Starved and Strangled Hungarian soldiers put up razor wire on top of a fence on the border with Serbia, in Asotthalom, Hungary, August 31, 2015. Photo: Freedom House via Flickr

Starved and Strangled

Aniko Bakonyi, Advocacy and project officer at the Refugee Programme of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, explains why the new anti-NGO legislation contradicts core European values and legal norms, and how civil society will resist it, in an interview with BlueLink Stories Executive Editor Pavel Antonov at EU-Russia Civil Society Forum General Assembly in Sofia, Bulgaria, in May 2018. 

We are in danger right now because there is a draft legislation in front of the Hungarian parliament. It’s called officially as the “Stop Soros” legislation but we just call it the “Starve and Strangle” legislation because it is aiming at organizations who are dealing with migration, refugees, asylum seekers, just like my organization. And the aim of this bill is basically to make our existence and our activities impossible in what ways. There are three parts of the current draft legislation which might still be changing according to the government. But what we see right now – these are the main important points.

So first of all, all the activities which are in connection with migration will be a subject to licencing. So the Ministry of Interior will need to give a licence for us to do our usual activities at the refugee program. A second point is that our donations will be taxed by 25% – that is the starving part of the legislation, first is obviously the strangling part of the legislation. And there is also a third element in which individuals working for these organizations can be regarded as a national security threat and as such – banned from going eight kilometers from the Schengen border, the land border of Hungary. So this is a serious limitation of freedom of movement of some staff.

Right now this is a draft bill. So what we are working on is on is not to have this as a piece of legislation. So we are doing advocacy both in Hungary and also internationally. And we are trying to raise awareness so we welcome opportunities to talk and tell as many people as possible. But also for decision makers on EU level – we are trying to tell more and more institutions and people who are in the position to pressurize the government and EU government not to enact this legislation.

This is the first step. And then when this legislation is enacted, which we think will be, with some modifications most probably, then we will have to obviously to think based on the text at that point how we continue. Because what we are certain is that we will continue. We are not going to decease as a result of that.

I’m sure the European institutions will enact, will react to this, because it is in conflict with for example the Asylum Acquis and then in many ways it’s in conflict with European values, European legislation. But for the EU to set into action, they would also need to see the legislation. Right now what’s important is that the Venice commission should be able to give its opinion on the draft legislation. And then we very much hope that the Hungarian government will consider the recommendations. But we are also hoping that there will be a strong reaction from other governments should this legislation be passed.

We will [call for support from Civil society organizations from Europe] and we already received lots of support from civil society organizations across Europe. But not only from civil society organizations but also academics who have worked with us before of training programs, on all sorts of our activities, who know us and who know our activities. So far we have received lots of support for which we are very grateful.

Another important thing

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More BlueLink stories about pressure against CSOs in Hungary

This journalistic article was published as a part of the project “Remembering Europe: Civil Society Under Pressure Again”, implemented by the BlueLink Foundation with co-funding from the EU’s Europe for Citizens Programme. No responsibility for the content of this articice could in any way be attributed to the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency and the European Commission. All responsibility for the content lies with the BlueLink Foundation.