Hungarian political opposition condemns NGO law as unconstitutional

June 14, 2017

Hungary’s Fidesz-KDNP-controlled parliament defied domestic and international criticism and voted Tuesday to adopt the controversial NGO bill. Opposition parties unanimously criticized the decision. Here are their statements and comments in reaction to the vote.

Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP)

At a press conference on Tuesday deputy MSZP faction leader Sándor Szakács addressed a wide array of issues, including the NGO law. Szakács said his faction does not support the NGO bill and the party will not support any bill that limits the rights and opportunities of NGOs, not to mention that the current bill also stigmatizes the NGOs.

Szakács said the Orbán government should not fear NGOs: “Do not govern corruptly and you will not have to worry about NGOs threatening your power.”

Dialogue for Hungary (PM)

According to the green liberal party Dialogue for Hungary (PM), a thorough social consultation should have been held on the civil law before the National Assembly voted on it. The law about the transparency of “foreign-funded” NGOs is part of a series of attacks on civil organisations by the government, said PM co-chair and independent MP Tímea Szabó, referring to objections raised by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee at a press conference on Tuesday. Szabó called “minimal” the significance of modifications to the bill before its acceptance, because the sanctions and stigmatizing nature of the bill stayed in the bill.

“The law violates the freedoms of association and free speech,” Szabó said. “The law also violates the ban on discrimination as it distinguishes between specific organisations because it does not apply to religious and sports organizations.”

According to Dialogue for Hungary MEP Benedek Jávor, the law not only violates constitutional rights but also violates the fundamental freedoms of the EU, including the free flow of capital. If the government spends or distributes foreign money (namely EU grants), this does not count as “foreign funding” but the essence of the law is that if anyone else does the same thing, it must be stigmatized as “foreign-funded”.  Jávor warned President János Áder not to sign the bill into law and promised that he will immediately appeal to the European Commission if he does.

Politics Can Be Different (LMP)

The greenish, leftish party announced that they will petition the Constitutional Court to review the constitutionality of the law.

Co-chair and MP Bernadett Szél said there was no justification for the National Assembly to accept the NGO law.

“This law will not make the country a better place, even less so as it will wreck NGOs that helped by taking over tasks from the state,” said Szél.

According to LMP MP István Ikotty, the cabinet suffers from serious mission creep because instead of governing, it concentrates on smashing social organisations.  “It was typical of the 1940s that [those in power] first liquidated political parties, then NGOs, thus causing enormous damage to the society,” said Ikotty, adding that if the government really wants to improve transparency among NGOs, it should sweep its own porch first, since there are numerous fake NGOs that are nourished by the government for political reasons.

Democratic Coalition (DK)

According to former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s centre-left party Democratic Coalition, the Orbán government is restoring the one-party state era with the anti-NGO law so that Hungarian people stay put. DK said it was reminiscent of the period under communism.

“Hungarians need Europe, not Russia,” commented party spokesman Zsolt Gréczy. “They need euros, not roubles. And prisons should not be filled with civil and opposition activists like in Russia, but with corrupt politicians and criminals.”

Hungarian Liberal Party (MLP)

According to a statement issued by Hungary’s tiny Liberal Party:

“The government majority accepted a law based on Russian practice that goes against both Hungarian and the European legal system. Hungary is not threatened by the NGOs but by the ever-increasing Russian influence that the government of Hungary fails to tackle.”

Party founder and chairman Gábor Fodor stated that the government’s aim is not transparency but the stigmatizing and wrecking of NGOs, and called Prime Minister Viktor Orbán Putin’s “best European apprentice”.

Momentum Movement

The latest newcomer to Hungary’s democratic opposition did not release an official statement regarding the acceptance of the NGO law, electing instead to publish an article covering the events with the ironic comment “Continue on the Russian road”.

Jobbik

“It is in the government’s interest to maintain a state of war, and for this they need an enemy. It seems that the current enemy are the foreign-funded NGOs,” said Jobbik MP István Szávay on Tuesday before the final vote.

Szávay told the Budapest Beacon that Jobbik generally agrees with the government’s aim to make NGO funding more transparent, but that the adopted bill is only a half-measure, as it does not regulate domestic funding. He said Jobbik would have voted to adopt the bill had the government majority accepted the two modifications proposed by the radical right-wing party calling for the removal of the exceptions for religious and sports organizations, and the inclusion of domestic funding into the bill. As the government majority rejected the proposals, Jobbik absented itself from the final vote.

Szávay pointed out that the law contains a huge loophole in that any foreigner with a Hungarian bank account can fund Hungarian NGOs without any regulations.  “[The Open Society Foundation’s] George Soros could walk into an OTP [National Savings Bank-ed.], open a bank account and give as much money to NGOs to overwhelm the government as he wanted to,” said the Jobbik MP.

Together (Együtt)

“It is our conviction that this law is an immoral proposition of the government. Apart from solely political aims, nothing justifies the adoption of a bill like this. There is no need for a new law, since the current legislation fully guarantees the transparency of the NGOs. The current legislation allows NGOs that receive funding from abroad to be examined,” said independent MP Zsuzsanna Szelényi at a press conference after the vote. “Besides the fact that the law is totally unnecessary, our biggest problem is that it is also stigmatizing, thus revealing the government’s dark intentions.”

Szelényi highlighted that the law includes numerous exceptions, namely religious, sports, political and minority organizations.  She pointed out that parts of the law match the text of a similar Russian legislation word for word.  Szelényi concluded her remarks by saying that “in a European Hungary this law is totally intolerable.”

Movement for a Modern Hungary (MoMa)

Hungary’s small, conservative liberal party openly sided with those Hungarian civil organizations that announced their intention to boycott the NGO law shortly after its adoption.  In a statement put out by the party founder and chairman, former finance minister and MEP Lajos Bokros, MoMa condemned the “Fidesz mafia’s  latest ignoble attack on the independent and free social organizations that are fighting a brave struggle for the maintenance of Hungary’s operability, and that untiringly serve to better the everyday life of a society more and more divided by the evil government.”