Budapest Beacon senior correspondent Benjamin Novak interviewed the chief organizer of Sunday evening’s anti-corruption demonstration organizer Gábor Vágo.
Tell me about Sunday night’s protest.
Sunday night’s protest is the latest event related to a single-issue movement. This movement began late last year when authorities raided the home of (former tax inspector turn whistleblower) Andras Horvath. We organized a demonstration and one more two weeks later in December 2013. Since then we’ve held numerous demonstrations, and we also organized one on 15 February 2014 to protest the growing scandal.
So what we’ve seen is that the government cannot – or will not – provide us clarification in good faith regarding the allegations levied against the Tax Authority and it’s head, Ildikó Vida. That’s why we decided that it was once again time to start protesting.
What are you hoping to achieve with these protests?
We are encouraging Ildiko Vida to resign from her post as the head Hungary’s Tax Authority, as well her subordinates Mrs. Dezső Csillag, Marianna David, and Katalin Somos. In our opinion, these individuals have been implicated for complicity in tax fraud.
How did these other individuals contribute to this tax fraud scheme?
They are senior managers at the Tax Authority. For example, there is concrete evidence on atlatszo.hu proving that Katalin Somos unlawfully interfered with and stopped investigations into certain cases of tax fraud.
Did you organize the protests?
I guess you could say that I was the chief organizer of the protest, but there were others involved in organizing it as well. I registered the protest under my name with the police. And I was also the one who started the Facebook event.
During the protest you made it very clear that you have plans. Tell me about these plans.
We made it clear that we will be practicing civil obedience until 17 November, which means that we will be visiting local Tax Authority offices to ask the employees whether Vida and the other three high ranking NAV officials have have resigned yet.
We also think it’s silly that the head of the Tax Authority is leading an investigation to determine whether she herself committed any crimes. That being said, we’ll also be asking employees of the Tax Authority whether it’s okay to audit our own tax filings if it’s okay for Ildiko Vida to investigate herself.
We’ll also be asking whether the Tax Authority should be allowed audit taxpayers while the investigation against itself has not yet concluded.
Also, we’ve given the Hungarian government until 17 November to ask the European Commission to investigate the Hungary’s Tax Authority.
You are going to Brussels tomorrow. What kind of traitorous activities do you have planned there?
(laughs) I have no traiterous plans. I will be meeting with the European Greens as part of a research meeting that was planned more than a month ago.
But it’s probably safe to assume that this issue will come up in conversation, right?
I’m sure it will, but I’d like to make it very clear that I have always said that I am willing to collaborate with anyone from any party for the purpose of addressing the Tax Authority scandal. I’ll be meeting with Benedek Javor from Dialogue for Hungary who sits with Greens in the European Parliament. He expressed his interest in the issue.
How willing do you think the European Commission is to investigating Hungary’s Tax Authority?
In order for the European Commission to investigate Hungary’s tax authority we must first submit a petition to the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament, who will then forward it to the European Commission. But we’re also aware of how slow-moving the European Union’s institutions can be. Which is why we’ve also asked the Hungarian government to ask the European Commission to begin an investigation of Hungary’s Tax Authority.
What would you say to those Hungarians who want to show their support but don’t necessarily live in Budapest?
We are encouraging people around the country to organize demonstrations in the towns they live in. They should go to the Tax Authority’s local office and ask whether the Tax Authority’s chief and other senior management have resigned yet.
Have you heard back from other parts of the country?
Yes, we have. So far we know that there will be demonstrations in 12 towns in Hungary. There will also be a demonstration in Berlin, and another one in Bristol.
Is it the Hungarian communities of those cities that will be organizing these demonstrations?
The US government has temporarily suspended the right of six Hungarians, including at least two tax authority officials, to travel to the United States. Are your demonstrations linked to the US government’s blacklisting of Hungarian officials?
The travel ban is related to the Tax Authority scandal. As acting chief of mission André Goodfriend has said, the US needn’t share any details with the Hungarian government as to why the officials were temporarily banned from entering the US because the Hungarian government should have paid attention to the concerns raised by András Horváth.
André Goodfriend also said that numerous Hungarian NGOs have provided plenty of evidence showing why the blacklistings had taken place. What kind do you hope to achieve?
Recently, we have seen that there are numerous single-issue protests that have taken place one after another. While these protests are sometimes unrelated, they are generating momentum which allows them to support each other. That is a positive sign and it looks like this a good working method for the resistance. These issues don’t share a common ideological foundation, but they provide the resistance an opportunity to further organize themselves with the help of the other movements.
But don’t there have to be common underlying values in order for different movements to help each other?
There are different movements which support each other because the shared core value is democracy. The shared core value is the ability to self-organize. The shared core value is making sure we also have a say in what is happening above our heads. I think these are the shared core values.
What’s the situation with András Horváth?
He’s feeling a lot better now. Currently, we’re working on a project with other anti-corruption organizations to put together a fund to help whistleblowers like Andras who can’t find employment because they’ve blown the whistle. Our goal is to further help these whistleblowers so that they can continue to be a voice against corruption.
Towards the end of last night’s protest I was very surprised to see people from a variety of political parties, including Fidesz, LMP, PM, MOMA, and MSZP. What do you think this says about Hungarian society’s perception of this particular issue?
I have also noticed that this particular issue has lit a fire under a lot of Fidesz supporters. The relationship between the state and the citizen takes place through the process of paying our taxes. If the Tax Authority is charged with overseeing this part of the relationship between the state and the citizens, but there is no faith in the Tax Authority, then the trust between the state and the citizens will be destroyed. Why should I pay taxes if these guys are going to steal it anyway? These guys are corrupt. “I’m not going to give my tax money to criminals,” that’s what people were chanting at the protest.