Breaking news: U.S. Statement on Intimidation of Civil Society and Media in Hungary

Statement on Intimidation of Civil Society and Media in Hungary

As delivered by the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Gary Robbins to the Permanent Council, Vienna [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe]
June 19, 2014

We take the floor today to express concern about recent developments in Hungary, one of our close friends and allies.

Shortly after its re-election victory in April, the Hungarian government accused “Norway Grants,” a funding mechanism that distributes money to a consortium of Hungarian NGOs, of being politically biased.  The Hungarian government publicly alleged that Norway seeks to influence Hungarian politics, and on June 2 the Government Control Office (KEHI) initiated investigative audits against the offices of three NGOs that distribute funds from Norway Grants.

Subsequently, on June 12, Transparency International, the ACLU, and other NGOs published a joint statement registering their concern that Hungarian civil society organizations have a shrinking space in which to carry out their activities.

Similarly, members of the media in Hungary report they practice self-censorship because they fear retaliation for articles critical of the government.  As an example, on June 9 the chief editor of a prominent independent news website was fired soon after publishing exposés of extravagant spending by the head of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) while on official travel.  The PMO official subsequently reimbursed the government.  Although the website’s management claimed the editor’s release was part of a long-planned reorganization, numerous members of the editorial and reporting staff quit in protest, claiming that the firing was due to political pressure.

On June 11, the Hungarian Parliament adopted a new law that imposes tax of up to 40 percent on advertising revenue.  Media analysts say the tax would cripple the industry and tighten government controls on the press.  In protest of the pending tax, on June 6 TV channels went dark for 15 minutes, more than 100 private media companies cut their services, newspapers printed blank front pages, websites shut down, and radio stations fell silent.  We share the concerns of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFOM), Dunja Mijatović, regarding the lack of public consultations and the expedited procedure under which the new law was adopted.

Mr. Chairman, as [OSCE] Representative [on Freedom of the Media, Ms. Dunja]  Mijatović noted, an open and informed public debate on policies and laws affecting civil society and media is of crucial importance to democracy.  We encourage the government of Hungary to engage in broad-based discussions with civil society and media outlets, and to work toward mutually acceptable solutions that uphold Hungary’s OSCE commitments to freedom of association and freedom of expression, including media freedom.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


  1. It would be great if this would make any difference to the situation whatsoever. I am very pessimistic.

  2. Strong words – but, as Joshua already wrote – will they make a difference?

    It’s almost unbelievable to see this happening in the middle of the EU! And the EU politicians squabble on details – ignoring the will of the majority of its people …

  3. Why not to call for the end of the gulyas dictatorship, before it leads to a Syrian, Spanish or Yugoslav style civil war?

  4. As long as Mrs. Merkel protects V.O. there will be no meaningful action againt the postcommunist maffiastate.

  5. Really a rather amazing statement by Gary Robbins, I suspect numerous less public attempts to get Orban to back off were made by the US embassy before this type of public action was pursued. I am looking forward to Ferenc Kumin’s response to this statement, I am sure something is being cooked up right now.

  6. Thanks, USA, but what is going to happen after this? Some falsifying words towards the West and continuing the same thing at home. As ever. Best Regards, maggie, Budapest

  7. It seems to me the US shows more concern than the EU who does not seem to care one bit. I hope the next Commission will finally make sure Hungary’s government respects EU principles. I have doubts though.

  8. @wolfi: Strong words?

    “We take the floor today to express concern”
    “We share the concerns”
    “We encourage the government of Hungary”

    To Hungarian ears, these are not strong words. They are feeble words.

    I mean what are they going to do next? Frown?

  9. @Tyrker: ‘To Hungarian ears, these are not strong words. They are feeble words.” I guess one needs to hit a Hungarian on the head in order to get the message. These are very strong words in the world of international politics.

  10. It was time to show the Hungarian goverment, the world knows what happen in Hungary and we are not alone! I hope the politicans criminals will realize, they can not to do everything without consequence!

  11. I can only hope, these “strong words” have some effect. I indeed, too, have the feeling that the European Peoples Party of which OV’s Fidesz is part backs OV to a high extent – even though many of its members, including Merkel are rumoured to have concerns privately. But I guess, their job is to protect their local interest, and there is no real pressure on them to officially realize that there is a dictatorship in the making (I d have not used these words a mere 6 months ago). Let us be honest, most Germans have a very blurred picture on Hungary, even though they know that “something is fishy”. So my hope is that this slowly changes, and OV’s regime will face harsher measures from the side of the EP.

    OF course:
    the EU can and should only give “aid to help oneself” as the Hungarians have indeed voted for Orbán and Co.
    BUT: at least they can try stopping the OV Regime making strikingly antidemocratic steps, like CHANGING ELECTION LAWs MONTHS BEFORE EVERY ELECTION to their advantage !
    After they changed the election law before the 2014 elections (so they indeed won exactly the constitution-changing 2/3 majority with ‘only’ 54% of the votes),
    now they have just changed the municipal election law for the upcoming election in the autumn – and they had done this already before the previous vote, 2010 (shortly after they won the parliamentary elections).

    Gerrymandering is for babies!
    IMHO this is something the EU may and should act upon!

  12. “To Hungarian ears, these are not strong words. They are feeble words.”

    Maybe that’s one of the problems of Hungarian society, especially politics?

    If a friend uses these words – I listen, but Orbán?????

  13. Tyrker,

    “To Hungarian ears, these are not strong words. They are feeble words”

    Yep and I guess that is our fundamental problem, In a true democracy, populated by citizens who genuinely believe in the advantages of living in a fully-functioning free state, these would be regarded as a damning criticism of the government but here?

    Apart from the fact that the regime’s censorship prevents a large majority of the populace from actually hearing any criticism (notwithstanding RTL’s efforts recently, too little, too late), most Hungarians simply don’t care if they live in a dictatorship or not. Fact.

    What is funny though is that Orban, I think, does care what the civilized world thinks of him. He suspects (and probably correctly) that the likes of Obama, Cameron and even Merkel regard him as something akin to a bit of rather smelly canine waste-product they have inadvertently stepped in. And that’s when his inherent inferiority complex kicks in. He genuinely sees himself as a statesman on the world-stage; they see him as the illiterate oaf who struggles with the concept of how to hold a knife and fork correctly (a metaphor he used himself, I believe).

    In the big picture it doesn’t really matter because it doesn’t affect the facts on the ground here… but boy, does that bother him.

    Still, he will always be welcomed by his fellow *strong-men* in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Belarus.

  14. Jóska,

    I agree, but you should change “so they indeed won exactly the constitution-changing 2/3 majority with ‘only’ 54% of the votes” to reflect the fact that they won less than a majority, only 45% of the votes. Yes, the majority of voters wanted to change the government, but instead they got a government that has no real opposition within it, again.

  15. Thanks, szorokin!

    That Huffpost article is really scathing on Orbán – maybe calling him a “Goulash Dictator” is too mild?

  16. I hope you noticed that Jon Van Til reads Hungarian Spectrum and gave a link to the post that discussed the book, Hungarian Octopus, edited by Bálint Magyar.

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