Orbán challenger leads protest calling for child protection after sexual abuse scandal in Hungary

An aspiring challenger to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán renewed his calls for change Friday as he led a protest of several thousand people demanding a more robust child protection system and the resignation of Orbán’s government.

The demonstrators gathered outside Hungary’s Interior Ministry in Budapest and called for its head, Sándor Pintér, to step down over what they see as his failure to prevent the sexual abuse of children in state-run institutions, a crime which has led to political upheaval in Hungary in recent months.

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Peter Magyar, a 43-year-old lawyer who has emerged as a new voice of opposition to Hungary’s right-wing government, took aim at Orbán’s portrayal of himself as a defender of families and traditional values, and called for genuine reforms to address child welfare.

Hungary-Protest

Peter Magyar, a former insider within Orban’s ruling Fidesz party speaks during a protest outside the Hungarian Interior Ministry building to demand stronger protections for children and Interior minister Sandor Pinter to step down, in Budapest, Hungary, Friday, April 26, 2024. The demonstration was the latest in a series of large anti-government protests that Magyar has mobilized in recent weeks, and comes as the political newcomer is campaigning for EU elections this June with his new party, Respect and Freedom (TISZA). (AP Photo/Denes Erdos)

“We have a government that claims to be family friendly. It is a government that pretends to be Christian. A government that lies about being child-friendly. A government that lies about being pro-peace,” Magyar told the crowd. “The opposite is true. They lie in the morning, they lie at night, they lie everywhere they can.”

The demonstration was the latest in a series of large anti-government protests that Magyar has mobilized in recent weeks, and comes as the political newcomer is campaigning for European Union elections this June with his new party, Respect and Freedom (TISZA). He has called for Orbán and his government to step down, and vowed to represent a third option for Hungarians disillusioned by both Orbán’s 14 years of governance and Hungary’s fragmented and ineffectual opposition parties.

A one-time insider within Orbán’s Fidesz party and the ex-husband of former justice minister and Orbán ally Judit Varga, Magyar shot to prominence when he publicly accused the government of corruption and cronyism following a child sexual abuse scandal that led to the resignations in February of the president and justice minister.

The scandal erupted after it was revealed that the former president, Katalin Novák, had issued a presidential pardon to a man convicted of trying to cover up child sexual abuse in a rural youth home. The case went to the heart of Orbán’s image as a Christian conservative who protects families and children from what he calls “LGBTQ propaganda.”

Magyar on Friday said that Hungary’s child protection policies, which have been criticized for conflating homosexuality with pedophilia and abridging the rights of sexual minorities, have allowed abuses to go on unpunished, and demanded that Orbán apologize to the survivors of abuse in the orphanage.

Hungary’s government has dismissed Magyar as an opportunist seeking a new career after he lost several positions in state companies following his divorce with the former justice minister. But his message has had wide appeal, and opinion polls showed that his new party is likely to gain seats in the European Parliament in June elections.

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László Horváth Etele, one of the demonstrators on Friday, said he sees Magyar as capable not only of mounting a real challenge to Orbán, but of disrupting the opposition parties that have been unable to unseat him in 14 years.

“To be able to defeat the currently reigning government, this opposition needs to be changed. The current Hungarian opposition was only able to deliver a two-thirds majority for Fidesz,” he said. “I think that whoever loses so many times in a row should leave the field and give his place to new challengers who may have a chance.”

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