Thousands of Hungarians protested in Budapest over police use of tear gas on teens during a previous demonstration and new legislation that would remove teachers’ position as public servants.
Conservative nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has faced growing public outcry since coming to power in 2010, as he has fought with the European Union over democratic principles, repressed free speech by academics, journalists, and judges, and restricted the rights of immigrants and LGBT individuals.
Friday’s protest came after a series of rallies and strikes for higher salaries and better working conditions for teachers. Hungary’s inflation rate – now running at 24% – has eroded teacher wages that were already below the national average and rank second to last among OECD countries according to 2021 data.
Protesters on Friday marched against the new so-called Status Law that would also significantly increase teachers’ workload. Critics refer to the legislation as the “Revenge Law,” perceived as punishment for teachers’ year-long resistance.
Orban’s government said the bill aimed to improve the quality of education. Almost 5,000 teachers have already said they will leave their profession if the Status Law comes into force.
Street protests over the past year have been peaceful except for one early this month when police tear-gassed some teenagers in a pro-teacher rally as they tried to get closer to Orban’s offices, surrounded by construction fences since 2020.
Police said they targeted protesters who were breaking up construction barriers and pelting policemen with debris.
“For many people, many students, this will be a defining moment when today’s powers showed their teeth and didn’t bother anymore with appearing democratic,” Mate Hidasz, 17, a student tear-gassed at the previous rally, said on Friday.