Stahnke Testimony Outlines U.S. Response to Hungary’s Authoritarianism

Washington, D.C.—Amidst a rise of authoritarianism in Hungary, Human Rights First’s Tad Stahnke will testify before Congress today to detail practical steps the U.S. government can take to help reverse the recent troubling trends in human rights, governance, and the rule of law in Hungary. Stahnke will testify before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats on “The Future of U.S.—Hungary Relations.”

“An increasingly authoritarian government inside the European Union that is seeking to blaze a path toward ‘illiberal’ democracy and taking its cues from Russia and China is an increasingly problematic ally for the United States,” said Stahnke in his testimony. “The United States needs to help Hungary get back on the democratic track. The fact that an openly antisemitic and racist party who supports Russia and wants Hungary out of the EU and NATO is waiting in the wings indicates what is at stake. The United States cannot rely on the European Union alone to reverse the negative trends in Hungary.”

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 reverse growing antisemitism and a rising tide of discrimination against Roma. 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.

Among the key recommendations Stahnke makes for the U.S. government in his testimony are the following:

  • Apply smart diplomatic pressure.  The U.S. government and its allies should apply diplomatic pressure via Hungary’s membership in multilateral organizations. The U.S. government should also communicate with members of the EU Council and Parliament to put pressure on Hungary via its membership in the EU.
  • Support embattled civil society. A civil society defense fund for Hungary should be created. Such a fund could include trainings on constituency building, investigative journalism, grassroots organizing, and fundraising. The U.S. Embassy should be vigilant in response to government efforts to crack down on civil society, and the U.S. Ambassador should speak publicly against any legislative proposals or actions by government officials and their allies to close the space for civil society and free opinion/expression in Hungary.
  • Combat antisemitism, racism, and historical revisionism. The U.S. government should hold Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to his zero tolerance pledge on antisemitism.
  • Promote independent journalism. The U.S. government should support investigative journalism throughout the central European region through fellowships, grants, capacity building, and technology transfers. With training and financial assistance, journalists should be encouraged to investigate corruption.
  • Fight corruption. The U.S. Ambassador should speak to the Hungarian people about why official corruption in their country is a concern of the United States. An anti-corruption message that includes speaking out against sham corruption prosecutions and provides specific details of corrupt activities will resonate with the Hungarian public.

“The situation in Hungary exemplifies several important challenges facing U.S. policy throughout the region, including growing nationalism, authoritarianism, official corruption, the growing strength of antisemitic and racist political parties, and the increasing influence of Russia,” noted Stahnke in his testimony. “The United States cannot sidestep these challenges.”


Published on May 19, 2015


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