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Human Rights and Democratization in Hungary

The Helsinki Commission’s last comprehensive report on Hungary’s implementation of Human Dimension commitments was published in December 1988. At that time the Hungarian communist regime was pushing ahead of its more repressive neighbors in East-Central Europe, gradually abandoning active ideological indoctrination of Hungarian citizens, tacitly granting legitimacy to competing ideologies, allowing citizens to retreat into private life, and easing the situation of human rights activists. 

The historic transition to a multi-party system, which accelerated rapidly over the course of 1989, was markedly peaceful. Roundtable negotiations between the government and the opposition worked to set the terms for the parliamentary elections in March 1990, as well as to curb the influence of the party in the workplace, the military and the judiciary. By the end of the year, some 50 political parties had been registered, of which six had significant national support. The elections of March 1990 demonstrated the clear progress Hungary had made toward democracy. A coalition government led by Prime Minister Jozsef Antall and the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) assumed the reins of power; on the basis of an important agreement between the ruling parties and the opposition, however, Arpad Gonez of the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) became president. With democratically elected representatives in place, serious institutional reform got underway. 

Since that time, Hungary has generally received high marks for its record on human rights and political stability. The important role played by the Constitutional Court has bolstered respect for the rule of law, and Hungary has so far managed to avoid some of the tensions that have complicated the transition for many of its neighbors: inter-ethnic strife, crippling political infighting, and civil unrest. 

At the same time, it is too soon to conclude that the progress Hungary has made is deeply rooted or complete. Ongoing battles over the role, and control, of the media raise serious questions about the sanctity of freedom of expression and opinion. The vocal nationalism and xenophobia of Istvan Csurka – a prominent figure in the MDF until June 1993 – and continued, if isolated, incidents of violence and prejudice against Roma (Gypsies) and foreigners challenge the aim of mutual respect and non-discrimination. finally, tensions within the ruling coalition, between the president and the late prime minister (Jozsef Antall died at the age of 61 on December 12, 1993), and among the opposition suggest that Hungary’s reputation for political stability may be fading as may the public’s taste for swift reform: current opinion polls show the former communist party at 25 percent, with the ruling MDF at only 8 percent. 

Certainly Hungary has made significant strides in democratization in the five years since the Commission’s last implementation review. Today’s Hungary is judged not in comparison with the communist past, but by the standards of modern Western democracies. This report will examine some of the most pressing challenges that remain — challenges which, in many cases, are the subject of lively debate and discussion in Hungary itself.

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Hearings

Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin’s Personal Prisoner

Sep 20, 2023

Stream here: HEARING: Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin’s Personal Prisoner – YouTube Vladimir Kara-Murza, a father, husband, and a freedom fighter, has been in detention for over five hundred days and is currently being transferred to a prison in Siberia. As he is being moved, his family has lost all contact with him and are faced with worry […]

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Hearings

Supporting A Democratic and Secure Moldova

Jul 12, 2023

In recent years, Moldova has made notable steps to improve its democratic institutions and combat corruption. President Maia Sandu and her Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) have spearheaded wide-ranging reforms and backed a number of high-profile anti-corruption cases. Moldova has also made strides toward greater integration with the European Union (EU). In 2022, the […]

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Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Leadership Celebrate Pardon of N...

Jun 23, 2023

Washington—Today, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Steve Cohen (TN-09), applauded Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili’s decision to issue a presidential pardon for journalist Nikoloz “Nika” Gvaramia. Mr. Gvaramia, an outspoken media figure and […]

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Press Releases

HELSINKI COMMISSION SENDS APPEAL TO GEORGIAN PRESIDE...

Apr 28, 2023

WASHINGTON— The leadership of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), and Ranking Members Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Senator Roger Wicker (MS) sent a letter to Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili urging her to intervene to break […]

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Hearings

CHURCH, STATE, AND RUSSIA’S WAR ON UKRAINE

Apr 27, 2023

The Putin regime has long used the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to consolidate its power at home and abroad. Under the leadership of Patriarch Kirill, the ROC has explicitly endorsed Russia’s war on Ukraine, even blessing weapons for the invasion. Churches under the mantle of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) had long been viewed […]

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Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Leadership Statement on Georgian...

Mar 06, 2023

WASHINGTON—In response to news that the Georgian parliament is considering Russian-style foreign agent legislation, which would have a chilling effect on Georgia’s vibrant civil society, Helsinki Commission Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-2), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Ranking Member Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Ranking Member Senator Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following joint statement: “Since regaining independence, the Georgian people have clearly and […]

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Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Chair and Co-Chair: Statement on...

Feb 20, 2023

WASHINGTON—Following reports of the sharp deterioration of Azerbaijani dissident Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-2) and Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) issued the following joint statement: “We are absolutely appalled at the continued unwarranted detention and mistreatment of Azerbaijani civil activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who has been imprisoned on trumped up charges and […]

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Briefings

Saving Ukraine’s Children

Dec 14, 2022

Ukraine’s children are suffering serious injury and trauma due to Russia’s genocidal war on Ukraine. Almost two-thirds of the country’s children have been displaced. Thousands have been injured and, although UNICEF has said more than 1,000 children have been killed, that number is likely much higher as there is no reliable way to verify how […]

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Press Releases

Congressmen Cohen and Wilson Introduce Resolution Re...

Oct 28, 2022

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Commission’s Ranking Member, Congressman Joe Wilson (SC-02), today introduced a resolution recognizing October 30 as International Day of Political Prisoners. Congressman Cohen was recently named the Special Representative on Political Prisoners […]

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Statements

Congressmen Cohen and Wilson Introduce Resolution Re...

Oct 28, 2022

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Commission’s Ranking Member, Congressman Joe Wilson (SC-02), today introduced a resolution recognizing October 30 as International Day of Political Prisoners. Congressman Cohen was recently named the Special Representative on Political Prisoners […]

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Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Slams Shutdown of Novaya Gazeta

Sep 08, 2022

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) today condemned the shutdown of Novaya Gazeta in Russia, following the decision of a Moscow court to strip the outlet of its print media registration. They issued the following joint […]

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Press Releases

Co-Chairman Cohen Discusses Role as Special Represen...

Sep 07, 2022

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep Steve Cohen (TN-09) today spoke at a virtual hearing of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA)about his new role as the assembly’s special representative for political prisoners. Co-Chairman Cohen thanked OSCE PA President Margareta Cederfelt of Sweden for naming him to the special representative role […]

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