Viktor Orbán’s lost battle: Sunday store closings

A few days ago I recalled an interview with a couple of talking heads who complained about the pettiness of the political issues the opposition was wasting its time on, like the closing of larger retail stores on Sunday. Why have a political debate about such a ridiculous topic? Well, the question of whether large supermarkets and big box stores should be open or closed turned out to be a much larger issue than these people thought. After thirteen months of wrangling and scheming, the Orbán government threw in the towel. The 2015 law that forbade these stores to be open on Sunday will most likely be repealed tomorrow.

The news spread rapidly. Libération’s Budapest correspondence, Florence La Bruere, published a detailed article on the Orbán government’s decision to reintroduce Sunday closings 25 years after the change of regime. In the article she quotes a woman who told her that “under socialism, everything was closed on weekends. After the fall of communism, stores could be open on Sundays and we really enjoyed that. It was a symbol of freedom.” It was this feeling of freedom that was taken away from Hungarians, who overwhelmingly opposed the new law.

Ever since November 2014 a tug-of-war has been waged between the government, which stubbornly insisted on defending a bad decision, and the people this government allegedly represents. Numerous attempts were made to force the Orbán administration to allow a referendum on the question, all to no avail. At least until now, when the highest court of the land, the Kúria, overturning the decision of both the National Election Office and the National Election Commission, allowed the socialists to begin a drive to collect the necessary number of signatures. The government’s reaction was swift. Fearing defeat at the polls, they opted to repeal the law that Fidesz-KDNP had enacted in November 2014.

Because of lack of common sense Closed Opening: Uncertain

Because of lack of common sense
Opening: Uncertain

From the beginning there was an ongoing debate about why Viktor Orbán agreed to the demand of KDNP, the Christian Democratic People’s Party. KDNP is a party that doesn’t really exist. But its phony parliamentary delegation allows the right wing to be over-represented on committees. I suggested that the leaders of this party, which normally follows Viktor Orbán without question, decided to make an issue of the Sunday store closings. They most likely handed a reluctant Orbán an ultimatum: if Fidesz doesn’t cave on this issue, they might not support a bill that is of great importance to Fidesz. My opponents suspected that the key to this case was not so much the Christian Democrats’ insistence but pressure coming from two Hungarian-owned supermarket chains, operating as franchises. They lobbied for a law that would be advantageous to smaller stores that can remain open on Sundays and disadvantageous to the large foreign-owned chains. Of course, it is possible, even likely, that pressure came from these sources, but given the reaction of the Catholic Church and KDNP there can be no doubt that the Christian Democratic (non)-party had a major role to play here.

KDNP’s fight for Sunday closings began in 2000, and a year later the Conference of Catholic Bishops joined forces with the party. One must keep in mind that the chairman of KDNP, Zsolt Semjén, once described his party as the political arm of the Hungarian Catholic Church. Ever since that time Sunday store closings remained an important demand of the Christian Democrats as well as the Catholic Church. In April 2011 they managed to convince the national economic ministry to conduct a study which, unfortunately for them, showed that the issue was both politically and economically sensitive. It would be unpopular, and it would deprive the budget of about 50 billion forints in taxes. So, for almost four years the issue was not on the agenda. Sometime in early November 2014, however, Viktor Orbán unexpectedly decided to support the idea. The bill was signed into law on December 16, 2014, and beginning on the following March 15 supermarkets, big box stores, and many other retail stores closed their doors on most Sundays.

The repeal of the law on Sunday closings sheds light on decision-making in Orbán’s government. On Friday, on Hungarian state radio, Viktor Orbán still talked about the desirability of Sunday closings and in fact revealed that his government in the past few years has been trying to find ways to extend work-free Sundays to encompass not only the retail trade but other sectors as well. He said, however, that they will take a look at the economic consequences of the current practice on Monday. I got the impression that if the economic indicators were favorable, the present law would remain in force. Moreover, he added, they have “plenty of time” to make a decision. In one sentence that most people overlooked, however, Orbán said that “in light of the debate [in the cabinet meeting] we will decide on the right political conduct.” So, after all, it was not to be a purely economic decision.

This morning Bence Tuzson, undersecretary in charge of government communication, seemed not to have been updated since Friday. In an interview on ATV’s Start he fiercely defended the current practice of Sunday closings. A couple of hours later, Sunday closings were on their way out.

Although I’m sure he tried, Viktor Orbán couldn’t convince the KDNP to support the repeal of the bill their party found so important for ideological reasons. Only about half an hour after the announcement of the decision by Antal Rogán, Népszabadság learned that Péter Harrach, leader of the KDNP caucus, indicated that their MPs will not vote for the repeal. “The question has been a matter of principle for the last seven years,” he said. Soon after the announcement, the Conference of Hungarian Catholic Bishops complained that the government hadn’t asked their opinion. András Veres, president of the Conference, added that “as a Christian and as a bishop of the Church [he finds] the present decision of the government mistaken and outright wrong.” The same Veres, according to HVG, declared that he “hasn’t heard of anyone who died of starvation because he couldn’t buy food on Sunday.”

It is not only the Christian Democrats and the Catholic Church who are against the decision to repeal the law. According to rumor, János Lázár is considering not voting for the bill that most likely will reach the floor tomorrow, although Orbán warned the Fidesz ministers that not voting for the bill might mean losing their jobs. Many rumors are baseless, but perhaps this time there is something to this gossip because Nándor Csepreghy, Lázár’s deputy who is close to his boss, indicated that the younger generation of Fidesz politicians was ready to continue the fight despite societal opposition and pressure from the opposition. Lázár certainly belongs to the younger generation of Fidesz leaders.

As for the economic side of the question, it is hard to decide whether Sunday closings hurt retail business or not. Those who claim it did point out that today there are 8,000 fewer employees in retail trade than at the beginning of 2015. Moreover, they add, in the last year alone about 800 small stores had to close. They argue that the small stores didn’t gain at the expense of large foreign chains, as the government intended. On the contrary, they lost customers. The real beneficiaries, the argument goes, were precisely those large supermarkets and big box stores the government wanted to discriminate against. On the other side, the argument goes something like this. Businesses have only gained by Sunday closings. Their turnover last year was 6% higher than the year before. But the increase in turnover might be explained by higher real wages and the hookup of cash registers with the National Tax Office. And, at the same time, the shuttering of many smaller stores may have nothing to do with Sunday closings.

The wisdom of the repeal is obvious. As Magyar Nemzet rightly pointed out, Fidesz isn’t so much afraid of the result of the referendum as the “road to it.” If a referendum were held, the opposition parties would have three months to campaign in favor of the repeal and against the government. Although the retreat is a loss of face for Fidesz, given its current problems it is better for the government to back down than to slug it out.

Now the opposition should turn to the role played by the officials of the National Election Office and the National Election Committee. The Kúria clearly stated that these officials are unfit to lead an independent body that is supposed to guard the purity of the elections. How can we trust the results of future elections if the decisions of these people are guided by the government’s interests? The opposition parties should also force the government to begin a serious investigation into the circumstances of the February 23 events at the National Election Office. The likelihood of Fidesz involvement on some level in the skinheads’ appearance at the Election Office is pretty obvious to everybody. If the opposition parties put as much effort into these two projects as MSZP did in validating its referendum question, victory might be possible. Fidesz is becoming vulnerable.

April 11, 2016
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Roderick Beck



Considering that this ‘lost battle’ has probably occupied a great deal of excessive effort, contemplation, rumination, and discussion in the corridors of Government power, this ‘win’ could now arguably allow for much more time allotted to come to grips with the economy, the state of education and health and the welfare of families and individuals within the country. Perhaps that water-logged log Fidesz has been sitting on for the longest while could be getting bumpy as well. It could give’em some splinters if they continue to roll against the tide that seems to now be coming in waves.

In a way this is just again a diversion – it’s supposed to show that Fidesz listens to the people and is the voice of the people … Other problems (like health care) are taken out of the limelight by this. And why do stores have to open on Sundays in Hungary – while in developed countries like Germany this is not really necessary? Let me give you two examples: A member of my wife’s family (who is surely not a leftist) with two teenage sons complained bitterly to her that the family has no way of going shopping together – he works all week and when he’s free, the wife or the children are occupied … And the same goes for my neighbour who right now works in one of the famous Hungarian spas replacing tiles in a pool – of course this can only be done in the evening and at night during closure – they can’t just shut off the whole business for a week. So he and the other workers are away from home and sleep during the day – at least they make good money there while many people have to take on a second… Read more »
Roderick S. Beck

Wolfi, most developed countries do allow stores open on Sunday. The US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and I believe China. It is a question of basic right. We want the right to use our time as we see fit. Germany keeps stores closed as a bone tossed to the Lutheran and Catholic Churches. Frankly I am tired of you constantly acting as Germany is the model for everyone. We Americans do not want to be like the Germans.

Roderick, you misunderstood me – sorry if I didn’t make myself clear enough. my point was that there is not this absolute need to do your shopping on Sundays in counties like DACH – because people have enough time during the week – while in Hungary etc almost everybody is working their a**es off from Monday to Friday night … Just look at the examples I gave! Of course I’m with you re opening times and enjoyed the freedom of Sunday shopping on my visits to the UK, Canada, the USA etc … PS: In Germany the pressure right now is for opening times to be lengthened during the week – many shops in the city centers are open now till 22 or 24 hours and of course we have “open Saturday nights” and open Sundays several times a year. I still remember those horrible times 40, 50 years ago when I was away working all week and had to scramble on Saturday morning (like thousands of others …) to do my shopping for vegetables etc because most of the supermarkets closed at noon – there was only one small shop nearby that was open till two in the afternoon.… Read more »

The symbol of freedom – to consume. Just to be precise.

Orban made a significant mistake. People don’t care about democracy and human rights, but they do want to consume. Just like in 1990, they wanted their bananas and refrigerators and imported used cars not democracy.

It’s the same with the internet tax, it was a private consumption item. People want the “privacy” (obviously the service providers know everything about the consumers) to shop in any which way the want and hate government intervention. Other than that, they are absolutely ok with tyranny.

Roderick S. Beck

Freedom to use your time as you wish is an important right. Why the stupid Germans and Austrians still close stores on Sunday is beyond me. I can shop and do whatever I want when I want in America. Stores are usually open 7 days and those of us who actually work Monday through Friday appreciate having a full weekend. And I can go to a museum or a restaurant on a national holiday even Independence Day. In fact in Manhattan more stores are open 24 hours a day, including famous grocery stores.

Germany has that strong Lutheran tradition – life shouldn’t be fun, but only hard work! You still find it in many aspects of daily life … Btw the UK used to be much worse too, though there I think it’s partially a tradition from WW1: Shops were closed on Sundays – later in London they opened around 11 or so (after church services …). Pubs/bars had very limited opening times during the week and even more limited on Sundays – and even in London you couldn’t get a glass of beer or wine with your meal after half past two in the afternoon. People were supposed to get back to work! That also was a shock for me and my friends when we came to England the first time in 1965 – all pubs in the country closed at 10 o’clock – or rather there came the call for “last orders” which meant you had about 20 minutes to finish your last pint – or sometimes two … And my wife was very surprised on our visit to London five years ago when on a Sunday at half past ten the barkeeper started to close all the beer taps –… Read more »


You need to re-visit!

Whilst opening on a Sunday is still unsatisfactory – big shops trade 10am to 4pm with possible ‘viewing’ either side – and with the government still trying to take on the powerful USDAW union for more realistic hours – at least busy people have more available shopping time.

Unlike Wurzburg, for example, when my partner tried to get some emergency underwear and toiletries. The first English-speaking Wurzburgian she met, was shocked at such a request. “Where do you think you are?” she said. “This is Germany!”

However shops on the high-street are having a hard time. Us Brits do so much internet shopping now that all ‘shops’ are open 24/7.

There are very few days when we are not receiving an internet parcel such is the enthusiasm of ‘A nation of shopkeepers’ that Napoleon accused us of being.


…and pubs can choose their opening hours – all day if they wish and no ‘drinking up’ time.


Yes, I know charlie – times have changed, but as an old man I still remember those “good old days” which weren’t really so good!

Seems you’re doing ok – wish you a speedy recovery!

You should have made your visit to Würzburg under happier circumstances – it’s a really nice town and they make a good wine there. This part of bavaria is called “Franken” – and the people there insist on not being Bavarians …


Thanks Wolfi!

We intend to follow up on your suggestion.

We will in future take 48hrs for the journey to Hungary – instead of 24hrs.

The village B&B that my partner found was so friendly, clean and peaceful that we have decided to break the journey at Wurzeburg in future. Almost exactly half way.

And the Wurzeburgians are just so friendly and helpful.

It would not be fair to judge them only on the emergency I experienced – I would like to repay them somehow – even if it’s in a token way.

I run a ‘ceilidh’ band where we play and I ‘call’ the dances – for example Playford moves. I’m sure the band would love to play in a village hall for an ‘English Folk-Dance’ evening in Wurzburg.

I will sound them out.

I owe it to Wurzburg – and thanks for your best wishes.


Good idea!
And btw there are other nice places in Franken:
Nürnberg of course is famous, Bamberg is another small town which is famous for its breweries, so if you’re more a fan of a pint of beer instead of a glass of wine …


Re: ‘..ok with tyranny’

Perhaps but if the Sunday law is an indication it could mean only up to a point. This ‘win’ could be the electorate’s acorn to grow a base of affecting change in their lives on
concerns very important to them.

The government if they are servants of the people must take into consideration all points of view in deliberations regardless of constantly harping on ‘majorities’ and ‘minorities’. I’d think this would provide some confidence in future pushes on issues in Magyarorszag ostensibly a democratic state in Central Europe. If not the people aren’t getting their ‘ forint worth’. Who’s paying the check there anyway for what they bought?




Nice that you’re in a ceilidh band. Great to see that you are carrying on that great tradition of music and dance! I am glad
that it has been kept up by some considering all the changes that have occurred in English and Irish culture.

Good luck with your band and keep a movin’ ‘around the clock’ with Mr. Playford and his ‘moves’.


You certainly may enjoy a full weekend, with the freedom to go to a supermarket, museum or restaurant any time you please. Just remember that the people serving you in those museums, restaurants and supermarkets do not enjoy that right.
Part of the problem is, Hungary has never enforced labor laws since 1990. Employers in the retail sector regularly force employees to work 55-hour weeks for 40-hour pay. A few years ago, I was having lunch at a friend’s house when a supervisor at Spar called up my friend’s wife and demanded she come in to work — or be fired. I later learned she did not get overtime pay.
If retail shops are open on Sundays, Hungary needs to guarantee full-time workers adequate time off during the work week, and at least one weekend day off (if the employee wants it.) They should also change labor laws to make part-time work easier.
I grew up in Belgium, where Sunday closures are pretty much universal. Everyone looked forward to Sundays as a day to spend with families and friends. I didn’t see too much problem with that.



Shops should be able to decide to open or close as a pure business decision.

They are – after all – in a service industry.

No religious lobby should decide whether I can shop or not. They may keep their Sunday ‘holy’ if they wish. I want the freedom to decide for myself.

If I work shifts or unsocial hours myself then the service industry should be available to me – if commerce too wishes it.

If you have reasons not to work on a Sunday, then the retail service industry is not for you if you have to enforce your values on potential customers. Your choice.

Sunday opening is a tremendous wealth creation factor in many countries that have discovered it.

In Germany it would unequivocally stimulate the economy in that already powerhouse if an economy.

Hungary needs it like its inhabitants need oxygen.

Roderick S. Beck
No one forces anyone to work on the weekends. They do it because they are better off. European concern about fairness and social justice is largely responsible for a 10% unemployment rate when the States is at 4.9%. That is a huge loss in national income and welfare. The European system condemns people in long term unemployment so that the employed can have an easy life. And yes, I do see a problem with how Belgium does it. Belgium is an excellent example of stagnant Europe. It has an unemployment rate of 8.7% and is no shining example of economic growth or a dynamic society. However, your unemployment rate has created a really disenchanted Moslem minority. Let us get over the crap about spending time with family and friends. The shops being open doesn’t force people to ignore their families orfriends. However, it does mean you can do more things with them. In the US even on a holiday I can go with a friend to Metropolitan Museum or the Opera or a rock concert or a restaurant or the zoo or … Please spare me the crap about reserving Sunday for “prayer and family”. I sick of hearing it.

Re: ‘reserving Sunday for ‘prayer and family’

You know at the time it was all done and ‘good’. All was well with the world as the Lord got his day. I could recall when some stores here started to be open on Sundays. Sacrilege was the call! How could that happen? But as all things go with the press of modernity it finally came around that one could go out and buy a pair of pants or a drink and behold also to get to ‘receive’ the little wafer in Church. Here those ‘blue laws’ which restricted retail activity on Sundays still exist in some states but for the most part most stores are open. So the ‘secularization’ of society looks as if it has continued on its pace as religious belief has been undergoing some change in societies all over the world.


You just proved how the government waist its time and taxpayers’ money on things that have little relevance to reality. What they should improve is labour laws, as that would make change. Let me share that restaurants, movie theatres, theatres, soccer stadiums, churches, public transportation are all open on Sunday. Would you want those to be closed too, or that would inconvenience you and others?


Of course, when you have such system consistently from day one, you have that and treat it as standard.
However, the situation is quite different when you had it since a couple of decades, it became your ‘standard’, so to speak, and someone taking this right from you.
And even worse that all for a hypocrite reason, because be honest, just how many families decided to go to church instead of the mall?
Just who do they think bought this bull?

The most important part isn’t the possibility to buy some milk on a Sunday, but your right to decide, whether or not to do it!
Your your right to decide, if you going to shop or pray!

In my opinion this is the crucial question here, and this is the question which Orbán and his pseudo-christian lot made to retreat about enforcing any longer.

(I nearly said that) I still don’t understand why the so called ‘opposition’ couldn’t come up with this point anywhere, — but I have no illusions anymore, really. Now the most important thing is that ‘who made claim first’ for the referendum. and who didn’t.
Go, figure!

In case it did came up and I missed it somehow, I apologise.


London Calling!

“……………..After the fall of communism, stores could be open on Sundays and we really enjoyed that. It was a symbol of freedom.”

So, listen up trolls?

Orban’s political system is like Communism OK?

So where are you now, trolls? With your “Orban always wins” balderdash.

Not even a “it’s only a trivial matter” defence of their beloved Viktor.

For goodness sake you get paid for your rubbish – where are you?

Suck it up losers – this will be a slow building theme to an inevitable crescendo.

(Where is a troll when you need one? Normally they’re like bananas – they come along in bunches.)

Where are you Akos? And Cirbi? And……. and…..

It’s all gone quiet over there!




Of course in such a Patriarch Society it’s easy for the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Unchristian church – and for male politicians to minimise the inconvenience of closed shops.

Shops that are closed at the very time I am not working and shops open when I am possibly tied to my work desk.

These ‘Patriarchs’ have their ‘little’ women – and assistants – to do their shopping for them – besides their ‘making babies’ duties.

Can you imagine that evil Bishop Palffy finding his way around a supermarket on any day?

We’ve heard too much of Patriarchal Men pontificating on Sunday shopping.

Where’s the woman’s voice?


There are a number of developments relating to education reform in Hungary. They were summarized in today’s Nepszava (—ujabb-akciora-szolit-a-tanitanek-mozgalom ). But they are much better understood by looking at the documents on the Tanitanek website. The teachers trade unions headed by Mrs. Gallo and Mr. Mendrey have called a two hour warning strike for this Friday (see ). They are also supporting a full one day strike called by the Teachers’ Strike Committee – on 20 April – that meets the statutory criteria of the Fidesz strike law. ( The call leaflet for the April 20th action can be seen at ) The Civil Public Education Platform and the Tanitanek movement is supporting both of these actions. Discussions are continuing between the government, unions, and the civil society reformers. The dispute over if the round table has any legitimacy at all continues.


OT – Some of the opinion polls Századvég carried out in secret for the government have been released (because of a court order), and they show that a majority of Hungarians are (and were) opposed to a raft of Fidesz policies, not least the enormous waste of money on sports stadiums. Story here:


Yes, but it would be extremely misleading to conclude from that that Fidesz is hated (which may or may not be true).

These – individually indeed unpopular – projects or policies may or may not influence the elections years from now.

Many people in Kőszeg and Balatonfüred I know who hate stadiums and Sunday closing will still vote for Fidesz over the “Communists” at any time. That’s just they way they live.

Elections are not decided about stadiums and the like.

Is there an ability to lead on the other side or can we expect the neverending series of hissy fits and infighting? And so on.



“…it would be extremely misleading to conclude from that that Fidesz is hated…”

No, in a normal society it wouldn’t…simply because one ought to hate the deterioration of norms and values in the society.
One has no choice if one can tell the difference between Right and Wrong: FIDESZ MUST BE HATED.

Simple as that.


petofi: All I’m saying is that disagreement with one decision or even a series of decisions do not directly affect election outcomes. It’s a liberal myth that people weigh the policy offerings in party manifestos and then decide which provides the better overall solution. Elections have nothing to do with such rational decisions. People make their minds up and then find arguments to support that decision. If they like Orban better – and many people I know still after all prefer him at any day over Gyurcsany or Schiffer or whoever the current MSZP guy is – they will prefer him despite the Sunday closing or the unnecessary stadiums. They forgive. I hate Fidesz but many people simply don’t, for them Fidesz (being “against the commies”) is an identity issue and this must never be underestimated. See f.e. Fruzsina Skrabski, a Fidesz top level insider (given her family connections).


It’s not a “liberal” myth.


Yes, it is. It’s one of the most fundamental assumptions of mainstream political science and of economics (re economic questions).

The rational voter (or rational economic actor) is, however, unfortunately a myth (though admittedly the “behavioral” school allows a bit of criticism, that is from within the paradigm). It is just not true. The world is not so simple.

Yet liberals – irrationally – cling on to those ideas (because the entire university research, promotional, publication system is based on that etc.).


@ Zula

“…and many people I know still after all prefer him..”

–Funny company you keep…


The best standup of the day — from the worst liar!
Getting the hang of it, though.
The lying, that is.


In all the kerfuffle over the Sunday “To close or not to close, that is the question”, I find the quote from Bishop András Veres the most amusing:

Veres added that “as a Christian and as a bishop of the Church [he finds] the… …government mistaken and outright wrong.”

Isn’t it hilarious that a guy who makes his living disseminating (at worst) lies and (at best) fairy stories to children and anyone else who is gullible enough to listen and whose world and life-view is based on the idea of an all-seeing and all-knowing god along with heaven, limbo and hell, should have the effrontery to accuse anyone of being “mistaken and outright wrong”? Hilarious? Yes it is.

Hey Andris, come down from your pulpit and get yourself some reality – and you look after your Sunday shopping and I’ll look after mine.


This is clearly a defeat for the government. It is entirely of their own making. They should not have set out on the course of shutting the shops without being satisfied they had overall public support. If they needed to keep the nonentity Semjen happy they could have called a referendum. The idea that a European government needs to consider the views of some mediaeval bishops of the Holy Catholic Church is laughable. What next? The inquisition?

There was a change of heart when Orban reassessed the prospects of success and decided that he was facing embarrassment and almost certain defeat on the issue. Better accept it now and look sensible and democratic rather than fight an impossible battle just to keep Semjen and his bishops happy.

A victory for common sense but it does not make a scrap of difference to the rule of Orban’s corrupt regime and his oligarchs. He is sometimes right but usually for the wrong reasons. This is no time for rejoicing, but it is time to go shopping.


A new dispute has arisen in relationship to a national teachers one day strike set for April 20. Under the Fidesz strike law amended in December 2010 and which came into force in January 2011 it included a provision on the “minimum services” that have to be guaranteed before workers or unions planning to go on strike. If employers and workers fail to agree, employers and governing bodies can ask the Labor Court to overrule a strike if it is believed that public services are likely to be affected. According to an MTI report Imre Sipos, the state secretary for public education, said the government wants the minimum services to be provided at all schools, while the teachers’ unions want the rules to apply only to certain schools.