Kezdőlap Címkék Interview

Címke: interview

You can criticize certain people, as long as it is not accompanied by anti-Semitic tones

We should distinguish between legitimate criticism and stereotypes that may create a reaction, which is of concern, says Israeli Ambassador to Hungary, Yossi Amrani in an interview with FüHü. He doesn’t want to judge the anti-immigration campaign of the Hungarian government, he states: every society should decide itself whether it accepts immigrants. Yossi Amrani says that Iran is a threat and Israel will take all possible measures, „diplomatic or others”, to preempt its excessive influence in Syria. He also talks about where he sees an opportunity to develop Israeli-Hungarian economic relations.

Yossi Amrani
Photo: Embassy of Israel

Last summer, the two prime ministers talked about the development of the economic relationship between the two countries. Are the results already visible?

The two prime ministers made quite a breakthrough in the relationship between the two countries on different aspects. Some aspects will take more time and more effort to accomplish. Once you decide on stronger economic cooperation, then it is about creating the conditions for it.

You see the appointment of State Secretary László Palkovics as head of the Hungarian-Israeli Joint Economic Committee. He is a doer, he has been to Israel a few times since the Prime Minister’s visit,

he is exploring different aspects of cooperation, basically scientific and technological,

translated into joint ventures.

The Committee will meet in Hungary in May. So, this is one avenue of cooperation. Last week we hosted a 3-day Israeli visit of the V4 innovation working group. This is the second round of meetings, the aim is to expose the Israeli high-tech environment to the V4 countries. Now the V4 have to conclude among themselves on the priorities. My counterparts in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade are very optimistic.

On our own, we try to encourage Israeli businessmen to explore the possibilities of investment in Hungary. We are more engaged as an embassy, there is an active economic department, which has not existed in the past. I would not say that we would see immediate results in the volume of trade, this would take more time, but on the aspect of academic, technological, scientific cooperation we definitely see the beginning.

The high-tech sector, innovation is very strong in Israel. Do you think that this will be the main focus of the cooperation?

There are different aspects. There is TEVA, it is an Israeli company, which is active in the country, though it is still undergoing certain restructuring. There is NNG, which is owned by Israelis. There are major Israeli investments in real estate development in the country.

The opportunity to invest in Hungary exists.

A government has to identify where it sees the advantage of joint cooperation, a win-win for both countries.

It can be agriculture, there is ongoing cooperation on this field, a Hungarian group is going to Israel every year, Israeli know-how is implemented in the country. There is cooperation on water management, Hungary is a leading country in that aspect.

What we see as a major aspect is safe cities, smart mobility and high-tech. That’s where you see a potential of cooperation. And cyber, whether it is civilian or any other kind of cyber use. I can’t go into specifics, because things are in the making. But there is a process, a trend, and you have to nurture and support this trend, but there is a commitment on both sides.

There has been a great emphasis on tourism in recent years, in both direction. Is it still growing?

The numbers are very high. You can never figure out the exact number of Israeli tourists, because many Israelis, once they fly to Europe, are using EU passports, many Israelis hold double citizenship. We have figures of Israelis using Israeli passports. The numbers are close to 200,000 a year.

This is a high number. Even if you don’t have the exact figures, it is enough to walk on certain places in Budapest to hear Hebrew. So

the presence of Israeli tourism is very high here,

there are some Israeli hotels in the city as well.

Photo: Embassy of Israel

I think that the future is to deploy more Israeli tourists all over in the country. Now they spend their time in Budapest, they love Budapest, they love coming here, they like eating in local restaurants – Budapest is well known. But we are now trying to expose other parts of the country. Balaton comes as a priority, but not only Balaton, there is a direct flight between Debrecen and Tel Aviv. This part of the country, Debrecen, Nyíregyháza and maybe other destinations can also be important.

The number of Wizz Air and El Al flights to Budapest is a clear indication that this is a profitable direct line between the countries and there is a demand for that. We see more Israelis visiting Hungary, ten times if not more, than Hungarians visiting Israel. Over there we should see more progress.

In recent years there were several political campaigns in Hungary that, many people said, had anti-Semitic tones. For example, the campaign against George Soros. What do you think about this?

I am very careful with the use of the word anti-Semitism. I would recommend to anyone to think in advance what it means to be an anti-Semite. For me, and this is my definition, to be an anti-Semite is to hold certain views of the Jewish people and Israel. Having a view on a certain individual like me or anyone else does not constitute anti-Semitism.

You can have your views on certain people, you can have your criticism on Israel, as long as this criticism is not accompanied by anti-Semitic tones.

For me to have anti-Semitic tones means to generalize certain prejudices and superstitions about the Jews.

What about when an MP shares a photo on which a person’s name appears on a dead pig?

I would distinguish between criticism, which is legitimate, and the use of certain images and certain stereotypes, which may create a certain reaction, which is of concern. If someone takes a photo of a Jewish person, or someone of Jewish origin, and it is not necessarily the same, it is a question of how you identify yourself, so, if someone takes a picture which is identified with a known Jew and has it with a slaughtered pig, then I would call it insensitive, bad taste, lack of proper judgment.

I would be very afraid to call it anti-Semitic, but at the same time I have to be very honest and very clear:

once those things may repeat itself and once people understand that the overtone or the general tone may be inciting against Jews and bring different terrible images from the past, then this is a real danger and real threat to the society, beyond the question of anti-Semitism.

At the end we are all supposed to be quite educated about the past, about each other.

Also, many people say that the narrative of the campaign against the asylum-seekers resembles a certain narrative from the 30s. For example, when politicians are talking about a globalist enemy that has no home, speculates with money… What do you think about this?

I would not judge the anti-immigration campaign in Hungary or in any other country. We have to be clear about the definitions. There are labor immigrants and there are human rights refugees. Once you deal with human rights refugees, then I think it is a human responsibility to provide shelter, to find a solution to the misery of people.

Israel is also facing a challenge of illegal immigration. People, who seek “shelter” there, are they prosecuted in their own country? It is not always the case. Some of them left a certain country and walked thousands of kilometers through many other countries and then they asked asylum in Israel. By international law,

you can leave your country and ask for asylum, but you have to do it in the first country of destination.

When you travel to many different countries and settle where the economic situation and the standard of living is much better, then it is a tough choice for the society whether it is willing to absorb immigrants or not. It is like asking to host someone in your home. A country is your collective home. You should be the ones to decide about absorbing others. This is not racism, this is not about immigrants, it is protecting your way of life.

In general, how do you see: is anti-Semitism a problem in today’s Hungary?

Photo: Embassy of Israel

I don’t want to talk about today’s Hungary, I think all over the world numbers and incidents show that we see the ongoing terrible face of anti-Semitism. In Hungary you see that the government is very active and very sensitive to the concerns of the Jewish community. You see the government investing in Jewish life and Jewish history.

But at the same time people have certain opinions, certain views, that’s what the public opinion polls show, which harbor certain anti-Semitism.

Jewish people are safe in this country.

But we are not yet in a world, where bigotism, xenophobia and prejudices are erased. This is the case not just in Hungary, but in many countries in Europe.

We are close to the Holocaust day in April, and you ask yourself whether the lesson has been learned in this continent. Some of the immigrants who come to Europe introduce again anti-Semitic views. This is also something to think about.

There is a vibrant Jewish cultural life in Budapest, but less so in the countryside. I know that you have visited many places in Hungary, do you think that Jewish cultural life can have a revival in the countryside as well?

I think that there can be and there should be. And I think that

the different Jewish organizations in the country should cooperate in introducing Jewish cultural life in the countryside.

If we would like to dispel certain prejudices, then it is about sharing culture, not imposing views. It is either through education, but also through cultural cooperation. In this regard, together with ZsiFi, the Jewish Film Festival, we started a joint project of a Jewish-Israeli film week. Hopefully this year we will deploy the festival in five other cities, not only in Budapest. We started last year, but it was only on a low scale. This year we have higher expectations.

We have now an exhibition of Israeli art. Any time we can, we are trying to introduce Israeli culture to the countryside, but we need partners for that. More than what we have now.

Israel condemned the Polish Holocaust-law. Are there negotiations about it, or any development?

Israel considers Poland a key strategic ally, an important country within the EU and the Visegrad Group. We have strong cooperation in different aspects. There are now certain differences between the two governments on the respective Polish law.

Regardless of the Polish sensitivity, which we recognize,

there is a need to recognize Jewish and Israeli sensitivity.

The two governments decided to form an expert’s commission from both countries. Having in mind the good cooperation, the history of the relationship between the countries, it is very important that they committed themselves and engage in open exchange of views to better understand the sensitivities. Hopefully it would provide them and us with an insight that would allow us to resolve this crisis.

When we talk about Israel it is inevitable to talk about the war that goes on in Syria. There were reports that Israel helps certain rebel groups to keep Iran as far from the border as possible. But the Syrian government seems to be more and more powerful, and this also means that Iran’s influence in Syria is getting bigger. What is Israel’s point about it? Is there a red line?

Syria is a neighboring country and a country of instability of the last 8+ years. Israel has tried its best to keep itself out of the conflict in Syria, but we have certain strategic interest, security and diplomatic interest in that country.

You may remember that

Israel is offering medical help to the victims of the Syrian civil war,

hundreds, if not thousands of Syrians have been treated in Israeli hospitals. We do not want to take an active part in the political bickering among the different groups in Syria. We are fully aware of potential consequences of future instability in the country and the disintegration of the sovereign Syrian state, but

Syria cannot be a part of a certain Iranian axis. Israel will take all possible measures, whether they are diplomatic or others, to preempt such a scenario.

We engage in close contacts with different relevant players in the Syrian conflict, to make sure that the strategic balance in the region is not being jeopardized.

Iran is a threat.

The Iranian effort to expand its influence to neighboring countries creating a certain axis to the Mediterranean is an issue of concern.

The Hezbollah also gained strength in the Syrian war, and the terror group reportedly has thousands of missiles aimed at Israel. Is an upcoming war a possibility?

I am not a prophet, and I definitely don’t want to be a prophet of wars. There is a certain military situation, a risk assessment. We discussed Iran, this is also part of the risk assessment. Israel now enjoys a very close strategic cooperation with some of its Arab neighbors. This is an important development in the strategic perspectives of Israel.

Hezbollah is there.

Some people think Hezbollah is a political power, but I don’t know any other political power in the world with such a firepower and missiles power.

The statements made by Sheikh Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hezbollah, echo the statements coming from Iran and are about shelling Israel, putting Israel on fire and so on.

Israel is a country that takes security very seriously.

We will not let Hezbollah or anyone else undermine normal life in Israel.

And Hezbollah knows it.

Speaking of the cooperation with Arabic countries, Iran is now a common enemy of Israel and Saudi Arabia. It was reported that there had been historic talks on high levels between the countries, Israeli generals gave interviews to Saudi media…

Retired generals…

Do you think that this process can eventually lead to peace treaties as well?

I recommend a historic perspective, as we are approaching landmark dates, April 19th will be the 70th jubilee of Israel’s independence. I don’t ask you to recall 1948, or even 1967 or 1973. I would just say that Israel is a very different country in 2018. A strong country.

Photo: Embassy of Israel

The strength of a country is not measured only by its military power, it is also judged by its economic power, by its place in the international community, by its spiritual and intellectual power. In 2018 Israel is very different than the Israel I was born into.

So, this is part of the change, and the other part is the legitimacy and the acceptance Israel is gaining in its own region.

It is not the invader any more.

It is not a group of colonialists moving to the Holy Land. Israel is a player, a part of the national security in many countries in the region. And this is a very important development that we should not ignore.

The cooperation, and I would not elaborate beyond that, between Israel and neighboring countries is on security matters.

The security of Israel depends on the security and stability in other countries. But we should also say that their security and stability depends on Israel’s cooperation.

So this is a win-win.

This is the development in the last few years. Basically the roots were in the Obama administration’s policy, the Iran agreement, but mostly it is the result of the developments in the region itself. There is an understanding that through cooperation you serve your own purposes much better.

Two, two and a half years ago several experts in Israel told me that there is a ceiling of cooperation because of the Palestinian issue. They also said that it is not the most important one for other Arabic countries, however, it is a symbolic one, so, there can’t be open cooperation between Israel and Arab countries unless it is solved somehow. Do you agree? Do you think that the two-state solution is still viable?

I believe in the two-state solution, I think it is Israel’s interest. I am not sure whether the Palestinians have this idea in their mind that we should develop into two separate political sovereign entities. For Israel the two-state solution is a must. We need to find a political resolution, and I am not sure we are getting close to there. So

I believe in the two-state solution, but I don’t know whether it is feasible in the immediate future.

On the question of a ceiling to Israel’s relationship with the region… In my career I have learnt not to accept any ceilings, any limits set by certain professionals. Shimon Peres used to say that professionals are very good in analyzing the past, they are not very good in foreseeing the future. I can understand the logic of those professionals you quoted, but this was true ten years ago. And we have seen progress.

Now, the question is what we expect. Open borders? Exchange of tourists? This is not what is on the agenda. The basics of bilateral relations are on it: economic, military, strategic cooperation and the cultural, people to people relations.

By my analysis, out of the four elements we are making a huge progress in the first three. Economic cooperation: gas, electricity, water, it is happening, it is infrastructure, it is life. Without that, there is no life. Military cooperation: I should not go into any further details, but you just need to watch the news. Strategic cooperation: we have discussed that Israel is stability for many countries, their stability is Israel’s stability.

The one element that is missing is the people to people relationship.

70 years after the war of independence, with the history of the region, this is something that may develop in the future. If you explore the history of the French-German relationship, and you see the chemistry between the leaders of the two states, the cultural cooperation, then let me remind you that this was not the case till the end of World War II. The world has changed. The world can change between Israelis and Arabs as well.

I don’t believe in ceilings, I believe in interests and in Realpolitik. We live now in an era when the leaders of most Arab countries are realistic, and they see the interest of their countries.

Does the acknowledgment of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital influence this process?

No, because it is the capital of Israel. Where else is the capital of Israel? Honestly, all those people, especially Europeans who criticize President Trump and say that he has derailed the peace process or hampered stability in the region, when they go to Israel, where do they visit? Which city do they hold their meetings in? Haifa? Afula? Jerusalem, where else, it is the capital.

For some reasons it is very difficult for some countries to recognize Jerusalem. Okay. But there is no other capital.

“If people lose confidence in a democracy, then we don’t have one”

It is not a democracy, where rules don’t apply to the wealthiest citizens, says Dean Starkman, an editor of Paradise Papers, the last wave of the giant offshore leaks. In an interview with FüHü, Starkman, fellow at the Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and visiting lecturer at CEU’s School of Public Policy talked about the process of covering the leaks. He says the offshore system developed like a cancer, and he hopes that there will be other leaks. He also told us which name was the most surprising to him.

Dean Starkman
Photo: FüHü

How did you get in touch with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the group that covers the Paradise Papers?

I’ve been a journalist in the U.S. for a long time, in investigative circles, and it is a relatively small world. The fact is that I knew pretty well some people who were already working there. Some people used to work for me and they are now at ICIJ. And a senior editor at ICIJ, Mike Hudson was a subject of the book I wrote about the financial crisis. So I guess, I was known to them and then they called.

What was your task?

They had already been under way for more than a year with the Paradise Papers and I was pretty unaware of it. My task was essentially editing, I was a content editor, I would say. It was to shape and help guide a few stories. That was my role.

We are talking about 13.4 million documents. How many journalists, how many teams were needed to process all of them?

ICIJ is a fairly small operation with a dozen people or so, but it does have some of the leading data journalists in the world.

They are very accomplished and are basically experts in managing, processing and analyzing mass data leaks.

I am not a technical expert at all, but that can be a very complex business, because data come in all source of forms. They have their own set of skills, and there is the ICIJ model, which is quite unique: it is basically forming a professional collaboration of dozens and dozens of news organizations.

These organizations already exist, they have staff, reporters and lawyers and everything else. So they are able to leverage their small size with this larger network.

At the end it was 94 news organizations.

And the beauty is that everybody, like the Direkt36 in Hungary, Le Monde in France, CBC and CTV in Canada, The New York Times in the U.S., each one can go in and have an eye for what they think is interesting for their market. That’s really cool.

Photo: FüHü

You really have to be Canadian to understand who Stephen Bronfman is – the people behind Seagram’s, one of the leading families in Canada. Most people wouldn’t know who they were, they would just go over their name. And it happens all over the world, so they need smart reporters with different eyes on the material, with own perspective, experience. And they are able to pull stories. It’s a wonderful model.

How did they select the contributors, those outlets, those journalists who could work with them?

I wish I knew exactly the criteria. The thing is that these are established news organizations that have earned their reputation over the years. These are highly sensitive documents, right? It is a scenario that requires a high degree of professionalism. You don’t just need to be secure of hacks, you have to know how to work together.

You got this network around the world. Everybody is working together towards a single launch date. In this case it was November 5th. Nobody can let it slip out beforehand, even if they have a great story and there is competition, or whatever the pressure is. Also, when you are reporting on this stuff, you can’t call somebody who may call somebody else, and then the substance of the project is revealed before we wanted it to be.

Of course, the subjects are given enough time to react, to yell, scream and threaten,

but you want to decide about the moment when it is revealed. It is not only Appleby that doesn’t want its proprietary stuff leaking out, neither do we.

We have 94 moving parts around the world, and you have to be able to trust them.

These have to be trustworthy operations

that are disciplined and know what they are doing. I am just a hired hand there, but you have to be able to trust the others that they are not going to screw it up, make big mistakes, libel somebody, or get major facts wrong. That’s the trick of this.

Let’s go back to security. You mentioned that you wanted no leaks. What kind of security measurements did you have to prevent these?

Well, it is beyond my technical expertise. But to join ICIJ, to belong to their network requires a learning curve, probably all journalists need to do it. You recommend a lot of things to journalists to keep their communication and material secure. All of those tools are deployed, including encryption.

Photo: FüHü

However they hardened their virtual workspace, which is where people act around the world, is obviously critical, because all of those sensitive documents are online somewhere, they have to be, because not all people work in the office, they are not in Washington.

They think a lot about it, there are many emails, conversations about it, whether some people want to phish us or hack us and all those things. The proof that it worked was that everything was secure until the launch.

You know who the first one was to leak that an investigation was going on? Appleby itself, the firm from where half of the documents came. After they had been contacted, they issued a press release.

There is one question that everyone wants to know the answer to: how did Süddeutsche Zeitung receive these documents? Can you say anything about it, or is it top secret?

Yes, top secret, but the fact is that I don’t have any idea. (laughing)

And about why it was the Süddeutsche Zeitung that received them?

I don’t know specifically, but they were also the recipients of the Panama Papers. Once you get a reputation of being able to handle something like this, then the next guy who comes along will probably try you.

Photo: FüHü

That’s how it works: whistleblowers, whoever they happen to be, and I really have no idea who gave Süddeutsche Zeitung this material, they are exposing themselves, in some cases to a pretty extreme degree. They want to make sure that the handoff goes smoothly, that they are protected, that it is not retraced to them, that the risk they took will have some meaning, it will result in what they were looking for with the exposure of that stuff. These are not random choices of who gets such data.

Was there a verification process? Well, I am sure that there was, but were there any fake documents in the material?

Yeah, before you even begin with anything you have to do it. What if you had worked for a year and a half and then you discovered that the entire thing was a hoax. Or if Appleby could demonstrate that it is a complete forgery. That would be a disaster.

So verification is the first thing they do, but I don’t know what they did to do that, it was before I got there.

Why do you think uncovering offshore businesses is important?

For two big reasons: a practical and a moral reason. On a practical basis,

an enormous portion of the world’s wealth is hidden offshore.

It is difficult to know how much it is, but I’ve seen estimates up to 32 trillion dollars. That’s money that is for the most part untaxed, withheld from the public treasuries around the world, meaning that everybody who is not in this system has to make up the difference. This contributes enormously to inequality.

It is not just that people aren’t paying their fair share of taxes, but it leaves people who are already wealthy in control of wealth they obtained using the infrastructure that the rest of us pay for.

Photo: FüHü

The other part of it: it is by definition inherently unfair. It throws the very legitimacy of the system into question. It raises the question about whether democracy can function if it is unable to enforce the law against its wealthiest citizens.

If the wealthiest citizens aren’t the subjects of the same rules and regulations as the rest of us, well, then we are not living in a democracy any more.

If we value democracy, then its rules have to apply to everyone. If they don’t, then people lose confidence, and if people lose confidence in a democracy, then we don’t have one.

There were 120 thousand names in these documents. Which one was the most surprising to you personally?

Well, Prince Charles and the Queen… Or Bono. It’s a surprise, because he is also a crusader for social justice, in a serious way. But still, I think Wilbur Ross, he is a sitting U.S. cabinet member. The prominence of the names is what gave the project its power.

Did any of the affected persons threaten with a legal process?

Probably all of them did. (laughing)

Photo: FüHü

Did they just threaten, or have they already started with it?

I am not aware of any. The part of the process is that there shouldn’t be any surprises. So, everybody who is involved had a very detailed idea of what was coming. That process is not supposed to be ping-pong, it is a serious discussion. It has a lot of benefits to everybody, especially to news organizations which have the obligation to be as fair as possible.

Secondly, the subjects you are presenting this material to are the ones with most interest of anybody in the world to point out errors. So, you want people to verify and prevent you from making mistakes. You don’t want to have a number or a title wrong, you don’t want to have anything wrong.

If the story is caught weak end, because somebody points out something that you got wrong, so be it.

Anyway, that’s the nature of the whole process. Subjects react and respond.

Do you think that there will be any consequences for these persons? Because the Panama Papers had quite a few consequences…

I wouldn’t speculate, but I think that there is a general public awakening to issues of income inequality and the role of offshore systems in it. Honestly, it is thanks to ICIJ that this is on the public agenda at all.

Nobody was talking about the offshore system, and it developed like a freaking cancer.

In 30 years it’s become like a giant tumor in the financial system.

It’s a big business. We’re talking about an extreme amount of money that made its way out of the individual countries into tax havens. I don’t think that can last. I really don’t think.

Let’s talk a bit about the contributors again, in terms of their personal safety. Many of the journalists working on the project come from countries where the personal safety of journalists is not of paramount concern of the authorities. Do you know of any threats that the contributors received?

We all know about the Maltese journalist who was killed by a car bomb, apparently for her reporting on the Panama Papers. You know, that is a possibility for almost anyone, anywhere. But most of the risk is not lethal, that’s for sure, rather legal.

Photo: FüHü

There are some countries, like Hungary, where journalists are attacked personally, by name by the government-leaning press, and

it is very disgraceful and really pitiful.

That’s a risk as well. Or journalists face illegal surveillance, or legal surveillance, they face hacks… There are risks, but generally it is safe to say that in countries where rule of law is better established, the risk is lower. In places like Russia, they are much-much higher.

Are there any individuals, organizations that support this research?

Yes. I don’t know who they are, but they are available on the ICIJ website.

So, the system is transparent?

It has to be. It is not a shoestring operation, but it runs on a fairly tight budget. If you are very independent, it means that you probably will not have a lot of money lying around. That’s the way how our system is set up right now.

This was not the first wave of the offshore leaks. Do you think that there will be more waves?

I certainly hope so. Again, I’ve been working for them for a few months, but I had been a fan long before that.

The place has pulled off a series of mega-leaks in a row.

The first big one was called Offshore Leaks, then there was LuxLeaks, SwissLeaks and then there was the Panama Papers.

These were massive, giant data leaks of highly confidential material. And just when you think that it can’t go on, then the Paradise Papers comes out. It is true that one leak does lead to another. People around the world, with access to data see this and say: hey, I am working for an institution that is also doing something wrong, let’s see what I can do.

So, the answer is: I don’t know whether there will be any more leaks, but I hope so.

“The Hungarian government should at least be saying: We are so sorry”

The Hungarian government should be ashamed of its treatment of the refugees and not proud of it, says Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International. In an interview with FüHü he says that the national consultation is part of the election campaign, the NGO-bill is not in line with international law, and human rights are in a free fall due to the politics of demonization. We also asked Salil Shetty whether he is a Soros-agent.

Hungarian version HERE

Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International

Amnesty International is mentioned in the so-called national consultation. What do you think about this?

This so-called national consultation sounds like a part of the government’s election campaign.

It’s not based on facts, it’s a fictional set of issues.

The reason why Amnesty International is listed there is that it is part of the government’s campaign to delegitimize any kind of independent voice, any kind of dissent, any kind of accountability mechanism on the government.

In the consultation Amnesty is mentioned as an organization that demanded the release of Ahmed H., who was accused of talking into a megaphone and throwing “solid objects” towards the police during the riots in Röszke. He was charged with terrorism, which Amnesty holds “unfounded and absurd”. The Syrian man was sentenced to 10 years, however, the second-degree court found the ruling unfounded and ordered a new trial.

So, I mean the trial of Ahmed H. from the very outset was not a fair trial, because even before the trial was completed, the government had been running an expensive campaign to prove that he was a terrorist. Even when the trial was in progress. It is a fragrant violation of all international standards. And as you know, it’s already been rejected by the court. The second round of the trial is about to begin in the end of October. It’s in that context that they have referred to Amnesty. We don’t take that seriously. I am very grateful to them for giving Amnesty a lot of publicity.

The government says that Amnesty International is one of the “pseudo-civilian organizations” of George Soros that try to implement the Soros-plan, and its representatives are his agents. Are you a Soros-agent?

(laughing) I am not sure what this Soros-plan is or what a Soros-agent is. The good thing about Amnesty is that we are a global movement of ordinary people who stand up for human rights everywhere. Over 95 per cent of our income comes from our members, activists. We have 7 million members and activists in the world, individuals who make small contributions.

We get some money from foundations and trusts, which includes Open Society Foundation, but this is a very small fraction, and it’s really not significant.

What do you think about the campaign against the NGOs in general?

This campaign had many steps. From 2014 onwards, Prime Minister Orbán has been attacking NGOs in many different ways. In 2014 it was about some Norwegian grants received by some NGOs. So, they came up with attacks, investigations. All of which, when taken to the court, was proved to be false.

More recently they have introduced the Lex NGO bill, which is styled after the Russian foreign agents bill. Of course we are challenging it, because it is against the right of privacy, against the freedom of associations. It is labelling organizations. We refuse to comply with that, along with 22 other NGOs we filed a complaint to the Constitutional Court.

It is not in line with international law. It is against all the fundamental principles Amnesty stands for.

So, we are going to fight that nationally and internationally.

In your last Annual Report you wrote that the situation of Hungary was among the most disappointing ones. Why do you think so?

If you look at the 1990s, the first decade after Hungary had come out of the iron curtain, until around 10 years ago, there was a lot of optimism around Hungary. The young people of Hungary were excelling everywhere in the world, there were so many success stories…

But what we have seen in the last Orbán-period is an attack on judiciary, the media, civil society. The worst manifestation of that was of course the attack against Muslims and migrants.

It is not only disappointing, it is shameful. A country that does not respect the rights of the most vulnerable people in the world should be shameful of itself. Well, it’s not really the country, because I want to separate the people of Hungary from this regime that is creating this image of Hungary.

Instead of being ashamed of what they are doing, they are going around saying that they are so proud

that they have kept the refugees away. The Hungarian government should at least be saying: we are so sorry that we are not able to meet the rights and obligations towards the most vulnerable people.

The report was about 2016, several months have passed since then. How did the situation change? For better or worse?

In all these counts, the attack on civil society, the treatment of the refugees, the attack on any kind of free speech or dissent, I would say it’s got worse.

In the case of the refugees, well, there are almost no refugees coming in any more. There is nobody for them to prosecute any more… But the people out there in those container camps are suffering. The number of people, whose application for asylum is processed, is negligible. We are talking about 2500 in the first six months. They have nobody to push back, because they are not letting anybody in. It is certainly not better for the people who are seeking asylum.

You mentioned free speech: what do you think about press freedom in Hungary?

Any press entity, which is trying to have an independent voice and which is critical of the government, as far as I am aware, doesn’t have much room to function. And they will use every possible avenue to make sure that any kind of criticism is not being allowed to surface.

It’s not different from the NGO-story.

Anybody who is critical and holding the government to account is silenced, using one method or another.

Populism is spreading now in the world, why do you think it is a problem?

It is a problem more broadly for how societies develop and operate, for the future of democracies. But for Amnesty it is a problem for its consequence on human rights.

While of course one can talk about Duterte and Erdogan, the fact is that Hungary is a Western European country. It is at the heart of Europe. You cannot compare it to the Philippines or Russia.

Instead of populism we call it the politics of demonization, when you identify a group of people, like the refugees or the Roma, and make them a scapegoat, you attack them and you deflect the attention from what needs to be done in the country, and you muzzle anybody who doesn’t agree with you.

The consequence of the politics of demonization is that human rights are in a free fall.

Whether it comes to the freedom of association, to the freedom of speech, expression, all of these are either under threat or attack.

FRISS HÍREK

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