Tens of thousands of Hungarians gathered in central Budapest Sunday to protest a proposed tax on Internet use, accusing prime minister Viktor Orban of attempting to restrict freedom of information in the central European country. The demonstrations marked an unusual public rebuke of Orban, whose Fidesz party consolidated its dominance of Hungarian politics with a series of electoral victories this year.
The tax, included in Fidesz's 2015 budget proposal, would charge telecom companies 150 forints (about 61 cents) per gigabyte of data. One estimate placed potential revenue from the tax at 100 billion forints ($414 million), an amount that would help Hungary lower its budget deficit to within the European Union standard of 3 percent of GDP. Budapest already levies a 2-forint tax on telephone calls and text messages, creating 42 billion forints of revenue during the first nine months of 2014.
Accompanying this measure is Orban's unsettling enthusiasm for authoritarian politics. In July, the prime minister told a group of ethnic Hungarians in Romania that he wished to create an "illiberal state" along the lines of Singapore, Russia, and China. The European Union wasn't amused, but Brussels has shown little inclination to challenge Orban.