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In Hungary, Thousands Of Demonstrators Protest 'Slave Law'


In Hungary, there have been protests over a controversial overtime law. They've actually united opponents of the country's autocratic prime minister, Viktor Orban. The thing is, many Hungarians don't actually know about these protests. That is because the government and its allies control most of that country's media. Joanna Kakissis reports from Budapest.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Thousands of protesters have marched on the icy streets of this historic city in the last few days not far from Kalman Molnar’s house. So one night this week, the 93-year-old eye doctor put on his black overcoat and beret and shuffled out to the crowd.

KALMAN MOLNAR: (Speaking Hungarian).

KAKISSIS: "I'm curious to know what's going on," he says. He's heard virtually nothing on the public broadcaster, which is his main source of news, so he's already made a judgment.

MOLNAR: (Through interpreter) Whatever's going on, I accept what the government says about it. What they say is credible. Even if there were 100,000 protesters out here, it's not enough. They're the minority.

KAKISSIS: Since winning power in 2010, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party has controlled what news reaches many Hungarians. The party controls all public media, and its allies control most of the private media.

GABOR GYORI: You have this huge private media conglomerate owned by various oligarchs who are all spouting the same government propaganda.

KAKISSIS: Gabor Gyori is a Hungarian political analyst. Before last spring's election here, he says that propaganda was all about migrants invading Europe. Now, with these protests, there's hardly anything.

GYORI: At most that they've heard that these are vandals who are destroying the city, which is not true, by the way.

KAKISSIS: There is not entirely a news blackout.

GYORI: It's rare that somebody is completely insulated from these news, but they do not get a comprehensive picture. They get bits and glimpses from friends' Facebook feed. Frankly, apart from going door to door and telling them what is going on, which is obviously logistically impossible, there is no way to reach many of these people.


KAKISSIS: The protesters know that. Huddled over beers and sandwiches, they plan their demonstrations knowing that Viktor Orban can drown them out with his own message.

VIKTOR MAK: His message is that I protect you from migrants. I protect our Christian nation.

KAKISSIS: Viktor Mak is a Hungarian-American student and protest organizer.

MAK: That works for some people, but I think there's also a segment of society that sees through the lies, the propaganda.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Hungarian).

KAKISSIS: Like these protesters who are actually chanting the TV is lying as they march to the state broadcaster's headquarters. Some opposition lawmakers tried to walk inside the building. One of those lawmakers, Bernadett Szel, told a European network that they just wanted to talk to an editor to give their side of the story.


BERNADETT SZEL: (Through interpreter) We have been surrounded by security the whole time, and we weren't allowed to talk to anyone in charge. They wouldn't even let us go up the stairs.

KAKISSIS: Instead, police dragged out the lawmakers by force and pushed them outside. At least four were injured and one hospitalized. The government claims the protesters are spreading fake news and do not deserve the airtime. So activists are spreading the news about their next big demonstration on social media. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Budapest.

(SOUNDBITE OF LITTLE PEOPLE'S "BASIQUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.