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Dispute over ‘pseudo-NGOs’ heats up

January 13th, 2017

Left-wing and liberal sources liken the government’s plans to require asset declarations from NGO executives to totalitarian and dictatorial policies. Centrist commentators welcome more transparency but criticize the harsh language. A conservative columnist thinks that the proposal is a mere political red herring.

On Wednesday in an interview with ATV, Fidesz Vice-President Szilárd Németh named the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Transparency International as Soros-affiliated NGOs as the main targets of a Fidesz proposal to require asset declarations from NGO executives (see BudaPost January 12).  Mr Németh also said he thought the named organisations and their ilk should be ‘swept out of the country. The relevant bill is expected to be submitted by the government shortly.

According to Átlátszó.hu, the Fidesz proposal mirrors the NGO transparency regulations introduced by the Israeli government in July 2016. According to this law, NGOs receiving grants from foreign donors must acknowledge in all their documents and advertisements that they received foreign funding. Átlátszó writes that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was advised to introduce the new law by Arthur Finkelstein, the US campaign guru who has for years been an adviser to the governing Fidesz party.

Index.hu, on the other hand, likens the new regulation to Russian President Putin’s anti-NGO legislation that banned foreign NGOs including the Open Society Foundation.

In Heti Világgazdaság, Tamás Gomperz contends that Szilárd Németh’s terminology is borrowed from the totalitarian vocabularies of the Gestapo and the Hungarian Communist State Security Authority. The liberal commentator accuses the government of being motivated by an increasing and uncontrolled thirst for more power, even if this entails dictatorial measures.

Magyar Nemzet’s Zsuzsanna Körmendy objects to labelling organizations as ‘pseudo-NGOs’. The conservative columnist recalls that some of the targeted groups were helpful in defending the basic democratic rights of the opposition under the former Socialist-Liberal governments. Körmendy adds that if NGOs critical of the government have no legitimate right to interfere in politics, those pro-government NGOs which are supported from public funds should not have such a right either.

The government’s proposal to increase the transparency of NGOs is a legitimate idea, but the language used by Szilárd Németh is totally unacceptable, political analyst Gábor Török comments. Török wonders why the government has announced an otherwise reasonable proposal using such horrible language.

Calm down, Fidesz will not sweep out NGOs, Barna Borbás writes in Heti Válasz. The conservative columnist thinks that the government cannot and does not want to close down NGOs financed by foreign donors. He believes that requiring asset declarations from NGO executives is a nuisance at worst that does not undermine the operation of civil organizations. Borbás concludes that the proposal is a red herring, intended by the government only to provoke the opposition and divert attention from other more important issues.

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