Posts Tagged ‘Stop Soros’

Excellent background piece to Hungary’s Stop-Soros mania

May 18, 2018

published a long, interesting article entitled “The Open Society Foundations — and their enemies“. It is very much linked to the anti-Soros drive earlier reported [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/09/urgently-seeking-professors-to-stop-the-anti-soros-bill-in-hungary/] but digs deeper and looks at the various dilemmas facing the Open Society Fund and similar donors in authoritarian/populist settings. The relocation of the Budapest office provides a timely backdrop.

George Soros founded the Open Society Foundations. Photo by: Mirko Ries / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA

Here some interesting quotes but the whole article is worth reading:

The risk that Open Society weighs is not the potential for its activities to create controversy, but for that controversy to prevent the foundation from being able to carry out its activities. “We don’t exist to defend ourselves. We exist to make change out there,” .. “If we only existed to protect ourselves, then that would be their victory….That is a classical philanthropic reaction — let’s not go anywhere near that, because that’s controversial. If you do that, if you allow controversy … to stop you from doing things, then an authoritarian government or a reactionary player in society … have a very easy task.” — Jordi Vaquer, Open Society Foundations’ regional director for Europe

..Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban is not alone in flinging those accusations — Soros is a favorite boogeyman for pro-Brexit voters in the United Kingdom, populists across Eastern Europe, and even Republicans in the United States. But in Hungary, the anti-Soros campaign has moved to the very center of political life. Orban’s party and supporters invoke Soros’ name and image to paint an apocalyptic vision of what might happen if the Hungarian-American financier, his foundation, and the NGOs they support are allowed to carry out their alleged “globalist” agenda.

Devex spoke to Gabor Gyulai, director of the Refugee Programme at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and another NGO Power of Humanity.

“In countries where millions of people are actively working in solidarity with refugees, or with LGBTI people, or with victims of domestic violence, civil society organizations have something they can build on to shape a message that will attract broader support. In a society where the vast majority believes that what you are standing up for is not a valid cause, there is much less to build on, said Gyulai, an expert on refugee issues who is also working with the United Nations to build a global network of open access courses on asylum law. The problem gets even more difficult when the state is actively working to prevent that kind of coalition from forming.”  Less than a week after Devex met with him, Gyulai’s name appeared on the list of “Soros mercenaries.”

…..

The risk that Open Society weighs is not the potential for its activities to create controversy, but for that controversy to prevent the foundation from being able to carry out its activities. “We don’t exist to defend ourselves. We exist to make change out there,” Vaquer said. “If we only existed to protect ourselves, then that would be their victory….That is a classical philanthropic reaction — let’s not go anywhere near that, because that’s controversial. If you do that, if you allow controversy … to stop you from doing things, then an authoritarian government or a reactionary player in society … have a very easy task.” — Jordi Vaquer, Open Society Foundations’ regional director for Europe

….

Zoltan Mester (left) and Vilja Arato, employees of the With the Power of Humanity Foundation. Michael Igoe/Devex

Among With the Power of Humanity’s staff, the debate over what is and is not an encroachment into party politics plays out constantly, Mester said. “Every day it’s a big fight … because especially in this time and especially in Hungary, everybody thinks that political is something bad … In Hungary if you say ‘political,’ you think about … party politicians.”…

“George Soros could have done many other things with his fortune, but that was the vision from the start — that those two were going to be the pillars of the ways in which he would then seek to define open society,” Vaquer said. “If you look at our budget 30 years later, that’s still what we are doing overwhelmingly. We’re still supporting civil society organizations and individuals. We haven’t changed that.”

The Open Society Foundations office in Budapest, Hungary. Devex/Michael Igoe

Faced with a constant barrage of accusations that they are part of George Soros’ secret plan to meddle in national politics, some of Open Society’s grantees find themselves responding to the obligatory questions that follow…..In accusing the foundation of orchestrating a global campaign to transform Europe and erode countries’ national sovereignty, OSF’s enemies ascribe much more power and reach to the organization than its employees and grantees would ever claim to have. It is tempting to do the same thing when asking if Open Society has been successful in achieving its goals. The declines in democratic freedom currently underway in many countries where Open Society operates might raise questions about whether the foundation and its benefactor have been operating with the right theory of change.

….

With the erosion of the values and norms it promotes, Open Society is not necessarily thinking differently about how the foundation measures its impact, but its leaders are coming to terms with a more realistic view of what is possible. “I think it has made us extremely aware of the limitations of what can be achieved with cross-border philanthropic activity,” Vaquer said. “It was perhaps a product of the exceptional time that was the 1990s that OSF had such a disproportionate impact on some places, in terms of being part of their political transformation, but that was probably exceptional.”

Igoe michael 1

[Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.]
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Urgently seeking professors to stop the Anti-Soros bill in Hungary

May 9, 2018

On 9 May 2018, Hungary’s (remaining) civil society issued the Professors Solidarity Call below, signed by 77 professor until now and asking for more signatories. It concerns the so-called “Stop Soros” bill, to be voted by the Hungarian parliament very soon, which will have a devastating impact on both Hungarian civil society and the asylum seekers and refugees that are already in a dire state. That Victor Orban is behind an ‘anti-Soros bill’ is the more remarkable as he himself was the beneficiary of a Soros scholarship [in 1988 a dissident Hungarian university graduate wrote a letter to George Soros, a billionaire philanthropist, asking for help obtaining a scholarship to Oxford University. In the letter, which has recently resurfaced, the young Viktor Orban said he wanted to study the “rebirth of civil society”. He got the scholarship.– the Economist 7 April 2018].

(see also my earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/250-ngos-address-letter-to-hungarian-parliament-regarding-restriction-on-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/19/ahmed-h-personifies-the-real-danger-of-populist-anti-terror-measures/)

PROFESSORS’ SOLIDARITY DECLARATION AND CALL FOR ACTION IN DEFENCE OF THE HUNGARIAN HELSINKI COMMITTEE AND THE HUNGARIAN CIVIL SOCIETY

We, 77 university professors and academics from 28 countries around the world, express our solidarity with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the independent Hungarian civil society, which currently faces an imminent existential threat.

The so-called “Stop Soros” bill, to be voted by the Hungarian Parliament in mid-May 2018, will have a devastating impact on both Hungarian civil society and those vulnerable human beings that cannot count on anyone else’s support. The new legislation will allow the government to simply ban the activities of organizations assisting refugees and migrants in a fast and arbitrary process. Activities such as legal aid to asylum-seekers, reporting to the UN or the EU, holding university lectures about refugee law or recruiting volunteers will be rendered illegal, if these are performed by civil society actors who dare to criticise government practices. Practices, which are equally condemned by the EU and the international community.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) is an outstanding human rights organization, well-known and respected for its professionalism around the world, not only by civil society, but by academia, state authorities and the judiciary as well. The HHC has massively contributed to the promotion of refugee law education and legal clinics on various continents. We all personally know and highly respect their work. States should be proud of such NGOs, instead of aiming to silence them.

Strong and independent civil society organisations are as indispensable for democracy and the rule of law as strong and independent universities. If NGOs such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee are threatened, democracy is threatened. If a prestigious organization, winner of various international human rights awards, can simply be banned from providing legal aid to refugees, if a globally reputed voice of human rights can be silenced with an administrative measure in an EU member state, then further dramatic anti-democracy measures are likely to follow. There is a real risk that the Hungarian example will be increasingly copied elsewhere, and soon it may be too late to stop the domino effect.

We call on our governments to express, without delay, their vivid discontent with Hungary’s legislation aiming at annihilating independent civil society. We call on universities around the world to do the same and actively demonstrate their solidarity with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the entire threatened Hungarian civil sector. We call on the European Union to prove to the world its credibility as a guardian and global promoter of fundamental rights, and immediately take action to prevent this flagrant human rights violation from happening on its own territory.

Signatures (in alphabetical order) at the end of the document: https://www.helsinki.hu/wp-content/uploads/Professors-solidarity-call-HHC-HU-NGOs-2018.pdf

https://www.economist.com/news/europe/21739968-election-april-8th-hungarys-prime-minister-looks-unbeatable-viktor-orban-set

250 NGOs address letter to Hungarian parliament regarding restriction on the work of human rights defenders

February 20, 2018

Bulgaria: 200 European Human Rights Organizations Protest in Hungary

More than 250 (!) human rights organizations protested today against the new laws proposed by the Hungarian Parliament aimed at limiting the work of NGOs helping refugees in the country. “We express our solidarity with civil society and all human rights defenders in Hungary – the brave people who are fighting for a more honest society,” reads part of the open letter  published by Amnesty International [the list can be consulted via the link below]. Today, parliament is going to discuss legislative changes that will impose new restrictions on non-governmental organizations in the country. It is expected that many of them will even be banned. According to the bills published last week on Parliament’s website, these organizations will be required to pay a 25% tax on all their foreign funding, and their workers will be banned from accessing refugee centers near the country’s borders.

The affected NGOs will also have to register with the Ministry of the Interior, which in turn will have the right to impose fines or deny them the right to work legally in Hungary. But to approve the changes, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government needs a two-thirds majority, which is not currently in parliament.

On 15 February 2018 the High Commissioner of Human Rights of the Council of Europe had already addressed the issue in a tough statement :

I am seriously concerned at the legislative package recently announced by the Hungarian government under the name “Stop Soros”. If adopted by Parliament, it will introduce further arbitrary restrictions to the indispensable work of human rights NGOs and defenders in Hungary. In a letter I sent to the Hungarian Parliament in May 2017, I set out my concerns regarding the then draft law on the Transparency of Organisations Supported from Abroad, which stigmatised a large number of organisations pursuing lawful activities in the field of human rights and introduced far-reaching restrictions on freedom of association in contravention of international human rights standards. I regret that instead of addressing those pressing human rights concerns, the Hungarian government appears now intent on intensifying stigmatisation and restrictions against NGOs working specifically on migration-related issues.

While I have not yet seen the final text of the proposed legislative package – changes to an earlier version I had examined were announced only the day before yesterday to make it “significantly stricter” – I am alarmed that it will aggravate the situation of freedom of association in Hungary even further. I understand that the changes made this week introduce mandatory licences for NGOs with a goal “to ensure that it is only possible to organise, support or finance migration in Hungary while in possession of a licence, which would be issued by the Minister of Interior following an assessment of the related national security aspects”. NGOs failing to abide by this requirement could be subject to sanctions, including a fine and ultimately dissolution. In addition, any such NGO that receives any amount of funding from abroad would be required to pay a 25% tax on such foreign funding.

The package also foresees the creation of “immigration restraining orders” that can be used to prevent any person deemed to “support the unlawful entry and residence of a third-country national” from accessing an 8-km zone from external borders – or even the entire Hungarian territory for non-nationals. Considering the context in which the proposed measures were conceived, there is an obvious risk that arbitrary restrictions may be applied on the freedom of movement of persons involved in refugee assistance at the border.

These proposed measures raise particular concerns because of the likelihood that they will be applied to organisations and individuals who carry out activities in the field of protecting the human rights of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees that should be fully legitimate in a democratic society. Unfortunately recent public declarations of the Hungarian government referring to organisations which may come under the effect of the package only reinforce these concerns. In particular, the proposed package (which the government itself has named “Stop Soros”) follows a series of legal measures and stigmatising government rhetoric targeting entities funded or otherwise linked to Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, which carry out professional and important work in Hungary, including in the field of human rights.

Finally, I am alarmed at the escalating rhetoric used by the Hungarian government to portray NGOs and immigrants as a threat to national security. This discourse is stirring up among the population fears and intolerance towards foreigners and mistrust towards civil society organisations.

The proposed package of laws introduces administrative and financial burdens that constitute restrictions on freedom of association which cannot be regarded as necessary in a democratic society and are therefore at variance with international human rights standards. The package as a whole is stigmatising and is bound to have a chilling effect on NGOs but also their donors and individuals who work for or with them. I call once more on Hungary to refrain from penalising, stigmatising or putting at any disadvantage whatsoever NGOs, including those working in the field of migration, and to restore an enabling environment conducive to the work of human rights defenders.

The next day the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights labeled the law an “assault on human rights” and urged its government to uphold the right of freedom of association. It appeared to mark a further tightening of controls on groups “working on issues the government regards as against state interests, such as migration and asylum”, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said. It represented “an unjustified restriction on the right to freedom of association and is a worrying continuation of the government’s assault on human rights and civic space,” he told a Geneva news briefing…

See also my earlier post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/13/human-rights-defenders-in-hungary-not-yet-foreign-agents-but-getting-close/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2018/02/in-solidarity-with-civil-society-in-hungary/

http://www.novinite.com/articles/188074/200+European+Human+Rights+Organizations+Protest+in+Hungary

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/commissioner-concerned-about-proposed-additional-restrictions-to-the-work-of-ngos-in-hungary

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-soros-law-un/hungary-anti-immigration-bill-an-assault-on-human-rights-u-n-idUSKCN1G0102