Viktor Orbán is not only illiterate when it comes to computers. What about diplomacy?

As you know, I was contemplating writing something about the internet tax, but I felt I had to deal with the further reverberations of Hungary’s shaky relations with the U.S. Now, it seems, the two topics have converged with M. André Goodfriend’s appearance at the demonstration last night.

So, let’s start with the demonstration itself. I considered the crowd very large, especially in comparison to similar gatherings when the issues were purely political. Abstract concepts don’t move crowds in Hungary. The reason might be the low level of political culture and sophistication, the lack of a sustained democratic past, and perhaps even the sinking living standards that force people to concentrate on sheer survival.

I watched the entire demonstration and was impressed with Balázs Gulyás, the organizer and speaker. Although he tried to keep the focus on a single issue, the internet tax, it was clear from the first moment that the demonstration was much more than that. It was a rejection of the kind of life Viktor Orbán and his minions are offering Hungarians, especially young people. I especially liked a phrase in Gulyás’s speech–“we only turned the clock back, not the century”–referring to going off Daylight Savings Time the night before. The demonstrators obviously knew full well that the internet tax is just a symptom of the many anti-modern moves that make the Orbán regime a retrograde construct that can only lead the country to disaster. We are already pretty close.

Another welcome feature of the demonstration was a healthy mix of the young, middle-aged, and old. Yes, I know that young people are not interested in politics, and I wish this weren’t the case, but one must face facts. Unfortunately, by and large this is the situation all over the world. But those young people who went out yesterday realize that this government does not serve their needs. They consider Viktor Orbán a man of the past, an old fuddy-dud who is computer illiterate. Someone who is never seen with a smart phone. Someone who “cannot send an e-mail.” The boys–as longstanding acquaintances call the Fidesz founders–are looking old and tired. Although Orbán is only 50, he is “not with it.” Something happened to these young revolutionaries of the 1980s over the last twenty years. Time has left them behind, and they want to foist their outdated ideas and outlook on life on the new generation.

Balázs Gulyás is telling the truth: not a computer in sight

Balázs Gulyás is telling the truth: not a computer in sight

On the other hand, the American chargé d’affaires, André Goodfriend, seemed to be very much with it as he stood in the crowd with a backpack. As he said in one of his many recent interviews, he spends a great deal of time on the streets of Budapest. A planned demonstration on the internet tax was certainly something he thought he ought to see in person. I’m also sure that he has the State Department’s backing for both his appearances at demonstrations and his presence on Twitter. There a so-called conversation developed between the American chargé and Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary for international communication. I find Kovács unsuited for the job he holds, but perhaps it is fitting that such a man represents the Orbán government abroad. He is a perfect embodiment of this aggressive, crude regime.

Here are a couple of tweets, starting with


            “Interesting to see the nature of crowds in Budapest. Internet tax march seemed large & orderly w/good police support.” Then later: “Seeing the news reports of vandalism during the march as well, which I condemn. Not as orderly as it seemed where I stood.”


            “Checkin’ the mood, André?! @a demonstration organized by MSZP and liberals’?! As Chargé d’Affaires? Interesting, Eh?”


            “Absolutely. I’ve also checked the mood at the Peace Marches, and at numerous other events organized in Hungary.”


            “Are you sure that’s the wisest thing in this histerically stirred-up atmosphere while you vindicate to be a key actor? Eh?!”


            “There’s always a choice between hiding away, & getting out to see what’s happening. I try to hear the full range of perspectives.”


            “Sure ‘hearing’ and influencing does make a large difference.”


            “When I want to influence, I speak. Otherwise, I’m listening. Sometimes there’s not enough listening.”


            “That we’ve learned through the past couple of days. Sometimes there’s too much ‘demonstration.'”


            “So, now is the time to draw lessons from the discussion, and follow words with constructive, meaningful deeds.”


            “Surely, giving an ultimatum by demonstrators to a govt is no ground for constructivity. Good luck with friends like that…”


            “Some people see ‘ultimatum’ others see a proposition awaiting response as part of dialog. Constructive part may be the response.”

An extraordinary exchange in which Zoltán Kovács showed his true colors and the baseness of his discourse.

Meanwhile the likes of Kovács, András Bencsik, and other organizers of the Peace Marches were ready to call their 100,000 followers to defend their leader because the United States may prepare a coup against Orbán just as it did in Ukraine, they claimed. Apparently they were told to cool it because it might be taken as a sign of weakness of the all-powerful prime minister. Just as they were told to scrap a planned demonstration on behalf of the poor Russians suffering under the yoke of sanctions.

But the volume was turned up by members of the government. László Kövér last night on HírTV talked about a verbal cold war and warned the West that further criticism of Hungary might change the positive picture Hungarians have of the United States and Western Europe. He also tried to explain away Hungary’s isolation by saying that Hungary has so few friends because this is the “nature of politics.” And naturally he did not forget about the NGOs that serve foreign interests.

At the same time there are a few voices warning the government that its relations with the United States have reached a dangerous juncture. Péter Boross, prime minister for a few months in 1993-1994, came out with this observation: “The European Union and the European Parliament are terrains where the government and the prime minister can defend their actions. But the United States is different. The United States is a great power and I would not suggest getting into an argument with her. That can be dangerous for Hungary.”

Others share Boross’s view. An opinion piece in HVG was entitled “The country that came into the cold.” In another, which appeared in, a journalist is convinced that “the ice is cracking under our feet” and that Hungary’s relations with the West are shattered at their very foundations. Even in the pro-Fidesz Válasz an editorial warned that it is not a smart thing to irritate the lion. The writer found it outlandish that Tamás Deutsch, one of the veteran politicians of Fidesz and a member of the European Parliament, called André Goodfriend a fifth-rate CIA agent. The author also found Kovács’s tweets to the chargé unfortunate. Such a communication style might be acceptable in Syria and Iran, he said, but these countries do not claim to be allies and friends of the United States.

More about this topic tomorrow.


  1. Actually, taxing Internet traffic (‘bit tax’) had been discussed in the U.S. in the… nineties. If I’m not wrong it is now officially prohibited by the Internet Tax Freedom Act.

    But you must both remember that Hungary already has a 27% VAT rate. Should the IPs pass on the whole 700Ft to every subscription, the cost of a basic broadband plan would be 51% taxes. And of course worse, should the VAT apply also to those 700Ft …

    Is Internet the new tobacco?

  2. @An 12.5% in Massachusetts. I’d like it to be lower, but I would not consider it ridiculously high.

  3. @Wolfi, the internet tax has been a public relations nightmare for Hungary. Not only do the articles on the tax look bad, but those articles function as a hook to other issues that most readers would never have heard of (illiberal slide, corruption, etc.) It has generated more interest than any other issue that I can recall.

    When I talk to my US friends about the decline of democracy in Hungary they quickly lose interest – not so when I talk about the internet tax. A friend of mine who is an international investor posted a link about the tax on my FB wall with a one word comment “IDIOCY”. The climate for international investors in Hungary has grown cold in part because of the unpredictable actions of the government, this just solidifies that perception.

    ATV did a small segment on the international press coverage:

  4. There’s a funny story on Navracsics in the satirical department of our SPIEGEL.

    Martin Sonneborn who became a member of the European Parliament for the satirical party “Die Partei” (comparable to the Hungarian two tailed dog party) goes to ask Navracsics how to pronounce some Hungarian names:

    Wass Albert, Tormay Cecile etc …

    Navracsics of course is happy to help – doesn’t realise what it’s all about …

    Here’s the text (in German) and the video (in English):

    The title of the whole “spoof” loosely translated into English:

    Will Navracsics make the reading of Hitler’s Mein Kampf compulsory …

  5. @Reality check: No, if you compare it the the Hungarian sales tax of 27% that they charge on everything!
    Here the total tax we pay on our cellphone bill, including various taxes is 18% (including sales tax).

  6. I meant “ridiculous” comparing to the sales tax that is around 7% here. when adding federal sales tax to it, it still comes to only 10%.
    So, there is an 8% extra here in the form of various other fees and taxes specifically affecting cell phone services.

  7. Orban is apparently in Switzerland again. I guess he travels there a bit too often lately.

    The Paks negotiations (or MET or Olajterv?) continue…

  8. Marton Nobilis, a son of Fidesz oligarch Kristof Nobilis has been appointed to head the brand new propaganda super department called “National Communication Office”. The new office will have a huge amount of money at its disposal.

    He was the Fidesz personality who successfully demanded the dismissal of the chief editor of from Deutsche Telecom.

  9. an:”when adding federal sales tax to it, it still comes to only 10%.”

    There is no federal sales tax in the US, only local (state, city, county) sales taxes.

  10. Re: US taxes
    Sorry, the 3 % tax in my above post is a “federal tax” not “federal sales tax” (I guess this is a federal tax specifically on phones services). Webber is right, there is no federal sales tax in the US.

    Sorry for these OT posts, I’ll stop. If anybody is interested in the beauties of phone bills in the US, here is a link:

  11. Webber: “Sales tax in Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon states: 0 ….Public services in Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon states: generally very good (in my biased view)
    Correlation of quality of public services with sales tax rates: none apparent.”

    Oregon has a very high state income tax. Public service costs money and the local governments (as opposed to the federal one) cannot print money. Their only source of income is taxes, one way or another.

  12. An we pay the same level of taxes on fixed lines that connect to an ISP as for cell phones, there even taxes on satalite based ISP connections.

  13. @Istvan, I was adding up all the fees and taxes on my cell and my cable bills (which have the DSL internet), Huge difference. The taxes on the cable bill are reasonable compared to the total (though that includes cable + internet).

    Anyways, in short, although there are fees and taxis in the telecom sector in the US, there is no insane “internet tax” as it is dreamed up by the Hungarian government, taxing internet usage.

  14. Planned rallies in the countryside at 6 PM:

    Debrecen, Nyíregyháza, Miskolc, Kiskunfélegyháza, Kecskemét, Szeged, Vác, Békéscsaba,

    Pécs, Nagykanizsa

  15. @tappanch

    1. Today is a work day.

    2. The tax is clearly being introduced regardless of any opposition.

    3. Successful media campaign to brand the demonstration as an MSZP event and any opposition as your usual Socialist (“communists”, “liberals”) trouble-making.

    4. Successful campaign to sell the tax as one “paid only by the service providers”.

    5. Amateur organizers (probably being continually surveilled by state security) vs. Orban’s media control.

    Case closed.

  16. Tonight’s demonstration will attract more attention (blocking the streets at rush hour on a weekday) than Sunday’s.

    A tüntetés útvonala: József nádor tér – Erzsébet tér – Astoria – Erzsébet híd – Lánchíd utca – 0 kilométerkő.

  17. One more thing. Traffic. While traffic is slow on Sunday especially on a holiday weekend, it is bigger today (although many families are on vacation due to the autumn vacation in schools). Drivers can be rather intolerant when they want to go home and they can’t.

  18. I just listened to Balázs Gulyás about an hour ago on György Bolgár’s show and I agree with Eva – he is pretty impressive and well-spoken.

  19. Even though Illinois has the 5th highest total communication tax in the United States, It is clearly not a good thing as is the high cost of the basic services themselves. I do totally support the Hungarian people in opposing the added tax being proposed by Fidesz. The digital divide here in Chicago has very real consequences. There have been numerous studies done here on this issue, here is one

    In 2009 79% of poor families in Illinois had no internet access at home, the children in these families are a distinct disadvantage to families above the poverty line who have home access. Hungarians are correct in trying to keep the basic costs of Internet access as low as possible, having this access is not a luxury anymore, it is more and more a necessity of life and education.

  20. Some real cracks in the Fidesz empire?

    “Orban’s allies certainly seem to be falling by the wayside. Telcos and internet service providers have obviously opposed the tax, but now Zsolt Bayer, who co-founded Hungary’s ruling party Fidesz along with Orban, has also weighed in, saying that the “internet tax must be abolished immediately”.”

    “Speaker László Kövér admitted in a corridor of Parliament on Monday that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán did not inform governing party MPs about the internet tax before the plan was made public, nor was there any preliminary consultation on the matter.”

  21. Among the many text comments coming in on was this one: “We will organize demonstrations in Washington DC against the Orban government and the internet tax.” I support that idea.

  22. Just got back from the protest (until Astoria) …

    I don’t want to get into tedious numbers arguments, but when I watched the last Bekemenet go by, it took approximately 14 minutes for them to walk past. Tonight’s protest is much larger, by any reckoning. Large crowd, all types from young kids to elderly people, and I saw a couple of international news crews too. The most common chant seemed to be ‘Orban takarodj’.

  23. I also just got back also until Astoria. While I felt that at Jozsef Nador ter the crowd was smaller than on Sunday, it seemed that over times more people joined.

    And from the pictures it seems that it is almost certainly a bigger crowd than on Sunday. Well done.

  24. While the demonstration was starting in Joszef Nador, there were streams of people heading that way.

    I notice that state-controlled news is continuing its tradition of having reporters stand in front of empty streets.

  25. This time around, the demonstration is truly huge. Much bigger than on Sunday. At least that’s the impression I got, watching the live footage on atv.

  26. Just watching the news on RTL2 – it’s really funny!

    The strained looks on the Fidesz people’s faces …

    And the European media are also having fun with Orbanistan!

  27. Just back from Adam Clark Ter- whoever has the franchise for selling EU flags here has made a fortune tonight!

    Truly surprised at the size of the crowd, on a pretty cold weekday night as well.

    Most encouraging aspect for me were thousands of youngsters (well, at least younger than me!) shouting “Europa! Europa!”.

    Glad we went.

  28. @D7-“Most encouraging aspect for me were thousands of youngsters (well, at least younger than me!) shouting “Europa! Europa!”.

    The younger generation, which has been seduced by the nationalistic rhetoric, will stop now and ponder if they really want to help Orban build his ‘illiberal state’.
    It is not a cost-free proposition and they and their liberties will be the category most affected.

  29. Well, that was fun 😎 again. Still going on in front of the Parliament it seems, with people asking why the EU flag was removed.

    A few remarks.

    At the start, more older, seasoned protesters than on Sunday. I think the usual suspects had joined. But they remained invisible throughout: no party logos, no campaign slogans. Just an inopportune Che Guevara flag, wonder if the bearer checked the state of Internet access in Cuba lately.

    Many, many people joined on the way to Astoria, in particular young professionals (yuppies, even) obviously just out of the office. The planned circular course (“we’ll travel zero kilometer, so we’ll have zero forint to pay”) was actually a very good thing, especially at this time of the day.

    Entering Buda was somehow like an incursion into a territory both hostile and familiar. You could feel the change of mood… what a fascinating city.

    And yes, for those people Orbán is uncool, the internet tax is uncool (a great sign said “az Internet is rézsi”), and the drift away from the West is uncool.

    To be continued.

  30. I was watching the feed at my office with a polish co-worker thanks to Margot informing me of the broadcast on this blog. We were both amazed at the video quality, I have a 36 inch monitor in my office we were watching on and the sound was excellent also. I was translating chants and slogans for my friend and several other co-workers came in and watched.

    I explained to them about the internet tax and the Orban government, I translated one protest sign that read “Mafia Government” and explained a little about how many companies and the government work together as a corrupt total system. Darius my Polish friend explained the similarities to the system in Poland and Russia. Several people said they had no idea this was happening in Hungary or Central Europe indicating the last time they had visited it was just wonderful.

    Really Americans have little understanding of Central Europe and many believe since Communism was abolished everything is going just great and people have the good life.

  31. I just checked Orban’s facebook page, liked by 326,000 people. Although I was under the impression that the comments were regularly moderated, that is deleted, the comments to the recent posts (the most recent is a week old) were almost only negative, aggressive and often extremely vulgar, mostly with real names.

    The few fidesznik defending the internet tax had to endure sustained and extreme vulgarity.

    Obviously many such livid commenters are Jobbik fans (szebb jövőt is the jobbiknik parting greeting), but in any case it seems gone are the days of uniform adoration.

  32. Apt characterization of Orban [the idea came from another blog]:

    Ubu Imperator
    par Max Ernst, 1923, huile sur toile

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