Hungarians back on the streets to call for Orban's head

By bne IntelliNews November 18, 2014

bne -

 
Thousands rallied across Hungary on November 17 to protest against government corruption and Budapest's lean towards Moscow. The demonstrations increase the pressure on Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has made several concessions recently in the face of mounting criticism.
 
Calling for the sacking of tax officials implicated by the US in corruption allegations, and demanding the government pull back from its close relations with Russia, 10,000 were reportedly on the streets of the capital. Crowds also gathered in over 20 other Hungarian cities, as well as at events in London and Berlin on what organisers called a "Day of Public Outrage".
 
The rallies continued a series of protests over the last month or so against Orban and his Fidesz party, which has ruled Hungary with a constitutional majority in parliament since 2010. The rare opposition demonstrations were sparked by the government's plans to introduce an internet tax, with the cause reportedly bringing over 100,000 onto the streets in late October. 
 
Those demonstrations led Orban to revert to type: he announced a retreat but was careful to leave the door to the planned levy open. In rough dealings - with Brussels in particular - over the past four years, the feisty PM has often proved he is ready to step back to allow for calm. However, he rarely allows himself to be diverted from his original course.
 
However, opponents have announced that they hope to use the momentum from the internet tax protests to mount a wider challenge to Fidesz. The mainstream political opposition to Orban is feeble, while unlike the anti-corruption parties springing up elsewhere in the region, Hungary's new alternative party is the extreme right Jobbik. 
 
Encouragement
 
A highly public fight with the US over corruption and the rule of law has only encouraged the crowds. Six Hungarian officials have been barred from entering the US over alleged corruption - the first ever such action against a Nato ally.
 
Ildiko Vida, head of Hungary's tax authority (NAV), was amongst them. She was a specific target of the protest, with the crowd calling for her to be sacked. She denies any wrongdoing. The five other officials have not been named. 
 
Faced by riot police in front of the parliament, the crowd carried  banners with slogans including: "We don't pay tax to criminals". They also chanted "Orban go away!" and "Europe, Europe!", reported Reuters.
 
Hungary has been named as a country whose freedom is a concern by President Obama. While the EU has been expressing concern over governance in the country for some time, the US pressure was sparked by Budapest's lean towards Moscow in recent months. 
 
Earlier this year, just days after Orban met Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller and secured increased deliveries from the Russian gas giant, Hungary announced that it was halting the transit of EU gas supplies to Ukraine. Miller, meanwhile, came away talking confidently about South Stream, the 63bn cm pipeline from Russia that the EU is blocking. 
 
A deal at the start of the year meanwhile tore up an international tender on expansion of the Paks nuclear plant, handing the contract to Russian state agency Rosatom. Moscow will lend Budapest €10bn to fund the project. 
 
In late July, Orban claimed the West's democratic model was finished. He announced he is building an "illiberal" democracy with the likes of China and Russia as models. 

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