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Western worries about Russian disinformation just „fits of hysterics”

In Hungary one doesn’t have to worry about Russian fake news and disinformation because Hungarians are fed the same by their own government, writes Hungarian Spectrum:

Two days ago the foreign ministers of the European Union met in Brussels with Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, presiding. She asked the ministers to support her request to increase human and financial resources “to fight against disinformation and propaganda coming from abroad,” in particular from Russia. According to newspaper reports, “nobody inside the room was opposed to beefing up the task forces involved in such an undertaking.” This unanimity is quite a change from only a few months ago, when the European Council blocked a similar proposal.

The initiative for a joint European effort to combat Russian interference in the political processes of member states came from a Romanian member of the European Parliament, Siegfried Mureșan, who suggested in May that funds for that use be included in next year’s EU budget. It was high time to pay more attention to the problem. Russia has a small army of hackers and trolls. By contrast, the EU’s task force that concentrates on the eastern front has 15 employees and the one that focuses on the Western Balkans and the Arab-speaking world is even smaller than that.

For some time Russia has been active in Europe as well as in North America. For instance, Russian hackers got hold of nine gigabytes of e-mails from Macron’s campaign. Macron complained to Putin at their first meeting in May about Russia Today and Sputnik, financed by Russia’s defense ministry, which attacked Macron’s En Marche! Movement. But Russia’s cyber weapon against the West has proved to be very effective, and Putin has no intention of curbing his hackers’ activities.

Good examples of Russian manipulation can be seen in the Catalonian independence referendum and Brexit. Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis announced that his government had confirmed that a propaganda campaign intended to destabilize Spain came from Russia and Venezuela. They used Twitter, Facebook, and other internet sites to publicize the separatist cause and swing public opinion to support it.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh identified 419 accounts operating from the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) that attempted to influence British politics. Russian hackers also spread anti-Islamic sentiments in Great Britain after the recent terrorist attacks. According to The Guardian, hundreds of paid bloggers work around the clock at IRA “to flood Russian internet forums, social networks and the comments sections of western publications—sowing disinformation, praising the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, and raging at the west.” On Monday Theresa May addressed the issue in a speech, saying that Russia’s actions were “threatening the international order on which we all depend.”

The latest complaint came today from the Netherlands. Kajsa Ollongren, minister of the interior, accused Russia of attempting to influence public opinion in the Netherlands by spreading fake news and misinformation. She stated that her country is being “monitored by Russia’s security services which constantly search for opportunities to undermine it in ways that are easy, anonymous, fast and cheap.” She came up with specific examples, one of which was using a group of Ukrainian émigrés with Russian sympathies to try to tilt Dutch public opinion towards a no vote in the referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement—which was, in fact, rejected in 2016.

Today Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, answered these accusations. “We are quite accustomed now that some of our partners in Europe and across the ocean apparently have no better things to do than blaming our media or branding them as foreign agents. Apparently, the explanation is that people in the capitals, from which such accusations come, be that Madrid or London, are facing numerous unresolved domestic problems. And, probably, get into such sensationalized fits of hysterics to draw the attention of their voters away from their inability to solve those problems,” reported Russia Today.

Hungary’s attitude to Russian internet propaganda shows the usual ambivalence. In May 2017 the European People’s Party held its conference in Malta, where the Fidesz members of the party voted with the majority in condemning “Russian disinformation undermining Western democracy.” Two months later, however, in Budapest, the Fidesz members of parliament rejected a proposal identical with the one Fidesz MEPs voted for. The opposition party LMP translated the text of the EPP statement into Hungarian and turned it in as their own proposal. The document didn’t even get to the floor. It died in committee.

At the November 13 meeting of EU foreign ministers, Szijjártó, along with all his colleagues, voted for the expansion of EU efforts to defend against the systematic cyberattacks on EU member countries. But this piece of information didn’t make it to the Hungarian media. Foreign Minister Szijjártó gave a quick press conference in the intermission, during which he assiduously avoided talking about Russian cyberattacks and concentrated instead on the migrant issue. He also complained bitterly about Ukrainian atrocities against Hungarian symbols in Berehove/Beregszász, where someone took off the Hungarian flag from town hall and put a dirty shirt on Sándor Petőfi’s statue. This anti-Hungarian incident is probably a response to Hungary’s recent treatment of Ukraine.

Hungary has been preoccupied with Ukraine ever since Kiev passed an education law stating that minority students will be able to learn all subjects in their own language in the first four grades but, starting with grade five, with the exception of one or two subjects, the language of instruction will be Ukrainian. Péter Szijjártó said that Hungary will veto all of Ukraine’s moves to strengthen its ties to the European Union. Hungary’s first opportunity to isolate Ukraine came at the end of October when Hungary vetoed a planned December 6 meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. The NATO-Ukraine Commission is a decision-making body responsible for developing relations between NATO and Ukraine and directing cooperative activities between them. Sputnik reported the good tidings that “Hungary announced that it will block Ukraine’s aspirations to integrate into NATO.” In the meantime, Russian hackers and trolls are incredibly active in Ukraine. In Hungary one doesn’t have to worry about Russian fake news and disinformation because Hungarians are fed the same by their own government.

NOVEMBER 15, 2017

(republished with permission)

“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.

CEU: „It is unacceptable!”

The Central European University fully complies with Hungarian law, it has taken all steps to fulfill the requirements stated in the draft agreement between Hungary and New York State, the university announced at a press conference. It urges the Hungarian government to sign the agreement. For them it is discrimination that the government has already signed an agreement about another university, just not about CEU. The university says: it is unacceptable to keep them in an uncertain legal situation for another year. Rector Michael Ignatieff confirmed it is still their aim to stay in Budapest.

The Hungarian Parliament approved amendments to the new bill about higher education. These amendments contain a one-year extension (until Jan. 1, 2019) of the deadline for foreign universities to comply with the new rules.

Liviu Matei, Éva Fodor, Michael Ignatieff and Zsolt Enyedi
Photo: FüHü

The Rector of Central European University, Michael Ignatieff said at a press conference: it is unacceptable that the government doesn’t tell whether they would sign the agreement with New York State until the end of next year. Hungarian Minister of Human Capacities Zoltán Balog said that signing the agreement would now be pointless. Zsolt Enyedi, Pro-Rector for Hungarian Affairs said they would like an explanation why he thought so.

As the university understands, this agreement has been ready to sign since September. David Kostelancik, Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Hungary also confirmed this at another conference.

This agreement guarantees CEU’s existence in Budapest.

In line with the agreement, CEU signed a memorandum of understanding with Bard College, which was presented at the press conference. According to the memorandum, CEU has its own facilities on Bard’s campus, the two universities initiate joint programs taught by professors of both universities and bilateral student and faculty exchanges.

So, as Michael Ignatieff stated:

CEU took all steps to fully comply with the law.

He asks the Hungarian government why they cannot take this as an answer. He thinks, it is discrimination that while the government has already signed an agreement with the State of Maryland regarding McDaniel College, it is not willing to do it with the State of New York regarding CEU, and Minister Balog says it would be pointless.

“We’ve been kept in a legal limbo for six months. Extending the deadline means that this can go on for another year”,

he said. So they call the Hungarian government to sign the agreement with New York as soon as possible.

The legal uncertainty has consequences, they are worried that it can cause problems with recruitment. As he said: “the longer this goes on, the more the university suffers, and

a university cannot be free, if someone is slowly strangling it.”

Michael Ignatieff emphasized: “we are here to find a solution, a compromise, which is on the table in New York”, it just needs to be signed.

He also talked about a plan B, but stated that they don’t want to go with it, because

Photo: FüHü

“there is no way CEU will cease its operation. Budapest is our home, we love it here.”

However, the university cannot operate without legal stability. Éva Fodor, Pro-Rector for Social Sciences and Humanities said that legal stability is very important for the students to know that they will get their degree, and for the professors to know that they will have a job.

Michael Ignatieff also stated that the university is an independent organization, responsible not to George Soros but to the Board of Trustees. (The Hungarian government portrays George Soros, the Hungarian-American billionaire, as a bogeyman, and launches attacks against him regularly.) He reminded that it is not possible for a university to have an accreditation in the United States, if its full independence is not assured.

Photo: MTVA/Bizományosi: Balaton József

Liviu Matei Provost and Pro-Rector said that the New York State Commissioner of Education sent an official letter to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about the memorandum between Bard and CEU. This letter was presented at the press conference. Commissioner MaryEllen Elia writes: “the activities provided for in the MOU are consistent with each institution’s charter”.

The university doesn’t understand the sudden decision of the Hungarian government to extend the deadline now, when they fully comply with the new law. In Michael Ignatieff’s words,

“no university in Europe has been put through what we’ve been put through, that’s unacceptable.”

They don’t understand the double messaging that has been going on from the Hungarian government for a month: in Hungary they say that it is pointless to sign the agreement, but they have not left the negotiation table in New York. “What do you think the governor of New York is thinking right now”, asked Michael Ignatieff.

He stated that

the university doesn’t ask for special privileges, it’s precisely the reverse, they would like to be treated the same way as other universities are.

He called the situation unacceptable and unnecessary, because the solution is there. As he said: the agreement is two simple pages, very similar to the one that the government already signed with Maryland. He emphasized:

“We want to stay here, we respect Hungarian law.”

The government says that new Hungarian law about higher education is not targeting CEU (in their words: “the Soros-university”), but all universities must comply with Hungarian law. The European Union and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe previously challenged the law for not complying with EU regulation. The EU even launched legal action.

Press freedom in Hungary: Harsh criticism from the U.S. Embassy

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A free, democratic society cannot exist without a free press, democratic governments must not attempt to silence their critics, said David Kostelancik, Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Hungary. He said: negative trends are continuing” in the sphere of press freedom and there are „alarming developments” as well. He mentioned the purchase of media outlets by government allies, the targeted distribution of publicly-funded advertisements and the intimidation of journalists.

David Kostelancik

David Kostelancik, speaking to diplomats and journalists, said that the United States is following the situation in Hungarian media. They know that

journalists are not doing their job, if they don’t ask tough questions,

and the free press is a fundamental element of accountability, that governments owe to citizens they represent.

David Kostelancik reminded the audience that media freedom is not only protected by the First Amendment of the American Constitution, but also by the Hungarian Fundamental Law, and the importance of protecting press freedom is enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the NATO treaty, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the OSCE’s Charter for European Security.

He said:

“A free, democratic society cannot exist without a free press,”

and “our strongest, most stable, most trustworthy allies are those that share this commitment”.

He warned that free press did not mean that the press cannot be criticized, if it gets the facts wrong, or reports only those facts that support a particular editorial bias. President Donald Trump often criticizes the media, he continued, but these are his personal views, and as journalists “often point out, not every criticism of the government is fake news”.

It is the most important, according to David Kostelancik, that

“democratic governments must not attempt to silence their critics”.

It can happen in multiple ways, through

  • legal and regulatory blockades;
  • monopoly control;
  • pressure on advertisers;
  • attempts by the government to manipulate the advertising market;
  • outright threats and intimidation of journalists.

He reminded that the United States has spoken on multiple occasions about negative trends in the sphere of press freedom in Hungary, and these negative trends are continuing.

Such trends are:

  • Government allies have steadily acquired control and influence over the media market, including the last remaining independent regional newspapers.
  • Journalists who work for these outlets must follow pro-government editorial guidelines, and that they do not have the freedom to publish articles that are critical of the government.
  • The government also directs substantial publicly-funded advertising contracts to the outlets of friendly owners, and almost none to independent outlets.

They also hear reports that businesses are told not to “advertise with independent outlets, or they will face retribution”.

He addressed his concerns about the publication of names of individual journalists by “some media outlets closely linked to the government” that characterized them as threats to Hungary. He called this

an alarming development.

He said: “We must protect free press, even when it is critical of us, as it is the very foundation of democracy.”

He thinks there are still independent media outlets in Hungary, but “their numbers are dwindling”, and they face pressure, intimidation and challenges in the advertising market that the pro-government outlets do not.

Answering some questions, he also said that “Hungary is an ally and partner of the United States”, and it is not for the embassy to pressure the government when they see something they disagree with. But they carry out discussions on what concerns them, they reach out to the “colleagues in the Hungarian government”. He also said: since Hungary is an OSCE member, it is a duty to uphold certain standards, including the protection of press freedom.

“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.

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A Független Hírügynökség kiadásai meghaladják bevételeinket.
A pártoktól független újságírás egyre nehezebb helyzetben van Magyarországon.

A hagyományos finanszírozás modelleket nem csak a politika lehetetleníti el, de a társadalmi kihívások is.

A fuhu.hu fennmaradásához, hosszútávú működéséhez, szerkesztőségünk rászorul támogatásotokra.
Segítségetekkel lehetőség nyílik arra, hogy munkánkat továbbra is az eddig megszokott színvonalon végezhessük tovább.

Ide kattintva megtalálod bankszámlaszámunkat!