Márta Pardavi’s testimony at the EP hearing on the Situation in Hungary

Márta Pardavi is co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. A lawyer by training, she leads the organization’s work in the field of refugee protection. She also serves on the board of the PILnet Hungary Foundation, a project funded by the International Visegrád Fund, which supports NGOs in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, and the Verzió International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival. Between 2003 and 2011 she was a member of the board, and later vice-chair, of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, a pan-European alliance of 96 NGOs protecting and advancing the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced persons.

Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE)
European Parliament
Brussels, 7 December 2017

Dear Chair, Minister, members of the European Parliament,

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today, it is an honor.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee was founded in 1989 and has been working to defend human rights in Hungary. Our work focuses on protecting refugees and protecting human rights in detention and in criminal justice and the rule of law. This year, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee was shortlisted for the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly’s Vaclav Havel Prize and also was the recipient of the Gulbenkian Foundation’s prestigious Prize in Human Rights, in Portugal.

The common values in Article 2 of the Treaty are core values that are both the pillars and the drivers of our European community and European integration.

In Hungary, the government has systematically weakened checks and balances and the rule of law. The fundamental values of the EU have come under increasing threat and are being systematically disrespected.

Where independent institutions of governance have been dismantled or weakened, a free media and a vibrant and vocal civil society are essential to counterbalancing excessive power. Public participation in democratic processes and holding government accountable cannot be ensured without free and plural media and a free civil society.

Civil society has many roles, but one is particularly important here today. We speak truth to power. As a human rights organization, we protect individuals and society as a whole against the overreach of power and breaches of our common values as set out in Article 2 of the Treaty. When it says this discussion is nothing but a political attack and interference in domestic affairs, what the Hungarian government questions is exactly the shared nature of our common core European values. However, civil society’s role is to encourage also the European institutions, and others, to act in the interest of upholding our common values.

Space for expressing and accessing critical and pluralistic views in Hungary has been rapidly and alarmingly shrinking in the past year.

Beginning back in 2013, a series of measures began to target, discredit and intimidate civil society organizations that strive to hold the government to account on its obligations concerning anti-corruption, environmental protection, fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law. You will remember the series of unjustified investigations and even a police raid in 2014 against NGOs that had received funds from the EEA and Norway Grants NGO Program.

Other measures putting pressure on independent civil society include unfounded allegations by members of the Hungarian government or the ruling party as well as misleading or untrue reporting from government-controlled and government-aligned media. The national consultations and government communication campaigns held this year, you will recall, plastered Hungary in billboards calling to ‘Stop Brussels’ which attacked European institutions, or the currently finishing consultation that has been scaring the country with a sinister plot on migration.

These measures are meant to focus on and attack individuals and groups that express views about public affairs which are different from that of the government. This is no way to respect our common values in a European democracy.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst expressed concern in March 2017 about the continued stigmatization of human rights defenders and about the chilling effect of the inflammatory language used by senior government officials on the public perception of the value of civil society.

In its May resolution, the European Parliament called on the government of Hungary to withdraw the then proposed Act on the Transparency of Foreign-Funded Organizations. Nevertheless, on 13 June, the Hungarian Parliament proceeded to adopt the anti-NGO law.

Under the Anti-NGO Law, any civil society organization that receives over about EUR 23,000 per year from foreign sources should register as an “organization receiving foreign funds” in a state register. Foreign funding can come directly from the European Commission, UN bodies, private foundations or Hungarian citizens who are living abroad. The ‘foreign-funded’ label has to be displayed on all of its publications, print and digital alike. Failure to comply with the law could lead to a judicial procedure that could impose fines or even result in the court dissolving the organization.

The Venice Commission issued its final opinion a week after the law was adopted. It stressed that despite its legitimate aims, the law may not be used to stigmatize NGOs or restrict their ability to carry out their activities. The law causes disproportionate and unnecessary interference with freedom of expression and association, the right to privacy and non-discrimination.

In July 2017, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure on account of the law on foreign-funded NGOs. The Commission found several violations of EU law, namely that the Law interferes unduly with fundamental rights as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, in particular, the right to freedom of association. The Commission concluded that the new law could prevent NGOs from raising funds and would restrict their ability to carry out their work. The new registration, reporting and publicity requirements are foreseen by the law are discriminatory and create an administrative and reputational burden for these organizations. These measures may have a dissuasive effect on the funding from abroad and make it difficult for the concerned NGOs to receive it.

To date, 233 Hungarian NGOs have publicly condemned the Anti-NGO Law as we believe it is unnecessary, stigmatizing and harmful. Unnecessary, because Hungarian civil society organizations are already transparent in their operations, provide accurate information about their donors and finances in annual reports and carry out their activities before the public. Stigmatizing, because the law implies that organizations which work for the benefit of Hungarian society by receiving international grants for their work pose a threat to the country. Harmful, because it undermines mutual trust in society and questions the right to freedom of expression.

There is a reason to fear that the newly adopted law will not be the endpoint of the several years’ long governmental campaign against independent civil society organizations. On the contrary, this is a new step in a long process that aims at fully discrediting and hindering independent civil society organizations.

This anti-NGO law is closely modelled after the Russian ‘foreign agent law’, which has made the work of independent pro-democracy and human rights NGOs extremely difficult. In many cases, good NGOs doings highly important work have had to close down.

Not only is the anti-NGO legislation itself strikingly similar in Russia and Hungary. The smear campaigns against prominent NGOs, such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, are also very similar to what goes on in Russia.

Now, the government has begun to make references to national security risks. Already at the end of October, the Prime Minister and other government ministers spoke about having instructed the domestic and foreign intelligence agencies to look into how the so-called Soros-network has links to what it calls ‘Brussels’, European institutions such as the Parliament and the Commission.

As a Hungarian, it makes me upset that instead of fostering tolerance, the government of Hungary fuels intolerance — with taxpayer funds.

In addition to the constant Brussels-bashing in the billboards and full-page advertisements that I am sure you have seen pictures of as well, the hugely expensive taxpayer-funded national consultations are driving intolerance and xenophobia in Hungary to alarmingly high levels. Fearmongering against migrants and refugees, against Muslims, against foreigners who might look different than an average Hungarian, has created widespread hatred and fear in society. In small communities, locals have prevented a handful of recognized refugees from holidaying in their village. Elsewhere, foreigners staying in local bed and breakfasts must show their vaccination certificates under a local decree.

While radical, extremist and racist views like these are found in many parts of Europe, it is not governments themselves who fuel and disseminate them with taxpayer funds.

Politicians and governments can lead by example. However, the government of Hungary is setting a worrying and dangerous example when it comes to human rights and rule of law protection. My country has become a widely quoted example of an illiberal state in the heart of Europe, in the European Union. We are witnessing how this example is being followed elsewhere in the EU, most notably in Poland, but not only there.

Over the years and this year, the European Commission has launched infringement measures for a significant number of rules of law and human rights issues in Hungary. However, these infringement measures have not been able to address, let alone remedy the systemic breaches of rule of law and human rights in Hungary. In our European toolbox, we have further tools to address the broader concerns — of which I have highlighted a few here, but for lack of time, not all.

I haven’t spoken about refugee protection; independence of the judiciary, corruption, equality between men and women, minorities — the list of concerns goes on.

The tools to fix them need to be taken out before it’s too late.

Thank you for your attention.

December 10, 2017
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BMO
Guest

The much discussed case of Hungary is a prototypical illustration of the root cause leading to the eventual implosion of the European Union unless some degree of remedial action is taken in the mid-term.

While I hope not to be mistaken for a Schulz surrogate, I do resonate with the idea that increased cooperation and a full political union is in order. Treaties of the European Union do not worth their weight in paper unless these very contracts are properly enforced against malicious actors such as Orban.

The European Union needs to find its resolve, so does the Hungarian electorate.

1956
Guest

Any change depends on kicking out the agents of the Kremlin from Hungary.

Young Eva Balogh was a graduate of 1956.

Why is this not clear to everybody in 2017?

Michael Kaplan
Guest

Professor Balogh, important statement and good to remind your readers of the many decent Hungarians that exist. Ms. Pardavi’s comments, let alone actions are an inspiration (as is your blog/newsletter). My major professor,
George L Mosse, a refugee from nazi Germany was informed not only with examining why bad and/or good individuals allow evil regimes to exist, but also why some resist such regimes. Ms. Pardavi and you fall in the 2nd group. Best wishes! (my father came to USA from Soviet Union, but my mother’s family was of Jewish Hungarian/German background)

wrfree
Guest

Ms. Pardavi is a European leader who tells it like it is. Perhaps she can be another rolling stone which will help to gather the moss considering her position. Those who think like her absolutely need more ‘share of voice’ to counter the lying. Crazy thing is she just might be looked upon as ‘extremist’ in VO’s almost prison where life in many ways is ‘locked up’. Things operate on a different plane there.

Guest

Very well said, Mrs Pardavi !
Since the name Schulz was already mentioned:
Schulz has proposed that by 2025 we should arrive at a United States of Europe – probably just a dream, but it shows what Liberals/Socialists/Greens together are working for!
I would like to see this before I leave this world – but I’m not optimistic …

Aida
Guest

Wolfi, I agree with you. But before you can persuade the willing you have to destroy the unwilling. Are you ready to do that? I doubt it. It will not fall into our lap. It did not in the US.
But before you commit be careful to know what you are getting. Apart from the inevitable propaganda and maybe real war, is the result going to please us? Once you have set up a central authority, how do you keep it in check. The US was designed by men, and I emphasise the word, who had vision and wisdom. They knew the philosophy of balanced government. Do you think the project has any realistic chance of lasting success without the input of the founding fathers of the USA?

Their successors created and maintained the FDR. Are they here to do it again for a competitor and potential adversary? What do you think?

Kati Sváby
Guest

Recent days I was thinking and reading about the Open Society that Soros wanted to realize in Hungary also. That’s why George Soros was attacked, and our government called George Soros the henchman of migrants. As I am also against the fence, the treatment of migrants I didn’t realize only this morning that this government found out the enemy in the refugees. It was just a carrot for the Hungarian People.
And we all believed this. As far as the government found it out as the people didn’t realize that in Hungary there isn’t a responsible government. If we read George Soros Open Society’s plan which speaks about the building of vibrant and tolerant democracy, a government accountable to their citizens, a government accountable for their decisions, the struggle for the right of education, healthcare, the legality, the rule of law.

If Hungary had become an Open Society, we could not have struggled for the protection of the refugees. It was a carrot which the people believed,-me also – and until we defended the rights of refugees, we have been deprived of our rights.

1956
Guest

The refugees were driven out of the Middle Eastern countries by calculated Kremlin measures.

1.The Kremlin has been nurturing oppressive strategic tyrannies in the Middle East to make life there impossible.
2. The refugees were met with harsh measures on the Hungarian border.

This was another calculated operation.
1. Create Chaos to rattle Europe for weeks and months
2. Spread lies to gain support for the fascist regime

Why is the Hungarian nation sleeping in fear?
Are we not the brave freedom fighters?

Kati Sváby
Guest
I wanted to edit it. So I send my new variation of my post. Recent days I was thinking and reading about the Open Society that Soros wanted to realize in Hungary also. That’s why George Soros was attacked, and our government called him the henchman of migrants. As I am also against the fence, and the treatment of migrants I didn’t realize only this morning that this government found out the enemy in the refugees. No, I’m not blind, of course, I knew it earlier. But I realized only recently so many things which are in the Open Society.This government offered a carrot for the Hungarian People. This carrot was Orban’s means to divide and conquer the people. And this was very successful until today. While one part of the people tried to fight for the rights of the refugees the majority of people believed their slogan that “migrants” are aliens with another culture and even they would rape our women and daughters. In 2016, at the Hungarian migrant quota referendum, we spent the summer in a village where the mayor of the village told me that one of the refugees could not enter this village. In the same… Read more »
bimbi
Guest

Prof. Balogh, to paraphrase your opening sentence:
“Viktor Orbán is Miniszter-Fönök of the Hungarian Government. A lawyer by training, he leads that organization’s work in the field of protection of Hungary from refugees.”

A small difference of wording but all the difference in the world between Truth and Lies. Like many others I whole-heartedly support the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and its work and among other activities it must SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER AND CORRUPTION.

Let Márta Pardavi’s voice not be silenced now or in the future!

Marty
Guest

OT A very good analysis about current Hungarian politics (especially the developments on the left-wing). In Hungarian.

https://444.hu/2017/12/10/meg-a-fidesznek-is-jo-most-ha-karacsony-beugrik-az-mszp-be

Kati Sváby
Guest

I’ve read the article above in 444.hu

One thing can be sure and evident for everybody that Fidesz infiltrated in every opponent party. How could anybody think that Fidesz would have been missed this opportunity?

Ferenc
Guest
OT – Solymar 6th district municipality elections: 2017.Dec.10: turnout – valid 396 of 1024 is 39% party – votes – % of votes (% of electorate) Fid&Co – 225 – 57% (22%) Independent – 169 – 43% (17%) MunkasPart – 2 – 0% (0%) notes: *Jobbik didn’t participate, nor supported any of the candidates *Independent was supported by combined opposition (from MSZP till Momentum) *no clue about campaigns, nor if any serious actual local issues previous 2014.Oct: turnout – valid 368 of 1027 is 36% Fid&Co – 62% (22%) * MSZP-DK – 28% (10%) * Jobbik – 10% (4%) My conclusions: *turnout again very low, though a little bit higher than 3 years ago *Fid&Co won, with same (very low) support of total electorate *Combined opposition lost, gained some more support (could be from Jobbik, through activated voters, or combination), but didn’t achieve enough mobilizing of voters to seriously contend with Fid&Co (in Solymar 6th…; an OV&Co ‘bastion’) Info from: http://www.atv.hu/belfold/20171210-solymar-fidesz-nyert-az-ellenzeki-osszefogassal-szemben PS: very curious is OV&Co’s reaction “the people do not ask for the ‘immigration party’ forces, nor for the lying, fake co-operation, that is only about power” huh, who’s speaking in name the ‘the people’ about lying, fake, only… Read more »
Marty
Guest
The independent candidate was a women and that counts. Many people hate voting for a women (even if they would never admit it), the idea of elevating a women into a position of power over them. Especially a professional looking, educated, independent woman. Still 57-43 is a big difference in any context, though a man would’ve fared something like 55-45 in my view, which would’ve been still quite big of a difference. Orban and co. talk bullshit but the message is perfect politically. It does resonate, it does repeat the mantra (causing the recalling of the immigration-Soros-Muslim headcutters associations) and these arguments are not rational. The Fidesz machinery is working efficiently, low turnout favors Fidesz and this is a traditionally conservative district – voter just don’t care about “liberals”. There are many such districts. Ferenc, 95% of the voters agree with Fidesz on “immigration”, a nonexistent, made up issue. Yet, almost everyone I know (they are anything but fidesz droids) believes it’s real, imminent and that only tough, merciless action can defend us. Propaganda washed through the brains of millions and fear is the very best tool for making people vote for you. The opposition cannot present a similarly dangerous… Read more »
Guest

In a real democracy the extreme Fidesz corruption would be a topic for the opposition – but in Hungary?
Seems to me that everybody accepts it, the voters don’t care at all?
Anyway a voter participation of less than 40% in a contested election is also a bad sign.
If the opposition had just been able to mobilise an additional tenth (!) of those who stayed at home it would have won.
(A large majority of …) Hungarians seem to like rotting in their own *expletive deleted*!

Ferenc
Guest

I don’t agree with you on “95% of the voters agree with Fidesz on “immigration””.
Last year 60% of the electorate stayed at home, voted against OV&Co’s will, or deliberately invalid!
The other 40% contained almost all then Jobbik supporters!

I think the more OV&Co accuses others of lying, fake, only about power, etc. and undecided voters put these words next to the texts of e.g.the ‘consultations’, the higher the turnout will be and less in favor of OV&Co.

Member

By the meantime to say that “voters agree with Fidesz” is pointless. These voters, who agree are mostly brainwashed or haters themselves.
The others are frustrated. They have given up, don’t vote.
They leave the country or plan to leave.
After the elections there will be another exodus.
Sad but true.

Marty
Guest
The referendum was indeed an interesting case. But with the general idea that immigration must be stopped and stopped now etc. most people agreed. Even the most hardened anti-Orbanists couldn’t bear themselves to vote for yes -no got over 98%. That would under any circumstances be an extremely strong and rare majority, a near unanimous consensus about any question. Do not underestimate the power of such unanimity. With all due respect you suppose way too much about how people vote. 50% of the people have no firm idea whom to vote for, they decide inside the voting booths. That’s a rule of thumb campaign advisors tell everyone in Hungary. Most people don’t care about politics at all, at all. Only start to deal with it inside the booth or five minutes before. There is no weighing things like the points of the national consultations etc. It’s all about wanting to be part of the winning team (“I also voted for Fidesz which won”, it’s a good thing to be part of the winners and not the group of loser who are the butt of jokes), joining together in a community under a banner, it’s about fear, hope, demand for unity,… Read more »
wrfree
Guest

I am sure there are numbers who don’t vote saying they don’t want nothing to do with dirty and crooked politics. But if they think about it they do … they do have something to do with it.

If only they had the introspection which the government has shut off pretty well. The constant development of propagandized ‘one-sheets’ and the curtailment of information has put that baby to bed.
Magyars today look programmed to simply make their votes in the dark.

Ferenc
Guest

Really? I give you a choice between:
“immigration must be stopped and stopped now etc.”
“war must be stopped and stopped now etc.”

What’s your choice and which one, you think, will get most votes?

Ferenc
Guest

‘a campaign spot’

Guest

So you are telling us (just as my wife said it …) that 70% of Hungarians are bunko paraszt – too stupid to care for their own good?
Maybe you know the German version of this:
Nur die allerdümmsten Kälber wählen ihren Schlächter selber!
If this doesn’t change we/you might as well give up hope – let Hungary be Russia’s shithole …
Of course in the long run …
A bit OT :
Baden Württemberg (the home of the Schwabs, where I grew up) was a very conservative State of Gernmany, almost as horrrible as Bavaria.
Our teachers were clerical fascists and my friends and I were happy to get away- but in the 60s it all changed.
Now we have a Green Prime minister and the leader of the Greens in Berlin is Cem Özdemir – a Turkish Schwab.
And most of our famous university cities have Green mayors – ain’t that nice?

Jean P
Guest
Reflections on bunko paraszt I asked my Hungarian wife what bunko paraszt means. She answered that it is a very derogatory expression and suggested that literally it may mean a rural person who carries a clublike walking stick. The derogatory quality of the expression is the subject of my reflections and not its literal meaning. When you call someone a bunko parasz you mean he is a primitive and uneducated person of the worst sort. He is poor, stupid, bad and violent. Now the question is: Is the bunko paraszt himself responsible for being a bunko paraszt? Can he justly be blamed for being what he is? To me the answer is no. The responsibility lies with the educated and civilized people who have neglected to care for proper education and enlightenment of a large part of the population, the educated people who thoughtlessly abuse uneducated and primitive people in stead of helping them out of their darkness. Empty heads can easily be filled with phantasms of national uniqueness and past glory and there is no lack of demagogues who are eager to do it. Unfortunately these demagogues have no competition. Educated people who could fill some sane ideas into… Read more »
Marty
Guest

Education is key of course, but I saw many an educated, otherwise intelligent, reasonable person supporting Fidesz like a fanatic. In their particular cases and I don’t want to extrapolate for the whole population but in their cases it was definitely the system change which affected them profoundly.

They come from Christian middle class backgrounds, were themselves educated middle class people, in the 1970-1980’s they experienced a positive environment, they got wealthier and then suddenly at middle age a rupture occurred.

Their degrees, bourgeoisie education, orderly habits, status, achievements, connections suddenly meant nothing. They struggled in their jobs and eventually could retire with some scheme early and leave the pressures of the market.

Meanwhile the communist functionaries got richer and liberals were telling them to suck it up because such is the life under capitalism. This was a humiliation they never got over and although they never liked liberals to begin with, now they literally go berserk if you mention any Socialist or SZDSZ (liberal) names to them. They are happy to endure anything, they don’t care about anything, but they are not having any leftist or liberal politician ever again. They are absolutely done with liberalism.

Jean P
Guest

The bunko paraszt is irrelevant?

Marty
Guest

Yes, you can make university professors out of them, they will still remain susceptible to Fidesznik rhetoric. Populism always works.

Marty
Guest

This is exactly like the 1930’s. People were and are still fallible and open to relentless propaganda.

Conservatives like Orban always knew that propaganda works and owning the media is key. The liberals told themselves that the internet will solve everything and control of the minds will henceforth not be possible. In other words the liberals believed the Silicon Valley bullshit.

People were ecstatic in 1914 when the war broke out, perhaps less so in 1939 but still Hitler had many supporters all over Europe (certainly in Germany and Hungary). People are not rational, or rather they are rational in a totally different way than what rational choice theory assumes.

You’re lucky. I agree that Germany is the last true democracy in the world – but don’t underestimate human nature. This is a good op-ed from a couple of days ago by Zakaria.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/maybe-trump-knows-his-base-better-than-we-do/2017/11/30/b4ca2164-d60e-11e7-b62d-d9345ced896d_story.html?utm_term=.2b43cc379d78