There have always been protests over the price of basics like bread, milk and gasoline, but now we are seeing a first – populist protests over the price of a gigabyte. What a difference a day makes! For the first time since the death-rattle of communism on the cusp of the 1989-1990 New Year, tens of thousands of organized youths were out, side by side with the kind of middle class sort who wouldn’t normally be seen dead with each other on the streets of Budapest on Sunday October 26, 2014.
Scores of eyewitnesses spoke on the Index.hu Facebook page, one of the few outlets for independent journalism in Hungary, the majority of a group of anti-government demonstrators were at first content to simply hold their mobile phones up in the air, to light up the city’s famous Heroes Square.
Soon, however, a “Gothish group” separated themselves from the majority and stationed themselves outside the headquarters of the ruling Fidesz political party before throwing old computers, printers and monitors at the building, breaking some windows, according to the Washington Post. The rally finally petered out soon after as the local police begun gathering, ready to make their presence felt.
How did this all get so out of hand? Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz Party are very much in control after winning two consecutive elections, but the middle class intelligentsia who put him in power are losing faith in this Ultra-Right conservative. Having allied himself with Russia’s dictator Vladimir Putin, it seems ‘normal’ Hungarians are now getting cold feet about their government as the national debt is forcing Orban to create a more balanced budget that pleases both the IMF and the EEC.
Desperate for money as most of the rest of the West, Orban’s government has created new taxes to charge the banking, energy sectors and telecommunications providers to help keep the budget deficit in check. Unfortunately, his alarmist propaganda and tax reforms have spooked entrepreneurs and international investors. Simultaneously, his flip-flop fiscal policies have also seen an attempt at jeopardizing profits in some sectors of the economy and unnerving international investors. At the same time, having cut personal income taxes for brand-new investors, a tidal-wave of Russian oligarchs bearing cash from shut-down Cypriot banks and Kurdish oil fields seems to have gone unaccounted for.
Thus Orban’s 2015 budget proposal was issued on Friday October 24, 2014. The Hungarian federal government were about to increase the cost by 150 forints—about 60 cents—to the current cost of every gigabyte uploaded and downloaded in Hungary, according to the economics website Portfolio. Orbán claimed that the tax was very reasonable because it would be charged to service providers, not users. This kind of “let them eat cake!” logic shows just how divorced from reality Orbán actually is.
Indeed, according to Digital Fuel Monitor, Hungarians are already paying a much higher price for Internet access compared to all the other European countries and the U.S. Atypically, the price per incremental gigabyte in Hungary is up to $13, compared to Finland, where the price hovers around $0.25. And that’s added to a hefty VAT sales tax (Value Added Tax) of 27% on almost everything, including food and the internet, while the average net salary in Hungary is just the equivalent of US$633 a month.