“This is just the beginning”: An even larger demonstration against the regime today

Today an enormous crowd gathered on József nádor tér. It eventually swelled to the point that the beginning of the demonstration was already at the Clark Ádám tér on the Buda side at the Lánchíd while the last demonstrators were still at the Astoria Hotel, a good mile away from the Pest side of the Erzsébet híd. And while on Sunday only a handful of people gathered in Pécs, Miskolc, and Veszprém, this time there were much larger demonstrations, including one in Szeged. In Pécs the speaker was Tamás Mellár, a conservative economist at the University of Pécs who has been a harsh critic of the Orbán government’s economic policies. It is not a coincidence that larger crowds gathered in university towns. After all, young people and students would be most affected by the proposed internet tax.

Apparently the original proposal was so poorly prepared that, had it become law, an average computer user would have had to pay 65,000 forints a month just in taxes. Surely, this was total nonsense, but if the government does not consult with the leaders of the industry such a result is predictable. Then came the inevitable amendments when the Fidesz lawmakers try to fix the botched up proposals. At the end most people who went through the amended proposal still didn’t know how big a burden this new tax will be if it’s introduced. According to calculations, an average user will have to pay 10,000 forints in taxes–and that’s over and above  the 27% VAT they already pay, the highest in the world. Ten thousand forints or $42.00 is a lot of money even for an American internet subscriber, but it is a serious financial burden for most middle-class Hungarians. Also, it is not clear whether this tax would be levied per household, per subscription to a service provider (internet and smart phone), or per electronic device.

But it is not really the size of the tax, although of course that is part of it. For the demonstrators it is a question of principle: the net is free. This is their lifeline to the larger world. It is part of a social network that, for example, made these last two demonstrations possible. It is there where within a few days the organizers received 210,000 likes, more than Fidesz has collected in who knows how many years. It’s not known whose brainchild this tax was, but it was a colossal political mistake. Rumor has it that it was the Great Leader himself who came up with the idea. But, people argue, how could Viktor Orbán make such a mistake? After all, his political instincts are impeccable, at least as far as knowing what moves the Hungarian Everyman.

Source:Reuters/László Balogh

Source:Reuters/László Balogh

What could have accounted for this political misstep, whoever made it? I talked about one possible explanation already yesterday: the Fidesz boys got old too fast. I think they aged prematurely because they are basically an intolerant, opinionated bunch. They lack an openness to anything new or different. They are bound by tradition. All that stuff about folk costumes, folk dances, folk motifs, the virtues of the Hungarian peasantry. They are a backward looking lot. I saw an interview with a man who most likely never sat in front of a computer who announced that he is in favor of the tax because “these people use it too much. The internet should be restricted. Above a prescribed  level, it should not be accessible because it is not good for them.”

The tax is controversial even in Fidesz circles, but I doubt that anyone will dare tell Orbán that he is making a huge mistake. According to rumors, he is currently in Switzerland, insulated from the tense atmosphere in Hungary. These demonstrations will not stop. As the crowds chanted: “This is just the beginning!” This is not just against the tax but against the whole rotten system. They called the prime minister a traitor who sold his country to Putin and said that they don’t want anything to do with the Russians. They chanted: “Filthy Fidesz, filthy Fidesz!” They demanded democracy, a free country, and a free internet. And they want to belong to the European Union, from which László Kövér wouldn’t mind backing out slowly.

But this is only the political side of the controversy. What about the economic impact of the move? According to a recent article that appeared in The New York Times, only so-called developing countries impose damagingly high taxes on top of VAT or sales tax. As a report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation pointed out, “increasing taxes on information and communication technologies provides a significant drag on economic growth, and the losses accrue quickly over time.” Perhaps sanity will return and Viktor Orbán will see the light. Mind you, not too many people believe that. Klub Radio asked whether Orbán will retreat on the issue or not: only 20% of the callers answered in the affirmative. By now Hungarians know their prime minister.


  1. To Webber and everybody else. I’m afraid I might be partially responsible for the appearance of all these trolls. Hungarian Spectrum has been mentioned twice in Népszabadság in connection with Tamás Fellegi’s Hungary Initiative Foundation and as a result Népszava asked me for an interview. So, suddenly HS has become known to a wider audience in Hungary.

    I already decided to do something about certain new characters here.

  2. It is interesting that Tamás Meller has said that the internet tax is more likely a conscious attempt to scare off foreign firms who make up the providers in the hope that government friendly Hungarian companies will take over. And this gives Orbán some chance of controlling the internet better which he may need come 2018.

  3. Let’s leave Orbán’s daughter out of it. She is well on her way to sainthood. When she got married, long neglected dirt roads leading to the event suddenly got new asphalt. This miracle was witnessed by thousands. In another manifestation of epiphany, a mobile phone disappeared without a trace. After intense questioning by guardians of sainthood, it became clear that all nearby had been blinded at the very moment of disappearance. Some speculate that the phone rose to heaven.

  4. tappanch: Fidesz is in panic mode:

    The new EU leadership “will try to hunt down Viktor Orban – Brussels will attack the government” after November 1.

    (Heti Valasz) As a matter of fact, I think it’s a good piece. We may be heading towards a standoff. In particular, the loss of support within the EPP mentioned in the introduction must be of some concern.


    PS: in the New Hungary (the one that’s doing better), you don’t say “500 € in damages”, but “1 Terabyte in damages”.

  5. While the turnout and the enthusiasm of the crowd at the demonstration is very encouraging, so far the scenario is very similar to what we’ve seen as after the 2010 elections. Orban gets elected, pushes through measures that angers the population and draws international criticism, people go out in the streets to demonstrate, Orban pushes through legislation anyway, demonstrations die away, and when the next elections roll around people forget about their anger and are happy about the “rezsicsokkentes” (utility decrease) Orban throws in there.

    There are differences in this scenario, so far, which is encouraging. One difference is the cancellation of the proposed counter demonstration (peace march) which signals weakness in Orban’s support. The other is the professional organization of the demonstrations… Gulyas may be a new face, but he is not new to politics. From what I’ve seen, the demonstration was better organized. It didn’t have the picnic attitude of some of the earlier demonstrations, and the organizer(s) had the crowd move around. Moving the crowd around is a good idea, as we learned from the peace marches: it makes the crowd feel bigger, allow others to join in and the crowd to swell, and gives the demonstration some kind of purpose (like going to the 0 sign at Clark Adam ter).

    So, maybe this time the scenario will play out differently. We’ll see.

  6. @Webber, I’m not generally a fan of the Guardian but I think as an article, it doesn’t get much better than that! Thanks for sharing

  7. @Bowen

    I strongly disagree with your contention that the American visa issue is still in the media. It’s not. No new articles about it have appeared anywhere for days. It’s not on the mind of most media consumers. The rubber bone worked splendidly.

    People were fed up with corruption before, they are still, but once you cut off the flow of the juicy details, the logic of the news cycles takes over. It’s only your usual discontent which in itself does not bring people out on the street, it’s too abstract. You need a very proximate cause like escaping ladies 4 in the morning in an airport, golden toilet seats or the like.

    Is the internet tax now a bigger problem for Fidesz? Maybe. Maybe not. I think they still feel very confident, they have the assurances of the professionals.

    But it seems to me that absent new details this American visa issue has run its course.

  8. @zabolazz. You are wrong. Even today there were several. I should add that if the aim was to cover up the American-Hungarian problems it was a very stupid idea. Look what happened. This demonstration showed that the regime is in trouble.

  9. Re: Washington Post first article, where did Nancy Scola get the idea that funds generated from the tax would be used to bring the Internet to the countryside. Every article I read in the Hungarian press indicated the funds would be used to raise the salaries of the military and police. Has this new progressive use of these funds been added in the last 48 hours?

  10. @buddy, the author of the article may be Russian but he is presenting a perfectly intelligent argument. There are perfectly intelligent arguments (which I tend to support) that would come to a different conclusion as well. I’m glad I read it and while it hasn’t changed my mind, it has at least presented some interesting new perspectives. This sort of pluralist approach is alien to the Hungarian mind, I grant you …

    @Istvan, Rogan declared that the internet tax would be used for bringing internet to villages…

  11. @Buddy, Thank you. I got the request at 5 p.m. I just finished my post for HS and immediately had to start on the questions the newspapers sent me. I was pretty exhausted by 7 p.m..

  12. HiBoM: So none of the Internet tax money is now to be used to raise the salaries of police, military, or a 30% salary increase for the tax authority NAV according to Rogan? Or is the bringing of the Internet to the countryside in addition to the salary increases?

    See http://www.bbj.hu/politics/pm-to-pay-law-enforcement-agencies-from-internet-tax-income_87099 also see http://www.portfolio.hu/en/economy/thousands_protest_in_budapest_against_planned_internet_tax.28573.html

    It sounds to me that Rogan added this progressive concept of bringing the internet to the countryside very rapidly and it may never happen.

  13. Istvan, the explanation that the revenues are to be used for bringing internet to the villages did indeed come from out of the blue and it certainly has the whiff of “PR” about it! To be scrupulously fair though, the suggestion that it would be used to fund certain public sector pay rises was really no more than a rumour. I am now more inclined to believe that the real intention is to cripple the foreign providers in the hope of the Hungarian state acquiring greater control over the internet.

  14. Dear Eva, Re opposite trolling…
    I am a devoted reader of your site for quite some time (well before subscribing to it). I do not mind to contribute to the discussion if I have time and I feel that doing so may be beneficial for this community. My third prerequisite is safety. What I am saying is that our identities should be safeguarded. Some assurances from you would help probably many of us to carry on. Otherwise, I have to stick to just reading. Many thanks for considering.

  15. Ah, bringing Internet to villages (with EU money, he added). That’s the poorest attempt at an after-the-fact justification I’ve heard so far, considering the providers that would be hit the most would be the smaller and less profitable ones, i.e. … those who operate in rural areas.

    I agree there are interesting points in Bershidsky’s piece, however comparing a ‘bit tax’ with the current taxation of voice calls is a fallacy, from someone who obviously never cared to know one basic rule of broadband digital communications, since the early cable & satellite TV years: both consumers and content providers are driven to consume all the available capacities for a maximum diversification of uses, period.

    Would he ‘defend’ a tax on bandwidth use for cable & satellite TV?

  16. “It’s not on the mind of most media consumers. The rubber bone worked splendidly.”

    Misses the point spectacularly. If the US had wanted to broadcast the denial of visas to the regime’s criminals, it would have done so. Instead it was the Orbanists who for some unfathomable reason decided to bring it to the public’s attention. And that was an extremely bad mistake for so-called “professionals”.

    The US either was following its usual visa procedures regarding financial criminals or it was attempting to send a discreet message to the regime. If it “has been forgotten” by “media consumers”, then that message still stands.

    If your point is that the internet tax has been used by pro-regime loyalists, or by even the Dear Leader himself to attempt to switch the media focus, then, yes, congratulations, they have certainly have achieved that. It has been ridiculed widely in international media and has sparked the biggest anti-regime protests for over four years.

    And if, as you allege, those still loyal to the regime “still feel very confident, they have the assurances of the professionals”, then that is very good news indeed for democracy in Hungary.

    Let’s have some more of that “professionalism” which they have exhibited recently please and we will have Orban toppled before Xmas.

  17. Occasionally, providers (ISPs) are mentioned here. So what follows may not be totally OT.

    Nowadays you can access your mailbox practically from anywhere in the world. Only Hungarians who have a t-online account with Magyar Telekom can’t anymore, actually since July or so. The standard reason given is that they were peppered with spam from unidentifiable IP addresses and there must be something wrong with our software. Now, when my girlfriend is here she uses my Swisscom account (which I can easily reach from Hungary, too). So, I think this is a reputable ISP that keeps to all protocolls and standards. I sent Magyar Telekom two traceroute logs that clearly showed that it was a firewall within the Magyar Telekom system that blocked their own customers when they are abroad.They still haven’t solved the problem and wanted me to run telnet, etc. In a way, it’s a reverse “denial of service”.

    BTW, I only got a slow answer in faltering English after I mailed their lazy CEO (Mattheissen, an American of German extraction) after a few weeks. Their so-called English-speaking customer service/hotline is a disaster.

    Magyar Telekom belongs to 85% to German Telekom. Perhaps I write the German CEO so that they finally get their act together… Or we change her private account to gmail.

  18. For those who are enticed by the continuously changing siren voices of the Fidesz PR machine:

    revenue from the internet tax is NOT earmarked to raising police salaries or to providing internet access in rural areas.

    The revenue will go to the black hole called “general budget”.

    Wit the same justification we can also say that it goes to pay Orban’s salary, to build soccer stadiums, to fund the new history-falsification institutes, etc.

  19. @minusio

    It was my best move in the last 5 years when I finally got rid of Telekom. They almost always sent me the wrong bill. It took me hours and hours being on hold or waiting in lines to straighten them out.

    Your girlfriend should switch now.

  20. Tappanch I am assuming you have looked at the actual legislation, so there is nothing in the legislation that indicates any intention as to what is to be done with the receipts from the Internet tax? We call this in the USA dedicated revenues from taxes. So there is nothing like that in the legislation?

  21. On Magyar Telekom:
    … recently signed a special agreement with the Hungarian government on a fast-track network expansion and the company spent about 59 billion forints ($243.7 million) last month on new mobile broadband frequencies.

    “Any new tax burden will affect our investments, our regular investments as well as the ones included in our special partnership agreement with the government,” Mattheisen said, adding that new cost-saving rounds could affect employees.

    He said the company was “shocked” to see the government’s tax proposal last week and the company’s crisis management group had convened to analyze the government’s motivations, which he said the company still did not understand.

    “Bunge jumping” with Argentina (for Hungarian readers):
    http://mno.hu/magyar_nemzet_belfoldi_hirei/csalas-gyanujaban-a-bunge-1255474 (without comment this time)

  22. @tappanch

    So what do you recommend?

    The problem is she has telephone, internet and IP tv with Telekom. The typical bundle. She is quite happy with the tv and has no complaints about the telephone.

    Perhaps send your reply to my private email address.

  23. D7 Democrat: I tell my version.

    Fidesz doesn’t care about subtle messages. They just don’t. You would do, the Socialists would do, they don’t. They are just not social people who want to be friends with foreigners. The entire realm of foreign relations is really foreign to them (unless it’s about spying and suchlike). At most, such diplomatic messages are treated as domestic PR issues. The reason is that what matters to Fidesz, and what matters only is the domestic atmosphere. And by domestic I mean the rural, outside Budapest region, because given the election system Budapest is now completely compartmentalized. The Americans don’t vote, neither do Brussels burocrats. In this case the managed leak indeed blew up spectacularly, but this is how they treat it, a PR issue gone wrong. That this could have diplomatic consequences has no relevance whatsoever to Orban and his underlings, because as it was said US is a far away extraneous entity. They will deal with it when necessary. But do they have any urgent business with the US? They figure not really.

    You agree that they diverted the attention away from “Corruption” towards the internet tax. That was the goal, stupid as it was, but it was achieved. The question is will this eventually topple the government? I hope so, but their logic is that they own the media, the courts, the internal security system and they just won three elections in a row and according to Tárki their popularity is (as is usual after elections when voters move towards the victor) extremely high. So – they figure – unless the demonstrators suddenly get violent and in Hungary urban middle classes don’t tend to get violent for a bunch of reasons everything is under control. At most they have to turn up the heat further, but so be it. As you mentioned some people may fall victim to strange accidents like Tamas Welsz or Andras Varadi did. They are fine with that too. The soldiers, policemen etc. are eagerly awaiting their promised 30-50% raises and all the while people are out fighting or demonstrating they just push through their ‘program’ (which is a non-program about entrenching themselves further). Are they crazy? Yes. As we know from the Guardian article they really believe that Obama is financed by Hungarian civil organization. But are there many long-term crazy dictators around? Unfortunately yes.

    I may be pessimistic, but my guess is that without a shock nothing will change. But surely the internet tax has the potentiality to result in some kind of a shock which can be a starting point for a new beginning.

  24. Just to understand how rubber stamp the Fidesz parliament is:

    “Detailed” debate of the tax changes, including the internet tax and a zillion other changes took place in the various committees on October 27.

    Welfare committee spent 5 minutes on the entire package plus on any other issues on that day.
    Cultural committee: 5 minutes
    Agricultural committee: 5 minutes
    Enterprise development committee: 1 hour 5 minutes (wow…)
    Budget committee: 15 minutes
    Sustainable development committee: 12 minutes
    Economic committee: 0 minutes [will they discuss it later?]

    6 out of 7 committees reported that they started & finished the debate on October 27.

    General debate took place on October 28.
    Recognized & non-recognized parties got 3 hours total to argue against the bill.

    MSzP = 1 hour 8 minutes
    Jobbik = 1 hour 2 minutes
    LMP = 37 minutes
    DK+Egyutt+PM+Fodor = 13 minutes


  25. Minusio and Tappanch: Re: e-mail account problem. I like your reply regarding sending the CEO a letter. I had 12 years ago a similar problem, and it seems that they were charging me an arm and a leg for solving standard problem.The Hungarians said that I should pay, but being Dutch I had written a letter in English, and personally dropped it off at head quarters, within 1 week the problems were solved without a charge.

    As to not receiving and sending e-mails abroad. The first question I have if your friend can access her e-mail account through the website of T-online when she is abroad (www.t-online.hu, then webmail (you find it under Hasznos at the bottom of the page) and log into this account. If successful than the reason may be a port.

    The next thing your friend may want to check out is the pop3 server settings (I do not trust IMAP and can therefore not tell you if there is a problem) if it is standard 110 incoming and 25 outgoing, then change this to 995 incoming check ssl if asked and outgoing SMTP to 465 also select ssl if available.

    This worked for me so far (knock on wood twice).

  26. @zoRRo

    Yes, I pointed out the April deal between Deutsche Telekom and the gov’t in an above reply to HiBoM. The Transparency report on lobbying in Hungary comes to mind: the ‘Special Partnership Agreements’ can’t be trusted…

    There’s another hypothesis I’d like to make though: the state of the country’s finances could be much worse than acknowledged.

  27. Arpad Habony’s girlfriend(?) just proved that Orban’s eminence grise is not one of the SIX banned fideszniks.

    He is on a photo at Washington DC, reading a Wall Street Journal in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

  28. Marcel Dé: There’s another hypothesis I’d like to make though: the state of the country’s finances could be much worse than acknowledged.

    I am 100% certain that the finances are in shambles, why take the risk to introduce new taxes? The tobacco sales went down with more than 50% (Tappanch may be able to inform in detail). On the governmental radio stations (surprisingly Juventus Radio is apparently also now one of them) the major story of catching cigarettes 5000 boxes in a flat and 300 (hamis) illegal cash registers. (As an accountant I am curious how those illegal registers are working).

    New management layers for example for education and okmany iroda,

    GDP hardly grow compared to the rest of Europe.
    Interest payments (replacement loans for IMF) gonna hurt now.

    Slightly off topic: I learned that foreigners are not allowed to buy forest and agricultural land, but a new law was passed to put a lot of restrictions to buy assets/stones. Anybody hear about this?

  29. “Fidesz doesn’t care about subtle messages. They just don’t. You would do, the Socialists would do, they don’t. They are just not social people who want to be friends with foreigners.”

    I kind of agree. Their first instinctive reaction when faced with criticism from abroad is to answer as if they were addressing a domestic audience. With the typical Fidesz voter those kind of answers work; you can feed them any old nonsense and they will believe it- if Orban tells them that a space ship will be landing at Heroes Square tomorrow and handing out 1000 forint notes, there will be a queue of Fidesz faithful queueing round the park

    Thus from regime spokesmen we get the same kind of idiotic replies to the EU, US, foreign media etc that you would expect from a drunk in a kocsma. No finesse, no thought about the effect that it has on the audience they are addressing. That’s because they don’t care or because they are (with one or two few exceptions) too thick to realize the effect they are having on the listener, viewer or reader? I think the latter.

  30. tappanch thanks for the links. I was able to download the Antal Rógán amendment which is really only about the 700 Ft limit on taxes, no tax receipt dedication provision in that document. I will try to download the primary proposed law again.

  31. @tappanch
    Actually I can put you anywhere you want to be pictured – been doing such “advanced digital image manipulation” for living quite awhile…
    Give me any image and I can turn it upside down in no time.

    In short: it isn’t conclusive enough, there is countless people out there who’s at least as talented as I am, and there is still room for improvement.

    So no, thank you, such image is only prove that extremely skilled people indeed does exist, no more than that.

  32. The only real question here is if the people really willing to put up with the demonstration as long as it needed, or Szilard Németh indeed right and they will go home and lay low as they used to do so far.

    And the Orbasnist extortion can go on as usually does, for time infinite.

    That’s what we really up to, people, aren’t we?

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