Human Rights First offers How-To recommendations for dealing with “authoritarian” Hungary

July 17, 2017

“Activists, diplomats, and journalists agree: Hungary is transforming into an authoritarian state,” says Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, author of a brief entitled How the U.S. Government Should Respond to Hungary’s Slide to Authoritarianism. “The United States needs to act now to support Hungary’s democratic institutions, ensuring that Budapest does not become Kremlin West.”

In the brief published on the website of Human Rights First, an independent advocacy organization, Dooley makes recommendations for members of the US Congress and US Government on how to deal with what it calls an authoritarian Hungary.

The report outlines the concerns of a range of Hungarians and foreign diplomats based in Budapest about the Hungarian government’s latest attempts to stifle civil society, as well as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s shift towards Russia at a time when “the Kremlin regards the Orbán government as a vehicle for expanding its influence while weakening E.U. and NATO cohesion.”

The report also draws on interviews with dozens of Hungarian human rights defenders, diplomats, civil society activists and journalists, conducted during a research trip in June 2017.

In June, the Budapest Beacon interviewed Rob Berschinski, a senior vice-president at Human Rights First, in his Washington DC office.

With respect to whether US policy towards Hungary would change under the Trump administration, Berschinski said it could go either way.

“I can see one future in which the Trump administration lives up to Prime Minister Orbán’s wildest dreams, and allows for this increasingly illiberal approach,” he told the Beacon. “On the other hand, I could very easily see significant blowback within the US Congress, that is increasingly, I believe, stepping up to the plate and saying that we can’t have allies that don’t agree with us on issues of basic values, and the Congress may very well step in.”

It is likely in that spirit that Human Rights First issued a roadmap for dealing with Hungary. Dooley’s brief – and list of recommendations for policy-makers – offers common-sense guidance on how to deal with an authoritarian country that has given up on the values of the Transatlantic community and whose odious ties with Russia may pose a threat to Transatlantic security.

What should the US Government do?

  • Urge E.U. leaders to use the upcoming budget negotiations to push the Hungarian authorities to cease their attacks on civil society and academic freedom.
  • Publicly defend the right of local NGOs – in Hungary and elsewhere – to accept international funding in support of their work on democracy and human rights, and articulate why no government should fear or oppose such activities.
  • Nominate an experienced foreign service officer to Budapest as ambassador as soon as practicable. Once confirmed, the new ambassador should immediately affirm the embassy’s support for human rights defenders.
  • Review the security relationship with Hungary and the integrity of intelligence-sharing protocols.
  • Continue to publicly condemn attacks by the Orbán government on academic freedom and against civil society.
  • Continue, in cooperation with other embassies, to issue diplomatic démarches to the Hungarian government when it attacks civil society.
  • Promote on its website and elsewhere, in Hungarian and English, the State Department Fact Sheet “U.S. Support for Human Rights Defenders,” and encourage human rights defenders to publicly engage with the embassy and its representatives.

What should members of the US Congress do?

  • Support House Resolutions 353 and 394.
  • Authorize and appropriate Democracy, Human Rights and Governance funding for Hungary to fight corruption, support an independent media, and otherwise help civil society to function as it should.
  • Oppose any invitation from the White House to Prime Minister Orbán for an official visit, unless and until his attacks on civil society cease.