Hungarian NGOs embrace civil disobedience

I don’t think anyone was surprised when two days ago the Hungarian parliament with its overwhelming, almost two-thirds Fidesz majority passed a law imposing strict regulations on foreign-funded non-governmental organizations. The law bears a suspicious resemblance to the 2012 Russian law that required groups that received funds from abroad to identify themselves as “foreign agents.” The Hungarian version is somewhat more “lenient.” The targeted NGOs don’t have to call themselves “foreign agents,” but they must bear the label that they are the recipients of foreign funds, which can be considered a stigma.

Defenders of the bill insist that there is nothing “discriminatory” in this new “civic law,” but, of course, this is not the case. If it were, there wouldn’t be so many “exceptions” to the rule. For example, churches and sports clubs are exempt. Fidesz politicians feel confident in capitalizing on how the Hungarian everyman reacts to anything foreign, especially after a series of anti-migrant campaigns that, as we know from polls, greatly increased xenophobia in the country. Just imagine an interview with the managing director of TASZ, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, in which either she must introduce herself or the reporter must introduce her as “the leader of a foreign-funded organization.”

Fidesz’s pretext for enacting such a law is the government’s alleged striving for more transparency and for preventing money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Anyone at all familiar with the work of such organizations as TASZ, the Hungarian Helsinki Commission, or Amnesty International, three NGOs that are specifically targeted by the government, knows that it is not money laundering that is bothering the Orbán government. Over the years these NGOs have become increasing irritants as far as the Orbán government is concerned. Every time the lawyers working for these NGOs suspect illegality they immediately turn to the courts, and they almost always win. As far as Fidesz and the Orbán government are concerned, this is an intolerable situation.

The government’s position is that human rights activists are not elected officials and therefore they have no right to act as a quasi-political opposition to the elected government. Of course, this argument is unacceptable in a democratic society where people can freely organize political associations on pro- or anti-government platforms. Even political parties fall into the same category. They are voluntary organizations ruled by their own by-laws and their own boards of directors. All these groups have the right to function freely as long as they act in a lawful manner. Fidesz has pretty well succeeded in making the other political parties inconsequential. But the NGOs refuse to go away or kowtow to the government. And so it was time, somehow or other, to get rid of these pesky civil rights activists with their highly qualified lawyers who keep poking their noses into the Orbán government’s dirty business.

Viktor Orbán hates these organizations, whom he considers in large measure responsible for many of his problems with the European Union, the European Court of Justice, and the European Court of Human Rights. If these organizations hadn’t existed, he wouldn’t have had half the problems he has had over the years with the European Commission.

With the anti-NGO law, Orbán is most likely convinced that the small, cosmetic alterations the government made by incorporating some of changes recommended by the Venice Commission will satisfy the European Commission, as similar superficial modifications to Hungarian laws satisfied the commissioners in the past. For a few days foreign papers will be full of articles condemning the undemocratic, illiberal Hungarian state and a few foreign governments will publish official statements expressing their disapproval of Orbán’s latest move, but nothing of substance will happen. In fact, in a couple of days everybody will forget about the bill and its consequences. Then, sometime in the future, the Orbán government will make another move against the NGOs. Because few observers believe that this will be the last attempt to get rid of the NGOs that stand in the way of the present Hungarian government.

Only a few hours after the enactment of the “civic law,” TASZ announced that it will not obey the law, i.e. it will not register as the law demands because “this is the most effective way of combating this unconstitutional law.” According to TASZ, the law violates the freedoms of speech and association and unlawfully differentiates among civic organizations. TASZ’s lawyers are also convinced that it violates EU laws because the legislation violates the European Union’s internal market rules, in particular the free movement of capital. TASZ is prepared for the consequences of its action. Máté Szabó, professional director of TASZ, argued along the following lines: “Some of the enforcement possibilities will be open to us only if we don’t comply with the law. Since we do not want to relinquish a single law enforcement option, we will not comply with the requirements of the law.” Stefánia Kapronczay, executive director of TASZ, said: “We are aware of the fact that legal procedures will be initiated against us, but we are not afraid of them. Yearly we represent our clients in more than a hundred cases in the courts of Hungary, the Constitutional Court, and the Strasbourg court…. I’m convinced that after long procedures this law will have to be discarded.” The Hungarian Helsinki Commission joined TASZ in boycotting the new law on civic groups. “Unless and until the Hungarian Constitutional Court and/or the European Court of Human Rights hear the case and approve the law, we will not register.”

I think that the decision of these two civic organizations is the correct one, even if László Trócsányi, minister of justice, announced that “civil disobedience is not known to me, nor is it known in [our] legal system.” This was obviously meant not as an admission of ignorance but as a warning to TASZ and the Hungarian Helsinki Commission. However, I would like to remind Trócsányi that his lawyers don’t have a great track record against the lawyers of these two NGOs.

June 15, 2017
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Jean P.
Guest

The NGOs are the last bastions.

Member

It will be interesting to see how the thug responds to people finally standing up to him.

Observer
Guest

Congratulations to those.
As in the CEU case, resistance should have met every grab and infringment. Alas, nothing like in this k…va country, hence the regime of thieves and fascists.

TheMachinist
Guest

OT

Former MSZP politicians (Alexandra Dobolyi, a former EMP and her husband Janos Veres, former minister of finance and MSZP’s regional strongman in Szabolcs county) are heading to New York as diplomats.

Fidesz one by one buy MSZP politicians by the kilogram as they say it in Hungarian (megveszlek kilóra).

There are rumors that Árpi Habony personally delivered cash to Attila Mesterhazy (I think even Vasarnapi Hírek wrote about this too) not to be to aggressive as opposition. MSZP-niks are cheap.

Seriously, people really think MSZP could ever defeat Fidesz?

http://index.hu/belfold/2017/06/16/nem_nagykovet_lesz_az_mszp-s_dobolyi_alexandra_mas_posztot_kaphat_a_kormanytol/

aida
Guest

Veres was a big Party boss in Eastern Hungary for the MSZP. From 1980 he was active in MSZMP. What qualifications he had to be Finance Minister is not clear. His wife ran his office before he married her. Both were knee deep in scandal over the expenses of a Macao trip. He is famous for fisticuffs with reporters.
His wife, if they make it to New York will be working with Ambassador Katalin Bogyay at the UN. Maybe she will be groomed to succeed the Ambassador.
In any normal country such move would be seen as evidence of political inclusiveness. Without speculating too far, it is safe to say the Opposition will be well rid of Mr and Mrs Veres.

Member

Well said.

Guest

If I understand this correctly, it would be more to the point to say that they were prominent in MSZMP – and made a smooth transition to MSZP after 1989?
So they also might have skeletons in their closets?

Again the non-existent lustration comes to my mind – just look here:
http://www.politics.hu/20170616/parliaments-votes-to-hand-over-communist-era-informant-files-to-archives/

aida
Guest

There are many who made a smooth transition including Gyurcsany, Kover, Stumpf, Orban, diplomats, state security personnel, spies etc. The list is almost endless.

The America definition of an honest politician is one who is ” once bought, stays bought”.

wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘Maybe she will be groomed to succeed the Ambassador’

That would be something…furthering perhaps ‘cultural diplomacy’ , of all things , within the great ethnic melting pot of NYC..Diplomacy with all the skill sets?

aida
Guest

Who knows?

Istvan
Guest
Eva correctly notes that “in a couple of days everybody will forget about the bill and its consequences. Then, sometime in the future, the Orbán government will make another move against the NGOs.” It is also unfortunately true that large Budapest demonstrations such as the one held in April relating to this law have not resulted in sustained organization against what was being protested against. Part of the reason for this is going to a demonstration where one can be relatively anonymous is a lot easier than organizing in sustainable groups that can be infiltrated by friends of Fidesz which can have real life consequences for Hungarians. While today’s Hungary is not the police state of the Rákosi regime that fully utilized a combination of oppression, censorship, and surveillance in order to maintain its stranglehold on the Hungarian populace, the reality of the Fidesz regime is none the less quietly intimidating. My guess is that civil disobedience relating to the law on NGOs will largely be limited to those who have a limited amount to lose because the law could very likely wipe out their own livelihood and they have the skill sets to emigrate if they need to. Young… Read more »
Member
“[Gandhi] figured, from what he knew of British democracy, that the House of Commons would only be willing to suppress uprisings to a limited degree before conceding. If he had faced a different opponent, he would have had a different fate.” You strike upon a very important point here. The British, for all their faults, actually had a core set of liberal-democratic beliefs. In the face of a strong protest leader who had a legitimate mandate, they could only hypocritically betray these beliefs for so long. (Naturally, their decision to leave India was helped by the fact that the Brits could no longer afford to maintain an empire by the mid-20th century.) Fidesz has no core beliefs except their personal enrichment. A mafia state can rule relatively peacefully so long as there is no competition. Once somebody legitimately threatens their power, all bets are off. Let’s consider something else: Gandhi had been actively protesting against British rule for more than three decades before the Brits departed. Does anyone see this kind of tenacity in the YouTube generation? Moreover, Gandhi and many of his cohorts were prepared to die for their ideals, and many of them did. Which Hungarian protester is… Read more »
wrfree
Guest

Under the circumstances regarding the probability of civil disobediance occurring within the country it is encouraging to see that TASZ exists considering the political environment.

The entire electorate may not be immediately conscious of what their work protects but they look to be one of the last lines other than the electorate themselves that are very integral to guarding rule of law and justice within the country. Considering what TASZ does none should surprised how some would be eager to see its ‘operation’ compromised to other ‘lawful’ and governmental considerations.
On the other hand if TASZ goes citizens may then see the way of their government and will bring up questions in how to respond.

Member

“If TASZ goes citizens may then see the way of their government and will bring up questions in how to respond.”

Or they may say, “Thank Joisten that Orban atya got rid of those awful Soros traitors. If you want to live in Hungary, you have to respect our laws. If they don’t like it here, send them back to Tel Aviv!”

Given current trends, I am betting on the second option.

petofi
Guest

It is to laugh: Orban plays the pea game with the whole country. The uneducated morons play at it willingly, punctuated by cries of “Long live Orban!” and, “Down with Soros and all Jews!!”

After Orban picks their pockets clean, they all repair to the neighbourhood ‘kocsma’ to sing nationalistic songs.

HUNGARICUM!

Hajra Magyarok!!!

wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘The hope of the practitioners of civil disobedience is always that their actions will raise the consciousness of the masses to action, which they rarely do’

Unless unless they get so riled up with deep feeling because of injustice and understand that they must act in unison and hold back virtually nothing to make consistently perceived wrongs right. And like restive plebs , Pompeiis always lie in wait of the one blast which makes them ‘blow their top’.

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