Hungarian advocates for rights are expressing concerns about the potential ramifications of new legislation expected to be proposed by Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party on Tuesday. The draft bill aims to establish a new office responsible for investigating activities deemed to threaten Hungary’s “sovereignty.”
While the government has revealed minimal details about the legislation, Fidesz leaders have suggested that it may address foreign funding of political parties and potentially extend to media outlets and civil society organizations accused of operating under the influence of Washington and/or Brussels.
Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, known for consolidating power over the past decade, has consistently propagated the notion that foreign entities interfere in Hungarian politics. He accuses his critics of acting against the national interest. In 2017, Hungary approved a controversial anti-NGO law, ostensibly aimed at ensuring transparency for groups receiving foreign donations. However, the EU’s Court of Justice later ruled that the law violated Hungarians’ rights.
Despite facing legal challenges and international critique, Prime Minister Orbán persists in asserting that his domestic critics are manipulated by external influences.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has accused entities of seeking a change of government in Hungary, alleging the use of political corruption to finance the Hungarian opposition. This claim was made in a speech last summer, where Orbán specifically criticized funding from abroad, pointing to civil society groups and media outlets allegedly financed by Brussels or the Soros network.
As Hungary gears up for European Parliament and municipal elections next year, concerns have arisen among Hungarian journalists and watchdog groups that the government might intensify efforts to silence critical voices. Telex, one of Hungary’s few remaining independent media outlets, warned that the government, under the guise of protecting sovereignty, has declared war on the critical press.
Advocates for rights argue that the new legislation is part of a broader trend in Prime Minister Orbán’s efforts to strengthen control. Stefánia Kapronczay, Director of Strategy at the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, expressed concern that the proposed legislation might align with the government’s actions to restrict public life and free press, emphasizing that the fear is that it could reinforce the narrative that foreign funding is against Hungary’s national interest.
While the full impact of the legislation cannot be assessed until the complete text is available, experts and advocates are already expressing unease, considering it as another potential legal threat against independent NGOs and media. Gábor Polyák, a Hungarian professor specializing in media law and policy, described it as the “umpteenth legal threat” against independent entities. The Hungarian government did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.
Gábor Polyák expressed uncertainty about the potential impact of the new legislation, questioning whether it would be a “toothless lion” or if Fidesz would adopt a “Putinist” approach. He emphasized that if there were a substantial legal threat to foreign aid, it could essentially mark the end of independent media and civil society. While the outcome remains uncertain, there is a palpable sense of anxiety among journalists and civilians awaiting further developments.
Critics argue that the sovereignty campaign might be a diversionary tactic to shift focus away from real issues such as inflation and the state of education, healthcare, and social services. Márton Tompos, a member of the Hungarian parliament from the opposition Momentum party, suggested that if the government genuinely aimed to address threats to Hungary’s sovereignty, they should start by scrutinizing their own dealings with Moscow and Beijing.