Entries RSS Feed Share Send to Facebook Tweet This Accessible version

Dispute over ‘open society’ – and its critics

April 24th, 2017

As Parliament begins to debate a bill on NGOs which receive foreign funding, pundits across the political spectrum discuss the idea of an ‘open society’, an ideal frequently evoked by George Soros, and assess the status and political role of NGOs in Hungary.

On Wednesday, Parliament began the debate on a bill which would require NGOs receiving more than 7.2 million Forints yearly from foreign donors to register as foreign funded and indicate their status in all their publications for three years. According to the explanatory chapter of the bill, the new law is intended to improve transparency and defend Hungary’s security and sovereignty from foreign lobbies and terrorist organizations. Opposition parties condemn the proposed law as a violation of basic democratic rights. They accuse the government of attempting to silence its critics. Attila Péterfalvi, ombudsman for Data Protection and Freedom of Information recommended that in addition to foreign funded NGOs, organizations receiving domestic and public funding should also be subject to the same rules. János Lázár, the Minister in charge of the Prime Minister’s office said the government will discuss that proposal.

On 444.hu Péter Magyari accuses the government of pursuing the sole purpose  of stigmatizing NGOs critical of its policies. The liberal analyst thinks that the proposed legislation is copied from the restrictive and anti-democratic Russian NGO law. Magyari finds absurd the claim that the new legislation is necessitated by security considerations. The government’s clear intention is to discredit NGOs by labelling them foreign agents, and in doing so, to pre-emptively discredit their critical attitude, Magyari concludes.

On Szuverén, Balázs Gergely Tóth thinks that the new law’s main targets are the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Transparency International, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and other watchdog organizations. The liberal human rights activist praises these organisations, for their widely recognised mission serve the democratic public and society. In an aside, he takes it for granted that the government intends to silence NGOs. In light of this, Tóth thinks that the proposed legislation can only be interpreted as an attempt to weaken the rule of law and transparency.

In Magyar Nemzet, Tamás Torba interprets what he terms an attack on CEU and foreign funded NGOs as ‘a clear indication that PM Orbán is turning his back on Western values. Torba even speculates that these projects are harbingers of PM Orbán’s plan to lead Hungary out of the EU.

Magyar Idők’s Gergely Kiss believes that the opposition have no choice but to try to mobilize against the government through what he describes as fear mongering over the CEU and NGOs. As the Hungarian economy is doing well, the opposition parties try to strengthen discontent by accusing the government of corruption and of intending to shut down CEU.

Writing in the same daily, György Pilhál suspects that George Soros has realized that the anti-government protests are unlikely to save CEU. On Friday, it was reported that George Soros is to meet Jean-Claude Juncker and three EU Commissioners before the end of April to discuss the issue of CEU with the EU leadership. Pilhál thinks that ‘Soros’s people have been unsuccessful in mobilizing Hungarians against the government,’ and are now changing their tactics to try to pressurize the government through Brussels.

In Magyar Hírlap, Károly Lóránt identifies anti-nationalism as the core value of the idea of open society. The pro-government economist claims that Karl Popper’s and George Soros’ aversion to national solidarity is the result of their persecution under Nazism, and thus ‘the idea of an open society is grounded in Jewish fears about nationalism’. In Lóránt’s interpretation, this explains why George Soros and his network promote cosmopolitan ideas and transnational cooperation through the weakening of national sovereignty. In order to challenge the ideology of an open society, one needs to put forward an alternative vision that on the one hand helps majorities defend their cultural heritage and defend national sovereignty, but at the same time, offers guarantees for unassimilated but socially integrated minorities to maintain their own cultural identity too, Lóránt believes. He concludes by adding that the government would need its own NGO network to promote this alternative outlook and challenge the idea of an open society.

The dispute over CEU and NGOs is a battle of half-truths, Szabolcs Szerető writes in Magyar Nemzet. The conservative columnist finds it complacent to consider George Soros an activist who is only concerned over democratic values rather than his own economic interests. But at the same time, the government’s preoccupation with George Soros is also highly exaggerated, Szerető believes. If the Soros-network can be considered a hidden power operating in the background, the government funded NGOs should be labelled likewise, Szerető concludes.

Tags: ,