The war between the Hungarian government and the NGOs continues

I’m sure that most readers of Hungarian Spectrum are familiar with the tug-of-war between the Norwegian and the Hungarian governments over the disbursement of the Norwegian Civic Funds. These funds are specifically designed to support non-governmental organizations that are involved with issues like democracy and human rights, gender and equal opportunity, youth and children’s issues, the environment, basic services to vulnerable groups, and the empowerment of minority groups, including the Roma. These issues are not exactly high on the priority list of authoritarian governments like the present one in Hungary. Hence the Hungarian government’s harassment of NGOs.

It was about a year ago, right after the election, that attacks on the Hungarian distributors of these funds began. Since that time I wrote three or four posts on the ups-and-downs of the negotiations between János Lázár, the minister in charge of the prime minister’s office, and Vidar Helgesen, the minister in charge of European affairs in the Norwegian government. The Norwegians, unlike officials of the European Union, have refused to cave in to Hungarian demands.

Why did I decide to return to the topic of the Norwegian Civic Funds? Because in the last three months two different independent firms looked over the Hungarian NGOs that are in charge of disbursement and found everything in order. The first firm the Norwegian government hired, Creda Consultinggave high marks to the consortium that handled the disbursement of the funds. It was praised for its “most innovative elements among the 15 NGO programs assessed across Europe.” I’m sure that Creda’s praise for “Ökotárs,” the fund operator, didn’t impress the Hungarian government, which over the last year came up with charges against it–“one for every season,” as Veronika Móra, director of Ökortárs, put it in a recent op/ed article in HVG.

In January the Norwegian government asked the accounting firm PKF Littlejohn to take a look at Ökotárs’s books because, among other things, the Hungarian government accused it of embezzlement. PKF Littlejohn found no evidence of any wrongdoing. Moreover, the accountants didn’t just look at the fund operator’s financial dealings; they also checked on the activities of several recipients of the funds. They didn’t run into any major problems.

After receiving the final results, the Norwegian foreign ministry announced that “Norway stands ready for a dialogue.” The question is whether the Hungarian government is willing to engage in such a conversation. One would think that after two independent expert assessments, the Hungarian government would give up and not risk losing the substantial amount of money the Hungarian government itself receives from the Norway Funds. But I’m not at all sure that the government in Budapest will retreat any time soon. I assume that Norway is satisfied with the way their funds are being dispersed to the NGOs and that a dialogue with János Lázár on this topic would not be a bargaining session. For Lázár to accept the current arrangement would mean defeat for the Hungarian government.

Veronika Móra in her op/ed piece rightly pointed out that the attack on Ökotárs and the Norway Civic Fund is only part of a general assault against NGOs in general. They are the victims of “a deliberate political strategy” aimed at their elimination. Viktor Orbán in his infamous speech that included a reference to “illiberal democracy” called NGOs “paid political activists.” Of course, there are “good NGOs,” those that are involved only in charitable activities. By definition, the Norwegian Civic Fund belongs to the “bad NGO” category. All of the targeted areas defined by the managers of the fund involve public policy. Lázár at one point accused the Norwegian government of deliberately trying to topple the Hungarian government. A few months later Orbán in an interview with Bloomberg talked about registering NGOs that receive funds from abroad. Just the kind of procedure Vladimir Putin introduced.

Normally, after a while, the Hungarian government retires from direct fights of this sort. For example, lately neither Lázár nor his assistant undersecretary, Nándor Csepreghy, speaks about the NGO issue. They assigned the job to the leaders of their own creation CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum/Civic Collaboration Forum), the group that organized the pro-government marches every time Viktor Orbán felt that he needed a show of force for his political survival. Although the leaders of CÖF hotly deny it, the organization is most likely financed by the Hungarian government.

CÖF’s “legal adviser,” Zoltán Lomniczi, Jr., who calls himself a “constitutional expert,” is now the designated spokesman for the government strategy. He is being touted as “one of the most eminent experts” on the subject. According to him, four-fifths of Hungarian NGOs are financed in whole or in part by George Soros. As for the causes these NGOs are involved in–the Roma, drug prevention, and the disabled, according to Lomniczi these are not the most burning issues in today’s Hungary. “The defense of mental hygiene” as a result of the negative influence of the media or the “disfranchisement of Hungarians” in Slovakia or in Serbia are causes that deserve attention. The “eminent expert” accused the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, TASZ, of not raising its voice at the time of the police attack on “innocent demonstrators” in 2006 October. In fact, it was TASZ who took up the defense of those who were the victims of unnecessary force.

Zoltán Lomniczi, Jr. listening to Veronika Móra at ATV's program, Csatt

Zoltán Lomniczi, Jr. listening to Veronika Móra on ATV’s program “Csatt”

Lomniczi’s recent preoccupation with NGOs prompted Egon Rónai of ATV to invite him and three other NGO leaders for a conversation on a program called “Csatt.” Veronika Móra represented Ökotárs and Miklós Ligeti, Transparency International. András Székely, an economist and teacher of religion, spoke on behalf of the “Három Királyfi és Három Királylány Mozgalom” (three princes and three princesses movement). The movement’s aim is to promote a higher birthrate to produce large families. I highly recommend taking a look at the program. Most educational.

Meanwhile, we can wait to see what the Hungarian government’s next move will be to “remedy” the situation with those pesky NGOs.

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Jon Van Til
May 31, 2015 4:11 am

It would be terrific if George Soros would increase his funding of what the regime is now calling “Bad NGOs” (those that support democracy, human rights, social justice, civil liberties, social equality, Roma advancement, opportunities for the disabled, women’s protection against abuse, etc.) to the level of 80% of what is needed. Unfortunately, that huge task is beyond his resources, which are also directed against similar challenges facing the third (nonprofit, voluntary, civil) sector around the world.

Hungary is in great need for other philanthropists to step forward and join Soros and Norway in supporting these important organizations and the causes they represent. Societies require active civil organizations and a truly independent third sector, able to both provide services to those in need and direct criticism to those in power, if they are really going to be able to call themselves democratic or just. “Bad NGO’s” are good for people and just what modern societies need if they are to grow and develop.

May 31, 2015 4:27 am

I can’t help feeling only disgust by seeing our government frantic efforts to bring everything under its sway. Earlier their favorite term against their opponents was “anti-nation”, but no political, NG or whatsoever organization years did in the last 25 years so much harm to our nation as they have steadily been doing. I am utterly bewildered seeing on how unresisted their mafia tempo can flow. It is only by a very few in and outside Hungary who can understand what’s going on here. A real shame.

May 31, 2015 10:23 am

The FIDESZ/Jobbik regime may set back Hungary by a few hundred years.

Eleni Kounalakis and the other incompetent Westerners do not see the price the whole civilized worlds is going to pay for these crimes.

Many progressive people do not want to recognize the failure of the Western leadership in the worldwide slide into anarchy.

The tyrants of Iran, Russia, Syria, Venezuela, Burma, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Cuba are not opposed by anybody. They ruin wide territories before they will be history.

May 31, 2015 1:01 pm
Your reaction almost sounds hysterical, fftt22. You mention “incompetent Westerners” (eg: Eleni Kounalakis, the former US ambassador to Hungary) as not doing enough or not having done enough to prevent the “Fidesz/Jobbik regime [setting] back Hungary by a few hundred years”. Even I dont think that Fidesz is capable of being that bad. For your info, many of the mentioned countries (eg: Cuba, Iran, Syria) are where they are because of direct or indirect US involvement in their affairs. As for the issue at hand, Viktor Orbán is correct when he states that NGOs are “paid political activists”. I am reminded of a long-ago Saturday Night Live rejoinder that I used to hear snarkily delivered: “And your point is?” What I dont get is how the Fidesz regime thinks that it will pull this (NGO harassment) off. Obviously the political activity that the NGOs engage in is not illegal. The only thing that is assumably illegal is financial irregularity, which is rich coming from a government widely thought to be corrupt in the extreme. Unless Fidesz has evidence that it has not revealed, then what Fidesz is doing amounts to a fishing expedition to find instances of malfeasance. When rogue… Read more »
May 31, 2015 2:47 pm

“Obviously the political activity that the NGOs engage in is not illegal.”

At the moment.
Without bigger effort a new law can make them just about whatever, – enemies of state, you name it – retroactively even. Yes, I’m aware of the end of ‘supermajority’, but also of the fact, how easy to circumvent the problem it presents.

And yes, you better familiarise yourself with the idea “that Fidesz is capable of being that bad.”
There is no “upper limit” – how low they are willing to sink – when it comes to Orbán’s ego, you see, and his executioners – Lázár, Rogán, Kósa, Szijjártó, etc. – right behind him in the queue.

May 31, 2015 2:48 pm

“For your info, many of the mentioned countries (eg: Cuba, Iran, Syria) are where they are because of direct or indirect US involvement in their affairs.”

In the case of Cuba I buy some of the above (although it was the Cuban communist regime that confiscated the property of numerous Americans and it was the same Cuban regime that allowed the Soviet Union to place nuclear missiles that close to the US, facts that could not be ignored by the US government). But what does Iran’s and Syria’s state of affairs have to do with the US?

May 31, 2015 6:20 pm
This may prolix into protraction, if you know what I mean, gdfxx. US involvement around the world is a geopolitical extension of the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, when things were done with an eye to containing the USSR. Now the US works to contain Russia. In the US, where the only good commie was a dead commie, the revolution wrought by Castro (a closet communist) was bad news. No longer was the whorehouse of the Caribbean open for business. US politics effectively backed Castro into a corner. He probably became a harder Stalinist than he might ordinarily have become. I dont care to argue this, or anything else here, because this is all way offtopic and I dont want to be writing essays from now until next year. For the record, my Fidel issues notwithstanding, Cuba has one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean. Its healthcare is better than that of most countries in the area. Not bad for a country that the US had been actively trying to throttle since 1959. Until he was overthrown in 1979, Reza Pahlavi (the Shah of Iran) was the US bulwark to the south of the USSR. The CIA… Read more »
May 31, 2015 6:59 pm

“It can be argued that the 9/11 attacks on the US were just the chickens coming home to roost. I believe that there is an element of truth there.”

I do not debate anyone who makes this kind of statements.

May 31, 2015 3:19 pm

Éva, What do you think about professor György Nógrádi?

He often give interviews for ATV TV2 RTL-klub Echo-TV Hir-TV. Nobody know his political preferences, because he always deny to speak about Home Affairs of Hungary. He was employed as expert in all governments since 1990 (regardless left or right)

Due to his Work in NATO, He met personally utmost all leader politicians (including US presidents, UK PMs, German chancellors etc…)

May 31, 2015 6:13 pm

windbag may be too mild!

lack of intellectual courage?

In light of the fidesz/jobbik attack on the decency, generations of Hungarians will pay the bill.

The majority of Hungarians will be eternal victims of domestic and foreign predators .


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