Hungary`s Opposition Protests against „Slave-Law”

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán

Since Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s right wing Fidesz Party swept into power in 2010, and most recently won a landslide victory in last April, it has come under increasing attack from the European Union over its crackdowns on democratic institutions. Orbán’s anti-migrant policies, which have been blasted by the EU, have proved particularly popular in rural Hungary. Orbán has also found allies in Poland and Italy. His illiberal democracy is followed in France, the Netherlandsand the United States.

 Orbán has been accused of a piecemeal takeover of previously independent institutions, as well as extending government control over the majority of Hungarian media outlets. He has appointed an old friend as leader of the judicial system, stacked the Constitutional Court with loyalists, altered the electoral process to favor his party, brought most of the Hungarian media under the control of his closest allies, and appointed friends and party colleagues to lead state watchdog institutions, including the prosecution service.

Earlierthis year, the European Parliament decided to trigger a disciplinary process (i. e. the Article 7) against Hungary over its erosion of democratic norms that spanned everything from the media to migrants.The move came on the heels of Hungary’s „Stop Soros” law – named after the well-known Orbán foe George Soros – which banned NGOs from assisting undocumented migrants.

Last weekend, before the voting, about ten thousand protesters gathered at the the Hungarian parliament buiding to demonstrate against the changes to the labour law dubbed as the „slave law”. The planned amendments drew many people onto the streets in Budapest protesting against the changes to the labour law, raising slogans and blocking highways, demanding a rise in wages rather than a rise in permitted overtime hours. The demonstrators chanting „Orbán go to the hell” were belonging to various trade unions, opposition parties, civil society and students` organizations.

On12 December, last Wednesday the lawmakers voted 130-52, with one abstention, to pass the „slave law”. The changes include raising the maximum amount of overtime workers can put in a year from 250 to 400 hours and relaxing other labor rules. The legislation also gives employers three years instead of one to settle payments of accrued overtime. Another amendment allows employers to agree on overtime arrangements directly with workers, bypassing collective bargaining agreements and the trade unions. Other controversial laws amid scenes of chaos were adopted as opposition MPs attempted to block the podium and sounded sirens, blew whistles and angrily confronted Orbán. Hungary’s parliament was thrown into scenes of turmoil. Opposition claims that the voting procedure was completely against the House Rules and is invalid.

Fidesz also pushed through another controversial law that will create new courts, overseen by the justice minister, to handle cases concerning tax and elections, the creation of a parallel court system that cements executive control over the judiciary. Once the new system begins operating within the next 12 months, Orbán’s justice minister will control the hiring and promotion of its judges, who will have jurisdiction over cases relating to “public administration” — including politically sensitive matters like electoral law, corruption and the right to protest.

Shortly after the vote on Wednesday late night, around 2,000 people, shouting „Orbán go to hell” marched through Budapest and converged on the steps of the parliament. Some protesters hurled objects at police, who responded with pepper spray, and thirty five demonstartors were arrested, among others the Students` leader of the CentralEuropean University (CEU).

On Thursday, a new demonstration against the „slave law” was launched on Kossuth Square, at the parliament building. About one thousand demonstrators first closed two bridges of Budapest, and then returning back to the Kossuth Square, where the protesters were lining up until late night at the parliament, where the police were thrown. Later there were clashes in different places of Budapest downtown. Finally, at late night at Király Street, the police using tear gas arrested sixteen protestors.

14 December 2018.

Matyas Benyik
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