Obama, Merkel Urged to Discuss Hungary’s Authoritarianism after White House Meeting

Washington, D.C.As President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Andrea Merkel continue conversations that started during their meeting today, Human Rights First urges them to focus on shoring up the NATO alliance by urging Hungary to reverse its trend toward authoritarianism. In the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s embrace of “illiberal democracy” is a troubling sign in the European Union and NATO country, which has taken steps to bolster its ties with Russia. It has also begun harassing nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign funding, closing the operating space for independent media outlets, and undermining democratic checks and balances. While Obama, Merkel, and other NATO heads of state are strategizing on ending the conflict in Ukraine, Orban is scheduled to receive Putin in Budapest next week. 

“The United States and Germany can do much together to help bring Hungary back into the democratic fold,” said Human Rights First’s Tad Stahnke. “In their discussions today, they should affirm the importance of doing so.”

Today, the two leaders were expected to discuss the next G-7 meeting under Germany’s leadership in June. Ahead of this meeting, the two countries should put the dangers of corruption and the weakening of the rule of law within EU countries—particularly Hungary—on the agenda for the June meeting. They should also pledge support to combat corruption and help embattled civil society groups in Hungary.

Obama and Merkel should also work together to affirm their shared interest in confronting the growth of antisemitic, xenophobic far right parties across Europe, which in 14 countries last May sent members to the European Parliament. Many of these parties are pro-Russian. In November, Marine Le Pen the leader of the National Front in France confirmed that her party had received a $9 million Euro loan from a Russian bank. These parties undermine core values that the United States and Europe share and weaken the European Union from the inside.  

Human Rights First’s recent report, “We’re not Nazis, but…The Rise of Hate Parties in Hungary and Greece and Why America Should Care,” details how the Hungarian government’s actions over the past four years have violated religious freedoms, curtailed judicial independence and media freedom, and failed to combat a rising tide of violent antisemitism. These actions have led to a series of rebukes by the European Union, the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and from Hungary’s own Supreme Court.

The report outlines recommendations for the United States including: 

  • Urge Hungary to end the crackdown on civil society and stop demonizing Hungarian NGOs that accept foreign funds as “foreign agents.”
  • Urge Hungary to revise its 2013 Media Law, abolish the Media Council, curtail the powers of the Media Authority, and take other steps to restore freedom of expression and information.
  • Urge its European Union allies to consider Article 7 proceedings to strip Hungary of its E.U. voting rights.
  • Make clear that Hungary’s professed zero-tolerance policy against antisemitism is meaningless unless enforced by  a) disciplining officials who make antisemitic or anti-Roma statements, b) ending historical revisionism that downplays Hungarians’ role in the Holocaust, and c) revising its textbooks and curriculum to reflect this.
  • Urge Hungary to step up protection of minority rights, particularly the rights of Roma, after a local election campaign that played on anti-Roma sentiment in many districts.

Published on February 9, 2015


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