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.
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 Nemzet. The 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.