Hungary’s hardline ruling party eyes crackdown on NGOs

George Soros-funded groups ‘must be swept out’ of Hungary, says Viktor Orban ally

George Soros: The business magnate called Donald Trump a “con artist and would-be dictator”. Photograph: Reuters/Luke MacGregor

George Soros: The business magnate called Donald Trump a “con artist and would-be dictator”. Photograph: Reuters/Luke MacGregor

 

A close ally of Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister who has pledged to reform his country along “illiberal” lines, has called for civil society groups funded by liberal Budapest-born billionaire George Soros to be “swept out” of the country.

Mr Soros has long financed pro-democracy, anti-corruption and rights groups across the former communist bloc, and been accused of unwelcome meddling by allies of Russian president Vladimir Putin and other leaders with autocratic tendencies.

After Donald Trump’s election as US president, Mr Soros described the billionaire businessman as “a con artist and would-be dictator”, during whose leadership Washington “will be unable to protect and promote democracy in the rest of the world”.

Mr Orban warmly welcomed Mr Trump’s victory, however, and now the deputy chairman of Hungary’s ruling party, Szilard Nemeth, has accused Mr Soros of “pushing global big capital and a related political correctness into Hungary”.

“These organisations must be pushed back with all available tools, and I think they must be swept out,” Mr Nemeth said. “And now I believe the international conditions are right for this with the election of the new [US] president.”

Last September, Mr Nemeth said organisations that receive money from Mr Soros should be screened as possible risks to Hungary’s national security.

Mr Soros partly finances more than 60 NGOs in Hungary, including groups that defend the rights of refugees, whom Mr Orban has sought to prevent reaching Hungary by building border fences and opposing EU relocation schemes.

Soros-funded organisations also investigate the corruption that critics say Mr Orban has allowed to flourish. They also push back against the Hungarian government’s drive to concentrate power in the hands of its pugnacious premier and his allies.

Squeezing out

In December, Mr Orban told Hungarian media that 2017 “would be about squeezing out the forces symbolised by Soros”.

“One can feel it coming, that each country will trace the source of this money, the connections [between NGOs] and intelligence communities, and which NGOs represent which interests,” Mr Orban said.

Hungary’s Fidesz-dominated parliament is soon expected to debate a new draft law that would oblige senior members of NGOs to declare their financial assets.

Marta Pardavi is co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a prominent rights group that is partly funded by Mr Soros. She said Mr Nemeth “believes that those who hold a different opinion should not be present in Hungary at all. This threat clearly echoes the totalitarian past.”

“The tone of these anti-democratic statements clearly takes the Orban government’s campaign against . . . critical voices to a next level,” Ms Pardavi told The Irish Times. “One can be sure that the political environment in Hungary will deteriorate as the government speeds up its pace to silence its critics.”