Any civil society group with funding from billionaire George Soros should be "swept out" of Hungary, a vice chairman of the ruling Fidesz party said on Tuesday at a press conference. In 1989, Viktor Orban, a liberal anti-communist student leader, received a Soros scholarship to study at Oxford University to familiarize himself with multi-party democracy.
A proposed law has appeared on the government's official website which foreshadows what many suspect will be a difficult year for civil society in Hungary, Vasárnapi Hirek reports. The law, found in the newly published 2017 Spring legislative agenda, would require leaders of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to declare their personal financial assets, a burden traditionally reserved for MPs and public officials, in a move some have criticized as the next step in the Hungarian government's attempt to intimidate and undermine civil society in the country.
"NGO leaders do not practice public power, they don't make the kind of public power decisions that would justify the asset declaration requirement, but if they introduce it, we will fulfill it," said Hungarian Helsinki Committee co-chair András Kristóf Kádár of the proposed law. "If the government believes transparency is important, then it would make more sense for the husbands and wives of politicians to start declaring their assets."
"As the National Security Committee's deputy chairman, I have turned to the committee and the state's secret services with a list of organizations connected to the Soros network for the purpose of having these organizations screened," Szilárd said in September. "So far, there are 22 Soros [organizations] that have publicly joined the speculator's campaign machine, including TASZ [Hungarian Civil Liberties Union] and the Eötvös Institute. George Soros' activities in this area pose a very serious risk to the Hungarian people and that is why the state must step up against these unlawful acts with full force."
After the proposed asset declaration law was announced, Szilárd declared at a press conference that "the Soros empire's quasi-civil organizations are maintained so that global capital and the world of political correctness can be imposed on national governments. These organizations have to be pushed back with every possible tool, and I think they they should get out of here."
TASZ responded to Szilárd's statements on their Facebook page, saying: "We don't know exactly what the government plans against NGOs, but we aren't afraid of the most recent statement. We will continue to fight to protect our clients and all Hungarian citizens against the excesses of power."
Opposition parties slammed Németh for threatening civil organizations .
Commenting on Németh's remarks, Socialist Party leader Gyula Molnár said the ruling party's actions against NGOs were motivated by fear, and called the planned bill a "very serious step" towards dismantling the rule of law. Molnár said "the declaration of an open war" against civil organisations was "unprecedented". He asked Orbán to make clear whether he, as leader of Fidesz, agreed with what the party's deputy leader had said.
Green LMP party expert István Ferenczi said that the civil sector is just as important a pillar of democracy as those elected to power. An attack against the civil sector is an attack against democracy. The government admits its own unsuitability and weakness when it cannot tolerate opposing opinions and threatens people and their organisations. Instead of creating security, it generates fear, and is actually threatening everybody who points out problems., he said.
Former LMP leader András Schiffer said Fidesz's idea was ""provocation, bluff, another communication trick". He also remarked that "even Szilárd Németh cannot be so stupid" not to know that obliging private organization to make asset declarations in unconstitutional.
An assault on NGOs in 2017 would not be without precedent. In 2014, Orbán personally directed the Government Control Office (KEHI) to conduct investigations on 62 organizations that had received funds from Norway Grants or European Economic Area (EEA) Grants programs. Many of the organizations were tied up in the investigations for two years, and the government attempted to strip several of them of their tax ID numbers for refusing to comply with their investigations. However, the investigations didn't result in a single conviction, and Hungarian courts ruled on at least one occasion that the procedures were unjustified and illegal.
Helsinki Committee co-chair Kádár likens the current situation faced by NGOs to that of Norway Fund beneficiary organizations in 2014. Authorities spent two years investigating organizations and ultimately found no unlawful activity, but the good reputations of the organizations had been damaged, he said.
"That is one form of undermining," Kádár said. "Within the EU I don't find it legally feasible for them to get rid of Soros support, but the badgering will probably continue, the government will continue its attacks against NGOs in its communication with expressions about foreign agents and national security risks."
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and other high-ranking Fidesz members have publicly stated that they plan to "extrude" NGOs in 2017, especially those funded by Hungarian-American financier and philanthropist George Soros . Orbán has called NGOs operating in Hungary "political activists paid by foreigners," and said that "this year will be about the extrusion of powers symbolized by George Soros."
The still European Union member Hungary will use "all the tools at its disposal" to "sweep out" NGOs funded by the Hungarian-born financier, which "serve global capitalists and back political correctness over national governments," Szilard Nemeth, a vice president of the ruling Fidesz party, told reporters on Tuesday.
Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said in reply to Reuters emailed questions that as a Fidesz lawmaker and vice chairman, Nemeth represented its views and that the government's stance had been set out in an interview with Orban on website 888.hu.
Orban told 888.hu in December that Soros would be "squeezed out" of every European country and that NGOs would be scrutinized to find out what interests they represented.
"The following year will be about the squeezing out of Soros and the powers that symbolize him," Orban was quoted as saying.
Source: Reuters, Bloomberg, budapestbeacon.com
Last Updated on Friday, 13 January 2017 14:39