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Government on offensive against NGOs with draft bill

The Hungarian government is drafting a bill that would require the leaders of NGOs to publish their financial statements, according to reports. While the government states the move would enhance transparency, NGOs and opposition critics claim the legislation would be an attempt to silence them.

Fidesz Vice President Szilárd Németh.

“Fake civil organizations of the Soros empire are paid in order to encourage the spread of political correctness and global capital overcoming national governments,” Szilárd Németh, vice president of the governing Fidesz party, said Tuesday during a press conference when asked about the planned legislation. “Every means must be employed to hold back such organizations, and I believe they should be cleaned out of here. And to this end, I feel, the international opportunity has arrived with the election of the new U.S. president,” the MP added. He went on to blame NGOs for attacking the Hungarian government’s stance against “illegal immigration.”

The Hungarian government would require the leaders of NGOs to post their financial statements because, although they do not receive public money, NGOs can influence public life and their leaders are thus corruptible, the justification behind the planned bill says, according to reports. The planned measure is in line with the Hungarian government’s recent stance which regards civil society as an enemy of the government and Hungary. Furthermore, Fidesz has frequently accused Hungarian-born financier George Soros of meddling with issues of “national interest” through the organizations he funds.

The bill could be brought before the Hungarian Parliament in March, according to reports, and as the governing coalition has a majority, will most certainly be passed in the vote.

Opposition parties described Németh’s comments and the planned bill as signs of “dictatorial” steps. The opposition Socialists said the Fidesz politician should resign from his position immediately after his comments. The Democratic Coalition issued a press statement following Németh’s comments, saying that “[Prime Minister] Viktor Orbán’s illiberalism is becoming more difficult to differentiate from [Russian President] Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship.”

Online news portal index.hu notes that in Russia, every organization that receives support from abroad is officially termed a foreign agent. Describing the method as “extremely simple but highly effective,” the portal observes that if, for example, a civil organization defending democratic or human rights criticizes the government for taking anti-democratic steps or for alleged corruption, then the government can hit back by saying that the critic is not independent but a foreign or enemy agent. In this way, not only is the government able to discredit the given organization in public eyes, but also to neutralize the criticism. At the same time, index.hu notes in its Russian analogy, the government can build its own “civil organizations” using public money, with leaders who are completely government-friendly, while promoting the governmentʼs stance through the public and pro-government media, likewise pumped up from the public purse. This phenomenon, the article notes, is now observable in Hungary.

Speaking to television news channel Hír TV, Márta Pardavi, co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a leading human rights NGO in Hungary, said that the operations of civil organizations are an “open book” in Hungary since organizations functioning in the public interest report on their activities and revenues in detail on a yearly basis. She described it as incomprehensible that it should be precisely the leaders of NGOs whom the government wishes to oblige to publish financial statements, when journalists, church leaders and celebrities likewise also influence public opinion.