Hungarians Protest Ukraine Invasion, Russian Bank In Budapest
Several hundred Hungarians rallied in central Budapest on Tuesday to protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has sent tens of thousands of refugees across the border, with most of them fleeing towards Western Europe.
The rally outside the offices of the International Investment Bank (IIB), which moved its headquarters to Budapest from Moscow in 2019, was called by opposition leader Peter Marki-Zay, who runs on a strongly pro-Europe agenda.
The opposition has dubbed the IIB, in which Russia holds a 42.9% stake according to 2019 data, as a “spy bank” representing President Vladimir Putin’s influence in Hungary. Hungary is the second-largest shareholder with a 17.2% stake.
Earlier on Tuesday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto expressed solidarity with neighbouring Ukraine, home to a large ethnic Hungarian community, and said Hungary backed Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
While ruling out the transport of lethal weapons to Ukraine on its territory, Hungary has joined an initiative by eight European Union leaders for the 27-member bloc to start membership talks with Ukraine.
Marki-Zay is leading an alliance of six ideologically diverse opposition parties, which will challenge nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban at a parliamentary election in just over four weeks. Polls show a tight race.
“For a European nation, I consider it very important to stand up for a neighbouring country. I strongly disagree with the aggression they have been confronted with,” said 31-year-old protester Kinga Balla, as others chanted “Russians go home!”
“I am afraid that this could also affect us, but if we do not stand up that is definitely not good. We should not act as if we are blind to what is going on.”
“The Russian president, the aggressor, has attacked Ukraine and is threatening all of Europe,” the rally’s organisers said in a statement.
“He considers Hungary part of the Russian sphere of influence, in which Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is his partner. For example, by providing a base for the International Investment Bank and the Russian agents thus coming to Europe.”
The IIB said the protest was unrelated to any of its activities.
“IIB being an international financial organisation registered with the Secretariat of the United Nations, has been, remains and will always remain outside of politics,” spokeswoman Anna Lvova responded in an email.
“Recent geopolitical events in no way affect the Bank’s intention to further fulfil its obligations to investors, partners and clients.”
In 2019 IIB’s move to Hungary and Budapest’s decision to grant immunity to some of its employees raised concerns among a group of U.S. Democratic senators.
Last week the Czech Republic urged EU state members of the IIB and the International Bank for Economic Co-operation (IBEC) to quit the Soviet-era institutions which count Russia as their largest shareholder.
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