far-right and fringe political groups such as the Communist party. They said the Central and Eastern European nations should be neutral militarily and ensure direct contracts with natural gas suppliers, including Russia.
While police estimated the protesting crowd at around 70,000, organizers reportedly spoke of 100,000 or more.
“Our demonstration aims to demand change, mainly in solving the issue of energy prices, especially electricity and gas, which will destroy our economy this autumn,” event co-organizer Jiri Havel said.
The protest comes at a time when the governments of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland face tensions with Hungary. The three nations criticize Hungary’s perceived pro-Russian policy, undermining the cooperation in their regional Visegrad Group.
Yet, hardline Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has defended his cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin, saying his nation is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.
Orbán said he wanted to keep energy prices among the lowest in Europe, comments that haven’t remained unnoticed elsewhere in the European Union, including the Czech Republic.
Commentators noted that Saturday’s protest at Wenceslas Square in Prague’s center came a day after the government survived a no-confidence vote amid opposition claims of inaction against inflation and energy prices.
Prime Minister Petr Fiala, who leads the center-right, five-party coalition, denied that protesters have the country’s best interests at heart.
“Pro-Russian forces called the protest on Wenceslas Square, are close to extreme positions and are against the interests of the Czech Republic.”
However, commentators said the rally and the no-confidence vote against the Czech government proved that Europe’s energy crisis is fuelling political and social instability. The soaring energy prices stoke inflation, already at levels unseen in three decades, according to experts.