Foreign interests trying to subvert my rule, says Hungary's Viktor Orban, amid protests

Matthew Day

Hungary's 2018 election will decide whether it is ruled by a government fighting for the national interest or by one led by foreign powers, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said yesterday.

His comments come as Budapest accused the European Commission of “going beyond its competencies” in a row over the fate of a leading international university in Hungary’s capital founded by billionaire financier and liberal philanthropist George Soros.

Brussels threatened Hungary with legal action this week over legislation that could result in the closure of the Central European University (CEU).

Mr Orbán, whose Right-wing government has been in power since 2010, has in recent weeks faced some of the biggest demonstrations seen in Hungary since the end of communism.

Demonstrators protest against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government in front of the former building of Hungarian Television on April 15, 2017 Credit: FERENC ISZA/AFP

Mr Orbán told pro-government newspaper Magyar Idok such conflicts were part of a fight for national sovereignty. “In Hungary the national government is under continuous pressure and attacks so what is at stake at all elections is whether we will have a parliament and government serving the interests of Hungarian people or it will serve foreign interests,” he said.

Recent polls give Mr Orbán’s Fidesz party a firm lead over other parties.

Mr Orbán has long criticised civil society organisations funded by Hungarian-born Mr Soros, accusing them of opposing his tough migration policies.

“The regulation of higher education is a member-state competency, not the EU’s.” Zoltan Kovacs, a Hungarian government spokesman, told The Telegraph. “We maintain the main reason behind everything that has been coming at us now, and for the past year and a half, is about illegal migration and the fundamental differences in approaches between us and the Commission.”

Just as the higher-education bill became law, Hungary’s government introduced legislation forcing NGOs to declare any funding over £19,780 a year and label any publication they produce that is foreign funded.

Critics compared it with Russia’s “foreign agent” law that resulted in the closure of some NGOs in Russia.

“All we are doing is protecting the rights of Hungarian citizens advocating for the wider participation in public affairs, but this is something that seems to be very threatening to the government,” said Stefania Kapronczay, executive director of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, an NGO targeted by the bill.

People take part during a protest in Budapest, Hungary, April 15, 2017 Credit: BERNADETT SZABO/REUTERS

The Hungarian government has said it has no wish to close the CEU, and that it only wants to bring “transparency” to NGO funding but this has cut little ice with its critics.

“All this seems like a co-ordinated attack not just on academic freedom but on freedom of association, and, finally, on democratic freedom,” Liviu Matei, provost of the CEU, told The Telegraph.

“There is a pattern to it. Academic freedom and freedom of association might go. After that there is not much left.”     

 

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