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'We don't pay tax to criminals': Hungarian anger at internet levy

'We don't pay tax to criminals': Hungarian anger at internet levy
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It was the biggest anti-government protest in Hungary since Prime Minister Viktor Orban came to power four years ago.

For the second night in a row, demonstrators took to the streets of the capital Budapest over a planned tax on use of the internet.

Despite a proposed cap on monthly charges, the internet levy has drawn criticism from users and service providers alike.

One online innovator said the planned tax threatened the wider spread of the internet and freedom of information.

Some demonstrators have vowed to take to the streets again if parliament votes the bill through.

Meanwhile repeated rows between Hungary’s government and the European Union brought a distinct show of support for the latter – especially when opposition MPs waved a large EU flag from the balcony of the parliament buildings.

It was a dig at Orban who had previously ordered their removal from parliament.

The source of discontent for many people was also the alleged undermining of democracy under the current government.

Viktor Orban – re-elected by a landslide earlier this year – has been accused of creeping authoritarianism.

We spoke to euronews correspondent Andrea Hajagos, who has been covering both protests from Budapest.

Gabor Kovacs, euronews, Lyon: “Who are the people on the streets and why has the internet tax in particular brought them out? Are there any other issues?”

Andrea Hajagos, euronews, Budapest: “It was really interesting that among the huge crowds at both protests we saw people from every section of society but it was remarkable how many young people turned out. This is rare, Hungary’s youth doesn’t usually take part in political protests. Most of them really came out because of the internet tax.

“Although the government has promised to impose a ceiling of two euros and 30 cents [per internet contract] each month and insists that it’ll be paid for by internet providers, the protesters claim it’s the principle of taxing the internet that is fundamentally wrong. They think this limits freedom of information which is a fundamental principle of democracy.

“I also met a lot of people saying this is the last straw, coming right after the diplomatic scandal when the United States banned Hungarian government officials from entering the US, claiming they’re corrupt. According to the Hungarian press the president of the Tax Authority is on the list. This is why there are texts saying ‘We don’t pay tax to criminals’. Many are also angry because when, back in 2008, the socialist government wanted to impose an internet tax, the then opposition Fidesz party attacked the idea. So we can say that the (internet) tax has become a symbolic issue in Hungary.”

Gabor Kovacs: “What’s next? Is it possible that the government will back down, or if not can we expect more protests?”

Andrea Hajagos, Budapest: “This morning (Wednesday) a member of the government already said that they won’t back down, there will be a tax on the internet and that parliament is expected to pass the bill in mid November.

“The protest organisers say in that case then they will definitely take to the streets again. I spoke with one analyst (Gabor Török) who says that Viktor Orban has no real choice. If he’d withdrawn the bill earlier it would have been a wise decision, but now it would be seen as a sign of weakness or defeat.

“Viktor Orban is not well-known for backing down. Despite all the protests he always sticks to his guns. But in this case he is handing his opponents some powerful ammunition.”