Human Rights First today released a new report analyzing Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban's close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government’s systematic assault on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent media. The report, “No Society Without Civil Society,” comes as Orban’s far-right party Fidesz is threatening to shut down Central European University, the American university founded by philanthropist George Soros that was created to promote the values of an open society and liberal democracy.
“The U.S. government can't afford to sit on the sidelines and watch Orban drag Hungary back to its authoritarian past. Orban’s obsession with creating an illiberal state modeled on Vladimir Putin’s Russia is dangerous for Europe, and dangerous for the United States and NATO. It means institutionalized corruption, attacks on the free market, on internal critics, on independent media, and on minorities," said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, author of today’s report. "Almost every week brings a fresh new shock as the Fidesz government goes after its critics, whether they're lawyers, refugees, academics, or activists."
Based on a Human Rights First fact-finding mission earlier this month, the report details how independent media is being bought out or closed down, and individuals who criticize the government are routinely targeted. Local NGOs report they are often harassed via exhaustive tax audits.
This week’s news that Central European University is being targeted is a major assault on both academic freedom and democratic ideals in Hungary. The university provides post graduate education for students from more than one hundred countries. It is officially registered in New York, but as it is without a physical campus there, the Hungarian government argues it is operating in violation of the law. If parliament agrees by passing the proposed legislation, the university will be forced to cease operations until it can build a campus in the United States.
“Adding to civil society’s concern is the relatively warm—if also murky and controversial—relationship between President Trump and President Putin, which is likely to encourage further Fidesz-led attacks on civil society,” added Dooley. “Putin regards the Orban government as a vehicle for expanding its influence, while weakening the cohesion within the European Union and NATO. Activists have warned that Hungary is Russia’s door to the West.”
Today’s report recommends steps the U.S. government can take to protect Hungarian civil society and guard against the forces of far-right extremism and anti-democratic Russian influence including:
Published on Human Rights First website on March 30, 2017.