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June 09, 2018

Hungary's False Sense of Security

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Introduction Leaders of Hungarian civil society are appealing to the U.S. government to counter Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s accelerated assault on peaceful dissent, anti-corruption activism, and the rule of law. Orbán’s newly-won supermajority in parliament enables his Fidesz party to push through changes to the Hungarian constitution, while Orbán has promised fresh attacks on the values that underpin both the European Union and NATO alliance.

In the weeks since his re-election victory in April 2018, Orbán has made a series of alarming moves and threats against human rights advocates and judicial independence, including new legislation targeting those who help migrants, and attacks on Hungary’s judiciary. These actions occurred in the wake of an election that monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described as “characterized by a pervasive overlap between state and ruling party resources, undermining contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis.” 

While Fidesz’s hostility towards NGOs, academic freedom, and the rule of law is relatively longstanding, its new parliamentary supermajority, the increased capture of media by governmentfriendly actors, and greater control of Hungary’s intelligence services are arming Orbán with a newfound degree of latitude to expand his drive toward illiberalism.

Hungary’s government is offering NATO and the EU a false sense of security, its attacks on democracy undermining the cohesion and common values of both bodies. As a NATO ally, the United States should be concerned at the acceleration of repression by a close security partner, and at Hungary’s use of its NATO membership to push an agenda that in some respects serves Russian interests. As recent polling demonstrates, the Hungarian government’s concerted efforts to turn its population away from the values enshrined in the Washington Treaty are working. As one expert recently relayed, if Fidesz voters had to choose between Moscow or Washington, a majority would pick Moscow.” 

This report outlines the concerns of a range of Hungarian human rights defenders, foreign diplomats, civil society activists, journalists, and academics consulted during a research trip in May 2018. It recommends a strong U.S. response to the government of Hungary’s backsliding, and suggests opportunities for the U.S. government to demonstrate to the Hungarian government the necessity of respecting human rights and democratic institutions. Human Rights First has for many years made recommendations on how the U.S. government should respond to the Hungarian government’s assault on democratic institutions and the rule of law. Recent Human Rights First in-country research on Hungary includes 2017 issue briefs No Society Without Civil Society, and How the U.S. Government Should Respond to Hungary's Slide to Authoritarianism.

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