HUNGARY: The Proposed Regime Defence Law is Bound to Fail

Article published by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee on 22/11/2023 – accessible here.

The leader of the Fidesz parliamentary group yesterday presented a package of laws that are called “defense of sovereignty” but are in fact designed to protect the arbitrary exercise of power. The bill is part of the government’s attempt to silence critical voices. This is nothing new, but the government’s means of doing so are increasingly crude. This law is in fact a regime defence law.

Under the title of “defending sovereignty,” the leader of the Fidesz parliamentary group submitted a package of laws yesterday to Parliament that are aimed at shielding the government’s arbitrary exercise of power. This latest move is part of the ruling party’s campaign to stifle any dissent, a trend that is becoming increasingly blatant. This law is, in essence, a law designed to defend the regime.

Fidesz’s parliamentary group would create an Office for the Defence of Sovereignty with sweeping powers to arbitrarily target any organisation or person it suspects of serving foreign interests and jeopardising Hungary’s sovereignty. This authority would have powers to obtain unhindered access to sensitive data, including confidential contracts, client information, and even private medical records kept by the organisation subjected to an investigation. Beyond independent NGOs and media outlets, which the Fidesz faction leader has already mentioned as future targets, no individual or organisation is safe from this invasive scrutiny, not even businesses, churches, trade unions, or municipalities. Once initiated, these investigations, which can be launched against anyone at the authority’s whim, carry a stigma and leave those targeted with no legal remedies against the procedure or the ensuing public report.

It is constitutionally justifiable to oblige candidates standing for election to be transparent about their funds, which is why, since 1989, political parties have not been allowed to accept foreign funding. However, the proposal’s text, like legislation passed in recent years for similar purposes, is deliberately vague and full of broadly interpreted, undefined concepts. As a result, the new authority can imply that any public expression serves foreign interests and therefore threatens Hungary’s sovereignty.

Requiring candidates standing for election to disclose their financial sources is a constitutionally sound practice which is why, since 1989, political parties have been prohibited from accepting foreign funding. However, the proposed law, much like its predecessors targeting independent civil society, is intentionally vague and riddled with undefined and broadly interpreted concepts. This deliberate ambiguity allows the new authority to arbitrarily consider any activity related to public affairs as serving foreign interests, thereby posing a threat to Hungary’s sovereignty. This is a clear attempt to weaponise the law, create a chilling effect, and further consolidate political power, a dangerous development for Hungarian democracy.

The self-defense bill is a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate and silence brave citizens who are working in the interests of their communities from participating in public life. This legislation, reminiscent of the stigmatising 2017 LexNGO and the 2018 Stop Soros laws, is yet another affront to Hungary’s constitutional, international, and EU commitments. It is doomed to fail.

If Fidesz were genuinely committed to safeguarding Hungary’s sovereignty, it would direct its efforts towards countering the malign influence of authoritarian powers outside our politico-economic and military alliance system. Instead, it chooses to target its own citizens, silencing dissent and consolidating power at the expense of democracy. This self-serving approach is counterproductive, undermining Hungary’s standing in the international community. True sovereignty lies in respecting the rights and freedoms of citizens, not in suppressing them. Fidesz’s misguided actions are a betrayal of this fundamental principle.

Unofficial English translation of the proposal below: