There was something strange in the air in Budapest on Sunday evening. Mostly, it was computer parts and outdated peripherals — flying through the closed windows of the headquarters of the ruling political party, called Fidesz.
You may ask why that’s happening in Hungary, a democratic member of the European Union and part of NATO, ally of the United States. Well, about 20,000 Hungarians were protesting against a planned new tax on Internet data transfers, and against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government, accused of adopting anti-democratic, anti-NATO and anti-European Union policies.
On tuesday several news outlets unveiled that the government wants to levy 150 forints (that’s $0.71) on each transferred gigabyte of data, to plug holes in the 2015 budget of one of the EU’s most indebted nations. The tax would be fair, explained economy Minister Mihaly Varga, as it reflects a shift by consumers to the internet, away from taxed phone lines. Analysts responded that no such tax is known beyond the borders of Hungary, and that it would impede equal access to the Internet, deepen the digital divide between Hungary’s lower economic groups, and limit internet access for cash-poor schools and universities.
Later in the week, Fidesz said in a statement that a maximum level on the tax would be set: a monthly limit of 700 forints per individual and 5000 forints per company. Despite that softening, a quickly growing Facebook group called “100,000 against the Internet tax” (which has over 214,000 supporters as of now) organised a rally on Sunday evening.
First, the protesters gathered on a square in front of the Economy Ministry, then peacefully marched to the Heroes Square, close to the headquarters of Fidesz. At both locations, protesters held up their mobile phones, creating a sea of lights against the coming medieval darkness. The organisers gave the government 48 hours to withdraw the tax legislation that would curb fundamental democratic rights and freedoms, and announced a fresh protest on Tuesday if this does not happen.
At the official end of the demonstration about a thousand demonstrators — largely far right wing activists and soccer fans — went to the nearby Fidesz headquarters and threw outdated computer parts, keyboards, routers, mice and displays at the building, breaking two windows. They then demanded the resignation of Viktor Orban. About 100-150 members of the riot police arrived to the scene, but there weren’t any clashes between protesters and the police officers in full riot gear. Here’s our footage of the siege of the Fidesz headquarters:
And our photos from the demonstration:
Pictures/Videos: Attila Nagy/Gizmodo