- Title: HUNGARY-INTERNET/ORBAN Hungarian internet protesters seek new targets
- Date: 6th November 2014
- Summary: BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (RECENT) (REUTERS) **** WARNING CONTAINS FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY **** VARIOUS OF PROTESTERS HOLDING UP THEIR LIT UP MOBILE PHONES PROTESTER HOLDING UP ROUTER BOX PROTESTER HOLDING UP PHONE BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (NOVEMBER 4, 2014) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF PROTEST ORGANISER BALAZS GULYAS LOOKING AT HIS PHONE BY EMBANKMENT GULYAS' PHONE AND BRIDGE (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROTEST ORGANISER, BALAZS GULYAS, SAYING: "I started after a university lesson and when I went home I realised that it's already hundreds of people joining and it's a big story. So actually I did not sleep, I sleep nothing that night, just kept going with running the page and helping to spread it around."
- Embargoed: 21st November 2014 12:00
- Location: Hungary
- Country: Hungary
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVAERNDGKKPUAUCNMJOEJ1NRHDDR
- Story Text: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's announcement on Friday (October 31) that he would freeze plans to impose a tax on Internet traffic came in the wake of mass street demonstrations where protesters took to the streets wielding smartphones aloft.
But the change of policy was unlikely to end discontent among liberal Hungarians who accuse him of being an autocrat and are frustrated there is no prospect of removing him until elections in 2018. Recent anti-tax rallies have been a catalyst for broader anti-government protests.
Student Balazs Gulyas said he was horrified when he first heard about the Hungarian government's plans for a new tax on data traffic.
He immediately set up a Facebook page and called for a protest.
An hour later, when he logged on again, his page had thousands of followers.
By the afternoon of the following day, he had more than 100,000.
"I started after a university lesson and when I went home I realised that it's already hundreds of people joining and it's a big story. So actually I did not sleep, I sleep nothing that night, just kept going with running the page and helping to spread it around," Gulyas said.
The outpouring of anger coalesced into huge protests across Hungary - the biggest since Orban came to power four years ago.
Gulyas said his loose collective of students, activists and artists had tapped into a groundswell of public indignation which could be channelled against other governmental policies that dismay many like-minded Hungarians.
"There is lots of disappointment with the government, many people started...many people shouted things that were overly critically with the government so we heard that, we heard that people said on the protest that we want to continue, but we want to act responsibly in what issues can we represent to lots of people to show that the government's working method, that ad hoc decisions, it's not a responsible way of governing Hungary," Gulyas added.
Orban's radical conservative agenda has included tighter state supervision of the media, pushing hundreds of judges into retirement, and calling for the creation of an "illiberal state" where national values take precedence above Western-style liberal ideology.
Those policies have angered the European Union, the United States, and liberal Hungarians.
But Orban is supported by the majority of Hungarian voters and the mainstream opposition is in disarray - leaving a gap for a new force that can channel liberal anger.
Despite their victory in forcing a government climb-down on the Internet, the group behind the protests are still holding meetings, usually in the cooperative-run bars dotted around bohemian districts of Budapest.
They also now have 240,000 followers on their Facebook page, giving them a level of online support on a par with the followings for Orban and his Fidesz party.
For the moment, the group's focus is on making sure Orban's government sticks to its promise to re-think the Internet tax.
But they are all highly critical of Orban's rule and will put their operation into motion against if the government makes what they deem as missteps, several organisers told Reuters.
Activist Marton Gulyas (unrelated to Balazs Gulyas) directs an alternative theatre company called Kretakor, or Chalk Circle, and also runs a group called Human Platform that organises civil society groups into a loose alliance to oppose government policies they dislike.
"There are many more small cells that are not as visible and don't seem relevant for the overall society. These small cells could become the seeds of a greater resistance but the time has not yet come for that. So the brief reply is that for now there is no movement, there is no organised political resistance. But the chance for one is in the air," Marton Gulyas said.
Orban's term runs until 2018. With a two-thirds majority in parliament and opinion polls showing his party is by far the most popular, his power is not under threat.
But the speed and sophistication with which the Internet tax protests came together show the power of informal networks of a few savvy, Internet-connected activists.
One of these is web designer Karoly Fuzessi, who already had a network of contacts with experience of running protests in the past few years over issues such as gay rights, education reforms and changes to the constitution initiated by Orban's Fidesz party.
For the Internet tax protests, he helped Gulyas find stage builders, trucks to follow the protests, loudspeakers to direct the crowd, and, most importantly, people - volunteers to handle press relations, crew management, finance, or police liaison.
What is clear, the organisers say, is that they need to take the initiative themselves because conventional political parties were not up to the job.
"What's certain is that their internal conflicts do show, and they don't have enough talented people who could break the ice and represent something. And just like the activists, these parties are tired, it seems," Fuzessi said.
They have a fighting fund.
During the Internet tax protests, organisers handed round white cardboard boxes to collect contributions towards the cost of each event, about 3,000 euros.
Because protesters chipped in generously, they now have a few thousand euros extra, according to organiser Karoly Fuzessi.
He said they will deposit this cash with an attorney and use if they see the need for protests again.
Orban has said that the Internet tax plan was not being scrapped altogether.
He told public radio the government would start consultations next year over internet regulation and potential ways to tax some of the revenue generated online.
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