NGOs as threats to the building of Orbán Viktor’s “illiberal democracy”

Yesterday while analyzing Viktor Orbán’s latest speech I concentrated on the topic that aroused the greatest outrage in opposition circles, the Hungarian prime minister’s plans to introduce a so-called “illiberal democracy.”

Here I would like to talk about a topic that at first glance might seem tangential to these plans: the NGOs and civic groups in general. While Orbán dispassionately lectured his audience on the state of the world and Hungary’s place in it, he became visibly agitated when he turned to this topic. We may think that the question of who distributes the relatively small amount of money provided to Hungary by the EEA and Norwegian Grants is not worth a major international fight, but Viktor Orbán does not see it that way. For him the issue is of critical political importance.

I wrote earlier about the controversy surrounding these funds. Currently, a private organization distributes the funds, an arrangement that Hungary and the Norway Fund agreed to earlier. Sometime in the spring the Hungarian government unilaterally changed the rules of the game by insisting that the Budapest government should be responsible for the dispersion of the funds among the various civic organizations. The Norway Fund resisted the idea. After all, these civic groups are supposed to be, at least in part, the watchdogs of the government in power. Giving the government the right to decide which NGOs can and which cannot receive money would defeat the whole purpose.

Right now there is a standoff between Budapest and Oslo. Even the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, wrote a letter to János Lázár in which he expressed his displeasure at the government’s allegations that the Norwegian NGO Fund was used to support political activities in Hungary. He tried to explain that NGOs “should be able to pursue their public watchdog function … without undue interference in their internal functioning.” Lázár wasn’t moved. He argued that the Norwegian NGO funds “constitute public money, [and] it is the moral obligation of the Hungarian Government to order every measure in its discretion which is necessary for the thorough investigation of the questions to be examined, or the contents of the supported activities.” The sentence might be convoluted, but the message clear: Lázár insists on government oversight.

Why is this relatively small amount of money of such great political concern for the Orbán government? We can find the answer in Viktor Orbán’s speech delivered yesterday at Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad. These independent NGOs threaten the illiberal state he is building. He looks upon the NGOs, especially the ones that receive funds from abroad, as impediments to his plans. And as far as he is concerned, this is a very serious matter. As he put it, “here we are confronted with paid political activists. Moreover, these paid political activists are foreign paid political activists. Political activists paid by definable foreign interest groups about whom it is hard to imagine that they consider the sums given by them as social projects. Instead, our suspicion is justified that through this instrument [the NGOs] they try–in a given moment and in a given question–to influence Hungarian political life.” Therefore, the decision was made to create a parliamentary committee whose job will be “the continuous observation, recording, and release of foreign attempts at influence peddling. ”

NGOs2And this was just the beginning of his tirade. He complained about the fact that some of the people who administer these projects are getting paid from abroad, from the money allocated to Hungary, and that their salaries are greater than the salaries of Hungarian civil servants in similar positions and rank. He complained that  35% of the funds are wasted on overhead costs, which is intolerable. Once the Hungarian government gets hold of the funds, these costs will be reduced to a maximum of 15%.

Administrators in Brussels and in Oslo will have to be prepared for a protracted and ugly fight because Orbán is adamant: foreign money is not going to be used to undermine his government. If the Norwegian Fund decides to stick it out, the case most likely will end up in the European Court of Human Rights. Commissioner Nils Muižnieks in his letter to Lázár alluded to that possibility when he stated that “the case law of the European Court of Human Rights on the role of NGOs in democratic society is clear: when an NGO draws attention to matters of public interest, it is exercising a public watchdog role of similar importance to that of the press.” And he mentions the 2007 ruling in Zhechev v. Bulgaria as a case in point. In brief, Muižniek recommends that Hungary back down because, if the case gets all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights, defeat is certain. Not that Viktor Orbán cares about court decisions. He will do, if and when it comes, what he has done in the past. Blithely ignore the decision.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Minusio
Guest

As unlikely as it seems, the NGO issue might be the first major setback for Orbán in the medium-term run. The NGO’s are much more committed than most EU officials. And it’s good to know that at least Nils Muižnieks is confident about what their role should be.

Generally speaking, except for some Austrian newspapers nobody cares much about Hungary because they don’t know enough about it – or the sources they could use such as HS or Pusztaranger. And even in this blog there are commentators who mix up things (for example, it wasn’t Orbán who invited German car manufacturers to Hungary).

I still wonder why the opposition didn’t decide to boycott the elections. That would have sent a strong signal abroad. Instead they wailed about how unfair it all was when they lost as was to be expected. But perhaps they couldn’t even agree on that or – worse – it didn’t occur to them.

The OSCE also did a shoddy job observing the election procedures as one of the HS commentators can prove.

gdfxx
Guest

This whole business of the government fighting the NGOs reminds me of the dark era of the Soviet Union, when dissidents (and their foreign supporters) were treated in a similar manner. I guess we can expect Orban to ask Putin for leasing some part of the Siberian Gulag.

tappanch
Guest

@gdfxx

“ask Putin for leasing some part of the Siberian Gulag”

or rather, the Mordovian Gulag. They are fellow Finno-Ugric.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@gdfxx: Soviet Union? The current Russian Government has initiated the trend a couple of years ago, since the 2012 law on ‘Foreign Agents’. Indeed, it seems that OV isn’t only keen on importing Russian nuclear reactors.

http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/07/22/russia-5-prominent-groups-branded-foreign-agents

Now, I’d love for Fidesz people, who wave the ‘communist crimes’ card every chance they get, to explain how they are bent on mimicking a law that impedes the activities of an NGO such as Memorial …

Eva S. Balogh: If the Norwegian Fund decides to stick it out, the case most likely will end up in the European Court of Human Rights.

Surely, but when? Several Russian NGOs filed a complaint in early 2013. Still pending…

Guest

London Calling!

Even if Chief Lieutenant Thug János Lázár doesn’t win later in the slow wheel turning EU machinations, any NGO receiving Norway funds is doomed.

With 58 NGOs under ‘audit’ – nice little place you have here Mr CEO – any further grants means that that organisation will have all its drain covers lifted.

No organisation can leave itself vulnerable to the possibility that a small breach of tax/company/legal rules may be discovered. Some Norway moolar Sir? No thanks!

Job done.

Chief Lieutenant Thug’s audits are illegal and meant to intimidate. And he must know it.

As does President Thug of course.

Regards

Charlie

Feri
Guest
Look at what is happening in Russia and you can tell what will happen in Hungary. Simple as that. Putin and Russia are the beacons for the anti-West ideologues all over the world, including Hungary. Orban just uses the playbook of Putin’s. Of course, Putin uses his oil money, while Orban uses the EU funds which he can still cajole out of the apparently brainless EU burocrats/politicians. The European politicians/burocrats can’t even imagine (not that they would care or would be able to change) how much Orban and Lazar look down on them and have contempt for their amateurism and weakness. Orban just like Putin only respects raw power and the EU is hopelessly weak, they would ideally fight/defeat a more worthy enemy than “the Europeans”. Orban and Lazar are convinced that the NGOs will starve soon and they themselves will beg for a “compromise”. Not AI or other intl. NGO but most of the local ones. Orban and Lazar intimately know how Hungarians (including the Hungarian liberals) behave and the NGOs have Hungarian employees. Nobody disappointed them so far: neither the hopeless student demonstrators who disappeared without a trace, nor Mazsihisz which is self-destructing, or the EU/German etc. burocrats/politicians/businesspeople… Read more »
LwiiH
Guest

@Charlie, I suspect that Norway knows they have the courts on their side and so there isn’t any incentive for them to budge.. except… how long and the NGO’s with stand the attacks and hold on without the funding.

Guest
Re Orbán, the EU and the mainly German companies in Hungary: On a cynical level one might say that the companies are just interested in Hungary’s cheap work force – for the production of cars etc they need qualified people. And at least some of the EU money (which is not taken by the Oligarchs goes to teaching these people. Everything else (like the manufacturing of phones (Nokia) and clothes, for example Mustang jeans and exclusive high quality female underwear – forgot the German company’s name) which used to be done here has already been moved to East Asia where wages are even lower. So what will that mean in the long run? As soon as it’s no longer worthwhile for the companies to make cars in Hungary, especially if they sell more in Asia (which they actually do already – Volkswagen sells more cars in China than in Germany!), they’ll move the production to Asia too … The qualified workers might move to Western Europe then (Germany needs at least a hundred thousand – every year!!!) – the others? Back to a “work oriented society” – raising pigs? Not a very good prospect for Hungary … Orbán and his… Read more »
Member

Viktor Orban: “In place of a liberal state, we must organize a nation state in which we develop and strengthen a community, not the aggregation of individuals.”
Karl Marx: “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

googly
Guest

Minusio,

You wrote: “it wasn’t Orbán who invited German car manufacturers to Hungary.”

Of course not, but he has definitely worked towards greatly expanding the automotive manufacturing industry in Hungary, to the detriment of other areas of economic activity. He and his entire government speak constantly about how we need to develop an economy based on “real work”, meaning manufacturing and agriculture, while cutting back on support for industries that require a highly-educated workforce, presumably to avoid having an educated electorate. Of course, the part about agriculture is just empty rhetoric, because his policies towards agriculture are entirely political and actually discourage growth in that sector.

googly
Guest
Feri, You wrote: “Look at what is happening in Russia and you can tell what will happen in Hungary.” Also take a look at Zimbabwe and China, not to mention Cuba, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Argentina and almost all of the Central Asian ‘stans. “The European politicians/burocrats can’t even imagine (not that they would care or would be able to change) how much Orban and Lazar look down on them and have contempt for their amateurism and weakness. Actually, I believe the EU bureaucrats aren’t as brainless as you would believe, but they are constrained by politics, just as in Ukraine. Too many member countries are perfectly content with the situation in Hungary, as long as they can make money here, and the EU is desperate to avoid being seen as impinging on a country’s sovereignty. Fidesz is benefiting from the current anti-EU backlash, a result of Russian meddling and the Euro crisis, but eventually the EU will become popular again, and Fidesz will trip itself up, so the EU bureaucrats are playing the long game (they learned their lesson after Waldheim and Haider in Austria). That’s unfortunate for Hungary, but what can be done as long as a majority still backs… Read more »
rommel
Guest

Evereyone’s favorite civil organization (paid for by Hungarian taxpayers), Friends of Hungary just started a new English-language news portal.

petofi
Guest

@googly

“…the EU is desperate to avoid being seen as impinging on a country’s sovereignty.”

This has got to stop. The new EU must specifically ask new member countries to leave their sovereignty at the door. No more a national sovereignty, but a European one in this, the 21st century.

D7 Democrat
Guest
“Orban and Lazar intimately know how Hungarians (including the Hungarian liberals) behave and the NGOs have Hungarian employees. Nobody disappointed them so far” Hmmm…. the background to this is that the regime almost from Day 1 of its previous reign started the intimidation against the NGOs and charities- to be sure it has been ratched up a notch since last year but the regime is now in a bit of corner. The fact that the NGos, even those employing Hungarians, haven’t surrendered like the judiciary and the free media is what is really causing Orban to foam rabidly at the mouth. It is personal for him and when it is personal his normal cool rationality flies out the windows. The NGO sector in Hungary has little to no effect on the wider population’s opinion. And the numerous reports it publishes on the Orban *illiberal dictatorship* have little to no effect on the wider world opinion. Sad but true. The Norwegians will not hand the money over to the regime because they know 100% that money will disappear into corrupt Orbanist back pockets or will be used to fund fascist and pro-regime front organisations. That, however, will not mean the end… Read more »
csepeli
Guest
@d7 democrat: it is not just that the NGOs are a personal issue for Orban, they – along with the EU – are a perfect enemy/villain. Just as Putin needed a new enemy to further entrench his power after he took over as president from Medvedev, that is a more concrete one than the difficult to grasp ‘west’, Orban similarly uses the NGOs (a spionok itt vannak közöttünk), the good old ‘spys’ of 1950’s lurking among us. The jews could also play this role (although in Russia I guess Putin does not want to use this card that much) or in Hungary, the EU. But the NGOs are great too, they are, needless to say to any right-wing Orban-fan, by nature American, liberal (therefore jewish), therefore threatening the soul of the nation. I am also guessing that Orban is going even more anti-burgeois than before. Velemenyvezer had this point today, but I think it is likely that Orban will champion the cause of the little people even more, after all most voters are poor and unsophisticated people, and nobody cares about the longer-term issues. In other words, Orban will be even more socialist and more nationalist, moving towards Jobbik where… Read more »
freedomforever
Guest

seal driver:
“Viktor Orban: “In place of a liberal state, we must organize a nation state in which we develop and strengthen a community, not the aggregation of individuals.”
Karl Marx: “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

A marxist background must hide behind this speech writer, or writer.

What does an average Hungarian know about freedom?

How often and how many times can Hungary lose or give away its freedom?

JGrant
Guest
OT Apologies for going off topic, but I have just read something which is rather interesting and would bear out the opinion of quite a few of us who feel that all is not well in the highest circles around our great leader, which in turn points to tensions all round within the FIDESZ edifice. On this link you will find mention by Népszabadság Online of an interesting article in Magyar Nemzet Online (MNO) – which until very recently counted as the most servile acolyte of the government – accusing someone very close to Orbán of the very same thing. http://nol.hu/belfold/lebunkozta-orban-sajtosat-a-magyar-nemzet-1476635 As it is very short, I translated it for non Hungarian readers amongst us: “Servile, crude and aggressive – wrote Magyar Nemzet Online in its Tusnádfürdő report about the prime minister’s press secretary. According to the article, Bertalan Havasi physically insulted one of their reporters, while his job should be to assist the work of journalists. MNO attacked Havasi in an unusually sharp tone: In Tusnádfürdő, as they wrote, “there was an alarming increase in the number of rather servile people around Viktor Orbán, who show stupid aggression towards the outside world”. They describe the prime minister’s press secretary… Read more »
petofi
Guest

@Csepeli

Just a couple of issues–largely, I agree with your points.

Jobbik–since this is a creation of Orban/Fidesz, it is more an instrument than something to be afraid of. Of course, Jobbik serves to buttress Orban’s argument that only he can oppose it successfully–the Felcsutian trickster at his best.

“Little People”–of course, Orban ‘champions’ them; in fact, he’d like nothing other than ‘little people’. The irony, to which Hungarians are yet to awaken to, is that hardship and tough times make ‘little people’ all the more malleable and fearful–a Machiavellian dream.

The mid-point between a democratic society and an enslaved, feudal society…is the creation
of the ‘little people’ with the modest hope that they be allowed a modest living.
Viktor will oblige.

Caprice Goldberg
Guest

OT:

Yesterday there was a large demonstration at the Dohany synagogue to show support for Israel. In the middle of the protest (around 3 PM), despite a heavy police/security presence, someone threw some type of explosive device into the courtyard of the synagogue which released a tremendous explosion, shot out a huge amount of smoke, and damaged the stairs entering the synagogue. Luckily, most participants were inside the synagogue and miraculously no injuries were reported.

As no police or security saw anything/anyone suspicious, is has been speculated that the bomb may have been thrown from one of the higher floors of a building opposite the synagogue. It is unclear if there is any video evidence of the explosion; while there are security cameras at the synagogue, they mainly focus on the main entry/security gate and not on the area where the bomb was detonated.

I did not see this incident mentioned in the news here last night and could find no mention on the larger Hungarian blogs (origo, index) today.

Has anyone seen or heard any coverage of this event in the media? Have the police or government made any official statements about this matter?

Andy - use Orban spray repellant
Guest

Counting the days Orbán’s Daredevil Provocations will be permitted to survive.
Does the EU have any ability to keep its ducks in row to enable ANY strategically unified action.

LwiiH
Guest

SOT, does anyone know who is behind noltv? (http://www.noltv.hu/video/5520.html)

spectator
Guest

@Caprice Goldberg

I guess, this article is about the events you’ve described.
Sort of…

http://www.origo.hu/itthon/20140727-garazdasag-miatt-nyomoz-a-rendorseg-a-zsinagoganal-tortentek-miatt.html

Realitycheck
Guest

@spectator

Yes, that is the event. A google search on “Dohány utca zsinagóga” now shows several media outlets devoting one or two paragraphs to this threatening incident.

It is disturbing that the perpetrator is only being charged with vandalism. In the US this would likely would have been considered a terroristic threat. An act like this is meant to instill fear in the targets. Charging them with a light charge of vandalism sends a message that you can get away easy for a violent act like this.

It must feel a bit less safe to be a Jew in Budapest.

spectator
Guest
@Minusio “I still wonder why the opposition didn’t decide to boycott the elections. That would have sent a strong signal abroad. Instead they wailed about how unfair it all was when they lost as was to be expected. But perhaps they couldn’t even agree on that or – worse – it didn’t occur to them.” Well, some of the reasons. Two, actually: 1. – In my opinion there is no such thing in Hungary as “the opposition”. There are individual groups, some of them reckless enough to be on speaking terms with some of the others, but that’s about as far as it goes. Has-beens and wannabes fighting for their piece of the (crumbles of the) cake, not a hint of common goal what they actually would work together, whatsoever, besides praying for a miracle, that Orbán would disappear overnight, and everything going to be just fine, ever after. 2. – Actually the initial reaction of the DK indeed was, that if the electoral law remains as proposed, they may boycott the whole charade – I have heard of some TV-broadcast myself. But as we know Gyurcsány just can’t be right, LMP directly declared that they will participate anyhow, pretty… Read more »
Andy - Tasnadfurdo watershed (T.G.M. Tamás Gáspár Miklos)
Guest
Orban’s Tasnádfürdő speech was commented by political analyst – historian TGM (Tamás Gáspár Miklós) – cogently surmised the major Global Implications for Hungary and the future for Hungarian society. (ATV this evening – closing segment on Kalman Olga’s Egyenes Beszéd program. According to TGM (and I fully share his opinion) Orbans speech is Orbans first cogent attempt to clearly and decisevely enunciatethe principal structural pillars of the edifice he plans to build Hungary’s upcoming Dictatorhip. TGM says this speech was the turning point in Orban’s approach to to this process, – an avowed clear direction to emulate the methods of the Eastern State-Directed systems that allow a select role for the functionment of a narrow capitalist role within the confines of a State dictatorshiop. TGM also maintains that Orban will use any means possible to keep his future work-based society and to eliminate the role of the state as a socially-caring entity. TGM says Orban plans to be here as lifetime leader and the only means that his regime might eventually be uprooted is by a mass bloody uprising against his growing might, which would eventually come from the large masses of the downtrodden and the dienfanchised. You, the reader,… Read more »
spectator
Guest

@Realitycheck
Sorry as I am, I have no consolation.
Hatred is a commodity what they have no shortage nowadays.
How could one expect the law enforcement function, when the head of the state raping even his own costume-made Constitution on a daily basis – and gets away with it proudly?

spectator
Guest

My my! CUSTOM-MADE, for heavens sake!
Sorry!

tappanch
Guest
petofi
Guest

Egyenes Beszed and TGM

For once, Kalman Olga was stunned into silence–the veneer of performance having left her visage.

wpDiscuz