BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary's main political parties commemorated the brief anti-Soviet revolution of 1956 on Wednesday while also focusing on next year's parliamentary elections.
Speaking to a large crowd at Heroes Square, Prime Minister Viktor Orban lashed out against the opposition Socialist Party, accusing them of damaging Hungary when they were in power. "It was the former communists who handed over Hungary and the Hungarian people to the speculators and the international financial industry," Orban said. "We know that they were the ones and are always the ones who are ready hand over Hungary to the colonizers."
The Socialists and several smaller left-wing groups held their own 1956 memorial at a university near the banks of the Danube River. Speakers called for unity as the key to defeating Orban, whose party leads in polls ahead of elections in April or May.
Since winning a landslide in the 2010 elections, Orban's government has greatly increased the role of the state in the economy and in many areas of Hungarian life, centralizing the education system, passing a new constitution and weakening the democratic system of checks and balances.
In the past months, energy companies privatized in the 1990s have been forced to cut household utility prices by 20 percent. The government says more cuts are likely and that it would consider buying back the energy companies.
Orban reminded the crowd estimated by the Justice Ministry at "hundreds of thousands" that the country recently finished paying back an IMF-led bailout given to the Socialist government in 2008, while also levying special taxes on the banking and telecommunications sectors, among others.
"We decided we are not going to live anymore as prisoners of the international financial funds and that banks and international companies have to share a bigger load of the common burdens," Orban said.
Perhaps taking his cue from a stinging defeat in the 2002 elections after his first four-year term as prime minister, when his re-election seemed assured, Orban urged his supporters to prepare for the upcoming vote.
"There is no need to rush but slowly and surely we to have to start up the machinery and get our forces ready for battle, just like we did in 2010," Orban said. "Get ready, now we can finish what we started in 1956."
The far-right Jobbik party, which won nearly 17 percent of the votes in 2010, was equally critical of the government and the left-wing opposition. Jobbik leader Gabor Vona said only his party could prevent Hungary from "becoming the doormat of multinational capital and the European Union."
Wednesday was the anniversary of the start of the popular uprising, which was swiftly crushed by Soviet forces but became a lasting symbol of the Cold War.