Issue Brief Documents Hungary’s Actions to Stifle Civil Society, Deepen Russian Ties

Human Rights First  released a new issue brief documenting the Hungarian government’s ongoing actions to stifle civil society and deepen ties to Russia. “How the U.S. Government Should Respond to Hungary’s Slide to Authoritarianism” follows a Human Rights First trip to Hungary and includes recommendations for the Trump Administration and Congress.

“Activists, diplomats, and journalists agree: Hungary is transforming into an authoritarian state,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, the author of today’s brief. “The United States needs to act now to support Hungary’s democratic institutions, ensuring that Budapest does not become Kremlin West.”

The brief recommends a number of recommendations for the United States to demonstrate to the Hungarian government the importance of respect for human rights and democratic institutions, including: publicly defending the rights of local NGOs; reviewing the security relationship with Hungary and integrity of intelligence sharing protocols; and urging E.U. partners to use upcoming budget negotiations to push for civil society protections. The brief outlines the concerns of Hungarian citizens and foreign diplomats based in Budapest, drawing on interviews with dozens of Hungarian human rights defenders, diplomats, civil society activists, and journalists.

In April 2017 Human Rights First released, “No Society Without Civil Society: Orban, Putin, and Why the United States Should Resist Hungary’s Attack on NGOs,” a report that details Prime Minister Orban’s close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government’s systematic assault on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent media. Human Rights First has for many years recommended how the U.S. government should respond to the Hungary’s assault on democratic institutions and the rule of law.

The brief comes amid reports that the Hungarian government will cease a campaign aimed at vilifying Hungarian-American businessman and philanthropist George Soros. The anti-migrant campaign, which included messages promulgated through TV, radio, the Internet, and thousands of posters throughout Hungary, was described by András Heisler, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (MAZSIHISZ), as “toxic” and “very much able to raise uncontrolled…anti-Semitic anger.”

The advertisements depict Soros, who survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary as a teenager, with the caption, “Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh.” A separate campaign organized by the youth wing of the Fidesz party erected billboards depicting Soros as a “puppet master,” a longstanding antisemetic trope.

Human Rights First renews its calls for Secretary of State Tillerson and members of Congress to publicly condemn the ruling party’s open stoking of xenophobia and antisemitism for political gain.

“This is yet another step in Viktor Orban’s systematic move towards despotism,” said Dooley. “The campaign was not only meant to stoke the fears of the Hungarian people, it was a government-led character attack aimed at a single person, all in the name of consolidating power.”

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