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Mass Protests Push Hungary to Cancel Controversial Internet Tax

Prime Minister Viktor Orban scraps proposed tax after large-scale anti-government protests rock Budapest

Tens of thousands of Hungarians marched over the Danube River this week, protesting a proposed tax on Internet usage. (Photo: Janos Marjai/European Pressphoto Agency)

Mass protests in Budapest this week against a proposed Internet usage tax apparently worked: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Friday that his government would scrap the tax, at least for now.

"We are not Communists, we don’t govern against the people," Mr. Orban said in his regular weekly interview on Hungarian radio. "We govern together with the people. So this tax, in this form, cannot be introduced."

Protest organizers, who said the levy not only imposed a financial burden but threatened to restrict free speech, silence dissent, and access to information, celebrated the U-turn. "Mr. Orban admitted his defeat," they said in a statement. "We are the people! And we the people have the right to rule the country." A victory rally is planned for Friday evening.

The BBC's Nick Thorpe, writing from Budapest, noted that "Orban does not often back down, but he has done so on this occasion for several reasons."

For one thing, the proposed tax of about 61 cents per gigabyte of data managed to unify those who are opposed to Orban and his ruling Fidesz party, which has been accused of authoritarian impulses. The reasons for the tax were poorly communicated, while opposition was well-organized. And Orban's line about Communists, Thorpe said, is "a sign that growing comparisons between Fidesz and the old Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party are hitting the mark."

"What happens next?" Thorpe wondered. "Mr. Orban's decision to cancel the tax deprives his opponents of a valuable rallying cry. The big question for them will be whether they can use the momentum of two big rallies to create new forms of opposition to Fidesz. They have proven that he can be defeated. Mr. Orban has proven that he is more flexible than many analysts give him credit for."

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