Hungarian workers block roads in protest against new tax law

Budapest, Hungary — Protesters in the Hungarian capital on Wednesday blocked major traffic arteries for the second day in a row in opposition to a tax overhaul imposed this week by the country’s right-wing ruling party.

Several thousand demonstrators, many of them self-employed entrepreneurs affected by the new changes, gathered in a main square next to the Hungarian parliament to protest against a law passed on Tuesday that many fear will lead to major tax hikes. taxes. After the protest, most marched through central Budapest during rush hour.

Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, led by nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, used its parliamentary supermajority to pass the new law, which seeks a grassroots tax scheme allowing small businesses and individual entrepreneurs like hairdressers to pay a low flat tax rate.

Protester Tibor Tarcsay, 33, said his livelihood as a freelance translator was jeopardized by the changes and he was unsure how he would be able to make ends meet once it takes effect in September.

“I could go abroad,” he said. “In two months, throngs of people will be queuing outside charities to get a box of lentils.”

It is estimated that up to half a million workers in Hungary use the tax system known as KATA.

But the Hungarian government says many companies have abused the system by having contract workers rather than employing them, depriving the country’s budget of 250-300 billion Hungarian forints ($614-736 million) in revenue. taxes per year.

The protest, which followed Tuesday’s occupation of two Danube bridges, was the first sign of popular discontent in Hungary since Orban and his Fidesz party won re-election in a landslide victory in April.

Hungary faces record currency weakness against the euro and dollar, as well as the highest inflation in nearly 25 years. The government is keen to fill gaps in its budget left by large voter subsidies ahead of the election.

Critics of the new tax law say it was passed without consulting affected workers and was passed by the Hungarian parliament in a single day.

Balazs Zoltan Biro, 37, works for a food delivery company in Budapest as a bicycle courier. Blocking traffic with other protesters at one of Budapest’s busiest intersections, he said he believed civil disobedience was the last resort of opponents of the Hungarian government.

“That they made a decision with the stroke of a pen, without negotiating with those it really affects, is not at all democratic,” he said.

Another protester, book editor Marta Nagy, said she risked losing all of her clients.

“The worst thing would be if I had to give up my rented apartment and move out,” she said. “What am I going to live on? »

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