Dubbed "we won't stay silent," the rally addressed the Orban government's increasing limitations on civil liberties. The Hungarian prime minister meanwhile defended his policies.
The "Nem maradunk csendben" (we will not remain silent) rally held in the Hungarian capital was chiefly directed at a new law that could lead to the closure of the private Central European University (CEU), which was founded by US billionaire George Soros. It also challenged a draft bill designed to discriminate against civic organizations receiving foreign support.
Protestors marched against what they regard as an increasingly repressive course under the leadership of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who regards CEU-funder Soros an ideological antagonist to his nationalist vision.
The anti-CEU law, which was passed at the beginning of the month amid widespread international criticism, has also sparked a wave of demonstrations elsewhere in the country.
Orban vs. Soros
The rally on the Easter weekend followed a number of similar protests over the past two weeks, with Orban's critics accusing his government of attempting to dismantle Hungarian democracy by attacking the media, judiciary and education system.
Meanwhile in a newspaper interview published in the daily newspaper "Magyar Idok" the same day, Orban defended his controversial measures: "The whole thing revolves around George Soros, hidden from public view and taking into account his Hungarian organizations, supporting illegal immigration," Orban said.
Orban, who has been in power since 2010, further accused Hungarian-born philanthropist Soros of bankrolling "countless lobby organizations disguised as civic associations" and maintaining "a fully fledged network, with his own spokespeople, his own media, many hundreds of people, his own university."
Orban added that Hungary had to protect itself against this and "take up the fight."
But there was also a festive atmosphere in the air in Budapest, as protesters played dance music and blew whistles and horns on the city's central Freedom Square.
Many public figures also took part in the event; Hungarian actor Simon Szabo was among them, telling the crowd: "no one can stay silent today. No one can silence us."
Demonstration organizer Aron Lukacs said in an address that when the government "constantly oversteps red lines, when they methodically trample on the values to which we are committed, we as responsible citizens cannot remain silent."
ss/jm (AP, dpa)