Tech & Rights

​Hungarian Government Opens 2017 With Renewed Attacks Against Civil Society

The Hungarian government has kicked off the new year with a fresh wave of attacks against three of the country's most prominent civil society organizations.

by György Folk
On Tuesday, a governing party official named Liberties member the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, along with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Transparency International Hungary, as the three main enemies of the Hungarian government.

The vice president of the ruling Fidesz party, Szilard Németh, said to ATV television that "these three organizations should be discouraged by all means and, I think, clear out from here."

Leaked draft law

This harsh political statement against civil society comes a day after a leaked draft law revealed the Hungarian government's plan to introduce a mandatory "wealth declaration" for the leaders and representatives of non-governmental organizations.

The Hungarian media commented that the plan gives the government the opportunity to publicly discredit these people and the NGOs they represent.

The newspaper Vasárnapi Hírek wrote that the Orbán government plans to amend the "civic associations' legislative environment," though no further details were given.

Populists see window of opportunity

This latest attack against civil society is the second wave, the first coming in 2014, when government authorities spoke and acted against the grantees of the EEA and Norway Grants.

Now, the government is publicly shaming the so-called "Soros empire," or grantees of the Open Society Foundations, as The Guardian wrote on Monday.

Following Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential election, populist politicians in Central and Eastern Europe see a window of opportunity to act against civil society and pass more restrictions against independent human rights NGOs.

Civil society reacts

Leaders of the targeted organizations strongly condemned the vice president's statement and warned that the primary aim of the government is to rid Hungary of independent NGOs, not to increase transparency.

"Transparency is already one of our main organisational principles; our financial reports are available for anyone. However, it is clear from these statements, that the main aim is not increasing transparency but eliminating independent NGOs. The HCLU will not be steered away from its true mission, and we will continue to defend the rights of our clients," Stefania Kapronczay, HCLU's executive director, said.

Márta Párvadi, co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, said that Németh's statements clearly reject democracy and democratic values, and were stated in a style that denies that those holding a different opinion are human beings.

"The Helsinki Committee will continue to exercise its fundamental civil and political freedoms: take part in public affairs and hold those in power accountable for human rights violations," Párvadi said.
"TI Hungary finds the statement of Mr. Németh absurd and deeply undemocratic, not worthy of an EU member state," said TI Hungary's executive director, József Péter Martin. "TI Hungary complies with all the laws and transparency principles, thus we will continue our activities on the same track as until now."
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