Hungary cracks down on NGOs

Hungary cracks down on NGOs
By Catherine Hardy  with BLOOMBERG

Hungary's parliament has approved a new law targeting foreign-funded non-governmental organisations.

Hungary’s parliament has approved a new law targeting foreign-funded non-governmental organisations.

Lawmakers from the governing Fidesz party have pushed through the legislation.

What does it mean, in practice?

All organisations getting more than 7.2 million forint (84,000 euros) a year from abroad must declare their “foreign” status on their websites and in all associated materials.

Why have they done this?

The new rules are necessary because foreign-funded NGOs can “threaten the country’s political and economic interests and interfere with the functioning of its institutions,” the text of the law says.

It is a further push in Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s push to prevent what he calls foreign meddling in political matters by civil groups and institutions as he seeks to build Hungary into an “illiberal state”.

Orban says the NGO bill will deter people from associating themselves with civil society groups, such as those supported by Hungarian-born billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros.

What do the critics say?

That it is the latest step in Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s self-described rollback of liberal democracy that has put him on a collision course with the EU.

Last month, the European Parliament approved a resolution saying Hungary poses a “clear risk of serious breach” of the rule of law and called for a procedure that may lead to the suspension of the eastern European country’s voting rights in the union.

Hungary’s new law made some concessions to objections by the Venice Commission, an independent advisory body on constitutional matters of the 47-
nation Council of Europe.

They include making NGOs eligible to shed their “foreign” status after going one year without financing from abroad, compared with the original three years.

Have there been protests?

Yes. Tens of thousands of people protested in Budapest in April against the NGO law and another bill targeting the Central European University, founded by Soros.

What they are saying

“The Hungarian government’s public statements already stigmatise those who stand up for human rights and fundamental European values as serving foreign interests,” – Marta Pardavi from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.

“They have not altered the law’s true intent,” said Goran Buldioski, director of the Open Society Foundations in Europe. “It seeks to suppress democratic voices in Hungary just when the country needs them most.”

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