Hard action! – City Column

City Column

Hard action!

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In the bleak 1980s, some of my classmates were drawn to the protests on Malieveld in The Hague, but I liked to go against the trend and tease the ‘better red than dead’ crowd by waving an American flag at them. It usually only took about half an hour before someone thumped me and set my flag on fire. I had an uncle who was even worse: he took to the streets to demonstrate against protest marches.

But this Sunday I marched along with the others through the streets of Budapest. The protest was aimed at a dubious government law that proposed a tax on internet: 150 Forint, approximately 50 eurocents, for every gigabyte downloaded. ‘This could make ejaculation really expensive,’ the first friend I made on the march joked, ‘even a short film easily uses a couple of gigabytes.’ He is currently playing a doctor in a soap opera, but he was once a news journalist. ‘Too critical,’ he says. He was fired in 2011 as a result of the censorship board created by new media regulations. The board has the power to intervene in matters it considers to be in contravention of public order and moral standards. These types of actions have made Hungary something of a black sheep in Brussels, which is one of the reasons why a fellow marcher with a circle beard is waving an EU flag: you know, the one you see on highways in Portugal or Poland. ‘The government is against the EU, so we’re in favour of it.’ It’s as simple as that.

The crowd of about 10,000 people surges up the Andrasy, the Champs Elysée of Budapest, moving in the direction of the headquarters of Fidesz, the party that secured a two thirds majority by joining forces with the openly anti-Semitic and homophobic Jobbit. Every now and then someone in the crowd shouts out a slogan – presumably something like ‘down with the opposition’ – which is repeated by those next to him, and which then rolls through the crowd like a Mexican wave.

The police watch disdainfully from the sidelines. They have their hands in their pockets, but later in the evening they will not hesitate to use their batons. The crowd reaches the offices of Fidesz. There’s a light on somewhere on the second floor, and what looks like a computer. Somebody must be surfing.

p.s.: a minor miracle has occurred: the government has, for the time being, decided not to impose the tax.