Viktor Orbán’s next victims: The civic organizations

The Orbán government, at least on the surface, is not intimidated by the growing criticism of and demonstrations against its hurriedly accepted amendments to the law on higher education, which makes Central European University’s life in Hungary impossible. On the contrary, Zoltán Kovács, spokesman for the Hungarian government, attacked those who raised their voices in defense of the university. For example, when Ulrike Demmer, deputy spokesman of the German government, expressed her government’s concern over the amendments, Kovács fired back, saying that it looks as if George Soros can mislead even the German government with his lies. He also called it regrettable that a serious and responsible government such as the government of Germany would make such a statement.

In addition to its legislation against CEU, the Orbán government decided to proceed with its long-planned move against those civic organizations that receive financial assistance from abroad. I began collecting information on this issue sometime in February when I spotted a statement by László Trócsányi, minister of justice. He accused the NGOs of being political actors without any legitimacy as opposed to parliament, which is elected by the people. Soon enough Viktor Orbán himself attacked them. By late March the situation seemed grave enough for a group of scholars from the United States and Great Britain to sign a statement, “No to NGO crackdown in Hungary.” What was remarkable about this statement was that a fair number of the signatories came from decidedly conservative organizations and think tanks, like the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, the Atlantic Council, and the Adam Smith Institute. Their concern didn’t impress Viktor Orbán, who in Warsaw at the summit of the Visegrád Four countries accused the NGOs of being in the “migrant business,” which would require new regulations to ensure the “transparency” of their finances.

One didn’t have to wait long for follow-up action. On April 2, 444.hu obtained a copy of a proposal that would regulate all NGOs that receive foreign financial support. The reason given was long-winded and confused. Basically, the government was afraid that foreign interest groups might be able to influence Hungarian civic organizations to perform tasks that don’t serve the interests of the community but only the selfish interests of these foreign groups. Foreign-funded NGOs thus “endanger the political and economic interests … sovereignty and national security of Hungary.” For good measure, the proposed bill cited the danger of money laundering, financing extremist groups, and lending a helping hand to terrorists. The complete text of the draft can be read here.

HVG, with the help of its legal experts, took a quick look at the draft and decided that the bill in its present form doesn’t make the affected NGOs’ existence impossible. It is just nasty and humiliating. One of the humiliating items is that every time associates of these NGOs make a statement, give an interview, or provide informational material they must identify themselves as representing “an organization supported from abroad.” The experts decided that this is not as bad as the original idea, which apparently would have called the associates of these organizations “foreign agents.”

Spokesmen for these organizations were not as optimistic as HVG’s legal experts. According to Amnesty International, this new law can have the same devastating effect as the Russian law had after its introduction. Áron Demeter, Amnesty International’s human rights expert, considers the proposed bill a serious violation of the right of association and freedom of expression. Márta Pardavi of the Helsinki Commission regards the notion of “foreign subsidy” far too vague. It looks as if even EU grants are considered to be foreign subsidies and would thus be viewed as “foreign interference” that endangers Hungary’s national security. Or, there is a fund that was created from the budgets of the foreign ministers of the Visegrád Four countries. Is this also considered to be “foreign money”? She noted that churches and sports clubs are exempt from any such restrictions. Political think tanks and media outlets that also receive sizable amounts of money from abroad are exempt as well, although, as Pardavi rightly points out, they have a more direct influence on politics than, for example, the Helsinki Commission.

As it stands now, any civic organization that receives more than 7.2 million forints (about $25,000) a year from outside of Hungary must describe itself as an “organization supported from abroad.” Each time an organization receives any money from abroad, it must report the transaction to the courts within 15 days. The details of each organization’s finances will be listed on a new website called Civil Információs Portál. If an organization misses this deadline it can be fined and, in certain cases, can be taken off the list, which means that it will be shut down for at least five years.

Gergely Gulyás, one of the deputy leaders of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, invited all those parties that have individual caucuses for a discussion of the bill. At the meeting, held this afternoon, it became clear that none of the opposition parties wants anything to do with the bill, which will be submitted to parliament this week. Even Jobbik said “no” to the proposal. As Gulyás Gergely said after the meeting, “George Soros’s hands even reached as far as Jobbik.” As the Fidesz statement insisted, “every Hungarian must know who George Soros’s men are; what kind of money and what kinds of interests are behind these organizations supported from abroad.” The bill will be voted into law before the week is out.

But, as 444.hu pointed out, by attacking the NGOs the Orbán government is treading on dangerous ground because Hungary in 1999, during the first Orbán government, signed the Charter for European Security of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. In the charter we find the following: “We pledge ourselves to enhance the ability of NGOs to make their full contribution to the further development of civil society and respect for human rights and fundamental freedom.” 444.hu predicts that this piece of legislation, if passed, will prompt even greater protest in Europe and the United States than the Hungarian government’s action against CEU.

Given Hungarian political developments in the last seven years, I assume it doesn’t come as a great surprise that one of the key findings of Freedom House’s “Nations in Transit 2017” is that, with regard to democracy, “Hungary now has the lowest ranking in the Central European region,” behind Bulgaria and Romania. The trajectory of Hungary’s fall from grace is shown below.

April 5, 2017
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Member

Mindenkinek jogában állhat megásni a saját sírját. A Magyar nép ezt teszi 24/7, már évtizedek óta és most nagyon közel áll hozzá, hogy befejezze és bele is feküdjön – Örökre!

Detective2017
Guest

Let us search for the roots of the current madness.
Let us rank the enemies of the Enlightenment.
We need an effective defense, we have to know our enemies to eliminate them.
Where can we find the real investigate report on this crime story?

Guest

“…..EU grants are considered to be foreign subsidies and would thus be viewed as “foreign interference” that endangers Hungary’s national security.”

The most dangerous foreign interference is from Russia and Putin. This new “legislation” is another symptom of the hold Russia has on Orbán (most likely blackmail) with the purpose of stirring up hatred and conflict within EU countries, in retaliation for the sanctions against corrupt oligarchs.

wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘security’

And to get security a country must show its sovereignity where the state has full and unlimited control and power when it comes to mitigating and removing ‘foreign influences’. This looks the country’s position and CEU just had to go. It’s just like taking a page from the ‘Russian’ style of governing. Magyarorszag just takes the template together with the ‘laws’ needed and tweaks it in its own way.

Tough to see that slope of the democratic score line diving down to a slow death. And it shows an idea of how civil society will fare in the future with the relationship to its governors. The latter concerned with its steadfastness will probably not look too kindly to challenges and its challengers. But rather would almost demand a type of ‘cooperation’ which consistently ‘tows the line’ since challengers will feel the brunt of producing headaches for a state paranoid of anything that smacks of the foreign.

pappp
Guest

This is a slippery slope for the NGOs if ever there was one.

Yet many NGOs don’t want to be seen “confrontative” (not my word, theirs). “Let’s see the final version”. “Let’s hope Janos Ader will ‘veto’ the legislation”. I kid you not.

My question is: did Orban win in 2010 and 2014 by being meek and submissive? Did Trump win by being timid and appeasing?

The NGOs are doomed not just because of Orban but because they themselves lost their will to live. They don’t want to fight, don’t want to resist. They want to sip their lattes and have their cushy jobs and be able to keep complaining.

At least CEU is resisting.

bimbi
Guest

@pappp, 3:02 a.m.

Sorry to disagree with you but I am sure that all NGOs see themselves as serving necessary (in this country, certainly!) and democratic goals. They do not see themselves as members of Fight Club since this would be utterly at variance with their principles. Your reference to “sipping lattes” and having “cushy jobs” is an insult to each and every one of these conscientious and hard-working people. Do you really have to be told that you won’t get rich working for an NGO? I am sure however that they will continue to show their professionalism in continuing their work in the face of these quite unjustified threats based on the paranoia of a single man – whether ordered from Moscow or not.

Karesz
Guest

It’s a big dilemma I understand.

When faced with a bully do you resist or do you submit?

wrfree
Guest

Perhaps the most difficult problem of Western democracies in the 21st. Recently non-democracies appear to have become more emboldened to put more pressure on them. There now is more belligerence in promoting ‘interests’. And the strategy especially being charted in Europe by Putin appears to be working particularly well in Magyarorszag. He must be elated in how things are going. The table has been constantly set toward dismantling liberal point of views.

The CEU arguably has been test and a bit of a victory for illiberalism. What’s next? Perhaps a ‘crossing of the Rubicon’ and uttering the alleged phrase of Caesar at the banks, ‘Alea iacta est’.. ‘The die is cast’.

Time can only tell as democracies unfortunately are always behind the 8-ball when its opponents use pressured confrontation in the relationship. But like in most conflicts battles are lost but wars won. And the West knows this very well.

Guest

And in the end – money talks!

Just let the EU cut off the funds to Hungary and Poland.
And if this goes on, companies will think twice about investing there …

Of course, this hurts the poor people first – but they voted for O (just as the deplorables in the USA voted for Trump)!

wrfree
Guest

Well you hit it there.

What I just would like to say is that if there is a continuum for ‘caring’ and I use that in the sense of conducting political, social and economic life ‘for the greater good’ Viktor Bacsi illiberalism seems to operate in an opposite direction for the sake of abetting the wielding of power.

The regression is startling and I’m not sure how the West can stop the slide. Ironically if they ‘care’ too much (withdrawing funds which puts them in the position of being cruel to be kind when looking at the big picture) they just simply invite scorn and hellfire combined with approbation and persecution.

At this point that looks the way it’s going to be. That’s what happens in relationships where one just ‘cares’ too much. There’s a price to pay there also where one wants to hang out with you and simultaneously dislikes you very much. It’s best then to expect the spit in the eye and treat it as water off a duck’s back. At least then
you’re still always swimming.

bimbi
Guest

These are sad times for Hungary as the dictator’s grip tightens on this hapless country. However, congratulations to Jobbik for ‘saying it like it is’ with their ad. campaign which says, “You work, they (with pictures of Lorinc Penztaros and Orban) steal”.

Regarding the disgraceful vote on Tuesday when the Fidesz MPs to a man (are there no women?) stood up like automata to be counted by the paranoid Miniszterelnok, would someone, please publish the complete list of the Fidesz MP’s names, their districts and their nominal ‘profession’, so we can see them named and shamed before the country? Absolute power corrupts absolutely and they are absolutely corrupted. Traitors to the young, traitors to decency, but each one a faithful defender of his Master’s paranoid vision.

Karesz
Guest

This is interesting.

Zsolt Hernádi (CEO of MOL, the Hungarian oil and gas company) is – ever so slightly but still – criticizing Orban.

This after Hernádi has been fronting for Orban in MET Ag via another sub-front and (ii) for years has been protected by Orban (prosecution/intel. agencies) from extradition to Croatia.

Yet Hernadi too may have realized that he could’ve been twice as rich if he was only living in Romania where incidentally Hernadi is an investor, he may actually be behind Csiki Sör. Sandor Csanyi (CEO of OTP and also involved in MOL) would also be twice as rich for sure if he was a similarly situated oligarch in Romania.

is this a case of the deep state having some doubts about the dear leader?

http://hvg.hu/kkv/20170406_Aggaszto_jovot_lat_Magyarorszag_elott_a_Molvezer

bimbi
Guest

@Karesz, 6:19 a.m.

“Is this a case of the deep state having some doubts about the dear leader?”

If it is, Hungary is in deeper trouble than was imagined! All we need is a few people thinking that they could have ripped off twice as much as they have managed in Hungary by “working” elsewhere. Maybe it is easier to thrive by corruption in Romania – if so, the sooner Csanyi and Hernadi leave the better. The fact is that only Orban controls the corruption in Hungary and gains are apportioned with his approval.

God knows, that’s bad enough.

Latna
Guest

It’s more complicated. Csanyi is a huge investor in Hungarian agriculture and his giant food business (processing everything from milk to meat to wine) has been consistently losing money. Hernadi is also an investor too. I imagine they have a lot of money stashed away in Singapore but they obviously know the local market the best (home bias) so they have direct investments in Hungary too which are struggling and/or have relatively low valuations. And they are probably upset about it. The same asset has a higher valuation in Romania because the sustainable growth rate is much higher there. Why? Not because of any inherent condition but because of the political situation.

It may have occurred to them that you can’t change the fact that Hungary lacks a sea or high mountains or oil in the earth – but you can change the dear leader who is increasingly showing signs of madness.

petofi
Guest

What ‘political situation’? Nonsense. There is no political situation: what there is is modern day slavery. And it CAN’T be changed. The Hungaricoes got it, and own it due to their inbred desire to cheat–the government and one another. The Russians have hoisted them by their own petard. If you can stand by and watch the public purse being raped several times by the Malev boys of Russia, well then, you deserve harsher tries at public thievery.
They now have it. Of course, Orban thieves away increasing amounts, notably from the future as well with the debt on Rosatom; but like in all mafia associations, I’m sure he has to ‘kick up’ to Vlad-baby.

I can’t think of a people more deserving of such treatment than modern day Hungaricoes…

pappp
Guest

This may have to do with the fact that the husband of Reka Szemerkenyi (the just sacked Hungarian ambassador to DC) is actually a close colleague of Hernadi’s and are together involved in various businesses. They may be a little upset about the firing.

Orban totally misjudged the US it seems. He hoped that the Trump administration will embrace him but instead the US is still cool. Orban is deemed to too close to Russia for a NATO prime minister.

In other words Orban could indeed be an asset of the Russian intelligence, we suppose.

Istvan
Guest
Is it really possible that Réka Szemerkényi was removed because she failed in her diplomatic responsibility of informing the US government through diplomatic channels that Lex CEU, the higher education law passed Tuesday which forces CEU out of business in Hungary, is legitimate and nondiscriminatory. This is the story I have been reading in various places. My guess is that the truth is somewhat different than that. My guess is that Szemerkényi advised Péter Szijjártó that the move against CEU was not going to go over well in Washington. Effectively Péter Szijjártó likely told her its the bosses orders do as your told. It is completely possible Réka Szemerkényi tried to go around Szijjártó and made contact with Fidesz Parliamentarians while the bill was tabled for a short time advising them the same. Or she went further trying to contact the boss himself. Let’s recall that Réka Szemerkényi and George Pataki‏ have had a long standing relationship and there is little question he was supporting CEU publicly over the legislation. Possibly Ambassador Szemerkényi came up with the half baked idea that Hungary and the Trump administration could “sit down to negotiate the matter of the CEU, motivated by good intentions.”… Read more »
pappp
Guest

Like Trump will sit down and negotiate about a private university in Hungary. Yeah, I hear the Donald can’t wait to deal with Péter Szíjjártó.

Szemerkényi knows that this is total bullshit.

Why does an inl. agreement necessary? What practical relevance does it have? This entire thing is an idiocy.

Szemerkényi should’ve left immediately after her firing was announced and not continue to serve his corrupt boss and feed the public with total bullshit. Not that anybody would believe her.

Guest
It is an interesting dilemma. NGO’s in general work to advance societal goals which are generally in the interest of the affected populations. However, some NGO’s, Soros’ Open Society Foundation in particular are quite the opposite and work to advance the goals of America and globalization. If these goals are aligned then it is seen as benign but when they run opposite as we are seeing now in Europe (not just Hungary or Russia) then it is a huge problem and needs to be reigned in. Imagine what would happen if Russia set up similar NGO’s in the US to fund soft revolutions. Just look at all the turmoil over alleged election interference. But, apparently when the US does it then it is okay. How many color revolutions were financed by Soros (and some in the US itself, the Ferguson protests being one example)? Recently in Macedonia and Ukraine the unrest there was promulgated using OSF as a slush fund working hand in glove with the CIA, USAID (State Department), and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Any government that resists a unipolar world with American hegemony is automatically seen as an enemy and the first line of attack is… Read more »
Istvan
Guest

In relationship to the future of Réka Szemerkényi this article on Hungary’s Consul General to NY merits looking at http://hungarianfreepress.com/2017/04/03/ny-hungarian-consul-general-ferenc-kumin-is-not-a-proud-ceu-alumnus-anymore/

wrfree
Guest

Ugh.

Perhaps the fellow in time can reconsider with reflection of what he has apparently acquiesced to with a quiet silence after seemingly being proud to be affiliated with an exemplary university and kearning much from it. But it is apparent though he could not be of the stuff to lead CEU.

‘Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it’
Albert Einstein

pappp
Guest

Servility knows no bounds.

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