Around 10,000 people have protested in the Hungarian capital against Viktor Orban's government amid rising tensions between Budapest and Brussels. The trigger is a law seen targeting the Central European University.
A huge crowd waved EU flags and chanted "Democracy! Freedom for Hungary!" as they made their way through Budapest toward the parliament building on Sunday.
The rally was the latest protest sparked by a draft bill aimed at forcing NGOs to disclose how much foreign funding they receive.
Demonstrators have said they want the right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban to abandon the bill, which they see as an effort to intimidate civic groups that receive foreign funding. "We have to consistently stand up for our values," activist Katalin Lukacsi told the crowd. "We have a future. It is ours, and we won't give it up."
Lukacsi recently quit the small Christian Democrat party, which is part of a governing coalition led by Orban's Fidesz party. She said the government's actions were "neither Christian nor democratic."
The bill's passage through Hungary's parliament sparked mass protests in the capital in April and the European Commission subsequently launched legal action against Hungary.
The law aims to regulate foreign universities operating in Hungary by requiring them to be accredited and have a campus in their home country.
The Central European University (CEU) in Budapest offers diplomas accepted both in the US and Hungary, but only has a campus in Budapest and not in the US state of New York, where it is accredited.
The measures are seen as an attack on Orban's arch-enemy, the Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros, who founded CEU in 1991 after the fall of communism and finances many of the foreign NGOs in the country.
An irate EU
Last month, the EU launched legal action against Budapest over the education legislation.
On Wednesday, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on the European Commission to trigger a legal procedure known as Article Seven over what it called a "serious deterioration" of democracy in Hungary.
The article - known as the bloc's "nuclear option" - could lead to the suspension of Hungary's voting rights in the Council of Ministers, the EU's highest decision-making body.
However, the EU would need unanimity among member states to establish that a violation has taken place. Hungary's ally Poland would likely block such a move.
Orban fights back
Fidesz said Sunday's protest was an attempt by Soros' "network" to pressure the government into changing its anti-migration policy.
Orban considers Soros an ideological foe whose "open society" ideal contrasts with Orban's plans to turn Hungary into an "illiberal state."
"We see that pressure is growing on our nation, but the government party and the government do not wish to change their migration policy," Fidesz said in a statement.
Budapest, meanwhile, is suing the EU over a plan that calls for the country to take in nearly 1,300 asylum seekers.
The government has launched a "Let's Stop Brussels" campaign which argues the EU is centralizing power.
Orban on Friday denounced the EU for what he called "distorted" policies and again accused Soros of pulling the strings in Brussels.
"As far as the CEU is concerned, it enjoys a privileged position in as much as it grants both Hungarian and American diplomas, but without its having an American mother university, hence American academic oversight," Fidesz EU lawmaker Gyorgy Schöpflin told DW recently.
"The higher education law is about regulating this. Whether the CEU will want to regularize this is their decision. There is no commitment on the part of the Hungarian government to expel the CEU."
jbh/cmk (AP, AFP, dpa)