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Hungarian Parliament Passes Anti-Foreign NGO Law

Affected NGOs remain defiant, say will fight in court.

14 June 2017

Ignoring most of the criticism from abroad, Hungary’s ruling party, Fidesz, yesterday pushed through an NGO law that places new restrictions on organizations that receive funding from abroad. While the government says such legislation is needed to limit foreign meddling in Hungary’s affairs and increase transparency, critics charge that the real intent is to stigmatize critical groups, especially those funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros (pictured).

 

According to the law, every organization that receives more than 7.2 million forints ($26,300) from abroad would be branded “foreign” and need to display that status on their websites and other promotional material. The law justifies such measures through the assertion that foreign-funded NGOs can “threaten the country’s political and economic interests and interfere with the functioning of its institutions,” Euronews reports. Reflecting the domination of Fidesz in parliament, the vote was 130 in favor and 44 against.

 

Euronews says that legislators adjusted some of the law’s provisions based on feedback from the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. For example, it will now take one year instead of three to lose the “foreign” label if an organization stops receiving funding from abroad. But, writes the Budapest Beacon, “... the government modified the bill but in a manner that left in place its most pernicious provisions, including those to stigmatize organizations as being ‘foreign-funded’ and the threat to legally dissolve an NGO if it does not register as such.”

 

“Cosmetic changes to the law in response to the Venice Commission have not altered the law’s true intent,” said Goran Buldioski, director of the Open Society Foundation’s work in Europe, as quoted by the Budapest Beacon. “It seeks to suppress democratic voices in Hungary just when the country needs them most. It attacks Hungarians who help fellow citizens challenge corruption and arbitrary power, and who stand up for free and independent media and for open debate.” Soros is the founder of the Open Society Foundation, as well as Central Europe University, also the alleged target of recent legislation.

 

Several Hungarian NGOs have already pledged to defy the law, the Budapest Beacon reports. Both the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Hungarian Civil Liberties Union say they will ignore the new requirements and turn to courts at home and abroad. “The Hungarian government’s public statements already stigmatize those who stand up for human rights and fundamental European values as serving foreign interests,” said Marta Pardavi from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, as quoted by Euronews.

 

Another group of NGOs, united in the Civilizacio campaign, said in a statement that the law was unnecessary because local NGOs already display sufficient transparency, would portray foreign-funded organizations as a “threat to the country,” and would prove “harmful, because it undermines mutual trust in society and questions the right to freedom of expression.”

 

“We are here to stay and to continue our common work as we must not abandon Hungarian society and the people who need and count on our support,” the statement concluded.

 

 

  • Thousands protested in May against the NGO law and the legislation allegedly targeting CEU. Among other things, the hastily passed education law requires foreign universities to maintain a campus in their home countries (the United States in CEU’s case). Critics view the law as intentionally designed to shut down CEU, given Soros’ financial support for the school and its role as a bastion of free thinking in the country.  

 

  • Police conducted a drug raid on Saturday at Aurora, a community center in Budapest that houses a number of prominent Hungarian NGOs, the Budapest Beacon reported. While the police said they were prompted by “multiple complaints from neighbors about drug use,” others questioned if other motivations were at play. “It means something that they came here and not other places in Budapest,” said Aron Lukacs, director of communications at Aurora, in an interview with the Budapest Beacon. “It’s a lot more than a simple bar […] we provide a platform for NGOs helping Hungarian society.”

 

  • On 17 May, the European Parliament escalated the confrontation with Hungary when it passed a resolution to initiate a review of the country’s democracy record. That decision, which is without precedent, could eventually lead to a suspension of Hungary’s EU voting rights, EUobserver reported

 

  • The EU decided this week take legal action against Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic over their refusal to accept refugees according to previously agreed quotas. 

Compiled by Jeremy Druker

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