To better understand the current situation, we have to go back to 2010, when the newly elected government introduced measures to systematically undermine the rule of law, democracy, media pluralism, human rights, and independent institutions such as the judiciary.
Since 2010, under the government of the right-conservative Fidesz party, Hungary has experienced a serious backsliding in democracy and the rule of law, raising European and international concern. In its striving to achieve boundless power, the government has systematically dismantled the institutions of checks and balances, through such means as limiting the competences of the Constitutional Court and generally weakening the judiciary, curbing press freedom through media regulations and control of ownership, and taking central control over public education. This is coupled with a lack of transparency in public spending, the building of a clientele of government-friendly oligarchs and a weakening of social policies, leaving the vulnerable completely helpless. In this atmosphere, civil society organisations (CSOs) are among the few remaining independent voices that are not under the direct control of the ruling elite.
After a relatively quieter 2016, the anti-CSO campaign heated up again at the beginning of 2017, when the government announced its plans to ‘regulate’ the ‘foreign funding’ of CSOs
The government’s anti-CSO campaign went still further in early 2018 when plans to develop a legal package supposedly to curb illegal immigration, dubbed ‘Stop Soros’, were announced. Philanthropist billionaire George Soros and his concept of open society has for a long time been a target of propaganda. The tactics worked: in April 2018 Fidesz won the elections again with a two-thirds majority. This result has again shown the deep division within Hungarian society, which is polarised on political party lines, with neither side really willing to enter into dialogue with the other.
We must not forget that the actions of the Hungarian government, including the legal changes to limit human rights and democratic institutions and the deterioration of civic space, are happening in an EU member state. CSO leaders have not been imprisoned or killed in Hungary under this regime yet, but other measures are being taken to silence them.
In the wake of the Prague Spring/European Forum webinar held on 5-6 December 2020 the Hungarian Social Forum was relaunched. The online conference took place via Zoom conference on 16th January 2021 with the aim to mobilize the progressive Hungarian civil society organizations for the upcoming virtual World Social Forum. There were a dozen organizations/networks with 29 participants at the renewed HSF event.
The current crisis, intertwined with the Covid 19 epidemic, calls into question the viability of neoliberal capitalism. The search for directions is intensifying. The ongoing WSF has to link social forum movements in the following areas:
1.) Avoidance of nuclear destruction, disarmament, elimination of wars;
2.) Addressing the threat of a climate catastrophe;
3.) Easing the social inequalities, rejecting neoberal economic policies, prioritizing community ownership and local production.
The rise of social tensions has been rooted in the strengthening of the far right in many countries, both in the center and on the periphery. In this situation, organizations that are progressively critical to capitalism, the environment, social problems, gender equality and freedom, the far right, and xenophobia are looking for each other again.
We hope that the 20th meeting of the WSF will give new impetus. This time, forms of cooperation are going to be modernized and to strengthen their capacity for action.
Matyas Benyik, President of
ATTAC Hungary Association
Remark: The above speech was delivered on 28 January 2021 at the WSF seminar entitled “International experience of struggles for social and civil rights: problems of its application to Russia and other post-soviet countries”