Opposition Frontier
Hungarian MPs of all opposition parliamental parties form an 'Opposition Frontier' and take a symbolic oath in front of the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest on January 3, 2019. Hungarian opposition parties pledged to turn 2019 into a "year of resistance" against nationalist-conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban Image Credit: AFP

Dublin: It’s a New Year — and Hungarians have resolved to fight Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his new labour laws no matter what.

For weeks now, demonstrators have been filling the streets of Budapest and other cities against the new labour laws that were passed by the national parliament in December. Those laws, which can force workers to do 400 hours of mandatory overtime each year and wait up to three years for payment for it, have galvanised a political opposition intent of challenging Orban and what they say is his wide abuse of powers in a move to the right and autocratic rule.

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of overtime can now be imposed on Hungarian workers under the new law, and employers can delay payments for three years

Since security more than two-thirds of the seats in Hungary’s parliament in elections last April, Orban’s Fidesz party has rolled cracked down on independent media outlets, sacked judges nationwide, introduced the hiring of judiciary through political processes, and has snubbed its nose at the European Union over Brussels’ policy on accepting refugees into the political, social and economic bloc.

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capitals have staged rallies in support of the protests, along with Stuttgart, Bremen, Munich, Linz, Edinburgh, Toronto and Melbourne.

Orban himself has offered no apology for taking measures to ensure Muslim refugees are shut out of his nation, vowing to keep it Christian no matter what.

The EU Commission, the cabinet-like body that oversees the day-to-day running of the EU, has put Orban and Hungary on notice that it will face sanctions unless it rolls back measures to crack down on the media and restore judicial independence. Those two elements are among preconditions for any nation wanting to join the EU, and the EU has power to impose financial penalties or suspend voting rights if its concerns are not adequately addressed.

Protests across Hungary are being led by a coalition of political parties, trade unions and civic groups united by the labour reforms. But they also fed up with state media outlets that peddle an agenda of “fake news” reports on refugees, and they want judicial independence restored. Under new laws, the minister for justice can now hire judges, with critics saying that politicises the process and undermines democratic principles.

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a week on average across Hungary are joining one new Facebook group ‘Coming Home To Work Overtime’ against the labour laws.

For now, the protests are mostly peaceful, but tear gas and other riot-control measures have been occasionally used by police and security services.

For its part, Fidesz says the protests are part of a determined campaign leading up to elections for the European Parliament that are scheduled to be held across the then 27-member bloc between May 23 and 26, claiming the protesters support bring large numbers of refugees into Hungary. Last April, Orban and Fidesz won in a landslide, vowing to resist bringing large numbers of refugees into Hungary at all costs.

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to former prime minister Imre Nagy was removed by the government — he’s a hero to many for his role in an anti-Communist uprising

Analysts say, however, Orban may have misjudged by bringing in the new labour law and by cracking down on hard-won democratic freedoms. It’s just 30 years since Hungary won its freedom from the Communist bloc through the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A central Budapest statue to former Prime Minister Imre Nagy, whose actions in the 1956 anti-Communist uprising make him a hero to most Hungarians, was removed by the Orban government recently in the dead of night — a potent symbol that Hungarians have united before against what they viewed as an authoritarian and undemocratic regime.

What is the ‘slave law’?

Over the past eight years, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has steadily used the instruments of a democratic state to undermine nearly all checks on his power.

After a sweeping victory in April elections, his Fidesz party again controls two-thirds of the votes in Parliament, allowing it to pass any legislation it likes. Before breaking for winter recess, the party moved quickly to pass two contentious measures.

One set up a parallel court system, a move widely condemned as undermining the rule of law. While legal experts warned of the profound consequences of ceding control of the judicial system to a political party, it was another measure — compelling workers to work 400 hours of overtime and allowing compensation to be delayed for three years — that fuelled the most outrage.

The legislation, branded the “slave law” by an uncharacteristically united opposition, has spurred the most sustained protests since Orban entered office in 2010.

Hungarian yellow vests?

While the protesters in Hungary are receiving some support over the internet from ‘gilet jaunes’ (yellow vests) in France, the two protest movements are different. Hungarian demonstrators are waving blue-starred European Union flags — and one of their key demands is that their nation should join the European Public Presecutor’s Office to restore judicial independence. They also want the so-called slave labour laws reversed, and want an independent media restored and protected.