News portal 24.hu has been interviewing victims of the government’s recent ban on Uber – and they found István Kazár. Mr Kazár’s story is as comical as it is sad, and gives you an idea of Hungary today.
Since Fidesz Came to Power in 2010, All his Businesses Have Been Crushed
Mr Kazár has been operating slot machines for 15 years, but in 2012 Fidesz nationalized the gambling industry. It was completely unexpected. It took only 3 days from the first news leaking to the legislation being passed by parliament (!).
When they ‘nationalize’ an industry it doesn’t mean that it becomes a state-operated business legally. It means that they push out market players and hand the ‘licenses’ (monopoly) to a friend of Orbán. This time it was Andy Vajna, a Hollywood-producer-turned-Hungarian-film-czar-and-tender-winner, who received the honor of operating all casinos and slot machines in the country. Without much taxation or oversight – and with no competition.
In the course of 3 days Mr Kazár has thus learned that his livelihood is being threatened – and then that it has already been taken. (By all means, sure, start a business in Hungary. I dare you.) But he didn’t only lose his livelihood, he was also made to pay for the disposing of his slot machines. It cost him 8 million forints (almost 30 thousand euros) when he could least afford it.
“The most painful thing was that even though I was made to dispose of the machines on the 5th of October, I still had to pay taxes after them at the beginning of the month. But they didn’t give that month’s tax back.”
All but one of his pubs went bankrupt, because the slot machines were their main source of income. His two sons worked there, so he looked for another source of income for the family. He thought he should apply for a national tobacco store.
The government had just nationalized the tobacco retail industry as well and licences to sell tobacco products were distributed via (mock) public tenders. Mr Kazár had his application written by a professional. He even offered to forgo his meager health benefit (he suffers from hemophilia and people with disabilities were especially encouraged to apply) if he gets the license – but to no avail. He wasn’t a friend or family of any Fidesz member, so he couldn’t open a tobacco store.
“People I know, who are – thank god – healthy and scored less on the application received a tobacco store. I lost around 500 thousand forints (approx. 1700 euros) on the tender documentation.”
At that point his two sons left for Scotland to make a living. But Mr Kazár didn’t give up – he bought a car from his last savings and started an Uber.
You probably know the story from here. He worked a lot and made a living. He liked Uber because they paid on time, and as promised. He had every piece of nonsensical paperwork done that the government required, he never got caught by vindictive tax men – so he only had to avoid being caught by taxi drivers (who regularly beat up drivers accused of driving an Uber). But as of June 24, Uber discontinued its operation in Budapest due to government harassment and an eventual ban on the service based on untrue claims of tax evasion and made-up safety concerns.
With his third enterprise wiped out by Fidesz policy (let’s face it, corruption), Mr Kazár is now taking care of his wife, who was diagnosed with cancer.
One of his sons is now an Uber driver in Edinburgh.
“I sometimes think that maybe I should apply to work for the Ministry of National Development – as a janitor or something. Maybe, with my luck, they get shut down as well.”
But his real plans are transitioning into a government-mandated taxi. He already got hold of all the paperwork and his car is being painted to bright, regulatory yellow. This time he was smart: he made sure to contract with a taxi company that is rumored to have a member of the government among the owners – to be on the safe side.
Voted For Fidesz Since 1990
Mr Kazár has been voting for Fidesz since its inception in 1990. He is not off the mark. Fidesz has been many things – but it has been relatively consistent for a voter to follow with clean conscience.
“Fidesz” stands for “young democrats” and that is what they used to be. But then another party became the resident liberal party, and Fidesz nearly dropped out of parliament. So they switched to soft-nationalist conservatism in around 1998. It was a success, and their voter base rewarded them with 4 years on government. Their rhetoric changed from liberal to bourgeois (which is fine as long as you use the Hungarian term, “polgári” for it) and the voters wanted to be that, too.
But then they spent two terms in opposition and Orbán became embittered. In 2010 Fidesz reemerged as a nationalist, nativist, and protectionist party. Still “conservative” on the label (which confused and misled international experts to no end) but striving for central control of the economy, nationalizing anything that promised spending money and juicy positions for cronies, and pushing out foreign capital, sector by sector.
But voters didn’t notice the change at first – or didn’t mind. This is how Mr Kazár may have ended up voting for Fidesz as many as five times – without changing his mind. As he says, there were simply no alternatives.
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