Hungarian law targets foreign-backed NGOs


The Hungarian government is moving to limit the influence of nongovernmental organizations that promote democracy and the rule of law, Lili Bayer writes for POLITICO:

This week, parliament is expected to introduce legislation on foreign-funded NGOs. The government’s bill, whose official text has yet to be made public, will likely require groups to register how much funding they receive from foreign sources. The government argues that the law is intended to counter foreign meddling in the country’s politics. Critics contend it is just the latest move to restrict political freedom in a country where the ruling party already controls much of the media and judiciary.

“The announced legislation is an unprecedented attack on dissenting voices by an EU member,” said Goran Buldioski, director of the Open Society Initiative for Europe. “European values are now at stake in Budapest … The rule of law and democratic standards, as well as the freedom of assembly and ability of NGOs to work, should be defended in Hungary.”

The Hungarian government continues to label civil society groups as “political agents” in a move akin to Russia’s designation of foreign-funded NGOs as “foreign agents.”

Premier Viktor Orban (right) recently invited refugees – from west European liberalism – to Hungary in a speech that analysts said reflected the country’s trend towards nationalist, populist neo-right politics.

The U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Report for 2016, published last week, cited “governmental pressure on civil society” as a problem in Hungary.

As the forces of reaction and populism gain strength, it is easy to become fatalistic about the fate of Europe and liberal democracy, notes James Kirchick, author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age. There is nothing inevitable, however, about the course of human events, adds Kirchick, a former Penn Kemble fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy:

Yet the longer present trends continue — the longer Russian aggression and subversion goes unchallenged, Western defense budgets shrink, the roots of illiberal populism and nationalism go unaddressed, migratory waves continue unabated, economies stagnate, and America forgoes its role as guarantor of continental stability — the more probable this European nightmare becomes.

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