BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) —
Anti-government demonstrators in Hungary blocked one of the capital's main thoroughfares during morning rush-hour traffic Monday, the latest in a series of protests against recent changes to the country's tax code that have carried on for nearly a week.
The crowd, made up largely of food delivery couriers on bicycles and scooters, blocked traffic in both directions on one of Budapest's main bridges over the Danube River. Many demonstrators were independent entrepreneurs affected by legislative changes passed by Hungary's parliament last week, which they believe will result in major tax hikes or a loss of work.
“Many of us came because we want change, we want unity. We want to live in a country where they don’t try to tear us apart and reinforce divisions,” said demonstrator Eszter Balazs, 25, a restaurant worker and law student.
The wave of demonstrations has taken an increasingly anti-government character since they began on July 12. Nearly nightly, thousands of protesters have defied police and marched through central Budapest, blocking roads and major intersections and demanding the retraction of the law.
Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, led by nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, used its parliamentary supermajority last week to pass the changes, which target a popular tax scheme known as KATA which allows small businesses and freelancers like delivery drivers to pay a low, flat tax rate.
The measures, which go into force Sept. 1, will force out the majority of the some 450,000 workers who use the scheme. Many demonstrators see the move as a hastily passed form of austerity on workers amid record weakness of Hungary's currency against the dollar and euro and the highest inflation in nearly 25 years.
“I would really like to live in this country, but they’re making it impossible!" delivery driver Norman, 24, said through a megaphone. He would not give his last name.
"These people call themselves the great family-friendly government, the ones who are driving everyone out of the country?” he said.
The organizers, a spontaneously formed group of delivery couriers, asked opposition parties and “influencer politicians” not to appear at the demonstration. They promised further protests would follow on Tuesday and Wednesday, and other demonstrations were scheduled for later on Monday in the provincial cities of Szeged and Nyiregyhaza.
Eszter Balazs, the restaurant worker, said she believed the wave of discontent "will continue, and that we’ll be ever stronger and more enthusiastic.”
“We have to occupy bridges, we have to become a mass movement and show that we can cause change through unity because many Hungarians want change. There are many Hungarians that want things to be better for their families," she said.