In the News: the NGO Law

On November 7, 2017, the Curia (Hungary’s supreme court) approved a referendum question aimed at annulling the NGO Law enacted in Hungary in June 2017.  The non-parliamentary Momentum Movement party that submitted question announced that it would soon begin collecting the 200,000 signatures required to hold the referendum. Below is the Orange Files article on the NGO Law. 

On April 7, 2017, Fidesz National Assembly representatives Gergely Gulyás, Lajos Kósa and Szilárd Németh submitted a bill on “the transparency of organizations supported from abroad.” The proposed law included the following justification (source in Hungarian):

Over the past decades [the] danger has appeared that foreign interest groups are attempting to utilize the organizations of civil society. Support provided under various titles represent a common vehicle for this [attempt] . . . The purpose of such allocations is for the interest groups that provide them to assert their own interests in the political and social life of Hungary through the social influence of the non-government organizations that receive them [the allocations]. . . . These processes may increasingly threaten Hungary’s national security and sovereignty. . . . The objective of the present law is to discern and make visible which organizations may be regarded as an organization supported from abroad.

The proposed law contained the following provisions (sources A, B and C in Hungarian):

–Defined organizations that receive more than 7.2 million forints (23,225 euros) annually from foreign sources as “organizations supported from abroad”;

–Required non-governmental organizations that qualified as “organizations supported from abroad” to report this status to the relevant district court within 15 days of the enactment of the law;

–Required these organizations to specify the foreign donors that provided them with financial support during the year in question and the precise amount of this support;*

–Required these organizations to display the “organization supported from abroad” designation on their websites and publications;

–Exempted “organizations that conduct religious activity” from these requirements;

–Stipulated that European Union funding did not count as “support from abroad”;

–Instructed the public prosecutor to initiate the imposition of fines on those non-governmental organizations that failed to comply with these stipulations following two summons to do so;

–Instructed the public prosecutor to initiate the dissolution of those non-governmental organizations that failed to comply with these stipulations following the imposition of fines.

*The final draft of the bill stipulated that this requirement pertained only to donations of more than 500,000 forints.

Demonstration

Demonstration on Heroes’ Square in Budapest against NGO Law (photo: Népszava).

On April 12, 2017, tens of thousands of people protested peacefully against the proposed legislation, which is known in Hungarian as the NGO Law (civil törvény), at a demonstration held on Heroes’ Square in Budapest (source in Hungarian).

Orbán’s Justification

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán defended the proposed NGO law in an interview with the pro-government newspaper Magyar Idők published on April 15, 2017 (source in Hungarian):

There are no privileges. Nobody can stand above the law, not even György Soros’s people. I don’t believe that the conservative [polgári] intelligentsia would gladly act in collusion with those about whom it will soon become clear as a result of the law to be adopted: that they are conducting their activities on behalf of foreigners using foreign money and serving foreign interests. The whole thing is about the fact that György Soros supports illegal immigration with a huge amount of money, hidden from the public, through his organizations in Hungary. He pays numerous lobby organizations disguised as NGOs to assert his interests. He maintains a veritable network with its own spokesmen, its own media, with several hundred people, with its own university. He wants to keep pressure on that Hungary which expects a György Soros to comply with its laws. I say that György Soros should not be underestimated. He is a powerful billionaire who is capable of doing anything, who knows neither God nor man if it is a question of his own interests. We want to defend Hungary, that is why we must undertake the struggle.

Adoption

On June 13, 2017, National Assembly representatives approved the Law on the Transparency of Organizations Supported from Abroad by a vote of 130 in favor to 44 against with 24 abstentions. All representatives from the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party governing coalition voted in favor of the law, while all opposition representatives either voted against the law or abstained (source in Hungarian).

On June 16, President János Áder signed the legislation into law (source in Hungarian).

Reaction of NGOs

Seven non-governmental organizations announced within one month of the adoption of the NGO Law that they would not comply with it. These organizations included the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ), the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Amnesty International Hungary (sources A, B and C in Hungarian).

U.S. Criticism

On June 19, 2017, the United States Department of State published the following press release, overlooking the fact that President János Áder had signed the NGO Law three days previously (source in English):

The United States is concerned by the Hungarian parliament’s passage of legislation that unfairly burdens and targets Hungarian civil society, which is working to fight corruption and protect civil liberties. By portraying groups supported with foreign funding as acting against the interests of Hungarian society, this legislation would weaken the ability of Hungarians to organize and address concerns in a legitimate and democratic manner. If signed into law, this would be another step away from Hungary’s commitments to uphold the principles and values that are central to the EU and NATO.

Council of Europe Criticism

The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe adopted a report on the NGO Law at its plenary session on June 16–17, 2017. This report stated (source in English):

The Commission wishes to stress . . . that while on paper certain provisions [of the law] requiring transparency of foreign funding may appear to be in line with the standards [of the Council of Europe], the context surrounding the adoption of the relevant law and specifically a virulent campaign by some state authorities against civil society organisations receiving foreign funding, portraying them as acting against the interests of society, may render such provisions problematic, raising a concern as to whether they breach the prohibition of discrimination, contrary to Article 14 ECHR [European Convention of Human Rights]. In particular, although the label “organisation receiving support from abroad” objectively appears to be more neutral and descriptive compared, in particular, to the label of “foreign agent” [referring to the “foreign agent” law enacted in Russia in 2012], it should be emphasised that placed in the context prevailing in Hungary, marked by strong political statements against associations receiving support from abroad, this label risks stigmatising such organisations, adversely affecting their legitimate activities and having a chilling effect on freedom of expression and association.

The Council of Europe is a 47-member international organizations that aims to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe and to promote European culture. It is not the same as the European Union, though all members of the EU are also members of the Council of Europe. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe is an advisory body composed of independent experts in constitutional law.

European Union Infringement Procedure

Prime Minister Orbán speaking on Hungarian Radio (photo: hirado.hu).

On July 13, 2017, the European Commission (EC) initiated the first step of the three-step European Union infringement procedure against Hungary with regard to the Law on the Transparency of Organizations Supported from Abroad, which the EC determined “interferes unduly with fundamental rights as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, in particular the right to freedom of association” and “introduces unjustified and disproportionate restrictions to the free movement of capital, as outlined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union” (source in English). This so-called Letter of Formal Notice provided the Orbán government with one month to respond to the European Commission’s objections to the law.

On August 14, Justice Ministry State Secretary Pál Völner announced that the Orbán government had formally rejected the European Commission’s objections to the NGO Law on the grounds that the law was “necessary and proportional.” Völlner said that “we can’t help it if the restrictions harm the interests of György Soros” (source in Hungarian).

On October 4, the European Commission initiated the second step in European Union infringement procedure against Hungary with regard to the Law on the Transparency of Organizations Supported from Abroad. This so-called Reasoned Opinion provided the Orbán government with one month “to notify the Commission of measures taken to remedy the situation” (source in English).

On October 6, Prime Minister Orbán said during a Hungarian Radio interview in reference to the EC infringement procedure (source in Hungarian):

Well now, if one reads the submission of the Brussels bureaucrats regarding the Hungarian NGO law, then all we can say is that it is the subject of ridicule everywhere in Europe. A sensible lawyer would not even pick it up, because it would burn his hands. It smells so much of a document prepared according to a political command, there are such far-fetched arguments in it that a lawyer, how shall I say it, cannot make it the subject of discussion with suitable seriousness, without laughing. It is so ridiculous that nothing can be done with it.

The European Commission has not yet initiated the third and final step in European Union infringement procedure—referral to the European Court of Justice— against Hungary with regard to the amendments.

Constitutional Court Challenge

On August 30, 2017, 23 non-governmental organizations submitted a joint challenge to the NGO Law to the Constitutional Court. These organizations included all seven organizations that announced that they would not comply with the law (source in Hungarian).

Referendum

Momentum President András Fekete-Győr submitting referendum signatures to the Budapest Election Office in February 2017 (photo: Magyar Nemzet).

On November 7, 2017, the Curia (Hungary’s supreme court) approved the following referendum question which one of the leaders of the non-parliamentary opposition Momentum Movement party submitted regarding the NGO Law (source in Hungarian): “Do you agree that the National Assembly should annul Law LXXVI of 2017 on the transparency of organizations supported from abroad?” (Egyetért-e Ön azzal, hogy az Országgyűlés helyezze hatályon kívül a külföldről támogatott szervezetek átláthatóságáról szóló 2017. évi LXXVI. törvényt?)

Momentum announced after the Curia’s decision that the party would soon begin collecting the 200,000 signatures necessary to hold the referendum (source in Hungarian).

However, even if Momentum manages to collect the required number of signatures, the referendum will likely occur only after the general election expected to take place in Hungary in April 2018 (source in Hungarian).

In early 2017, Momentum collected the required number of signatures to hold a referendum on the Hungarian Olympic Committee’s 2024 Summer Olympics bid, which the Orbán government withdrew before the referendum could be held.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

National Consultation on the “Soros Plan”

National Consultation questionnaire.

On September 13, 2017, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced to members of the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) National Assembly coalition that the government would conduct a National Consultation on the “Soros Plan” pertaining to the European migrant crisis (source in Hungarian).

On September 23, Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office State Secretary Bence Tuzson officially confirmed that the government would soon launch a National Consultation on the “Soros Plan” (source in Hungarian). Also on this date, the government began broadcasting advertisements on state-run Hungarian Television regarding “György Soros’s dangerous plan” (source in Hungarian).

On September 28, 2017, government spokesman Zoltán Kovács announced that government would begin mailing National Consultation questionnaires during the second week of October (source in Hungarian).

The Orbán government has held a total of seven National Consultations including the National Consultation on the “Soros Plan.”

In these National Consultations, the government mails questionnaires on various topics to all of the approximately eight million adult citizens of Hungary. Respondents can return these questionnaires postage-free to the Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office, which assumed the duty of conducting the National Consultations from the Prime Ministry in October 2015. Respondents can also fill out National Consultation questionnaires on the official government website (see on-line questionnaire in Hungarian ).

The Orbán government uses the results of these National Consultation questionnaires, which are phrased in order to ensure that an overwhelming majority of respondents will select the government-supported answer, in order to demonstrate that its policies reflect the popular will of the citizens of Hungary (see National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism and The “Let’s Stop Brussels!” National Consultation).

Letter of Introduction

The National Consultation questionnaire on the “Soros Plan” included the following letter of introduction from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán:

My Esteemed Compatriot!

Prime Minister Orbán’s letter of introduction (click to enlarge).

I am writing to You about a matter that fundamentally influences everyday life, the security and the future of Hungary.

We have always believed in straight talk, we have never disguised the fact that we have a serious disagreement with György Soros, one of the most influential billionaires in the world. We are now raising our voices, because György Soros has a dangerous plan, which an extensive network is working to implement.

On the basis of the Soros plan, they would settle 1 million immigrants in Europe per year and they would distribute the settled migrants among the member states. Hungary would also have to take part in this. According to the plan, they would give each immigrant 9 million forints from the money of the taxpayers.

The fact that numerous leaders in Brussels support and represent this plan makes it truly dangerous. If it is implemented, Hungary’s culture and population would change in an irreversible way.

It is clearly visible that an enormous fusillade has come down upon those countries that resist the Soros plan. They want to punish Hungary because we are defending ourselves and at the same time all of Europe with a fence. They want to force us to dismantle the fence and to accept as many illegal immigrants as they prescribe.

The Soros plan endangers our communities and our traditions. It endangers Hungary and all of that Europe with which we have become acquainted and which we love.

It is precisely for this reason that the time for joint action has again arrived. I ask that you participate in the national consultation and fill out the enclosed questionnaire.

We are counting on your opinion!

Respectfully,

Viktor Orbán

Prime Minister of Hungary

Questionnaire

The National Consultation questionnaire on the “Soros Plan” consists of the following seven questions (see original questionnaire in Hungarian): 

1. György Soros wants to persuade Brussels to settle at least one million immigrants from Africa and the Middle East per year on the territory of the European Union, thus in Hungary as well.

Soros has been working for many years to change Europe and European societies. He wants to reach his goals through the settlement of masses of people from other civilizational backgrounds. In the introduction of his plan, he put it this way: “the EU has to accept at least a million asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future” (Project Syndicate, 09-26-2015). The European Parliament advocates a similar point of view. The body supported the resettlement programs as well as the establishment of immigration routes (2015/2342 (IN))

Do you support this point of the Soros plan? YES NO

2. György Soros along with leaders in Brussels together want to get European Union member states, thus Hungary as well, to dismantle border-protection barriers and to open frontiers to immigrants.

Well-guarded borders represent effective protection against illegal immigration. It is not by accident that dismantling the border-protection barriers is one of the important goals of the Soros plan. In this way, the borders would be opened to illegal immigrants. The billionaire put it this way, “our plan treats the protection of refugees as the objective and national borders as the obstacle” (Bloomberg Business, 10-30-2015).

Do you support this point of the Soros plan? YES NO

3. Part of the Soros plan is that Brussels will mandatorily distribute immigrants gathered in Western European countries with particular regard to Eastern European countries. Hungary must participate in this.

György Soros wrote the following about the distribution of the immigrants: “if this does not become permanent and mandatory feature of the common European asylum system, it will fall apart” (Financial Times, 07-26-2015). In 2015 a decision was made in Brussels that as a first step Hungary must accept 1,294 immigrants. In 2016, the European Commission made a proposal that would enable the distribution of an unlimited number of immigrants (IP/16/1620). The union’s Migration and Refugee Affairs Agency has also stood up in a unanimous manner for the proposal of György Soros, which further weakens the national sphere of authority in the question of immigration. If the settlement quotas become valid, Hungarians will no longer have a say in whom they want to live with in the future.

Do you support this point of the Soros plan? YES NO

4. On the basis of the Soros plan, Brussels should oblige all member states, thus Hungary as well, to pay all immigrants 9 million forints in state assistance.

According to Soros, significant sums [of money] should be spent on the immigrants. “The EU should provide 15,000 euros per asylum-seeker for each of the first two years to help cover housing, health care, and education costs – and to make accepting refugees more appealing to member states” (Project Syndicate, 09-26-2015). According to the billionaire, this sum [of money] should be raised through credit. Soros believes that tax increases are necessary in order to repay the credit: the billionaire would raise the VAT as well as the taxes imposed on gasoline consumption and tourism. Last year in Brussels, Soros also proposed that agricultural and cohesion support for Central European countries be reduced in the interest of resolving the EU migration crisis.

Do you support this point of the Soros plan? YES NO

5. György Soros also wants to make it so that migrants receive more lenient punishment for crimes that they have committed.

György Soros provides significant sums [of money] to organizations that assist immigration and defend immigrants who have committed unlawful acts. One such [organization], for example, is the Helsinki Committee, which in connection with the prohibited crossing of the border barrier argued that “the application of serious legal consequences in connection to unlawful entry can be regarded as worrisome.” Another Soros organization, Amnesty International, on several occasions demanded the release of the Ahmed H., who attacked Hungarian police defending the border with rocks and was convicted for this reason. Amnesty would even have the Hungarian state pay compensation.

Do you support this point of the Soros plan? YES NO

6. The goal of the Soros plan is to have the language and culture of the European countries to be pushed into the background so that the integration of illegal immigrants can take place sooner.

György Soros wrote in his book entitled “The Open Society” that “the decline in the authority of the nation states can be qualified as a development to be welcomed.” Soros also wrote openly that we should not give up our conviction that migration does good for Europe. He summoned non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and companies to be the sponsors of immigration. He also talked about how the continent must finally take active steps in the interest of forming open societies. In certain European countries and multinational companies they have already begun to remove European, Christian symbols so that they “do not offend the sensibilities of immigrants.”

Do you support this point of the Soros plan? YES NO

7. Part of the Soros plan is to launch an attack on countries that oppose immigration and to impose heavy punishments on them.

The main obstacles to the implementation of the Soros plan are those governments that stand up for national independence and take action against illegal immigration. György Soros cannot today bring one million immigrants into Europe because there are governments that protest against this. The Hungarian government is complying with the Schengen agreement when it defends the borders and builds a fence, thus making implementation of the Soros plan more difficult. Soros and several decision-makers in Brussels are attacking our homeland for this reason. According to the proposal of the European Commission, those member states that do not participate in the settlement program would have to pay a penalty of 78 million forints for every immigrant. (2016/0133 (COD)) A Hungarian employee works for decades for a sum [of money] of this size.

Do you support this point of the Soros plan? YES NO

The “Soros Plan”

The “Soros Plan” cited in the Orbán government’s National Consultation questionnaire refers to measures that George Soros proposed to manage the European migrant crisis in the following writings: an article published in the Financial Times on July 16, 2015 under the title “By failing to help refugees, Europe fails itself”; an article published on the Project Syndicate website on September 26, 2015 under the title “Rebuilding the Asylum System”; and an e-mail statement published on the Bloomberg News website on October 30, 2015 (sources A, B and C in English).

Financial Times

In the July 16, 2015 Financial Times article, Soros cited three elements of the European Commission’s proposed response to the migrant crisis: “a military mission targeting smugglers in the Mediterranean”; “a robust effort to return migrants who are found not to qualify for international protection”; and “a mandatory plan to take 40,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to be processed in other member states.”

Soros asserted in the Financial Times article that “These programmes embody the spirit of shared responsibility that lies at the heart of the EU. If they do not become permanent and mandatory features of the common European asylum system, it will fall apart.”

Question three of the National Consultation questionnaire on the “Soros Plan” transformed the latter sentence from the plural to the singular, thus narrowing its reference to just one of the three cited elements of the European Commission plan to manage the migrant crisis: “György Soros wrote the following about the distribution of the immigrants: ‘if this does not become a permanent and mandatory feature of the common European asylum system, it will fall apart’ (Financial Times, 07-26-2015).”

Bloomberg News

In the October 30, 2015 e-mail statement published on the Bloomberg News website, Soros differentiated the plan of Viktor Orbán to manage the migration crisis from his plan: “His plan treats the protection of national borders as the objective and the refugees as an obstacle. Our plan treats the protection of refugees as the objective and national borders as the obstacle.”

Question two of the National Consultation questionnaire refers to this statement.

Project Syndicate

In the September 26, 2015 Project Syndicate article, Soros contended that “The EU needs a comprehensive plan to respond to the [migrant] crisis, one that reasserts effective governance over the flows of asylum-seekers so that they take place in a safe, orderly way, and at a pace that reflects Europe’s capacity to absorb them.”

Soros identified six components of this “comprehensive plan.”  Referring to the first component of this plan, Soros wrote:

The EU has to accept at least a million asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future. And, to do that, it must share the burden fairly . . .

Adequate financing is critical. The EU should provide €15,000 ($16,800) per asylum-seeker for each of the first two years to help cover housing, health care, and education costs—and to make accepting refugees more appealing to member states. It can raise these funds by issuing long-term bonds using its largely untapped AAA borrowing capacity, which will have the added benefit of providing a justified fiscal stimulus to the European economy

The “comprehensive plan” that Soros presented in the Project Syndicate article also proposed that the European Union take the following measures to manage the migrant crisis: provide funding to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan to help support refugees living in those countries; establish a common Asylum and Migration Agency and Border Guard; ensure safe channels of migration in order to “calm the panic” and reduce the number of people making the “dangerous Mediterranean crossing”; and mobilize non-governmental organizations, church groups and businesses to “act as sponsors.” Finally, Soros stated in the article that these measures should serve as “global standards for the treatment of asylum-seekers and migrants.”

Questions one and three of the National Consultation questionnaire refer to the first component of this “comprehensive plan” to “accept at least a million asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future” and “provide €15,000 ($16,800) per asylum-seeker for each of the first two years.”

Other Articles

Soros published two subsequent articles regarding the European Union’s response to the migration crisis—the first on the Project Syndicate website on April 10, 2016 under the title “Bringing Europe’s Migration Crisis under Control” and the second on the Foreign Policy website on July 19, 2016 under the title “This Is Europe’s Last Chance to Fix Its Refugee Policy” (source A and B in English).

In these articles, both published after the March 2016 agreement between the European Union and Turkey to decrease the number of migrants traveling across the Aegean Sea from the latter country to Greece, Soros reduced the number of refugees the EU would have to accept under his proposals from one million per year to “a firm and reliable annual target of 300,000–500,000 refugees” and “a guaranteed target of at least 300,000 refugees each year.”

On September 27, 2017, Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office State Secretary Bence Tuzson said that the government had used the larger number in its National Consultation on the “Soros Plan” because “the number of one million returns regularly in European thinking and György Soros’s most important written statement referred to this as well” (source in Hungarian).

Amnesty International and Helsinki Committee Response

Question five of the National Consultation questionnaire on the “Soros Plan” cited Amnesty International and the Helsinki Committee as examples of Soros-supported organizations “that assist immigration and defend immigrants who have committed unlawful acts”:

One such [organization], for example, is the Helsinki Committee, which in connection with the prohibited crossing of the border barrier argued that “the application of serious legal consequences in connection to unlawful entry can be regarded as worrisome.” Another Soros organization, Amnesty International, on several occasions demanded the release of the Ahmed H., who attacked Hungarian police defending the border with rocks and was convicted for this reason. Amnesty would even have the Hungarian state pay compensation.

On September 28, 2017, both the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Amnesty International Hungary responded to their citation in this National Consultation questionnaire.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee wrote (source in Hungarian):

We consider it to be outrageous that they accuse our organization, which for decades has been assisting asylum-seekers, of wanting to absolve anybody whatsoever of criminal acts.

We continue to believe that punishing refugees with imprisonment just because they have transgressed the border barrier is a disproportional and excessive vehicle that is also inconsistent with the Geneva Convention.

Amnesty International Hungary wrote (source in Hungarian):

Amnesty International Hungary and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee have received enormous recognition, we have been included by name in the most recent National Consultation!!! The government has accused us of the following:

1. we on several occasions demanded the release of Ahmed H. (correction: we find the act of terror to be unfounded and absurd)

2. who attacked Hungarian police with rocks . . . (correction: the verdict did not state that he attacked police (threw in their direction) and does not even mention rocks (solid objects)

3. and would have the Hungarian state pay compensation. (Gyula Budai [Fidesz National Assembly representative] devised this, though we have no idea where he came up with it)

+1. we are not a Soros organization (whatever this means)

Soros Response

On September 29, 2017, spokesman Csaba Csontos of the Soros-founded, -funded and -chaired Open Society Foundations told the opposition website hvg.hu that all seven of the questions on the National Consultation questionnaire were either inaccurate or unfounded (source in Hungarian).

Csontos stated with regard to the claim in the National Consultation questionnaire that “György Soros wants to persuade Brussels to settle at least one million immigrants from Africa and the Middle East per year on the territory of the European Union”:

György Soros wrote about one million immigrants per year in a 2015 article, though there was never any question of “persuasion” or settlement. Soros was writing about managing the situation. At that time around that many refugees had arrived and he based this on the premise that the course of events would continue at this level. He continually decreased this number. In his most recent—July 2016—article he modified this number to 300,000.

On October 3, 2017, an unidentified spokesman for Soros told the Financial Times that “There is no such thing as a global conspiracy against Hungary orchestrated by George Soros. . . .We regret that the government is spending over $3m of public money to play on instincts of fear and hatred to manipulate Hungarian voters six months ahead of the parliamentary election” (source in English).

Orbán on the “Soros Plan”

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán described the “Soros Plan” during a Hungarian Radio interview on April 28, 2017 (source in Hungarian):

So György Soros published his own migration program. In this he wrote, espoused publicly in his own name, that every year one million migrants must be transported into the union, that this must be financed and that he would gladly give a loan—he added this as well. And since then they have been working to dismantle the Hungarian fence, to change the laws protecting Hungary, to denigrate Hungary in every possible international forum and to force it through international pressure to nevertheless allow migrants to enter and pass through [the country]. This is what György Soros the financial speculator has done after becoming György Soros the pro-immigration European politician and we must rise in opposition to this.

Prime Minister Orbán said with regard to the “Soros Plan” during another Hungarian Radio interview on October 6, 2017 (source in Hungarian):

The starting point of the whole thing was when the dispute began between Brussels and Hungary. At that time, I published a multi-point plan about how Europe should be defended and I made proposals to the union. In response, György Soros published another plan, breaking it down into points just like me, about what must be done. Now those in Brussels can say that they aren’t interested in György Soros’s written work, a claim that is undermined somewhat by the fact that they regularly receive him and for some mysterious reason consult with him, though the happenings that take place in actual life progress precisely according to how György Soros set it out in publicly. . . . We are not dupes. This is a country with serious people and a serious history and, horribile dictu, with a serious government whose task it is to understand what is going on. And we understand what is going on. György Soros bought people, bought organizations and they are eating from his hand. Brussels is under his influence and the Brussels mechanism is implementing his plan with regard to the affair called immigration. They want to dismantle the fence, they want to let to let immigrants in by the millions and want to mandatorily distribute them.

Navracsics on the “Soros Plan”

On September 29, 2017, the Orbán government’s representative on the European Commission—European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth Tibor Navracsics—stated with regard to the “Soros Plan” (source in Hungarian):

I consider this to be a rhetorical element of the coming election campaign. There is no such thing in the European Commission—we don’t talk about such a thing and no such task appears in the working plan of the European Commission” .

On October 9, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán responded to European Commissioner Navracsics’s denial: “I know very well. The European Commission is implementing the Soros Plan. That is, Tibor Navracsics is mistaken” (source in Hungarian).

Government Publicity Campaign

National Consultation advertisement in Budapest (photo: Orange Files).

On September 19, 2017, Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office Parliamentary State Secretary Csaba Dömötör announced that the Orbán government would conduct a publicity campaign connected to the National Consultation designed to acquaint citizens with the main aspects of the “Soros Plan.”

Dömötör said the campaign would include billboard signs and television and internet advertisements that would cost approximately the same amount of money the government’s previous National Consultation publicity campaigns (source in Hungarian).

According to data from the Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office, the government paid 7.25 billion forints (23.5 million euros) for the three publicity campaigns it conducted in connection to the “Let’s Stop Brussels!” National Consultation in the spring and summer of 2017 (source in Hungarian).

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

From the Archives: The “Let’s Stop Brussels!” National Consultation

LET’S STOP BRUSSELS! (photo: cyberpress.hu)

The Orbán government conducted its sixth National Consultation, entitled “Let’s Stop Brussels!” (Állítsuk meg Brüsszelt!), in April and May 2017.

In these National Consultations, the Orbán government mails questionnaires on various topics to all of the approximately eight million adult citizens of Hungary. Respondents can return these questionnaires postage-free to the Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office, which assumed the duty of conducting the National Consultations from the Prime Ministry in October 2015.

The Orbán government uses the results of these National Consultation questionnaires, which are phrased in order to ensure that an overwhelming majority of respondents will select the government-supported answer, in order to demonstrate that its policies reflect the popular will of the citizens of Hungary (see National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism).

Questionnaire  

Questionnaire (click to enlarge)

The “Let’s Stop Brussels!” National Consultation questionnaire consisted of the following six questions:

1. Brussels is preparing to make a dangerous move. It wants to force us to annul the utility-fee cuts.

What do you think Hungary should do?

a. We should defend the utility-fee cuts. We should insist that Hungarian energy prices be determined in Hungary.

b. We should accept the plan of Brussels and rely on large companies to determine utility-fee prices.

2. Terrorist attacks have followed one after another in Europe over the recent period. In spite of this, Brussels wants to force Hungary to receive illegal immigrants.

What do you think Hungary should do?

a. In the interest of the security of the Hungarian people, illegal immigrants should be placed under supervision until the authorities can make a decision regarding their cases.

b. We should permit illegal immigrants to move freely in Hungary.

3. By today it has become apparent that, in addition to human traffickers, certain international organizations have encouraged illegal immigrants on their way to Hungary to engage in unlawful activity.

What do you think Hungary should do?

a. Activities that assist illegal immigration—such as human trafficking and the popularization of illegal immigration—should be punished.

b. We should accept that there exist certain international organizations that can encourage the circumvention of Hungarian laws without consequences.

4. More and more foreign-supported organizations are operating in Hungary with the objective of interfering in the internal affairs of our homeland in a non-transparent way. Their operations could endanger our independence.

What do you think Hungary should do? 

a. We should compel them to register themselves, disclosing the country or organization on behalf of which they are functioning and the objective of their operations.

b. We should permit them to continue to conduct their risky activities without supervision.

5. Job creation has been successful in Hungary over the past years because we took our own pathway. However, Brussels is attacking the job-creation measures.

What do you think Hungary should do?

a. We Hungarians should continue to decide regarding the future of the Hungarian economy.

b. Let Brussels decide what should be done in the economy.

6. Hungary has committed itself to cut taxes. Brussels is now attacking our homeland because of this.

What do you think Hungary should do?

a. We should insist that we Hungarians are able to decide on tax cuts.

b. We should accept that Brussels dictate the magnitude of taxes.

Letter of Introduction

Introduction letter (click to enlarge)

The National Consultation questionnaire included the following letter of introduction from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán:

Esteemed Compatriots!

I am writing to you because we again stand before very big decisions. Brussels has come forward with several plans that endanger our national independence and the security of the country.

The bureaucrats want to force us to annul the utility-fee cuts and to receive illegal immigrants. If it was up to them, they would deprive us of the opportunity to decide ourselves regarding tax cuts and the means of job creation. Because the government would like greater transparency regarding the issue of foreign-supported agent organizations, we can expect heavy attacks in this domain as well.  

We must stop Brussels! We will not permit them to make decisions above our heads. We must defend our borders, while we must prevent settlement [of migrants in Hungary]. We also insist that we keep the regulation of taxes, wages and utility fees in our own hands. We must make the networks sustained from foreign money transparent as well.

The help of the Hungarian people is needed in order for us to successfully hinder the dangerous plans of Brussels. This is why I am asking that You to stand up for national independence as well, assist the government in its struggle and to fill out the enclosed questionnaire.

Hungary is depending on You!

Sincerely,

Viktor Orbán

The prime minister of Hungary

European Commission Rebuttal

On April 27, 2017, the European Commission (EC) published a document entitled “Facts Matter. European Commission Responds to Hungarian National Consultation.” In this document, the EC refuted the primary claims in all six questions posed in the National Consultation (see source in English).

Results and Cost of the Questionnaire

In late June 2017, Prime Minister Orbán announced that nearly 1.7 million Hungarians had returned the National Consultation Questionnaire (source in Hungarian). Also in late June, Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office State Secretary Csaba Dömötör announced that 99 percent of respondents had chosen the government-supported answer (answer a.) to the National Consultation questions (source in Hungarian).

The government paid slightly less than 950 million forints (3.1 million euros) to print and mail the eight million National Consultation questionnaires (source in Hungarian).

Publicity Campaigns

Let’s Not Allow George Soros to Have the Last Laugh! (photo: Szombat Online)

The Orbán government conducted three publicity campaigns in connection to the “Let’s Stop Brussels!” National Consultation featuring the following slogans that appeared on billboards and advertising columns throughout Hungary as well as in the country’s broadcast, print and digital media: in April and May, Let’s Stop Brussels!; in June, The Most Successful National Consultation of All Time. Hungary Is a Strong and Proud European Country (Minden idők legsikeresebb Nemzeti Konzultációja. Magyarország erős és büszke európai ország); and in July, Let’s Not Allow George Soros to Have the Last Laugh! (Ne hagyuk, hogy Soros György nevessen a végén!).

Cost of the Publicity Campaigns

According to data from the Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office, the government paid 7.25 billion forints (23.5 million euros) for the three publicity campaigns it conducted in connection to the “Let’s Stop Brussels!” National Consultation from early April until the middle of July (source in Hungarian).

Oligarch Lőrinc Mészáros (photo: Népszava Online)

Media that operate under the ownership of Orbán-government oligarchs Lőrinc Mészáros, Andy Vajna and Gábor Széles generated nearly three billion forints from the publication and broadcast of this National Consultation publicity (Mészáros 2.35 billion forints; Vajna 512 million forints; and Széles 107 million forints).

Furthermore, media that operate under the ownership of people with indirect or direct ties to the Orbán government generated slightly over 700 million forints in revenue from the publication and broadcast of such publicity (Ádám Matolcsy, the son of National Bank of Hungary Governor György Matolcsy, 380 million forints; Árpád Habony, Prime Minister Orbán’s chief strategic advisor, 261 million forints; and Mária Schmidt, director of the state-supported House of Terror, 62 million forints).

The print, broadcast and digital media operating under the ownership of the above six people thus received just over half of the 7.25 billion forints that the Orbán government spent on publicity for its “Let’s Stop Brussels!” National Consultation.

Total Cost

The Orbán government spent a total of 8.2 billion forints (26.6 million euros) on the “Let’s Stop Brussels” National Consultation.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

The Empire Strikes Back

Terry Black's Facebook profile photo.

Terry Black (Facebook profile photo).

On November 10, 2016, the Andy Vajna-owned, pro-government TV2 television station broadcast a report entitled “Gábor Vona’s Secret Life” [Vona Gábor titkos élete] in which transgender performer and former gay adult-film actor Terry Black (Mihály Rácz) alleged that he had seen the president of the radical-nationalist Jobbik party engaging in homosexual acts at gatherings of Hungarian intellectuals in the early 2000s (source A and B in Hungarian).

The pro-government commercial media, including Origo.hu, PestiSrácok.hu, ripost.hu and the Árpád Habony-operated lokál.hu, carried the TV2 report, which was broadcast just two days after Jobbik National Assembly representatives had followed through with their threat not to support the government-sponsored proposed amendment to the Fundamental Law that would have prevented the European Union from resettling Middle Eastern and African refugees in Hungary if government “residency-bonds” were not first eliminated (see Updated: Amendments to the Fundamental Law and The Hungarian Investment Immigration Program).

Shortly after the broadcast of the TV2 report, Gábor Vona’s wife, Krisztina Vona-Szabó, published an open letter on her Facebook page to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s wife,  Anikó Lévai (source in Hungarian):

According to the freshest “news” in the pro-government press, Gábor regularly participated in homosexual orgies during his university years. At the time when we were engaged. Naturally I understand that there is great confusion, resentment and vindictiveness, because the amendment to the Fundamental Law submitted by Viktor Orbán has failed. However, no matter what the sides think of this, it still cannot be a reason to humiliate a family and try to discredit my husband with fabricated personal-life character assassination and totally groundless lies. . . . Since I see no other solution, I ask you as a wife and a mother to stop your husband. Obviously it is not possible to influence Viktor Orbán on the political stage. I presume that you might be the last person he may listen to.

Jobbik President Gábor Vona: "I am a proud heterosexual" (photo: Magyar Narancs).

Jobbik President Gábor Vona: “I am a proud heterosexual” (photo: Magyar Narancs).

On November 11, Jobbik President Vona held a press conference at which he denied Terry Black’s allegations, declaring that he was a “proud heterosexual” and that the TV2 report and its coverage in the pro-government media had been an act of revenge for his party’s decision not to support the Orbán-submitted proposed amendment to the Fundamental Law (source in Hungarian). Vona stated during the press conference (source in Hungarian):

Incidentally, at the time that Terry Black mentions, in the period around 2003, I was part of an intellectual circle in which most of those present were intellectual men. This was Viktor Orbán’s civil circle [Polgári Kör], the Alliance for the Nation civil circle. Since I have left this circle, I don’t know how the work of this circle continued. While I was there, I experienced no movement of this type [homosexuality].

TV2 report "Strange Photo of Gábor Vona."

TV2 report “Strange Photo of Gábor Vona.”

On November 14, TV2 broadcast another report, entitled “Strange Photo of Gábor Vona” [Furcsa fotó Vona Gáborról], which showed a photo that Terry Black had posted on his Facebook page of the Jobbik president standing in an intimate pose with a man. The TV2 report cited Vona’s statement quoted above, though only the first sentence: “Incidentally, at the time that Terry Black mentions, in the period around 2003, I was part of an intellectual circle in which most of those present were intellectual men” (source A and B in Hungarian). The pro-government media empire, as previously, carried the report.

"A proud hetero": photo from Terry Black's Facebook page.

The “strange photo.”

The opposition website 444.hu discovered that the “strange photo” in question depicted a supporter congratulating Gábor Vona at a 2009 Jobbik party event (source in Hungarian).

Also on November 14, the head of Prime Ministry Press Office, Bertalan Havasi, responded to the open letter than Vona’s wife had written to Orbán’s wife (source in Hungarian): “As a political official and Hungary’s head of government, Viktor Orbán is used to attempts to discredit him through groundless lies and fabricated personal-life character assassinations. . . . Some can handle this in a manly way and others choose to hide behind the wife.”

On November 15, Jobbik National Assembly representative Dóra Dúró announced that the party intended to sue TV2, Origo.hu, PestiSrácok.hu, ripost.hu and lokál.hu for “falsification of news” in connection with the reports suggesting that Gábor Vona had been engaged in homosexual activity in the early 2000s (source in Hungarian).

Also on November 15, the National Media and Infocommunications Authority announced that it had made no decision regarding whether to initiate an investigation of the TV2 reports (source in Hungarian).

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

Birds of a Feather (2)

orbantrumpPrime Minister Viktor Orbán enthusiastically welcomed the election of Donald Trump to serve as the next president of the United States. Below are five statements that Prime Minister Orbán made regarding Trump’s November 8 election victory.

“Congratulations. What a great news. Democracy is still alive.” November 9, 2016 (source in English).

“What has happened is that reality has broken through the ideology. We are moving back to reality, which means [respecting] the views of real people and what they think, how they approach these questions – not to educate them, but accept them as they are, because they are the basis of democracy.” November 9, 2016 (source in English).

“It’s not my idea. It’s not an élite-launched political movement. It’s going on in the minds of the people, because they don’t like what we’re living in now—that kind of liberal non-democracy system.” November 9, 2016 (source in English).

“Now this [escape from ideological captivity] has happened in the United States and this gives the rest of the Western world the opportunity to break away from ideologies, from political correctness and the captivity of ways of thinking and speaking that have distanced themselves from the truth and finally we are returning to the ground of realities.” November 9, 2016 (source in Hungarian).

“The world will be a better place with the new American president, we have a good chance of this.” November 11, 2016 (source in Hungarian).

See Birds of a Feather (1).

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

The Demise of People’s Freedom

Final issue of Népszabadság (photo: mandiner.hu).

Final issue of Népszabadság (photo: mandiner.hu).

On October 8, 2016, Mediaworks Hungary, the owner of the influential opposition print and online newspaper Népszabadság (People[‘s] Freedom), announced unexpectedly that it had suspended publication of the newspaper effective immediately.

The Vienna Capital Partners-owned Mediaworks Hungary attributed the decision to discontinue publication of the newspaper to the fact that “The circulation of Népszabadság has fallen 74 percent over the past ten years, that is, by over 100,000 copies [per day]. As a consequence, the newspaper has generated losses of more than five billion forints since 2007 and has likewise accrued significant losses this year” (source in Hungarian).

However, referring to the previously rumored attempt of pro-government business interests close to oligarch Lőrinc Mészáros (source in Hungarian) to acquire Mediaworks Hungary, the editors of Népszabadság published the following post on the newspaper’s Facebook page after receiving notification via motorcycle courier that they had been “exempted from their obligation to perform work” for the newspaper (source in Hungarian):

Dear Followers! The editors of Népszabadság learned at the same time as the general public that the newspaper has been shut down with immediate effect. Our first thought is that this is a putsch. We will be in contact soon.

Demonstrators protest the suspension of Népszabadság's publication (photo: index.hu).

Demonstrators protest the termination of Népszabadság (photo: index.hu).

The employees of Népszabadság had already taken their personal belongings home after having been told that they would move back to the newspaper’s former headquarters in Budapest on October 10. The editors of Népszabadság stated on the newspaper’s Facebook page: “As you know, over the weekend Népszabadság would have moved. Instead they shut us out of our workplace.”

Several thousand people participated in a demonstration in front of the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest on the evening of October 8 to protest the presumed pro-government acquisition of Mediaworks Hungary, while officials from all of the opposition parties—including radical nationalist Jobbik—have condemned the termination of Népszabadság as a further blow to media plurality in Hungary (source in Hungarian).

Newspaper stand in Budapest on October 10, 2016:"Freedom of the Press has Ended in Hungary" (photo: Népszabadság Facebook page).

Newspaper stand in Budapest on October 10, 2016:”Freedom of the Press Has Ended in Hungary” (photo: Népszabadság Facebook page).

Opposition websites speculate that the Austrian-owned Mediaworks Hungary discontinued publication of Népszabadság in order to eliminate the 60-year-old former daily of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party  from its portfolio in preparation for the company’s sale to either Duna Aszfalt or Opimus Press, the owners of which maintain close links to the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (source in Hungarian).

According to this hypothesis, the primary purpose of this acquisition would be to transform the 13 regional dailies that operate under the ownership of Mediaworks Hungary—newspapers that had daily circulation of more than one million copies in the second quarter of 2016—into vehicles for the dissemination of pro-government news and propaganda (sources A and B in Hungarian)

The disappearance of Népszabadság and its online edition nol.hu leaves Hungary with no major liberal daily newspapers and just three significant liberal news websites—index.hu, hvg.hu and 444.hu.

Update: On October 25, 2016, Opimus Press—an offshore-owned company over which Lőrinc Mészáros reportedly exercises either indirect or direct influence—purchased Mediaworks Hungary from Vienna Capital Partners for an undisclosed price (sources A and B in Hungarian).  According to opposition websites, Opimus Press appointed Gábor Liszkay—the owner of the pro-government daily Magyar Idők—to serve on the board of directors of Mediaworks Hungary (source in Hungarian).

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

Referendum Homestretch on Hungarian Television

Below are screenshots taken from programs broadcast on the M1 news channel of state-run Hungarian Television from 3:00 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. on October 2, 2016—that is, until half an hour before the closing of polls in Hungary’s referendum on European Union migrant-resettlement quotas (see Hungary’s 2016 Referendum on European Union Migrant Resettlement Quotas and The Referendum That Couldn’t Fail).

Aside from intermittent weather bulletins and a report on the new leadership of the U.K. Labour Party, newscasts and programs broadcast on M1 during this three-and-a-half-hour period dealt with just two issues—the referendum results and migration.

The screenshots are from the various reports on migration. Note that in 2013, the National Assembly approved an amendment to Hungary’s electoral laws that eliminated campaign silence (source in Hungarian).

Click on any screenshot to see gallery view.

Sources: screenshots 1 and 2 (00:25 and 7:31, respectively); screenshots 3, 4 and 5 (0:11, 21:40 and 25:59, respectively); screenshot 6 (0:09); screenshots 7 and 8 (0:08 and 13:54, respectively); screenshots 9,10 and 11 (0:09, 9:05 and 9:38, respectively); screenshots 12 and 13 (5:53 and 10:24, respectively); screenshots 14, 15 and 16 (17:58, 21:46 and 25:14, respectively).

—————————————————————————————————————————————–