Delightful Civil Disobedience

Kálmán Szentesi, a Hungarian citizen, decided to reclaim the part of his taxes that is wasted on corruption. So he wrote this delightful letter (pdf, in Hungarian) to the tax authority, detailing his reasons.

If public money in Hungary can lose its public nature overnight, and I, as a citizen, can do nothing about it, then I think it’s better if this money loses its public nature at the very beginning of the process, at me.

He was referring to one of the many corruption scandals, when the government attempted to push through an executive order claiming that central bank money channeled through its various, shady foundations had lost its public nature. So the public is not entitled to know how it was spent. We are talking about a billion dollars at the time (and counting). But by some freak accident, the order didn’t go through – and by an even bigger surprise, the spending list was actually published.

Szentesi is referring to this list when he explains his reasons for the unusual move of reclaiming most of his taxes.

…I went through the list and didn’t find a single expenditure that even remotely resembles any public service that we theoretically pay our taxes for.

On the other hand, I have found hospitals in this country that serve the patients in circumstances resembling a prison cell, where doctors have to ask patients to bring not just their own toilet paper, soap, cutlery and plates – but even over the counter painkillers and band-aids. I found schools where parents pay for the heating and the chalk.

He is right when he writes that the concept of taxes being your own money that you pay for services is quite hard to grasp for many. “Please understand, they are not stealing this money from some cloud.”

Let me make this clear: the disputed amount is completely mine. My salary, for which exclusively I have worked for. All of it. Not just the net sum – as masses of Hungarians believe today – who can thus be bought by a … utility bill reduction printed on their monthly bill.


But if I have to see that the money I pay for public services is spent on stadiums, the enrichment of relatives, helicopter trips and mistresses kept on public money, and especially if they make laws with the sole purpose of hiding from me how my money is spent… while there isn’t enough left for public services, then I won’t pay that money.

And of course, he had a personal encounter with the healthcare system (we all do) when his girlfriend nearly died of a burst appendix – while there was no ambulance.

There is no one I can ask why a 27 year old girl should almost die of appendicitis in 2016, when nearly 1,5 million forints have been taken from me for exactly these types of public services last year.

He claims civil disobedience to be a duty.

“…if the government doesn’t fulfill its public duties, if the law is shaped for their own purposes, or if it goes against social justice… the citizens have the right to point it out, and if necessary, it is their moral right to resist.”

Szentesi is reclaiming his taxes for last year – apart from the amount spent on social security, which he agrees to keep financing. So he calculates the amount and requests his annual taxes to be reduced by the outstanding sum.

If this method of calculation is not valid, kindly inform me how I should signal in the future if, as a citizen, I do not consent to my tax money to lose its public nature.

He is counting on the tax authority to aid his plans to for a countrywide civil disobedience movement by the issuance of more fines and ultimately bringing him to court. But he had explicitly asked his followers not to crowdfund his fines because his fight is not with the taxman, ultimately. But they are who collect the money that is later spent on corruption and he uses this platform and the publicity of court proceedings to make his point.

Referring to the above reasons I kindly request the Esteemed Authorities to return the above mentioned sum to my bank account, or (since you won’t do that anyway) … kindly aid my plans [of a countrywide civil disobedience movement -ed.] by administering fines…

His request had so far been met. Not for a tax return, but for a fine. He had so far earned a fine of 408 thousand forints (EUR 1360) for wrongful claims. And the tax authority launched an investigation against him on his earlier tax payments. Again, all his taxes are already paid. It was deducted by his employer and went straight to the government.

Apart from the central bank scandal, he named the infamous incident when henchmen stopped a referendum as his triggers to write his letter and start his campaign. If the worst happens, he leaves the country to work elsewhere. Many are not in the position to start this, but he can.

My basic rights as a citizen are blocked by henchmen, but there is no investigation, nothing happens. We resign to it, slowly, but I can’t and I don’t want to resign to this.

He is not affiliated with any party, civil society, and not even Soros. He said he started civil disobedience because…

…I’m afraid the day will come when my unborn son or daughter learns about this era … and asks me, dad, if everyone knew what was happening, why didn’t you do something? And I would have to answer: out of convenience.

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