Tad Stahnke Testifies to Congress on the Rise of Extremism and Antisemitism in Hungary
On Tuesday, the Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on “The Future of U.S.-Hungary Relations.” It featured testimony from Tad Stahnke, our expert on human rights and extremism in Europe. He detailed problems stemming from the near absolute majority control held by Fidesz, the governing party: targeting of NGOs receiving foreign funding, changes in church registration, the rise in strength of the blatantly antisemitic and racist Jobbik party, and the strengthening of Hungarian-Russian ties. Stahnke asserted that these concerns should guide U.S. policy toward Hungary, which should be directed at bringing Hungary back into the democratic fold.
Since 2010, the Hungarian government, under Fidesz control, has changed its constitution and instituted polices that threaten civil society. At the same time, nationalistic and far-right party Jobbik has injected a new potency into xenophobic and antisemitic attitudes in Hungary.
Provisions in the 2011 Church Act deregistered hundreds of churches in Hungary, requiring each church to go through a new registration process. Previously, recognition was handled through an impartial judicially based process. Under the new system, recognition became contingent on support from two-thirds of Parliament. The European Court ruled that this process stifles the free exercise of religion, but no changes have been made.
The openly antisemitic party Jobbik holds 24 of 199 seats in the Hungarian National Assembly. Jobbik members have made, and continue to make, threatening and antisemitic statements. While Stahnke welcomed Prime Minister Orban’s open commitment against antisemitism, the government has not done enough to protect the human rights of Hungary’s Jewish community.
Stahnke also testified about the Hungarian government’s attempts to stifle “foreign controlled” NGOs. The government has revoked tax identification numbers for NGOs critical of the government’s policies and raided their offices and staff members’ homes—unacceptable attacks on civil society.
Hungary’s turn away from international human rights standards is coupled with Orban’s advocacy for “illiberal” democracy and the strengthening of Hungarian-Russian ties.
Stahnke called on the U.S. government to hold Hungary to human rights standards expected of a NATO ally and E.U. member. Some key recommendations are to:
- Apply smart diplomatic pressure aimed at multilateral organizations in which Hungary holds membership
- Support embattled civil society through the creation of a civil society defense fund and active monitoring of civil society by the U.S. embassy
- Combat antisemitism, racism, and historical revisionism by holding the Hungarian government accountable
- Promote independent journalism through grants and training
- Fight corruption by having the U.S. Ambassador speak to the Hungarian people about why corruption in Hungary is a concern of the United States.
For more information on Hungary and its growing extremism and antisemitism:
- Full Testimony: “The Future of U.S.-Hungary Relations”
- Updated Recommendations: Stemming the Tide of Extremism: Recommendations for the European Commission and Hungarian Government
- Report: “We're not Nazis, but...The Rise of Hate Parties in Hungary and Greece and Why America Should Care”
- Letter: “U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Should Encourage Government to Protect Human Rights”
- Fact Sheet: “Far-right Parties in European Elections”