Both supporters and opponents of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán greeted the controversial politician with simultaneous demonstrations on 21 April, during an official two-day visit to Tbilisi.
Anti-Orbán protesters whistled over Orbán and his attendants, while counter-demonstrators greeted him with excitement, as Orbán and Georgia’s PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili arrived at Courtyard Marriott Hotel for a Georgia–Hungary business forum.
The demonstrators were protesting the Hungarian government’s recent decision to set tougher conditions for foreign-based universities in the country. This puts, among others, the famous Central European University (CEU) at risk of closure. Critics and academics have said that the new terms would hurt academic freedom. The law has been widely seen as a direct attack on the CEU, which was founded by Hungarian-born American billionaire George Soros after the collapse of communism, and is considered one of the top universities in the region.
‘Georgian alumni stand with the CEU’, ‘We stand with the CEU’, ‘Orbán [is a] fascist moron’, the captions of the banners read. ‘We support academic freedom’, protesters said.
‘We respect Hungary and Georgian–Hungarian relations, we understand the necessity to criticize contemporary liberal democracy; however, with leftist perspective and argumentation. We think that an authoritarian who shuts down universities, shelters wanted people, and constrains social democratic opposition forces, should be ‘welcomed’ with peaceful demonstration. Our government must know who not to emulate’, said the statement by student movement Auditorium No. 115.
We stand in solidarity with Hungarian youth groups and Georgian students in Hungary! pic.twitter.com/SCoiR37SuX
— აუდიტორია #115 (@auditorium115) April 21, 2017
Orbán told journalists in Tbilisi that the CEU is not in danger, and that ‘talks are being held’ to resolve the issue, Georgian media outlet Liberali reported.
As news of Orbán’s visit spread, CEU alumni and supporters created a Facebook event for the protest, which nationalist, ‘anti-liberal’ groups responded to by creating an opposing event. The counter-demonstration was supported by several local conservative, far-right, ultra-nationalist, and neo-Nazi groups.
‘Georgian political and media elites remain the puppets of liberals’, ‘Do not become a liberast [a mixture of the words ‘liberal’ and ‘pederast’, a derogatory Russian term for gay people]’, counter-demonstrators said.
‘The majority of us are anti-liberals, nationalists, Georgians, Christians’, Orbán-supporter Temo Verulidze told OC Media. Verulidze is a member of the neo-Nazi Georgia’s National Unity, which was formed in January 2017.
‘We support Hungary’s nationalist policy, primarily anti-liberalism and anti-Islamism, which limits gay propaganda, closes borders for Muslim refugees, and promotes Hungarian culture and traditions’, a Facebook post by another neo-Nazi group, Resistance Georgia said.
‘Georgian nationalism has a great perspective’, Verulidze continued. ‘Two years ago, you could not have held these kind of banners’, he claims.