Hungarians Protest Against Government's Closer Ties With Russia

(Bloomberg) -- A new Hungarian party drew thousands of protesters to Budapest on Monday to voice their disagreement with the government’s break with the European Union mainstream in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Momentum, a party set up this year, organized Monday’s protest around the “We belong to Europe” theme as part of its criticism of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has pledged to build an “illiberal state” modeled on Russia in this eastern EU member state. News website estimated the crowd at about 10,000 people.

The protest comes after tens of thousands of Hungarians have held a series of demonstrations last month, triggered by what critics say is a crackdown on academic freedom. The Budapest-based Central European University, founded by Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros, has said a law approved by parliament in April is specifically aimed at shutting it down, which Orban has denied. The legislation is in breach of EU rules, the bloc’s executive said last week, giving Hungary one month to address its concerns before it takes the country to court.

The protest organized by Momentum comes at a time when the opposition, which has struggled to take on Orban, remains splintered. This year’s protests haven’t eroded the popularity of Orban, who’s eyeing a fourth term in power after next year’s elections.

The new party drew attention in February, when it managed to force the government to withdraw its bid to host the 2024 Olympics, dealing Orban a rare political defeat. The group, composed mostly of young people, argues money should be rather spent on other purposes such as education.