Hungarian opposition protests in front of Russian "spy bank" in Budapest
March 02. 2022. – 11:14 AM
Translation by Andrea Horváth Kávai.
“Russians, go home!” – chanted the crowd at Clark Ádám square in Budapest on Tuesday evening. The protest was organized by the Hungarian opposition with the motto: “Putin, get out!” They gathered in front of the International Investment Bank – or as the opposition refers to it: “the Russian spy bank”. The opposition said that the location was no coincidence, as this bank is a symbol of Russian influence in Hungary.
According to our colleague at the scene, at the beginning of the protest, signs saying “May Hungary belong to all of us” were handed out, and many held up signs on which Putin’s face was crossed out with red. These were similar to the road signs spotted across Ukraine which were changed to look like this. Some Ukrainian flags were also seen in the crowd, as well as signs that said “We will not be a colony”.
A man from the crowd yelled towards the stage in Ukrainian or Russian: “Putin, go fuck yourself!” – and then translated it into Hungarian for those around him.
Although Gábor Iványi, the pastor of the Hungarian Methodist church was also supposed to speak, he did not arrive in the end. Instead, Bence Tordai of the opposition party Párbeszéd spoke. “Right now, we are seeing Russian tanks, rocket launchers and bombardiers in Ukraine. This is what the politics of Orbán’s buddy, Putin has led to.” – he said, and the crowd responded with booing and yelling “Traitor!” Tordai said that Orbán has delivered Hungary to Putin, and it is now becoming clear why it is important for Hungary not to be dependent on Russian gas. “Hungary has become KGB’s depot. Shame on Orbán!” – continued Tordai. He added that Orbán has been blocking the unified European action at every step, and by doing so, he is in fact endangering the lives of Hungarians in Transcarpathia as well. He also said that the opposition would get rid of “Putin’s spy bank” and remove it from Clark Ádám square.
Then a woman who had fled Ukraine, called Maria came on stage. Maria left Kyiv with her 3 children and her parents, leaving her husband behind. She said that she doesn’t know what day it is. All she knows is that it is day six of the war against Ukraine. “While your kids were peacefully playing in the park, my kids learnt what war is, and they helped other volunteers in our street make Molotov cocktails, to help stop Russian tanks.” – she said. “If Russia stops the war, there will be no more war. But if Ukraine stops fighting, there will be no more Ukraine.” – she concluded.
The next speaker was Péter Márki-Zay, who mostly gave a campaign speech and spoke about Viktor Orbán. Among others, he said that there is a war going on in Ukraine right now, but for the past 12 years, Hungary has had a government which has been waging a war of rhetorics. According to Márki-Zay “Orbán lost the war against inflation and overhead costs and is allowing thousands of migrants to settle here”. He also said that the biggest fight Orbán lost was the one against the pandemic. “We will not paint “Orbán, get out!” in the sky with the blood of Ukrainians. We will not use the war for campaigning.” – he said.
Márki-Zay said that the opposition has two demands for the government: one is that Péter Szijjártó return his award which he received from Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov “for the service of Russian interests”, and the other “that the state media stop spreading Russian propaganda.”
The reason for having only two demands is that according to the opposition parties, on Tuesday the Fidesz MEPs also voted in favour of the declaration which condemns the Russian agression. Based on this declaration, the cooperation with Rosatom regarding the Paks 2 nuclear plant should be terminated and the majority Russian-owned International Investment Bank in Budapest would not be allowed to operate in the EU either. However, according to Tamás Deutsch, Fidesz MEP, although Fidesz did vote in favour of the EP declaration about the Ukrainian conflict, “Fidesz did not support the halting of the Paks 2 project”. The reason for this being that they do not support those parts of the declaration which threaten the supply security of Hungary.
At the end, Márki-Zay thanked the Hungarians for showing that they can help when needed, he thanked them for going to the train stations to receive those arriving from Ukraine, and said that Hungarians deserve an "A” in humanity”.
After this, the crowd sang the national anthem, and the protest ended.
The government reacted to the opposition’s protest. In their statement, they said: “There’s a war going on next door, and what the opposition did today just adds fuel to the fire. We will not allow anyone to drag Hungary into the war. Hungarian soldiers must not take part in this conflict, and we also will not be transporting weapons to Ukraine.”
For a few days now, Fidesz politicians and pro-government media have been claiming that Márki-Zay and “the left” would want to send Hungarian soldiers to Ukraine and thus drag Hungary into the war. When saying this, they are referring to what Márki-Zay said when he was asked whether he would support Ukraine with military force if he were the prime minister. His answer was: “if NATO were to decide so, then we would, of course provide military assistance to Ukraine”.
The Russian „spy bank”
In 2019, in spite of the US protesting the move, the majority Russian-owned International Investment Bank moved its headquarters from Moscow to Budapest. The biggest criticism came because the bank’s employees and guests were granted diplomatic immunity, which – according to experts – could provide an opportunity for Russian agents and spies to enter Hungary, and thus, the Schengen Area. This is why since then, the IIB has been referred to by many as “the spy bank”. The financial institution has denied the accusation multiple times.
The majority owner of the bank is Russia, with Hungary owning the second biggest part. The IIB’s Budapest headquarters was officially opened last April by Hungarian Finance Minister, Mihály Varga, and in August, Sergey Lavrov and Péter Szijjártó visited the building together.
Because of the Russian agression, the opposition parties demanded immediate sanctions from the Hungarian government, one of these being the immediate expulsion of the IIB. Since the IIB is registered with the UN, the sanctions introduced by the West because of the war do not apply to it. From among the former Comecon member countries, the Czech republic and Romania have already left the IIB.