Hungary Adopting Putin's Methods against Criticism
In its latest attack on democracy, the Hungarian government raided civil society organizations and accused a foreign NGO fund of political meddling. As democratic principles continue to be demolished, Hungary looks more and more like Putin's Russia.
We are at the beginning of the second term of the Fidesz government, characterized by the elimination of independent institutions, the dismantling of the framework of parliamentarianism and, most recently, the attack against the remaining potential critics of the government.
Based on their political affiliation, the government blacklisted independent Hungarian civil organizations that have benefitted from the Norwegian Civil Fund (NCTA). The list includes the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, which received NCTA grant money to allow it to transmit to smaller civil organizations the knowledge it has accumulated during its work protecting fundamental rights and liberties. The government launched its attack against NCTA at the beginning of April, only a day after its massive re-election victory. It is accusing NCTA of being tied to political parties, therefore effectively making political contributions through its grants. When the Norwegian government rejected the charges, the Hungarian government sent agents of the Government Control Office to audit the Fund's coordinating organizations. Last Friday, Ökotárs Foundation (one of the Hungarian NCTA coordinators) was threatened with the suspension of its tax number, then two other coordinating organizations were audited.
Last week one of the largest Hungarian online news sites, Origo.hu, published a series on János Lázár, Secretary of State for the Prime Minister's Office, noting that his recent spending of 2 million HUF from public funds on travel expenses was presumably unjustified. In response, János Lázár exercised visible pressure. It is probably due to this incident that the editor-in-chief of Origo.hu, who was said to have resisted the political pressure exercised by the publishing company, was forced to quit yesterday. The editorial board of Origo.hu expressed its disagreement with dismissing the editor-in-chief and considers the conditions for continuing its work insecure.
These are steps in a series of government actions aiming to silence people, from ordinary citizens to the press to civil society, and prevent them from voicing any criticism against the government. An examination of government actions since 2010 shows that the elimination of independent institutions, the dismantling of the frameworks of parliamentarianism and the trivialization of opposition voices have already started during the previous government cycle. Such measures include the Media Law, the curtailing of the Constitutional Court's authority, the elimination of the institution of the independent Data Protection Ombudsman, the transformation of the election system and the means of approval and contents of the Fundamental Law. The opening of the second term of the government has seen even more challenges: the day after the parliamentary elections, a government statement was issued assuring everyone that this is only the beginning. New impetus was given to questioning the credibility and hindering the independent financing of autonomous civil organizations representing a counterbalance to the government.
Independent Hungarian civil society organizations and domestic media outlets critical of the current government are constantly coping with a lack of resources and funding. Civil organizations' opportunities for legal advocacy and the room to maneuver are becoming smaller, and media publications may be henceforward constrained to exercise self-censorship because regulations of the media law curtailing the freedom of speech and judicial practices would hold them back from publishing articles criticizing the government. All these steps make Hungary resemble Putin's Russia, where, with the silencing of the last free voices, all the defenses of the democratic state are being demolished.
- - -
European Alternatives and Alliance Internationale de Journalistes have been working since 2010 towards the establishment of a European Initiative for Media Pluralism, a coalition promoting the idea that European institutions should safeguard the right to free, independent and pluralistic information. Support our struggle with your signature.