Budapest, January 17 (MTI) – The opposition Socialist Party said on Tuesday that it ruled out attending cross-party talks proposed by opposition party Jobbik with a view to increasing the transparency of NGOs.
Explaining its proposal earlier, Jobbik said the transparency of politically active NGOs should be served by unbiased, uniform and up-to-date regulations and that legislation should equally apply to domestic and foreign “influencers” in order to avoid government attempts to mute opposition voices only.
In a statement, the Socialists said that they would prefer not to take part in talks “above the heads” of representatives of the NGOs themselves, as this would show the “same kind of arrogance of power” associated with the ruling Fidesz party. It added that the Socialists respected civil groups and would not take part in the talks without their inclusion.
The Socialists said civil groups should be free to work independently and unmolested, and the party’s statement condemned the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban for its “anti-NGO campaign”. The Socialists vowed to fight this campaign at every juncture.
The opposition party said that rather than going after respectable civil groups, Orbán should concentrate his fire on other “suspect” groups such as the pro-government CÖF organistion, which “openly spreads government propaganda”, as well as the central bank’s Pallas Athene foundations, which the party insisted were established with 260 billion forints (EUR 845m) of taxpayer money.
In a recent television interview, Szilárd Németh, deputy leader of the ruling Fidesz party, said “fake organisations” belonging to Hungarian-born American financier George Soros should be scrapped because they had been deliberately set up to influence Hungarian politics.
The government is reportedly tabling a bill obliging the leaders of NGOs to make their income statements publicly available. Nemeth said “fake NGOs” of the “Soros-empire” should be curbed and “eliminated” because “they promote global capitalism and political correctness” in opposition to national governments.
Government office chief János Lázár told a weekly press briefing that NGOs must be made more transparent, arguing that “everybody has the right to know who is trying to influence public opinion from abroad”. There are currently no regulations in force affecting NGOs in this respect, yet they have become part of Hungarian political life, he said. The justice ministry is preparing a proposal that will be proportional and apply to everyone, he said, adding that the current discourse concerns an as yet non-existent proposal. The government does not want to “get rid of” anyone, he said.
He insisted that it was clear that “foreign help” had been involved in organising the half million illegal migrants who arrived at the Hungarian border. Also, US financier George Soros has repeatedly stated that since there is no real opposition in Hungary, it is up to him and his networks to fulfil this role, Lázár added.
Today Jobbik and LMP agreed on the need to increase the transparency of NGOs and slammed the government for what they said was an assault on the sector. Gabor Staudt, Jobbik’s deputy parliamentary group leader, told a news conference that it was high time to change the regulations, and a consensus between the parliamentary parties on the issue would be desirable. He said it would be a mistake to exclusively examine foreign financing and transparency should apply to all, especially those that directly engage in political activity. He said the obligation to declare assets was double-edged since it did not stop lawmakers from hiding their assets. Fellow Jobbik MP István Szávay demanded financial monitoring of the CÖF organisation.
István Ikotity, an LMP lawmaker, told the news conference that changes and refinements to regulations are always needed but it is not the case that civil groups influence political life. Rather, it is parties, through their support for the civil groups, that influence them, he insisted. The government is seeking an enemy unjustifiably, he said, adding that NGOs had the right to form opinions.
Jobbik’s representatives said the Socialists “always find reasons not to take part in talks” while LMP’s said that if the Socialists refuse to go to work they should forfeit their pay and withdraw from parliament.
Ruling Fidesz was represented in the meeting at expert level.