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The Catering Rebellion: Businesses in Hungary to Protest Restrictions

Tamás Vaski 2021.01.29.

Multiple pubs, restaurants and cafés around Hungary have declared that they will be open for business in protest of coronavirus restrictions. The libertarian Down With 75% of Taxes party is organizing a country-wide reopening for February 1, during which many different catering businesses will once again be open for customers who wish to dine-in.

The goal for these businesses is to open and allow customers to sit down to eat and drink, while respecting COVID protocols such as wearing masks, keeping a distance of 1.5 meters between tables, and using hand sanitizer.

The protest’s organizer, Áron Ecsenyi, has confirmed that at least 30 stores are set to reopen Monday, but many more are likely to join in.

Catering Businesses Around Europe Protest Restrictions

The organized approach of civil disobedience started on January 15 in Florence, Italy, when multiple different cafés, pubs, and restaurants remained open after 6pm.

Momi el Hawi, founder of the #IoApro movement, stated along with the organizations communications manager on their Facebook page that they wish to make a global movement under the name of #weopen. Their intention is to give those stores a chance which are struggling from a lack of business and a lack of government support during the pandemic.

They emphasize that the catering businesses which are opening under the movement must follow COVID protocols.

The movement has made its way past Hungary, into Poland, where even gyms have stated that they will be opening despite restrictions, and will have their own COVID protocols which club members must follow.

In Hungary, along with the Mass Opening of Stores movement, there will be a protest taking place at Heroes’ Square on February first as well.

“What should I give them for takeout, a shot?”

Catering businesses in Hungary have become very vocal about the pandemic restrictions, since their profits have been eliminated or significantly reduced. Many have already gone out of business, and the clock is ticking for those who are still standing.

These stores have stated that the government either needs to ease up on restrictions, or provide them with more financial aid.

A local owner of a pub in Monor, Attila Magyar, discussed his frustration with the situation, as he has had decreasing traffic even before restrictions due to young people choosing to go into Pest for drinks.

The pandemic has made things even worse, since he’s forced to pay taxes as if his store is running at full power, but he can only serve takeout to customers. “I own a pub,” he says, ” What should I give them for takeout, a shot? Good one.”

Magyar says that small businesses can get by for a little longer, after which he says “taxes will catch up to us, as will our starvation.”

Orbán Says It’s Not Worth It

Viktor Orbán told state radio Kossuth on Friday, that although the government has instructed police not to arrest anyone on February first, he warns catering businesses that “trust me, it’s not worth it!”

Furthermore, those businesses which open while restrictions are still in effect could face fees ranging from 418 to 2,789 euros, and their establishment could be closed for up to six months.

PMO Head Gergely Gulyás added that this would not just be taken as an act of civil disobedience. Stores which open despite restrictions will be breaking the law, he says, and the government will respond accordingly.

Gulyás informed the public that customers in attendance will also be considered lawbreakers.

Both far-right Mi Hazánk and socialist MSZP have voiced their support in some form for the opening of catering businesses.

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If the protest does take place on Monday, it will be  the first organized protest of catering businesses against coronavirus restrictions in Hungary. Others, such as Központ, have already attempted to reopen, but were shut down by police that same day. Still, the smaller rebellious acts have motivated other stores to announce their reopening.

It is understandable that these small businesses would do what they can to stay afloat, since the economic impact of the pandemic is proving catastrophic. Their frustration can be sympathized with even more when considering that while they struggle, large, corporate owned, non-essential shopping malls remain open.

Featured photo illustration by Tamás Kovács/MTI