BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary's prime minister launched a scathing attack on the European Union on Thursday, accusing it of colonialist behavior, disrespecting his country's sovereignty and meddling in its domestic affairs.
The EU has voiced concerns about legislation passed by Viktor Orban's Fidesz party, which is seen limiting democratic principles such as the freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary and the central bank and Brussels is also on the verge of punishing Hungary for its excessive budget deficit.
Speaking to a crowd estimated at 100,000 people by Hungarian media and at 250,000 by state news wire MTI, Prime Minister Viktor Orban defended his government's policies and demanded fair treatment from the EU.
"We won't be a colony," Orban told the crowd at Kossuth Square outside the parliament building, his 27-minute speech often interrupted by cheers. "Hungarians won't live according to the commands of foreign powers, they wont give up their independence or their freedom."
Orban said Hungary would defend its new constitution, which was approved last year only by government-party lawmakers amid a boycott by the opposition parties.
"We write our constitution ourselves," Orban said. "We don't want unrequested assistance from foreigners who want to guide our hands."
Since taking power in mid-2010, Orban has introduced numerous political and economic policies which have been criticized by the EU and international watchdogs and has increased political power over public media, the judiciary, churches and other nominally independent institutions.
Orban has described his party's landslide victory in the 2010 elections as a "revolution in the voting booth" and speaking on the anniversary of the 1848 revolution against the Habsburg Monarchy, he remained defiant.
"Our revolutions have always pushed the world forward," Orban said, noting that Hungary had been left to its own devices in its fight against the Austrians in 1848, and again during the 1956 uprising against Soviet rule.
"The European bureaucrats also today are watching us suspiciously, because we say new roads are needed," Orban said. "We say we have to break out of the debt trap and that only strong nations can make Europe great again. You will see, friends, that we will be right again."
Despite Orban's combative, fiery rhetoric — the populist side of his political persona — Hungary has made amendments to some of the most disputed laws to comply with EU guidelines and officials have said more are on the way.
The legal changes are vital, because without them, Hungary will be prevented from getting financial aid it has requested from the International Monetary Fund and the EU.
On Monday, finance ministers of the EU countries decided to withhold €495 million ($650 million) in EU development funds from Hungary in 2013 because of its repeatedly high budget deficits. The ministers said the decision would be reassessed in June, giving Orban's government three months to prepare structural budget cuts and prevent the budget gap from exceeding the EU limit of 3 percent of GDP.
Some EU members had lobbied in Hungary's favor, saying that the leniency shown toward Spain's own high deficit gave the appearance of a double standard and Orban noted the apparent discrepancy.
"We demand equality for Hungarians," Orban said. "We demand equal treatment. We won't be second-class European citizens."
The crowd listening to Orban included hundreds of right-wing Poles who traveled to Hungary to express their enthusiasm for Orban's policies and show their solidarity with Hungary in its conflicts with the EU.
"From Poland, we see Hungary as an oasis of freedom of speech," said Tomasz Sakiewicz, the editor-in-chief of Gazeta Polska, a conservative weekly.
About a mile from parliament, several tens of thousands of Orban opponents held their own rally, which was organized by the "Milla" group, One Million People for the Freedom Of the Press.
"We were born free and we want to remain free," activist Peter Juhasz said. "That is what this demonstration is about."
A foul-mouthed rap star known as Dopeman was proclaimed Hungary's alternative president by Milla.