Hungary’s government has taken yet another step to intimidate civil society.
On Monday morning a dozen police officers raided the offices of two nongovernmental organizations in Budapest. The two groups, Ökotárs and Demnet, are part of a four NGO-consortium that administers foreign donor money for civil society organizations in Hungary.
According to a social media post by the head of Demnet, its employees were prevented by police from using their phones while police were on the premises, and had laptops and servers confiscated by police. Police sources quoted in media said the reason for the raid was “misappropriation and unauthorized financial activity” committed by “an unknown perpetrator.”
Protesters gathered later outside Ökotárs office in Budapest in response.
This is only the latest in the Hungarian government’s assault on civil society. In May it ordered surprise financial inspections of the NGOs raided today, together with a third member of the consortium. At the time, Hungary accused Norway of interfering in its internal politics by funding Hungarian NGOs. Linked to the May raid, Ökotárs was first accused of “being strongly linked” to an opposition political party. The NGO and the grant recipient organizations, among them prominent human rights and anti-corruption organizations, were subsequently investigated by Hungary’s government for alleged “organized fraud.”
This is only further evidence of Hungary’s authoritarian slide, which has become particularly steep since the government won a new term in April. In July, Prime Minister Viktor Orban went so far as to declare that he wanted to put an end to liberal democracy in Hungary.
These moves have raised alarm bells on the other side of the Atlantic with editorials in the New York Times and Washington Post. But Europe remains complacent. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights sent a letter on July 9 to the Hungarian government, condemning the government’s stigmatizing rhetoric and its questioning the legitimacy of NGO work. The government responded that it has a “moral obligation to order every measure” for the investigation of the case. The EU has said nothing about the pressure on NGOs, and declined to comment on Orban’s July speech.
Will the Hungarian government’s latest anti-human rights action finally prompt the EU to respond? We hope so. If the Union is not prepared to defend its rights values at home, how can it credibly do so abroad?