Hungary Enacts Law Cracking Down on Foreign-Funded NGOs

Hungary's parliament has approved much-criticized legislation requiring nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign funding to register as such, Reuters reports.

Drafted by the government of populist right-wing prime minister Viktor Orbán, the law requires NGOs that receive more than a certain amount in foreign donations to register with Hungarian authorities, declare themselves as foreign-funded, and disclose their funding sources. The bill, along with a law targeting a university founded by Hungarian-born U.S. financier George Soros, has sparked widespread protests in Hungary as well as a European Parliament resolution condemning the Orbán government for a "serious deterioration" inside Hungary in the rule of law. The government had said that it would submit an amendment to address the concerns of the Council of Europe's advisory panel, the Venice Commission, which stated in a preliminary opinion that labeling NGOs as foreign-funded could "adversely [affect NGOs'] legitimate activities."

Amendments made to the bill, however, were minor and included making NGOs eligible to shed their "foreign" status after going a year, instead of the original three, without financing from abroad, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. According to the Open Society Foundations, which was created by Soros and provides funding to several Hungarian NGOs targeted by the law, the provision to stigmatize organizations as "foreign-funded" and the threat of legally dissolving organizations that do not register as such were left intact.

One of the NGOs affected, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ), said in a statement that it would not comply with the law and would take any legal challenge to its status to an international court. "The law is a targeted attack and attempt to silence TASZ and all other organizations which have the courage to help those who are oppressed," the group stated.

"Cosmetic changes to the law in response to the Venice Commission have not altered the law's true intent; it seeks to suppress democratic voices in Hungary just when the country needs them most," Goran Buldioski, director of OSF's work in Europe, said in a statement. "It attacks Hungarians who help fellow citizens challenge corruption and arbitrary power, and who stand up for free and independent media and for open debate."