Hungary Under Fire as US Pledges Support for NGOs, Media

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European allies of the outspoken Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban have taken the rare step of suspending his Fidesz party from their center-right alliance in Brussels, citing concerns over the rule of law and attacks on European Union officials. However, the European People’s Party (EPP) stopped short of expelling the party.

Fidesz campaign slogans for the upcoming European Parliament elections feature personal attacks on the head of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the U.S.-based financier George Soros. Prime Minister Orban accuses them of conspiring to force Hungary to accept mass migration.

His spokesman Zoltán Kovács told VOA in a recent interview that the suspension will not change the government’s course.

“If it’s about the fundamental issues, that is migration, the defense of European Christian values, we are not ready to compromise,” Kovács said.

Democracy at risk

It is the fundamental issues of democracy that Hungary’s Western allies accuse the government of putting at risk.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Budapest last month and pledged to increase American engagement in the region. Before his meeting with Orban, he held talks with several non-governmental organizations, among them the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union. The group’s Stefania Kapronczay was at the meeting.

“It was very important both symbolically, and it was a message about democracy,” she told VOA.

The U.S. State Department pledged support for Hungarian NGOs and free media, though no further details have been released. Kovács says the government is unimpressed.

“We don’t believe that we shall be giving lectures and tell other people actually and other countries how to behave. And that’s what we expect from our allies. NGOs are not entitled to participate in political decision-making. That has never been an assignment for them. And there is no democratic mandate behind it.”

Changing EU

Such a position is part of the government’s attempt to stifle criticism and shut down debate, Kapronczay argues.

“The Hungarian government systematically demolishes the rule of law, independent institutions. And the system of checks and balances where government power can be controlled is basically nonexistent in the country. Basically, anyone who dissents or who dares to criticize the government faces stigmatization through the media and press statements from government officials.”

The Fidesz party’s suspension from the EPP will weaken its hand in Brussels. However, the Orban government believes things will change after the May elections.

“We all know, everyone knows in the European political sphere, that the political arithmetic in Europe is going to change,” Kovács said.

That could see Hungary team up with like-minded far right parties in countries like Italy, Poland and France, a move that would reshape the power dynamics of Brussels.

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