Assault on the Ökotárs Foundation in charge of disbursement of the Norwegian Civic Fund

On September 6 The New York Times published a long article by three investigative journalists entitled “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks.” According to the article, a lot of foreign countries, especially smaller ones, use think tanks located in Washington, D.C. for lobbying purposes. These countries’ lobbyists find direct contact with members of Congress or officials of the State Department difficult to come by, and thus they lobby indirectly through the non-profit organizations to influence official and unofficial opinions. Many of the examples the article cites are connected to Norway’s gifts to the Brookings Institute and the Center of Global Development. The reason for the focus on Norway is that Norway is a country with very liberal transparency laws. Thus, it was relatively easy to get information on the Norwegian government’s relationship with American think tanks. Some of these gifts were used to combat global warning, others to convince Congress to spend more money on foreign aid. Some of them clearly served Norway’s direct interests–for example, to promote plans to expand oil drilling in the Arctic. Hungary, by the way, was listed as being among the many countries that use think tanks to advance their lobbying activities. Hungary has such working relations with the Atlantic Council. The size of Hungary’s contribution was not revealed.

This report did not go unnoticed in Budapest. Today Magyar Nemzet carried an article entitled “Norway’s 22-Million Dollar Mask.” They called attention to The New York Times article, reminding their readers that the Kormányzati Ellenőrzési Hivatal (KEHI/National Bureau of Investigation) is currently investigating the Ökotárs Foundation, which is responsible for the disbursement of grants provided by the Norwegian Civic Funds. The harassment of this foundation as well as of the NGOs that received grants through it has been going on for months, but the article that appeared in The New York Times came in handy for the Orbán government. In the article several people were cited who criticized this kind of lobbying activity by foreign governments. It was easy to extend this criticism to foreign meddling in Hungary. If the Americans find the activities of Norway harmful from the American point of view, then surely the Hungarian government has every right to investigate what is going on in Hungary with the Norwegian Funds.

Of course, the two cases are quite different. It is one thing to fund so-called independent think tanks in order to influence lawmakers and opinion makers and quite another to fund NGOs whose spending on specified activities is carefully monitored. But, from the Orbán government’s point of view, the latter is undoubtedly more dangerous than the former.

This morning around 9 o’clock a dozen or so policemen attached to the Nemzeti Nyomozó Iroda (NNI/National Office of Investigation) appeared at the headquarters of the foundation. They sealed the office, told employees they could not use their cell phones, packed up all the documents they could find, and by 6 p.m. led the director of the foundation straight to police headquarters. I assume that the appearance of the article in Magyar Nemzet and this morning’s raid on the Ökotárs Foundation are linked. Of course, the harassment of Ökotárs is not new. It has been going on for months. Over the last few weeks charges leveled against them have been varied. First it was preferential treatment given to certain groups that are close to LMP; later the complaint was that certain civic groups that don’t represent liberal, anti-government sentiments are being discriminated against. The latest accusation is that Ökotárs has been engaged in illegal banking activities.

Veronika Móra, director of the Ökorárs Foundation, is being escorted by policemen to police headquarters

Veronika Móra, director of the Ökotárs Foundation, is being escorted by policemen to police headquarters

What are these alleged illegal banking activities? This latest charge involves a common practice of organizations that disburse subsidies or grants. It often happens that an NGO’s application is approved but that it takes a few months before they actually receive the money. These organizations are on a shoestring budget, and a couple of months of delay may mean that they cannot pay their employees. It is customary to give them a bridge loan. This is, for example, what both the Hungarian government and municipalities do when there is a delay of subsidies from Brussels. And this is what Ökotárs did in the past few years when some of the grants did not arrive on time. They used their own money for these small loans and charged a minimal interest rate. It is perfectly legal. This latest charge is just another pretext to eliminate all independent sources of funds for any civic activity not serving the interests of the government. Earlier this year KEHI was instructed to investigate and could find no evidence of fraud or any other financial crime, but the government is persistent.

Ökotárs was not the only victim. Police occupied the offices of Demokratikus Jogok Fejlesztésért Alapítvány (Demnet/Foundation for the Development of Democratic Rights). Apparently the police “ransacked both headquarters,” according to the Hungarian Free Press. The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) condemned today’s police raids against the Hungarian NGOs and criticized the passivity of the European Union. This afternoon they released an English-language statement, the final paragraph of which read:

In July, Prime Minister Orban made a speech in which he said Hungary is aiming to become an illiberal state. The EU Commission declined to comment on his words. Today’s actions prove again that the Orban government is challenging the core values and fundamental principles of the European Union. The HCLU agrees with Vidar Helgesen, the EU minister of Norway, who said, “When the Hungarian government is challenging these values it challenges the EU itself.”

Tonight about 500 people gathered in front of the offices of Ökotárs to protest the government’s latest attack on independent civic organizations.

The Orbán government’s behavior should remind us of the sustained attacks against civil society in Russia and elsewhere, for example, in Azerbaijan, as HCLU pointed out. Putin clamped down on nongovermental organizations during the winter of 2011-2012. Now, after the Ukrainian crisis, he instructed the Federal Security Office to be doubly vigilant when it comes to local groups working for “destructive” purposes. NGOs receiving financial support from abroad already have to register as foreign agents. Surely, Orbán does not want to go that far and be that obvious, but perhaps he can achieve the same goal through ostensibly legal means, like a charge of “fraudulent misuse of funds.”

We should follow this case very carefully, especially since it seems that Viktor Orbán’s latest speech at the Kötcse picnic was even more threatening than his talk in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad. We still know very little about the details of the speech since it was not open to the media, but as a Hungarian journalist friend of mine said, if the report that appeared in Magyar Hírlap is accurate, “this is the program of a dictator.” It is time to wake up!

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Christopher Adam
Guest

Around three hours after I wrote an English piece on the police raid on Ökotárs, and published TASZ’s English protest (both of which increased the site’s readership nearly tenfold this afternoon), my website (http://hungarianfreepress.com ) crashed and visitors received the following message: “Error establishing a database connection.” I contacted the web host and they responded by noting that a so-called “denial-of-service (DoS)” attack had been initiated against the site.

I am underwhelmed by the European Union’s approach to Hungary. Sadly, even today’s macabre scene outside the Ökotárs headquarters will not likely do much in term of getting the EU to consider advice from Norwegian ministers or from today’s NY Times. I just wonder how long it will take for Hungarian left-centre/liberal thinkers and political elites (who remain surprisingly pro-EU) to turn away from a supranational union that has no teeth whatsoever and no will to act in defense of its basic principles.

gdfxx
Guest

The silence of the rest of the EU is deafening.

Christopher Adam
Guest

Indeed it is. In the meantime, Navracsics will receive his cushy job as an EU commissioner. The EU has zero will to act. It’s business as usual in the EU, and Orbán knows this full well.

googly
Guest

A little off-topic, but another example of how the EU is turning a deaf ear to Orbán’s attacks on democracy and consolidation of all possible power in Hungary: the takeover of the media. Here’s another good article in the New York Times, but does anyone important read these?

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/09/opinion/hungarys-crackdown-on-the-press.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&region=Footer&module=MoreInSection&pgtype=article&assetType=opinion

petofi
Guest

I think the EU’s only chance to exert influence on the mentally/ethically-challenged Hungarian
citizenry is to highlight a particular political fault line: NATO must immediately plan to put a significant force on Hungarian land and plan to keep it there for years. If Orban objects, all consequent EU penalties can flow from the perception that Orban has sided with Russia and has chosen to sacrifice the country’s well-being to support Russia AT ANY COST.

dave
Guest

Gusztav Zoltai a former leader of MAZSIHISZ, the Federation of Jewish Communities, became an official adviser of Janos Lazar a minister of the Hungarian government.

Because this is a relatively high political position, I wonder what type of antisemitic attacks will happen against Gusztav Zoltai now both privately and publicly. Not long ago Tamas Suchmann a Jewish politician of MSZP spoke of the antisemitism of MSZP and estimated it to be at 38% within that party. And now all leftist antisemites will probably attack Zoltai and find some fault or other in his past and they will disguise their antisemitic actions as “political criticism”. But they will attack twice as hard precisely because Zoltai is Jewish. And there is kuruc.info and Jobbik as well who wil undoubtedly do the same and attack Zoltai for both being Jewish and being an adviser to the Fidesz government. It will be an antisemitic grand coalition between MSZP and Jobbik.

Member

@dave: “Gusztav Zoltai a former leader of MAZSIHISZ, the Federation of Jewish Communities, became an official adviser of Janos Lazar a minister of the Hungarian government. Because this is a relatively high political position, I wonder what type of antisemitic attacks will happen against Gusztav Zoltai now…”

No doubt, as bigots will use every means, fair and foul.

But I hope the Jewish Community will condemn Zoltai’s shameless and shameful opportunism too. If it does not, then their silence might possibly be understandable as a arising from fear.

No such explanation is possible for the EU’s silence about Orban’s machinations.

D7 Democrat
Guest

“It is time to wake up!”

A bit late for that, Orban’s fascist regime (self-described as an “illiberal democracy”) has been already set up with little to no meaningful internal or external opposition.

Kudos to the NGOs who have stood up to the Orbanist Brownshirts and are now suffering the consequences. Anyone who thinks that the thug will stop at anything to finally put the cap on the dictatorship needs their head examining.

Karl
Guest
Dave, Zoltai is a former munkásőr (a voluntary communist hardline para military organization) and most likely a III/III agent (communist secret informant) too. If these were not enough, his shady deals which were publicized in many publications involving real estate in the VII. district and potentially assets of Mazsihisz itself means that he could be taken into custody at really any time. (Compared to Ökotárs, Zoltai and his funky bunch probably did commit something problematic). Lazar and his people know exactly how to find people’s weak spots. With Zoltai only a imbecile wouldn’t be able to find one. His continued presence 25 years after the fall of communism at the top of governmental affairs is a shame on the entire Hungarians jewish community. Perhaps this “democracy” the jews have does not work so well after all, currently having a criminal convict banker and transvestite at the top of the community (both were elected). In any case Mazsihisz will be eradicated (slowly and painfully, not quickly and before its demise the mazsihisz people will ever so subtly help Orban and Maria Schmidt) and Zoltai along with man of his jewish macher friends will see to it. I know that Lazar and… Read more »
Max
Guest

@ dave “Gusztav Zoltai a former leader of MAZSIHISZ, the Federation of Jewish Communities, became an official adviser of Janos Lazar a minister of the Hungarian government. Because this is a relatively high political position, I wonder what type of antisemitic attacks will happen against Gusztav Zoltai now both privately and publicly.”

Are you by chance a PR adviser of Zoltai? I am afraid you totally misunderstand the situation. It is a public knowledge in town that Zoltai had been a member of the communist party’s paramilitary arm (Munkásőrség) and ever since has been a Machiavellian functionary.

This has nothing to do of him being Jewish. He is just a despicable person who again found an opportunity to sell himself for 30 silvers.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Well, the EU is mostly in limbo for the time being. The Commission hasn’t yet been announced nor confirmed, the Parliament only resumed last week, the Council has a big (Russian) fish to fry, and I don’t expect such subjects to be priority one for the Italian presidency – especially with Alfano.

Yoga
Guest
With Ökotárs and others the show is only beginning. This is really just the beginning. It will be long and hard, I hope they have been preparing in the last couple of months, because Fidesz and its deep state pals have. This action has been planned with intelligence people who just like their Russian counterparts are crazy about ‘traitors’ and ‘foreign agents’ and of course anybody who is not a madly loyal fidesznik. This is at least as much as about the Norwegians. Do they want to see their loved ones tormented? If they are more open to a compromise (let Lazar and his people decide about the money and accept their defeat) then lo and behold the problems will go away and everybody will be shiny and happy. I hope they continue to resist and don’t give up. I think one of the goals is to write a long research report about this civil community (a kinda Fehér Könyv), which Fidesz will may or may not publish. With all the data now secured the work can start, like mapping the relationships and some weaker people can be asked for certain favors. This is the nature of dictatorships, it’s logical,… Read more »
ambator
Guest

Perhaps it is worth mentioning in relation to foreign lobbyists, that Hungary also has its own government funded contingent in Washington in the person of Tamas Fellegi. He has a budget of $15,000,000 and he is getting a 150,000 salary for popularizing the government and for trying to shore up a united Hungarian expat support for Orban.

Brit in Hungary
Guest

It is more horrifying every day. What I now realise Hungary desperately needs is a new Orban – someone young, articulate, brave, clever, not afraid to stand up to dictators and oppression, willing to put himself on the line for a country he loves and believes in. Maybe with a new Orban, there can be an organised and effective resistance to the current government. How can so few people see where this is leading, or is everyone now so scared they just either leave the country or turn the other way, apart from a few lone voices which as we now see are being marched off to the police station.

Nonblonde
Guest

At least Norwegian government is not a pushover. Mr. Helgesen also tried to address this issue in his letter/article in Financial Times, 28 August 2014. http://www.regjeringen.no/en/sub/europaportalen/aktuelt.html?contentid=766359&id=467564

Guest

gdfxx: “The silence of the rest of the EU is deafening.”

As long as Angela Mekel is silent the EU is silent. Angela Merkel is silent because important German companies have negotiated “strategic partnership” with Hungary. The German companies obliged themselves to build factories and employ thousands in Hungary. Orbán’s contribution is to make sure that Hungarian labor will remain cheap.

The idea of such a “strategic partnership” is not new to German industry. During WWII they made strategic partnerships with the Nazi’s, who obliged themselves to deliver as many slave laborers as the industry could absorb.

D7 Democrat
Guest

Yoga,
“This is really just the beginning.

It will be long and hard, I hope they have been preparing in the last couple of months, because Fidesz and its deep state pals have”

They have been preparing since the direct and indirect intimidation began post 2010.

“And mind you most people support Fidesz and…”
No they don’t. Hungary has a 30% racist Fidesz/Jobbik hardcore support- that is reflected in the last election result but really “Most” people couldn’t care less one way or the other.
Not welcome but that apathy is quite a different matter altogether

petofi
Guest

“Feeding The Self-Hating, Impotent, Animals In The Zoo”

Orban delights in feeding the ‘bunko’ citizenry with juicy mockery of jews at every oppurtunity–such is the rationale for the elevation of this criminal Zoltai.

Gejza
Guest

The National Bank of Hungary will open offices in New York, Paris, Hamburg, Rome, Buenos Aires and Beirut. Why Rome and Buenos Aires? Why Hamburg and Paris? And Beirut? This smells like some kind of a third rate cold war spy cover scheme. Come to think of it the slush funds, if not from somewhere else then they are available from the Eiffel Tower deal where about half of the money must have disappeared among the unnamed off-shore seller entities. Ridiculous. These people are just insane at the NBH.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@Jean P: not sure it has much to do with the German Chancellor alone.

She may hold the key if a vote ever comes to the Parliament, because of the German preeminence in the EPP. But she’s certainly not able to prevent others to protest the accelerating drift, be they governments in the Council or MEPs.

At the Council level, I suspect the Russo-Ukrainian war is a major factor in favor of Hungary. Yesterday, while the new sanctions package was negotiated for a much longer time than it should have, many people thought it was because of HU, SK or CY… but it’s Finland who apparently had major reservations. Navracsis seemed eager to make clear that Hungary was supporting the package… though maintaining its stance on the effectiveness of the sanctions.

After OV’s ‘commitment’ to NATO (practical, if not wholehearted), it is clear that the Hungarian Gov’t is playing along for the time being. As for myself, I’d be rather happy about it… except it probably means that no other Gov’t is going to risk alienating Budapest for now.

Kavé
Guest
Zoltai Gusztáv’s move to Lázár János team doesn’t surprise me in the least. The man has a lot of skeletons in his closet, beginning with the fact that he served as a Communist civil guardsman immediately after the revolution 1956. Later he served as the Communist Party cadre in charge of vetting theater productions, and his decision to allow a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Budapest operetta in 1986 led to his post-1990 move to the offices of Mazsihisz on Sip utca, a position he held for over 20 years. We often referred to Mazsihisz as a real estate company – if you needed to learn about Jewish religion you went to the Chabad Lubavitch congregation. Zoltai was in the habit of threatening and blacklisting any project within the Jewish community that he did not control. He drove a lot of younger Jews away from the established Sip utca community to form newer congregations and alternative Jewish organizations, such as the Sirály café in the 7th district (shut down by Mayor Tarlos last year after the Sirály allowed students protesting FIDESZ to use their basement as an organizing center.) Last year a scandal broke out when it… Read more »
Member
Guest

@Kavé:

Though this is a serious matter I couldn’d help laughing at your Yiddish sentence!

Though I’m not an expert, as a German I understand a few words: Liegen soll er in der Erde!

Not really nice of you but understandable …

For all the others who want to know:
http://www.traciandjeff.com/yiddish_expressions.html#luq

PS and totally OT:

“Bei mir bist Du schen” is still one of my favourite songs …

chandlerozconsultants
Guest

Reblogged this on hungarywolf.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@Wolfi, Kavé re: yiddish.

Last week, Donald Tusk was asked on Polish TV wether he intended to run for President after his mandate in Brussels. He answered by quoting (in Polish) the yiddish proverb: ‘Der mentsh trakht un got lakht’. 🙂

petofi
Guest

Is there a law against making things easy?

Why don’t people who know yiddish just translate the phrase?

Istvan
Guest
Eva the thrust of the NY Times article on Norwegian funding of US based think tanks is driven by our law, both your and my law since I believe you too are a US citizen, the Foreign Agents Registration Act. If one reads our law one realizes that unlike Orban’s attempt to outlaw the Norway Fund’s activities, the law requires the foreign agent to formally submit a statement detailing their activities to the Attorney General of the US. If those activities violate other laws they can be prosecuted, if activities are not disclosed they can also be prosecuted. US military and civilians with security clearance are prohibited from being foreign agents, there are several staff at the think tanks that have low level security clearances for research purposes and this may be a problem. I believe the policy groups that took Norway’s money may have violated this law by not registering as foreign agents, but the Norwegian policies they advocated for were well within the scope of the law. In the case of Hungary the state is using the Government Control Office (KEHI) to investigate the fund at the request of the Office of the Prime Minister to “clarify whether… Read more »
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