Sunday shopping? The Christian Democrats against the multinational chains

It was only yesterday that Viktor Orbán had to retreat, even if only temporarily, on the issue of taxing internet usage. A hundred thousand people were out on the streets of Budapest and elsewhere in the country. Now the government may be preparing the way for a new debacle, although I personally can’t believe they will be so dim-witted.

The Orbán government on paper is a coalition government. Fidesz’s partner is the Christian Democratic People’s Party or KDNP whose chairman, Zsolt Semjén, is Viktor Orbán’s deputy. The funny thing about KDNP is that it is a non-party. It’s like a private club where the party leaders get together now and again, but for over a decade the party has been absent as a separate entity at national elections.

The Christian Democrats don’t disturb much water. Their parliamentary members dutifully vote alongside the Fidesz PMs. In fact, it seems almost random who sits with the KDNP caucus and who with Fidesz. The important thing is that KDNP’s caucus should be bigger than that of MSZP, Jobbik, or LMP. The Christian Democrats don’t contribute much to Fidesz and Orbán’s government. Their main purpose is to provide Christian trimmings to a Christian-national regime. Occasionally, thankfully only very rarely, they come out with ideas of their own. Three years ago they proposed that stores should be closed on Sundays. Good Christian families should attend church instead of shopping in department stores and malls. And the poor workers who are forced to work on Sundays must be protected from those awful foreign capitalists. At that time, the government–where of course the last word is that of Fidesz–refused to introduce the measure, which would have had disastrous consequences for the economy.

Source: Europress / AFP

Source: Europress / AFP

But these Christian Democrats are tenacious; they don’t give up easily. They came out with a new version of a bill which was leaked to Magyar NemzetThe proposed bill is an attack on supermarket chains and discount stores owned by international companies because the bill’s provisions would affect only shopping centers and stores larger than 400m². Tobacconists, pharmacies, gas stations, flower shops, newspaper stands, and bakeries would be able to remain open with some restrictions. For example, they could sell their wares only until noon. Restaurants, stores in airports and railway stations, and open-air markets could continue doing business as usual.

But restricting Sunday shopping is not enough for our Christian Democrats. They are upset over those foxy owners of chains who try to sidestep the controversial “plaza stop” law by establishing smaller stores and thus competing with those mom and pop stores the “plaza stop” legislation is designed to protect. They opened stores in buildings that are now deemed to be of historic significance or in world heritage sites. If the proposal is adopted, these intruders would have to vacate their current premises by January 2016.

If the KDNP’s bill on Sunday closings was a bad idea three years, it is doubly so today. The government has enough on its plate: corruption cases, strained relations with the United States, the internet tax, and the growing displeasure of Brussels over the Hungarian government’s flaunting of every rule in the book. This move is blatantly discriminatory against foreign companies.

A blogger who happens to be familiar with the retail trade brought up multiple arguments against the proposal. It is injurious not only to the financial well-being of the stores but also to the employees who receive a higher salary (+50%) for working on Sundays. Stores also often hire outsiders for the weekends. These people are happy to supplement their meager salaries with some extra work. In these chains Sunday is the third busiest day of the week, after Saturday and Friday.

How would people feel about this restriction? The Christian Democrats claim that they discussed the matter with employees and with families who have many children and that they were most enthusiastic about the plan. I doubt that the party is basing its estimates on scientifically conducted polls because I’m almost certain that the great majority of the population would be outraged at the very idea. I talked to people who went through the times during the Kádár regime when everything closed at 5 p.m. and who said how happy people were when stores were open on Thursday nights. Apparently everybody felt liberated when, after the change of regime, stores were open all day long, including Sundays. The Christian Democrats bring up the examples of Austria and Germany where stores are closed on Sundays. But it is one thing to have a long tradition of Sunday closings, to which people are accustomed, and another thing entirely when people who are used to stores being open seven days a week for  the last twenty-five years are now being told that, sorry Charlie, no more family shopping on Sundays.

A couple of online sites offer their readers the possibility to vote on the matter. I checked out both, and a sizable (although again unscientific) majority opposes the measure. On one site: 69%. Another blogger makes fun of the Christian Democrats, saying “nonexistence must be hard for a party.” They feel that they have to come up with something now and again, but they surely picked a very bad time to introduce this bill. I must agree with him. I can already see another 100,000 demonstrators on the streets all over the country if the government makes Sunday shopping impossible.


  1. I was banned yesterday from Dr Laszlo Surjan’s Facebook page for commenting on his propaganda post on the same subject. I told him they better not take away that little money these Sunday workers scrape together for their families. One cannot make ends meet from 47k HUF, you know. These people are not happy to work on Sunday, but they need to.

    I didn’t even say that, that is because your beautiful Christian government screwed the poor big time, since they came into power.

    This guy is such a tool … he was/is a KDNP chief muckety muck, even “Minister of Welfare” during the Antal government, from 1990. Welfare my ass … He is neither Christian or Democrat in my book.

  2. Mutt, I guess there is a lack of comprehension going on big time!
    They seem to have problem already with the definition of democracy, let alone more exotic words like liberalism or understanding, so, what one can expect when it comes to so complicated expressions like christianity..?
    Come on, we are talking about Hungarian politicians, what did you expect?
    But really?

  3. ” I can already see another 100,000 demonstrators on the streets all over the country if the government makes Sunday shopping impossible.”

    This really underlines the difference between 2014 and 2006.

    In 2006 demonstrators were attacked in the streets and beaten, tear gassed and shot at. Later captured demonstrators were practically tortured, had bones broken in custody by the dozens. Thus in 2006 the average people never dared to go on the streets, many people were blinded others harassed and intimidated just for walking home from a pub at the wrong time.

    Nowdays nobody is afraid, everyone knows that the streets are safe to demonstrate. There were no rubber bullets, no tear gas in years. All these things combined mean that even a small issue like Sunday shopping may be able to draw a large crowd.

    Even though to be honest Sunday shopping is banned in Germany and we don’t see one million people demonstrating so they can shop on Sundays as well.

    They just shop more on the other days like Saturday. Pretty easy solution ain’t it?

  4. The Christian Democratic People’s Party is really behind the times, they need to embrace capitalism and especially the largest retail firms like Walmart who can be just great allies of Christian fundamentalism. In a modern capitalist nation like the USA conservative companies are looked on very positively by the churches, in fact it would be considered down right unchristian not to stop at Walmart for sweets and coffee before church in some towns in America’s Bible Belt. See the Book Review of “To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise” by Bethany Moreton.

    This was meant as szatíra, I am not really advocating Hungarian churches follow I the footpath of American Evangelicals.

  5. @muttdddamon. I discovered Surjan on Internet at an early Internet discussion group and I decided then that he was an ass. However, in the last God knows how many years he has been making tons of money in Brussels as MEP.

  6. @#Hoxton, surely you don’t want to compare the peaceful demonstrations now to those people who were throwing rocks at the police or burned cars parked on the street. Man, did you ever see a video from October 2006? Wake up!

  7. Hoxton, although Sunday shopping is indeed not allowed widely in Germany, there are pressures towards liberalisation. For instance, in Berlin Sunday shopping is allowed on some weekends, as it was found out that people like shopping on Sunday and because weekend tourists bring extra income to the city. And also, certainly shops in Hungary are not forced to open on Sundays. You can keep your shop closed if you prefer your Sunday to be a day off. Also in other countries where Sunday shopping is allowed not all shops decide to open. Most often it is the shops in the city centres or large shopping malls that find Sunday shopping profitable. So it is just another measure designed only to concentrate economic power in the circle of Orban. It is him who decides about what you are allowed to do or not. But in one thing I agree, people use their opportunity to protest against this government too little.

  8. I can only hope that the Christina Democrats will start to copy something else from Austria and Germany first. Why is it that every single time Orban’s friends cough up something ridiculous, a whole bunch of not so smart other friends start to pull out examples from other countries, but not once the best examples. Why don’t they try to copy the wages to the Austrian and German workers first? How about copying the buying power as to the Austrians and Germans? Hospital food. Why don’t we copy the hospital foods first, and in general the healthcare. When Fidesz finished all the copying with Austria and Germany, then they can start to copy the Sunday closings. Fair game.

  9. Some1: “Why don’t they try to copy the wages to the Austrian and German workers first?”

    How about allowing them to get to know the capitalist system first. They will get there soon, give it some time.
    Re: demonstrations against internet tax.
    I happened to be in Hungary (around Karoly korut) at the time. It was good to see democracy at work. People were against it, the PM listened. (I’m not sure if it’s a good idea or not to tax internet providers. They can hold the gun at our heads, same as power companies etc. etc.).

  10. It’s really very simple:

    Since so many Hungarians have a second or even third job it’s not a pleasure for them to do their shopping on Sunday – but a necessity, they just don’t have time on weekdays!

    I just have to watch my neighbours to realise that …

    And btw Britain has had Sunday shopping for umpteen years – even in those times when they still had those ridiculous laws forbidding the opening of pubs in the morning or afternoon …

  11. Latest news – not too much OT:

    Mrs Merkel will not tolerate Cameron’s ideas of special treatment for the Brits any longer – she now thinks there’s a real possibility of Britain leaving the EU …

    Maybe Orbán could/should follow Cameron!

  12. This is a political masterstroke. Let’s interpret this.

    KDNP submits the bill so that Fidesz’ brand is not damaged because fideszniks know this could be controversial among the general population (I also want to be able to purchase on Sundays).

    The little shopowners, small entrepreneurs (the petit bourgeoisie from history books) are all, fidesz and increasingly jobbik voters. No exception.

    It was the same in 1935 (then with national socialist parties) and it is the same now.

    These voters hate competition and are deeply conservative. Will they want to vote Left?

    As a result Fidesz wants to score points with them, but because of damage control it wants to submit the bill under a different brand.

    KDNP is just another brand for Fidesz which can come in handy. MSZP or DK each has only one brand which limits their ability to come up with risky propositions (Együtt is the other end, with some many side bnands Milla, PM whatever that nobody’s able to follow them, anyway it’s a nonexistent party too).

    Now let’s see what happens. The core voter base is happy, the government shows it cares about Hungarian enterpreneurs and tries to inflict damage on the dreaded “multies”. Both go to the core political DNA of Fidesz and differentiates it from MSZP and DK which are friendly to foreigners — at a time when Hungary is at war with the West. (Do these lefties support the Hungarians at all, or what?).

    If nothing happens, it’s OK too. There will be some terrified foreign companies trying to wave their non-binding “strategic partnership agreements”, so it’s great fun too and so even if Fidesz introduces a watered down version, the multis will be happy, they reached “a compromise”. If not then it will mean that the pragmatist Fidesz “convinced” the more hardliner KDNP, after all this Fidesz isn’t so bad.

    Either way, Fidesz wins politically.

  13. I always had the impression, but I haven’t checked numerically that KDNP actually contained more people from Budapest, and Fidesz more from the provinces (adjusting for the population differences).

    It’s a bit like Orban doesn’t trust Budapest-based fideszniks (they could be too liberal) and wants the more hardliner KDNP bunch from Budapest.

    While I agree that KDNP politically is a non-party, its wholly a branding, marketing segmentation vehicle, its Budapest organization is the only relevant organizational unit and it did attract Buda-dwelling Christian hardliners. So in a way its also a recruitment basis for Budapest-based politicians as well. Just a thought.

  14. It is true that in Hungary hyper- & super- markets / big box stores are foreign-owned, which in the current chauvinistic context makes them a target of choice for the gov’t. However, regarding restrictions on Sunday shopping, I’ve been hearing the same arguments in France for decades (and the sector is almost 100% French-owned). I don’t see why the Hungarian lawmakers should not debate the topic, regardless of the nationality of the owners. Naturally, when it comes to the current Parliament, ‘debate’ may be seriously overstating it – that’s the supermajority malediction.

    Now, I understand that in the last 25 years many former soviet-bloc citizens have associated a relatively unrestricted freedom of commerce with the end of the communist-era organization of rarity. It should obviously be taken into account. However I don’t believe there’s an easy way to ponder between the needs of consumers, freedom of commerce and the principle of a rest day common to most people (the latter is not only about going to Church, far from it: a whole range of collective practices depend on it, from amateur sports to museum-going, and of course family and friends reunions).

    PS: the picture is from a Russian supermarket in St Petersburg.

  15. The problem with retail trade is that 25 years after the fall of commmunism, there’s still zero Hungarian know-how in retail.

    In household chemicals there’s DM, Rossmann and Müller, Azur the Hungarian chain closed at least a decade ago. How complicated could this trading of the very same 1,000 items could be? Apparently very.

    But look at the shops which were owned by Match (owned by a struggling Belgian chain) before and now the bigger ones are operated by Spar and the smaller ones by CBA.

    CBA is essentially a franchise system with various operators of a handful of shops each lacking professional background (no market analysis, no merchandizing know-how, design know-how etc.) and capital. CBA (at least some of its franchisees) is also involved in various shenanigans (forging sell by dates and the like), besides the VAT tax fraud which is rampant.

    As a result the formerly Match stores which CBA took over are still the same disgusting shabby rooms, while Spar’s units have been all renovated, with unified look, all looking professional, tidy, well-lit, employees are polite and friendly.

    The problem is that this cannot be solved by laws designed to make life more difficult for the big retailers. Only adapting know-how and capital could solve it, but the people who would be expected to take over the know how are incompetent. The Lázár brothers and Laszlo Baldauf at Fidesz and Jobbik with their tasteless sponsor posters and some redesigned shops. These are no really entrepreneurs as spielers, users of local monopolies (the local shop) and using their political connections. In other words, oligarchs.

    Plus instead of stopping the construction of malls entirely, which clearly results in the emptying of main street shops (even in German middle-sized towns), Fidesz allows the building of several new malls to get constructed. Of course if money is involved they are happy to support “good initiatives”.

  16. PUG described the problem very nicely!

    When we go to Interspar or Tesco nowadays we not only pay at least 20% less than at CBA – often we get coupons for another 10% (or a fixed sum of 500/1000 HUF) but of course you have to spend then at least 10 000HUF …

    Which Hungarian pensioner can afford to do this?


    Why do we spend so much? Well, we shop not only for us but for the young ones and a friend – and we bring a lot of Hungarian specialties to our friends and family in Germany …

  17. re district XV of Budapest

    Fidesz was reelected in Esztergom, which was anyway always a right-leaning place. Fidesz “persuaded” the voters, that it was in the voters’ “interest” to elect a fidesznik instead of an independent.

    The tactics of scorched earth and no compromise (even if that means inflicting damage on the very municipality these fidesz/jobbiknik local councilmen are supposed to represent) worked splendidly.

    It almost always works for Fidesz. (It also works for the Republicans).

    Thus the conclusion is simple: more of the same will work in district XV too.

  18. OT:

    Is Adrienn Szaniszló the daughter of Ferenc Szaniszló, the crazy and crazily pro-Russia IMO-graduate TV presenter on EchoTV?

    Adrienn who “is sometimes presented as Jobbik’s Secretary of Russian-Hungarian Relations” was in Donyeck with Marton Gyönygyösi this weekend to “monitor” the regional “elections” of Novorossya.

    Look at this pic:

  19. She likes only 2 television shows:

    “You rang M’Lord” and Ferenc Szaniszlo’s.

    Ferenc must be her dad, and Vladimir her love.

  20. Apologies, I forgot myself and had written in Hungarian in my prvious comment. The link is to an artcile in Hungarian about the revenge Fidesz is carrying out against all those town and villages where the left and independents have beaten Fidesz in the recent council elections.

  21. “If you participate in this [anti-internet tax] rally, you become a tool in the hands of the American secret services.[…] USA has has embarked on an interesting and dangerous game by conducting several coups d’etat at the same time: in Ukraine, Hong Kong, Syria and Budapest” [10-29, 9:17 AM, Adrienn Sz.]

  22. It is injurious not only to the financial well-being of the stores but also to the employees who receive a higher salary (+50%) for working on Sundays.

    I was going to ask this question but you’ve now answered it. People _do_ get paid more for giving up their Sundays to work. Is a 50% premium adequate? I don’t know. But, in more general terms, why is that when it’s a question of poor Hungarians being exploited/oppressed by evil foreign multis, this government’s answer is never to simply pay the poor Hungarians more, and enforce this e.g. by wage legislation? The classic argument against that kind of measure is that employers would respond by simply pulling out of the sector/day of the week/country in question – but then that seems to be happening anyway, with no benefit to the individual!

    Which leads on to the question: are there any unions? Or is there no tradition of unionisation in Hungary, perhaps because the idea of workers organising is tainted by pre-1989 history?

    As for the Sunday-trading ban itself – it would make life a hell of a lot more difficult for me. It’s simply not possible to get to the shops during the week, given the hours I work. At the moment my partner can shop instead of me, because she hasn’t found work yet. Presumably making this arrangement permanent – with her not being allowed to work because she’s a she – will be KDNP’s next bright idea. And presumably also they’ll somehow make my salary rise enough for it to be enough for both of us to live on. Dream on…

  23. According to Andrienn’s facebook page she was born in Moscow and according to her pictures she feels more home in Russia than in Hungary. She is a kind of cheerleader, extremely enthusiastic when she can talk to lovely deputy administrators in Saint Petersburg or Rostov na Donu. I wonder if her mother is Russian, but anyway she’s just a fanatical Russia (Putin) – lover.

  24. Eva, I think if you do not immediately delete posts like “time for change” you are more likely to get more hit and run posts like it. There is no reason for the comment remain on this site.

  25. “Orban’s strange trips THROUGH Switzerland”

    He did not fly back, but took the train and met an old man, who might be media mogul Jürg Marquard, according to one of the commentators. Others remarked that he might have checked his Zurich bank accounts as most dictators and the Argentine president do.

  26. “The little shopowners, small entrepreneurs (the petit bourgeoisie from history books) are all, fidesz and increasingly jobbik voters. No exception.”

    “No exception”? Typical Fidesz-apologist kocsma bravado

    No statistical proof whatsoever on that “no exception”.

    Fact: Lazar seriously damaged the livelihood of many small shopowners in villages and towns with his cigarette monopoly.
    Fact: The regime’s favourite shop, CBA has expanded greatly in the countryside in the last 4 years putting many small shops on the edge of bankruptcy.

    Many shopowners and entrepreneurs may well be by instinct “conservative” but that is no guarantee they are also pro-regime.

  27. @tappanch

    This is almost certainly not Marquard. He might have met Marquard too (Orban would love to buy Marquard’s media holdings in Hungary), but this is someone else.

  28. “In Hungary Marquard Media is the leading publisher of premium magazines in the women’s as well as the men’s segment with a wide-ranging portfolio: JOY, EVA, INSTYLE, SHAPE, JOY CELEBRITY, FITT MAMA, PLAYBOY, PLAYBOY EXCLUSIVE, CKM and DESIGN ROOM”

    From Jorg Marquard’s wiki page. “Playboy Exclusive” eh?!
    Perfect bedfellow for Orban’s “Christian nationalism”?

  29. In today’s post from Eva there are three links to texts in Hungarian. Each link leads to the source of something that Eva has summarised or quoted in English. Good.

    In today’s comments so far there are six links leading to texts in Hungarian that are not sources of anything which has been adequately summarized or quoted in English. Bad.

    Every such out-of-nowhere-link to texts in Hungarian may be interesting and informative for those who can read it but it is a disappointment to me and probably many others who cannot.

    I wish that all commenters who make links to texts in Hungarian would give at least a short summary of what it is about.

  30. Thanks, tappanch, for that article on Orbán’s holiday in the “Tagi”!

    The other reports are even more scathing, so for those who can read German the latest thing on the i-tax and on the rampant corruption (!) in Hungary:
    Fidesz is described as a mafia regime!

    Some choice quotes:
    “Die traditionell guten Beziehungen Ungarns zu den USA sind auf einem historischen Tiefpunkt angekommen. US-Aussenminister John Kerry weigerte sich, seinen ungarischen Amtskollegen Peter Szijjarto in Washington zu empfangen.”
    The traditionally good relations between Hungary and the USA have reached a historical low point – foreign minister John Kerry refused to talk to Szijarto!

    And from an older article:

    Following Putin, Orbán wants to get rid of democracy:

  31. D7 Democrat: I don’t know how many little entrepreneurs, shop owners, independent service people operating outside of Budapest you know. In Pest megye, Fejér megye, Somogy megye, Nógrád megye, Komárom megye? I know a few, not too many. Maybe not a representative sample, but a sample nonetheless. There isn’t one left leaning person among them.

    These are not your funky startup scene people, but more like struggling lower middle class people, who have been perennially on the verge of becoming poor. What they make in their companies is not much more than what an average state employee makes in his or her office.

    Those how don’t like Fidesz or those who like it but don’t like Orban (who I feel is becoming more controversial among these not so wealthy people) moved towards jobbik.

    Nobody I heard of moved towards the left-wing. I don’t know why, I just observed this trend (so far).

    I tell you a story from Zala county. Our fidesz voter guy had a successful company (the quintessential fidesznik entrepreneur in Zala county, where 85% of the people are right leaning anyway) with several hundred millions of sales annually. In 2010 the local Fidesz strongman came to see him and wanted to buy his company. He didn’t sell. A week later the tax authority appeared and then the prosecutors’s office, the latter alleging embezzelement (from his own company). Let’s just say that in three years his company almost went bust, though he eventually survived the ordeal. But he didn’t sell anyway and the company is now worth a fraction it used to. Guess who did our guy vote for in 2014? Fidesz.

    His answer: “Yes, yes, I know, but who else is there?”.

    I wish I could report about politically critical, pro-EU, pro-capitalism rural entrepreneurs, but I don’t see them. Maybe you do. What I see, however, is that Jobbik is becoming a natural, normalized choice for many. They may not have voted yet, but in words, Jobbik is already a viable option.

  32. Coincidentally a bunch of Romani – 65 I think – waiting for asylum granted in Switzerland too.
    Hardly any chance, mind you.

    Another coincidental tidbit:
    The financial mover behind quite a few memorable “deal” made by the British BAE Systems – among them the “Gripen” affair – were a well renown family firm, called Valurex International SA.
    If you take the trouble and look up for further information, you will find that the names have a certain familiar “klang” – surprise, surprise!
    And if it was not enough, you may look up what kind of other duties take up their time.

    Interesting reading, I promise.
    However, this information only for entertaining purposes!
    It surely didn’t caused any serious effect so far…

  33. This is not Marquard on the pic for sure.

    I would say some old Russian KGB type, because they still wear these tasteless shiny rims from the early 1980’s. The jacket isn’t the best quality and cut either.

  34. Has anyone seen this on facebook? Looks interesting (though my knowledge of Hungarian isn’t good enough …)

    A Jobbik Igazi arca! –

  35. “Ease of Doing Business” ranking 2015 [data from June 2014]


    21. Austria
    > >>> >>>>>>>>>>> 75 points
    30. Macedonia,
    32. Poland,
    37. Slovakia,
    38. Bulgaria,
    44. Czechia,
    48. Romania,
    > >>> >>>>>>>>>>> 70 points
    51. Slovenia,
    54. Hungary
    55. Turkey
    65. Croatia
    > >>> >>>>>>>>>>> 65 points
    91. Serbia
    96. Ukraine
    > >>> >>>>>>>>>>> 60 points
    124. Argentina
    > >>> >>>>>>>>>>> 55 points

    Hungary’s ranking in subcategories

    20. enforcing contracts [this will surely sink next year]
    57. starting a business
    64. resolving insolvency
    88. paying taxes
    103. dealing with construction permits
    162. getting electricity [i did not know this is such a big deal here]

    Source: p. 4.

    Click to access DB15-Report-Overview.pdf

  36. sebt: Which leads on to the question: are there any unions? Or is there no tradition of unionisation in Hungary, perhaps because the idea of workers organising is tainted by pre-1989 history?

    A question I’ve asked here several times.

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