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June 11, 2015

Welcome Steps on Hungary from the European Community

The European community is taking a more active stance against Hungary’s dangerous slide into authoritarianism and extremism. This is a welcome step. 

Both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) have urged the Hungarian government to take concrete steps to combat xenophobia and intolerance. The Parliament has also asked the European Commission, the governing body of the European Union, to enhance its monitoring of the human rights conditions in Hungary, and to prepare a proposal for a permanent mechanism to monitor compliance of E.U. Member States with their democratic governance and human rights commitments.

The European Parliament expressed its concern about the Hungarian government’s backsliding on democracy, its immigration survey, and its anti-immigrant rhetoric. The resolution notes that “recent developments have led to concerns regarding the principles of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights in Hungary over the past year, which, taken together, could represent an emerging systemic threat to the rule of law in this Member State.” The parliament also “denounces the public consultation on migration and the related country-wide billboard campaign initiated by the Hungarian Government, and stresses that the content and language used in the particular consultation launched in Hungary, on immigration and terrorism, are highly misleading, biased and unbalanced, establishing a biased and direct link between migratory phenomena and security threats.”

In line with what Human Rights First advocated in our most recent recommendations on Hungary, the parliament directed the European Commission to "Immediately initiate an in-depth monitoring process on the situation of democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary and to report back on this matter to the European Parliament and Council before September 2015.”

The most recent ECRI report on Hungary, published on June 9th, extensively details the antisemitic, anti-Roma, and anti-immigrant stance of Jobbik, a “radical right-wing populist party” which scored over 20 percent of the vote in 2014 national elections and is now the second strongest political force in the country. The report also highlights the expanding extremist discourse in the country as a whole. It states, “[the] ECRI is, moreover, concerned that hate speech is not restricted to extremist parties and groups but occurs across the political spectrum.”

The inaction of leading figures of Hungary’s government has contributed to what the ECRI calls a “climate of impunity” for hate speech. We urge the Hungarian government to take a zero tolerance approach and consistently rebuke antisemitic, racist, or homophobic statements, including by government or Fidesz officials.

Unaddressed directly by the resolution, though, are recent comments by Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary, designed to strengthen his government’s xenophobic position, just as polling shows a decrease in support for Orban’s Fidesz party and a rise in support the Jobbik party. In an apparent attempt to stem the polling losses, Orban has positioned his party further to the right and more in line with the Jobbik party’s position, stating: "Multiculturalism means the coexistence of Islam, Asian religions and Christianity. We will do everything to spare Hungary from that. We welcome non-Christian investors, artists, scientists, but we don't want to mix on a mass scale."

It is well known that Orban has a strong anti-immigration viewpoint vis-à-vis the European Union, but this is an escalation in dangerous rhetoric, further undermining the values on which the E.U. is based. His move to coopt Jobbik’s xenophobic agenda further threatens the rights of refugees and migrants and strokes prejudice in the population. It is good that the E.U. is taking action.

Human Rights First continues to monitor the situation in Hungary, and has produced a series of reports, fact sheets, and congressional testimony showing the dangers and consequences of Hungary’s slide toward authoritarianism and extremism.

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