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article imageInternet tax stopped by mass protests in Hungary

By Stephen Morgan     Nov 1, 2014 in Internet
In what are the largest anti-government demonstrations in years about ten thousand people streamed across bridges over the Danube in Budapest to protest against a proposed tax on the Internet.
The public outcry has caused an unprecedented climbdown by the country's Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, whose says his proposals will be withdrawn, at least in their present form.
The tax was intended to make users pay 150 forints or 60 cents per gigabyte used, as well as taxes on Internet companies which people feared would be passed onto them. The proposals haven't been scrapped altogether though, as Orban says there will be further national discussions in the new year.
Up to 100,000 protesters marched in the capital and other cities. They held mobile phones above their heads as a symbol of their anger and pelted the headquarters of the governing party, Fidez, with old computer parts. The demonstrators chanted, "We are the people! And we have the right to rule the country." According to the Guardian, "internet entrepreneur Zsolt Varády also described the tax as 'a symbol of the government’s capriciousness.'"
The organizers of the One Million for the Freedom of the Press Movement told the Guardian that they would be holding a party to celebrate. They are accusing the Prime Minister of drifting towards authoritarianism and rapprochement with Russia, in what they called the creation of a "digital iron curtain." Reuters added that there is also growing concern in the West that Hungary may be moving into Putin's sphere of influence.
Hungarian civil society and non-governmental organizations have seen their rights curtailed under the Fidez government and the Internet tax is seen as another undemocratic step towards controlling information. The BBC said that protesters feared that "the move would restrict freedom of expression and access to information." This is compounded by the fact that the Internet tax would have made little impact on Hungary's budget deficit.
The BBC correspondent in Budapest, Nick Thorpe, wrote that Orban had "at last managed with one stroke to do something which opposition leaders had tried and failed to do for five years: unify his opponents." Many on the protests were shouting for his resignation.
In a public broadcast, PM, Viktor Orban said "we are not communists. We do not go against the wishes of the people"- a sign, Nick Thorpe says, that comparisons with the Fidez government and the former regime are beginning to stick. Indeed, Orban has now earned the popular title of "Viktator."
According to the New York Times, Orban has also been accused of "authoritarian impulses" by Western leaders and, indeed, members of the EU have come out openly against the new law. The Guardian reported that "Neelie Kroes, outgoing vice-president and commissioner for digital agenda, welcomed the U-turn, tweeting: “I am very pleased for Hungarians today. Their voices have been heard. And I’m proud the European commission could and did play [a] positive role in defending European values and a digital Europe."
Ryan Heath, a European Commission spokesperson, said the "tax was bad in principle” and added that it was "part of a pattern... of actions that have limited freedoms or sought to take rents without achieving wider economic or social interest."
The NYT quoted Julia Lakatos of the Centre for Fair Political Analysis in Budapest that the proposed tax "had come at a much higher political cost than was expected." Although the protests don't look likely to bring down the government, it has a two thirds majority in Parliament, they have shown for the first time that Orban can be defeated. Organizers say that they are going to keep a sharp eye on any attempts to revive the legislation in January and vow to continue their protests.
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