By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – Thousands of Hungarians have surrounded the Budapest complex housing Hungary’s state-run television and other public media in what they called “a blockade of the factory of lies.”
Friday’s protest in the capital came while a European Union delegation investigated the plight of Hungarian media after a government-backed crackdown on critical outlets and journalists.
Visiting delegates of the EU’s European Parliament Committee on Culture and Education also looked into alleged violations of cultural, artistic, and educational freedoms in Hungary.
European legislator Sabine Verheyen told reporters in Budapest that the Committee objected to the “division of Hungarian media into pro-government and opposition outlets.”
Media should “be politically and financially independent to be able to function as a check and balance,” she said, adding that freedoms should extend to education.
The Committee’s findings may impact the unlocking of billions of euros in EU funding for Hungary that have been frozen partly over rule-of-law concerns and doubts about the government’s democratic credentials.
Some praised Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for supporting persecuted Christians and conservative causes, but protesters criticized his perceived authoritarian policies towards media and other institutions.
The anti-government rally held Friday began with a minute of silence for victims of Hungary’s 1956 Revolution and war of independence against Soviet rule, which was crushed by Soviet troops on November 4, some 76 years ago.
Soon after, Hungarian historian Krisztián Ungváry told the crowd that “the Hungarian public media has been betraying not only its citizens. [They also betrayed] the federal system, to which every leader since [Hungary’s first King] St. Stephen wants to belong.”
Ungváry noted that, like Hungary decades ago, Ukraine had been invaded by Russian troops but suggested that viewers wouldn’t realize that when watching Orbán’s television channels.
Standing near the Hungarian tv and media building, the historian told the torches-carrying demonstrators that government officials “say that the great powers should make peace over the head of Ukraine. This is what is being said here [by state-run media] from your taxpayers’ money.”
Lili Kalmár, a student at Ferenc Kölcsey High School in Budapest, said she came to the autumn protest for “free education and freedom of expressing” an opinion.
“They fired our teachers” after they participated in unsanctioned protests for more pay and freedom in education, she complained. “They showed and taught us how to stand up for our opinion with pride. That is why we are here today.”
Among the crowd were also artists and opposition politicians who participated in forming a human chain around the state media complex.
Police kept protesters chanting slogans against the ruling rightwing Fidesz party at a distance, with staff inside sneaking at times through windows to see the massive rally outside.
Speakers urged the crowd to remain peaceful and later encouraged them to go home with more demonstrations expected.
The debate on more freedom comes as the nation faces its highest inflation in decades, topping 20 percent that the government has linked to EU sanctions against Russia.