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Obama accuses Hungary of clamping down on civil society

September 26th, 2014

After President Obama mentioned Hungary alongside Egypt as a county which intimidates NGOs, Népszabadság warns that those remarks were only the beginning and the worst is still ahead. Heti Válasz believes that the NGOs concerned are in reality liberal political activists, but condemns demonstrations of force against them.

Addressing the yearly assembly of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York on Monday, President Obama discussed worldwide pressures on NGOs and said “From Hungary to Egypt, endless regulations and overt intimidation increasingly target civil society”.  Last week, former President Bill Clinton criticised the Hungarian Prime Minister in person as someone who “says he likes authoritarian capitalism”. 

In its front page editorial, Népszabadság believes that the measures taken by the authorities against the NGOs financed by the “Norwegian Fund” will be taught in future schools as an example of how not to build international relations. (for those measures see BudaPost, May through September). The tone of American criticism towards Hungary is becoming increasingly harsh, Népszabadság remarks, adding that “we are supposed to be friends”. Hungarian diplomacy should now be engaged in damage control, but Népszabadság describes the reshuffle underway in the diplomatic service as “Hungarian diplomacy being dismantled”. The left-wing daily predicts that what is to follow will be painful. “Our competitors may lean back and order a coffee.”

In a long article about left-liberal leaning NGOs in Heti Válasz, Bálint Ablonczy writes that the organisations involved in a controversy with the authorities should be called liberal activist groups rather than NGOs. Quoting a study by the Israel based NGO Monitor, he writes that the system of grants given by Hungarian-American investor and philanthropist George Soros’s Open Society Fund is far from being transparent. (Heti Válasz wrote a long article last year to prove that the “Norwegian Fund” entrusts the management of its grants to the same people who are the beneficiaries of the Soros grants.) Nevertheless, Ablonczy condemns “demonstrations of force “ by the authorities against those organisations as “inappropriate” and argues that a “battle of ideas” should be fought instead.

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