On September 23rd, President Barack Obama told delegates at the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative that from “Hungary to Egypt, endless regulations and overt intimidation increasingly target civil society.” On one hand, this is a welcome step in the fight against the tide of regressive policies and rhetoric aimed at silencing civil society activism sweeping across the world. On the other hand, it is also a sign of the extent to which civil society in Hungary, under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has found its voice restricted through the illiberal actions of the state.
Indeed, “illiberal” is by no means too strong a word to use in the case of Mr. Orban’s leadership, given that the prime minister laid out his intentions (according to English language media reports) to build “an illiberal new state based on national values” in a speech in July. In the same speech, Mr. Orban gave a clear indication of his distaste for the foreign funding of advocacy organizations in civil society, stating, “We are not dealing with civil society activists but with paid political activists who are trying to help foreign interests [in Hungary]” and calling it good that a “parliamentary committee has been set up to monitor foreign influence.”
Those words are likely to ring in the ears of those who have experienced the recent crackdown on foreign-funded NGOs in Russia, as Mr. Orban seems close to echoing the language used in a 2012 Russian federal law that seeks to tackle foreign funding of “political activities” by NGOs, which it terms “foreign agents.” Under the law, NGOs must register as a foreign agent in advance of receiving funding from abroad, or its executives may face punitive fines of up to 300,000 Russian rubles—approximately €5,896, or $7,485—and the organization will risk suspension.
Though Russian officials have claimed the term “foreign agent” is in fact a legally neutral one, others, including Nils Muiznieks, human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, have expressed concerns about the effect this language will have on public perceptions of NGOs, with Muiznieks commenting that “continuing use of the term ‘foreign agent’ in the legislation and practice in relation to NGOs would only lead to further stigmatization of civil society in the Russian Federation and will have a chilling effect on its activities.”
more: Nonprofit Quarterly