A watershed? Did Hungarian society awaken as some people think?

Most analysts agree that Viktor Orbán made a terrible political mistake when he consented to the idea of taxing Internet usage. Yet for the time being it looks as if the government will not take the proposal off the table. Observers are pretty well convinced that if the government had retreated at the first sign of serious opposition, the opportunity wouldn’t have arisen to forge a wide coalition of forces that by now can be viewed as a serious political opposition not only to the Internet tax but to the whole regime.

Perhaps one of the best descriptions of the feeling after yesterday’s enormous demonstration came from András Jámbor, a blogger and a participant in the demonstration, who said: “The Orbán regime did not fall last night and it is possible that it won’t for some time, but something very important happened yesterday: we conquered the cynicism and apathy around us, and the feeling that ‘it can’t be otherwise.’ We stood up for our own affairs…. Yesterday we won.” I think these words should be taken seriously.

I’d bet that this young man, after yesterday’s demonstration, felt something like the students did in October 1956 after they returned home from Kossuth tér–a distinct sense that from here on nothing will be the same. Even if the revolution failed, the events of that autumn day showed the participants that they were no longer powerless. I’m also sure that participants in the reburial of Imre Nagy and his fellow martyrs felt the same way: they were witnesses to the beginning of a new era. Yes, something changed yesterday, but it looks that members of the Hungarian government haven’t taken notice yet. Otherwise they wouldn’t insist on going ahead with the tax.

The man who announced the government’s resolve was Szilárd Németh, a long-time Fidesz member of parliament and, more recently, commissioner in charge of the successful campaign for utility price decreases. Németh began his career as a school librarian, although I can better imagine him as a bouncer in front of a nightclub in some less than reputable district of Budapest. I assume that he got the job of selling the Internet tax because of his great success with the utility rate campaign, which increased public support for the government from 17% to over 40%.

Some people are puzzled about Viktor Orbán’s absence and why he picked this particular time to visit his oldest daughter in Switzerland. After all, it was during his absence that the somewhat belated budget proposal was introduced in parliament. Even before we learned about the numerous new taxes included in the proposed budget, there was widespread fear that  a new austerity program was waiting for the no longer unsuspecting Hungarian public. Did he want to run away from the upcoming storm? Perhaps. However, those who naively think that the chaos in Budapest is due to the prime minister’s absence are wrong. Németh this morning spoke in Orbán’s name.

The two massive demonstrations in three days are hard to ignore or explain away. However, the delusional members of the administration convinced themselves that the demonstrations were actually organized by the opposition parties who misled 100,000 people into staging a political attack against the government. Government politicians by now really seem to believe their own propaganda about the unity of the nation and support for the government by every true Hungarian. The people out on the streets had to be misled, pure and simple. By the end of his interview Németh accused Ferenc Gyurcsány of being behind the plot. As critics of the opposition parties were quick  to note: wouldn’t it be nice if these parties could actually organize such huge crowds.

Zoltán Lakner, one of the few talented political analysts in Hungary, pointed out that by virtue of the government itself admitting that the demonstrations were political in nature, it created a huge political conflict out of a simple tax question. Another observer, Zoltán Somogyi, reminded us that “one prime minister had to resign because of a 300-forint co-pay, another will soon follow him because of a 700-forint” Internet tax. Of course, he was referrring to Ferenc Gyurcsány. Other political scientists are also convinced that if Fidesz does not change tactics, a political avalanche will follow. Even Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, a fierce defender of the Orbán government and CEO of Nézőpont Intézet, admitted that the demonstrations are serious warnings to the government and that even the stability created by the three victorious elections may not be enough to combat the political problem Viktor Orbán is facing.

Finally, I would like to say a few words about the opposition parties’ position vis-à-vis this civic Facebook-organized movement. Before the Sunday demonstration, DK was planning a demonstration in front of NAV headquarters, the tax office, for Monday. Of course, this demonstration had nothing to do with the Internet tax but rather with the alleged corruption charges leveled against the office. Once the demonstration took place on Sunday, DK cancelled the event because they did not want to interfere in any way with a most likely much larger and more important demonstration on Tuesday. The party urged its members and supporters to join the planned demonstration. Együtt-PM and LMP did the same. MSZP said nothing.

Last night, after the official demonstration was over, about 2,000 people went to Kossuth tér in front of Parliament where they demanded that the EU flag be displayed. In the past both the Hungarian and the EU flags were displayed until László Kövér ordered that the EU flag be removed. He discovered that it is not compulsory to fly the EU flag on member states’ parliament buildings. That had to be a joyful discovery for the man who obviously hates the European Union through and through.

So, there was the crowd demanding the flag, but there was no way to force the people inside to oblige. At that point three women appeared in one of the windows with two EU flags. The reaction was stupendous. Cheers went up and most people recognized that one of the women was Ágnes Kunhalmi, an MSZP member of parliament and chair of MSZP in Budapest. The other two were also members of MSZP, Anita Heriges, and Ildikó Borbély. They waved the flags to the cheering crowd. It was a gesture that was highly appreciated. Party members and demonstrating civilians worked together for a brief moment to the satisfaction of both.

Source: Népszabadság / Photo Simon Móricz-Sabján

Source: Népszabadság / Photo Simon Móricz-Sabján

What was the official MSZP reaction to this gesture? Zoltán Gőgös, a member of parliament and an expert on agricultural matters, announced today at a press conference that although MSZP sympathizes with the organizers of the demonstrations, the party as such will not support them in any way.  He singled out  Ágnes Kunhalmi, who according to him did not wave the EU flag as a campaign gesture but simply responded to the request of the demonstrators. Of course, the opposition parties must be very careful not to give the impression that they in any way want to influence or lead the civilians, but it is the greatest folly to distance themselves officially.


  1. The role of the USA is getting ever more interesting in all this.

    Andre Goodfriend was asked today on the radio about whether he was working for the CIA earlier, as many people in Hungary suspect (his previous posting was in Syria before and during the civil war – not exactly ideal place for a simple diplomat), and his answer was very amusing. He said something like “If I was working for the CIA I hope I would be higher than a fifth rate agent”. But of course alleged previous jobs do not mean he would still be acting in that capacity.

    The difference is not that great however. The United States makes, even regular diplomats do a little spy like thingys anyway. Years ago many embassy’s job, including the Budapest one was for example to gather biometric data on important targets, like fingerprints and DNA samples from them. It was in one of the wikileak cables. The cable wasn’t top secret or anything it was just a regular cable accessed by Bradely Manning with the rest and it said the diplomats must collect DNA and such.

    So really the difference is not that big whichever is the case.

    And of course there is the surveillance of emails and wiretap of phonecalls (only strictly for terrorism of course – as could be guessed from the case of Angela Merkel).

  2. Eva,

    One nice sideline to the story you reported is if Orban believes the West has lost its moral credibility and is in decline next to successful up and coming illiberal democracies as China, Turkey, etc,how come his daughter is studying in one of these hellholes like Switzerland? Would love to see him to be put on the spot in the Parliament when he returns.

    As far as the MSzP’s reaction is concerned: is there a gene for stupidity?

  3. @Timmy please explain exactly how the US got 100,000 Hungarians out on the street to protest?

    Do you have such a low opinion of the Hungarian people that you can not imagine a purely domestic swell of opposition? Do not forget that less than 1/4 of the eligible electorate supported Fidesz in the last national election. It is not hard to imagine that grassroots opposition would spring from the other 3/4 at some time. I am happy to see it came so soon after April. And the presence of so many young people is very encouraging.

  4. There seems to be a obsession with US covert activities and our CIA among Fidesz members and among Russians too. I would say this is an unexpected benefit of the security leaks my county has experienced. Why is it a benefit for the CIA, because the Agency appears omnipotent and if it is feared that is really a positive thing from a security perspective. If a real CIA agent read Timmy’s comment I sure she would find it enjoyable reading.

    So the right in Hungary now apparently believes the CIA effectively engineered the removal from power of Ukraine”s Viktor Yanukovich and its new target is PM Orban. The CIA and NSA make mistakes just like the Russian FSB does, no covert agency can change the tide of history, Things do happen In this world that can be taken at face value, like people get sick and tired of crooks running their countries and start to do something about it.

    Since brain power inside Fidesz is in somewhat of a shortage, it might be of more benefit for the followers of Orban to spend their time thinking about something else instead of whether Mr Goodfriend is a CIA agent.

  5. By declaring the next rally for November 17, the organizers of the anti-tax movement lost momentum. There should be demos every second day to force Fidesz to withdraw the plan. The internet tax bill will be rushed through Parliament earlier than November 18 to preempt the next scheduled protest march.

  6. The tax authorities of almost all non-Arab or non-African countries agreed to share all of the financial info about account holders and their accounts by September 2018. Most countries start the complete exchange of information in 2017. In Europe, Austria, Switzerland and Russia will hold out for one more year.

    This is commendable in theory, but the signatories include autocratic regimes and dictatorships that will use the info for nefarious purpose too.

    I also hope that from 2018, nobody has to fill out tax returns in any country, because the tax authorities can calculate themselves who owes how much in each country.

  7. There does seem to be a fairly sustained effort to insert the “it’s all a foreign conspiracy” line into the comments section, the go-to argument of authoritarians around the world.
    Fidesz has been getting away with all that they have been doing largely because of the intensity of their supporters and the sheer apathy of the rest of the population. It will be interesting to see if hubris will cause them to give up that advantage. They’ve already shot themselves in the foot with this tax proposal. Are they pig-headed enough to do it again by proceeding with this?
    I don’t think demonstrations could be sustained through the weeks leading up to November 18th, but the scheduled one for the 17th could be huge if the government doesn’t back down. And if they do rush it through sooner as Tappanch suggests, well, I would expect an equally large or larger protest, and a much angrier one, too. Good old hubris. To quote from the Wikipedia entry:

    “Hubris (/ˈhjuːbrɪs/, also hybris, from ancient Greek ὕβρις) means extreme pride or self-confidence. When it offends the Gods of ancient Greece, it is usually punished. The adjectival form of the noun hubris is “hubristic”.

    Hubris is usually perceived as a characteristic of an individual rather than a group, although the group the offender belongs to may suffer consequences from the wrongful act. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.”

  8. Yes, Fidesz and mind you its supporters too, are absolutely obsessed by the CIA/Americans/Jews (etc. all the same thing) just as the Russians are. Of course the Fidesz media is very helpful in that and has been for a long time.

    It’s not a joke in the sense that these people seriously think so and cannot be shaken in their beliefs.

    From the earliest of their political carriers Orban and Kövér have been having an obsession with anything secret (could it be that they had some connections with state security back then?) and they have a strong preference to use people of the security establishment lest those Americans get their way. They are anyway very distrustful.

    It’s not about the Russians any more. There is now a clear admiration of Russia in the government which should not be underestimated.

    I guess by now there are significantly fewer people who speak Russian which means that this group must have a correspondingly smaller voice in the government and many more speaking English, so these types, paranoid about the US, are in majority.

  9. @tappanch: I’m no so sure about the every day demonstrations at this point. People might still keep the spirit alive in the next three weeks. The Tuesday event was bigger than the Sunday event (even though half as many people said on facebook that they were gonna attend) and this gives hope that for one more big event at least another such crowd can gather. I don’t think that it is realistic to expect middle class people to go demonstrating every day when they have been in apathy for many years. This is not the crazy jobbik crowd, who are fanatic. Although Fidesz has three weeks to prepare, I’m not sure they can come up with many positive news. The budget just doesn’t really allow it.

    Any prediction for 2015 that Hungary could grow by more than 1-1.5% is totally unrealistic given the situations of Germany, Italy and France, which means that Orban might have to find new areas to cut costs/increase taxes. Of course the tactics is to prolong this until Christmas when in early morning of 24th they push through the biggest cuts and tax increases – and anyway from 10-15 December people start to tune out and concentrate on bejgli and halászlé.

  10. @suba

    “official liberal” does not exist in an officially illiberal country…, n-est-ce pas?

    They also downgraded the size of the pro-Orban “peace march” in 2013
    from the official 500,000 to 70,000.

  11. The portal and newspaper Magyar Nemzet, which is very close to Fidesz also demands the withdrawal of the internet tax.

    The reasoning of its journalist is the following:

    the internet tax brings masses of indifferent people into politics against Fidesz and gives a unifying theme to the opposition.


  12. I recently got hold on Balint Magyars book, the second bound of The hungarian polyp. Already the introductionary essey by Magyar is amazing. It gives a new language to define the new features of the orbanistic society. Some of the demonstrators, a young man I think, said that he and possible others with him had been sceptical about Magyars theory on maffia state. But the NAV taxation authorities’ VAT fraud coud trigger a new understanding of the state of corruption in Hungary. I would warmly recomend a reading of the polyp even if one should swallow it with hook, line and sink.

  13. @suba

    Welcome back. Well, these are busy days, aren’t day?

    444.hu is not liberal. But I know you need to brand everything “liberal” and “(post) communist”. It is independent. It has altogether about 25 journalists including video editors compared to the state media with its budget of over 80bn forints and thousands of employees.

    The reason that you are obsessed with numbers (does it really matter how many people were there when the entire Erzsébet bridge and Kossuth Lajos utca was full?) is that you are afraid. You’re nervous. Deep down you feel that somewhere something’s gone wrong and you don’t know what. But you feel the danger. And that’s good. It means you and your buddies will make mistakes and hopefully those mistakes will add up.

  14. I don’t think it is 100% sure that Andre Goodfriend is a member of the CIA. But I think it is clear that his aim is to irritate and provoke large sections of Hungarian society.

    What other reason could it be for demanding a list of “people participating in the House of Fates” project? And then saying which ones he “doesn’t agree with” (this he never ever denied even though this was printed in a newspaper article. When Napi Gazdasag printed the story about corrupt US companies and tax investigations against them, he reacted in about five minutes and held 10 press conferences). Or going personally to a protest to “observe”. What a load of BS. If they want to observe they send 10 unknown secretaries and low level officials from the embassy and task them to write reports.

    Also can you imagine an ambassador going to a protest in plain clothes and with a BACKPACK. What for, Tuna sandwiches? Just show me any instance where for example ambassador Kounalakis backpacked around in plain clothes in a protesting crowd.

    No diplomat would risk going to a crowd, like this where anyone can be, unless they are highly trained and confident that they are able to protect themselves from various possibilities.

  15. @Realitycheck: thx for the link to the English version of Rajcsányi’s piece.

    So, where are we?

    The Fidesz inner circle sticks together, hoping for the momentum to fade.

    Those with a ‘Special Partnership Agreement’ (young conservatives, analysts etc.) wonder if OV has lost it.

    The opposition parties are in a bit of a jam. Those on the left of Fidesz must refrain from open support, while they’re probably aware that the lack of militant organization endangers the lifespan of an opinion movement they’d like to keep going as long as possible.

    Jobbik, the party with the strongest cyber-activist base, can decently not join ‘commies, liberals and Brussels imperialists’ on the streets, and I’m afraid its ceremonious opposition to the tax is deceiving its younger supporters.

    I’d bet on a new protest next week.

  16. @RealityCheck re Rajcsányi’s article in Mandiner. He is a bright young man who woke up. Ákos Balogh, the editor-in-chief, is also smart but I think that he still has illusions. Plus I understand Balogh has some business dealings with the government which will be difficult to give up.

  17. Is the MSZP really being so incompetent? At least they seem to appreciate that they are a “toxic brand” and realise that the last thing they should do is associate themselves with anything promising…

  18. TL: Also can you imagine an ambassador going to a protest in plain clothes and with a BACKPACK. What for, Tuna sandwiches? Just show me any instance where for example ambassador Kounalakis backpacked around in plain clothes in a protesting crowd.

    I think part of the job is knowing how to dress according to the event’s tone.

    But I agree, diplomats appearing in casual wear are a disgrace. What’s next? Prime Ministers understanding the Internet? This world is doomed, my friend… 🙂

  19. @Bertil re Fidesz and secrecy. I’m convinced that there had to be some kind of connection between some people in the early Fidesz group and the Ministry of Interior. Otherwise they wouldn’t have put Kövér in charge of the old folders of the spy network of the agents. They wanted something out of there.

  20. @TL I suppose it’s hard for you to imagine someone in a relatively high-powered position mixing with the commoners, but I assure you it is hardly unusual for an American diplomat in a country where security considerations allow it. You seem to think that it a negative that Goodfriend doesn’t isolate himself in a bubble, content with filtered reports from underlings.
    As for attending the protest in “plain clothes”, may I ask what you expected him to wear? Some kind of uniform? Carrying a backpack only further identifies him as an American going out for the evening, probably with a bottle of water and yes, maybe some sandwiches – if not tuna, perhaps peanut butter and jelly. And you’re right, the previous ambassador probably didn’t go out to mix with crowds – which is a pity. But then, Goodfriend is not an ambassador, he is a professional diplomat. Unfortunately, most American ambassadors are unqualified dilettantes. You can speculate about whether his is a CIA agent; I personally find it doubtful from his position and history of assignments. However, I do know that Putin was KGB, a fact which makes the Fidesz alliance with him all the more disturbing.

  21. oh yes the difference is huge indeed. She goes with the rather obvious bodyguards, while Goodfriend can take care of his own protection easily. We can see no backpack either. Aren’t you at least a bit curious what was in Goodfriend’s? Another difference: participation in the gay pride march was announced in advance… why no advance announcement here?

    So many differences. Thanks for bringing them to the surface.

  22. @Timmy – Every embassy in the world has people who collect information, both openly and clandestinely, and part of the job description of every ambassador in the world is and has always been informing his or her government about political developments. Moreover, every embassy in the world is expected to try to influence governments to improve policies vis-a-vis the ambassador’s country.
    Mr. Goodfried is currently the face of the US embassy, with the job of representing the US to the Hungarian government. There is no way to describe that work as clandestine, and it’s ridiculous and insulting to people’s intelligence to make the suggestion (your line sounds like something from a Fidesz spindoctor, btw: very silly).
    The Hungarian Embassy (and German, and British, etc.) in Washington certainly has spies working in it. If it did not, the Hungarian taxpayer should object, strongly. The government of Hungary also has people working openly, through a massively funded lobbying group, and clandestinely by other means, to influence American policies toward Hungary. If I were in charge of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, I’d replace all these people. They’re doing a lousy job.

  23. @TL – Goodfriend also visited the Bekemenet marches. Nobody objected to his presence there. In 2006 the US Embassy asked for explanations about police violence against protesters. Fidesz then was quite happy about this “intervention.”

  24. @Eva – on putting Kover in charge of the secret police files in the first Fidesz cabinet: back then the line was that there could be no lustration (atvilagitas) because they didn’t have a large enough mandate to pass such laws. Now, with a 2/3 majority, they have voted down legislation on lustration. Quite telling.

  25. @friend

    Indeed, she doesn’t appear to carry a backpack. But she has a whistle. Now, that brings in so many interesting questions, its dizzying.

    Why didn’t Mr. Goodfriend carry a whistle last Sunday? Is it because the CIA doesn’t endorse whistle blowing?
    What was in his backpack? Was it the secret prototype of a new portable NSA listening station? Or, if it was tuna sandwiches, where did the tuna come from? Do the USA plan to replace balatoni süllők with tunas?
    Are the two hunks besides Ms Koulanakis bodyguards? Or just bears?

    Thanks for bringing all this you our attention. We all need to be more aware of what is really going on.

  26. Oh, my, there must be now an entire department analyzing Goodfriend’s attire. Pathetic.

    And this is exactly the idiotic approach, because the point is surely to prove by any means that the demonstrations are a CIA plot, that is to confirm existing biases and presumptions. They, like Putin cannot imagine civilian initiatives. They invest so much in manipulation, that for them independent action is beyond the realm of possibility.

    My assumption is that if Goodfriend was indeed stationed in Syria, he must have been survellied by Russians who own Syria. Interesting tidbit is that there are about 20,000 Russian wives in Syria. Syria is almost a Russian province. Goodfriend was apparently stationed in Moscow too, which also implies that the Russians know him well.

    So if Tamas Deutsch was telling the truth (but even if he doesn’t) he wanted to imply that he got the info (working assumption) from the Bear. He was also telling this as a jew to a jew. “Back off, this is our playground, and the Russians are protecting us.”

  27. Fidesz takeover in the Budapest Jewish Community?

    April 9: Zoltai resigns after 23 years. Financial mismanagement is rumored for the reason of his move.

    July 4: Schwezoff (former transvestite) – Kunos (former banker) 27-24
    with the help of Zoltai and the overrepresented Dohany street and Bethlen square districts.

    September 9: Zoltai joins the Orban government as an adviser.

    October 29: Schwezoff repels a vote against his dismissal by calling for a preemptive meeting,


  28. The official Norwegian response to the KEHI report:

    “The KEHI-audit of the NGO-fund is in breach with the agreements governing the EEA-grants.”

    “We find the actions taken by the Hungarian government against the fund operator of the NGO-fund, Ökotars to show a troubling lack of respect for the independence of civil society. ”

    “The agreements on the EEA and Norway grants will have to be respected by Hungary, as indeed they are by the other 15 recipient countries.”


  29. The term ‘”Palace revolt” too strong’ says Schöpflin. I think that’s an understatement. “Total nonsense” would probably be more accurate. The comments against the tax by Magyar Nemzet get a big yawn from me. Not very long ago that paper also published a protest against the proposed media tax. The tax was still passed, and that paper remains the government’s greatest supporter. This is just another example of Reform Fideszism.

  30. Tappanch the Norwegian response really was only several statements and no detail at all. I don’t disagree with these statements, but they had the resources to devisiate the KEHI report and did not do it. Possibly because of how they see their mission I relation to civil society development in Central Europe and Hungary. Possibly because of a legal defense strategy that does not want to lay their cards on the table before the issue is before a court of law.

    Hopefully these statements will be followed by a highly detailed refutation of the report, but I believe that even these statements that were released should have been predicated by a highly detailed counter audit. This lack of detail will cause the Fidesz/ Jobbik to say – you see that don’t argue that funds weren’t embesseled. Our leader Orban is a true guardian of the people.

  31. 2015 budget plan:

    Overspending= (outlays-revenues)/revenues= 5.36%

    (EU support in the budget) / (total revenue) = 10.50%

    (EU support outside the budget) / (total revenue) = 13.14%

    (Total EU support) / (total revenue) = 23.64%

    (Hungarian contribution to EU) / (total outlays) = 1.71%

    (Net EU support) / (total revenue) = 21.84%

    Click to access 01794.pdf

  32. “I don’t disagree with these statements, but they had the resources to devisiate the KEHI report and did not do it”

    They have basically said they don’t recognize the regime’s authority in the matter; surely if they had gone into details with the KEHI report, it would have been a recognition of its validity?

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