Plans to destroy independent Hungarian civil society: The Norway Fund

A few days ago I wrote a post about János Lázár’s attack on the commercial television stations, especially on RTL Klub. I discussed how the station retaliated by including news that until now it had avoided broadcasting, perhaps not wanting to raise the hackles of the Orbán government. They were hoping, I assume, that by avoiding risky topics the station might be left alone. The strategy didn’t work. It has become obvious that the Orbán government wants to destroy RTL Klub because it is owned by a foreign company.

Just today György Barcza, the new pro-government editor-in-chief of Napi Gazdaság, attacked the CEO of RTL Klub, demanding “more humility and less arrogance from someone who is eating the bread of Hungarians and who at times must fall back on the assistance of Hungarians.” What caused the outburst? Napi Gazdaság, a paper allegedly dealing with economics and finance, accused RTL of spending 1,650,000,000 forints on honoraria, thereby demonstrating the vast riches accumulated by the firm. The correct number was 1,650,000. The very idea that a private firm is accused of living off of Hungarians is pretty outrageous, and that this was said by a so-called economist is truly outlandish.

Now let’s move on to the NGOs that the government finds objectionable. 444 got hold of the government’s list of thirteen NGOs which are, so to speak, black-listed.  The government objects to organizations involved in civil and human rights, like TASZ (Társaság a Szabadságjogokért), and organizations dealing with women’s issues, like Nők a Nőkért Együtt az Erőszak Ellen Egyesület (Nane), the feminist Magyar Női Érdekérvényesítő Alapítvány, and Patriarchátust Ellenzők Társasága (Patent). Orbán and Co. have a real aversion to transparency, so it is not surprising that Transparency International Magyarország Alapítvány is on the list together with K-Monitor Közhasznú Egyesület and the Asimov Alapítvány that is connected to Átlátszó, a site dealing with investigative journalism. Anything that has either “liberal” or “democracy” in its name is out, and finally there are the gays and lesbians who have been attacked lately by Imre Kerényi, a close adviser of Viktor Orbán, and by Zsolt Semjén, head of the Christian Democratic party and between 2010 and 2014 deputy prime minister. So, both Labrisz Leszbikus Egyesület and Szivárvány (Rainbow) Misszió Alapítvány are on the list. And let’s not forget the Roma Sajtóközpont (a press agency on Roma affairs).

NGOsOn June 19 KEHI (Kormányzati Ellenőrző Hivatal = State Audit) sent out letters to these organizations and gave them one week to release all documents having anything to do with the Norway Fund. Most of them have already refused to “cooperate” because they claim, as does the management of the Norway Fund in Brussels, that KEHI has no legal right to audit; the funds these NGOs received are not under the jurisdiction of the Hungarian state. Of course, the Hungarian government has a different opinion on the matter.

Átlátszó and the Asimov Alapítvány announced that they “would not even open the door” to the officials of KEHI if they show up. Krétakör, a theater group, also refused to cooperate and for good measure posted a video on Facebook depicting the head of the group leaving a brief message to the appropriate official of KEHI refusing to allow KEHI to investigate. Szivárvány Misszió also sent a letter to the official in charge in which they said that they “don’t handle state funds” and therefore they don’t know on what basis they are included in the investigation of state funds.

The sad fate of Hungarian NGOs has already received international publicity. Huffington Post published an article by Jon Van Til, professor emeritus of Urban Studies and Community Planning at Rutgers University, who spent some time teaching in Hungary. The title of the article is “Even the ruler of Hungary needs an independent third sector.” Van Til realizes, as by now most people who follow Hungarian politics do, that in Hungary “a duly elected government seems bent on creating a one-party state that controls nearly every aspect of the country’s life–public, civic, voluntary and even religious.”  Van Til considers the conflict between the Norwegian and Hungarian governments “bizarre” because the Hungarian government’s position is that “grants may be received from sources outside the government, but only if they are managed by the government and are directed to organizations it approves.”

The list of the thirteen organizations tells us a lot about the Orbán government. All that talk about the democracy that the Orbán government allegedly established between 2010 and 2014 is hogwash. Instead, Viktor Orbán is striving to establish a one-party system. Whoever doesn’t see this is blind. All those who stand in his way, be they RTL Klub or TASZ, will be crushed one way or the other.

One final word on the possibility that the attack on the gay and lesbian organizations that received funds from the NorwayFund might be part of a general governmental campaign against homosexuals. I already wrote about Imre Kerényi’s outburst, but now we have another high government official and politician, Zsolt Semjén, bringing up the subject. I should mention that Semjén is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and there is good reason to believe that he, just like former President Pál Schmitt, plagiarized his dissertation.

Semjén had a long interview on HírTV’s P8, a program that can be seen on Friday (péntek) at 8:oo p.m. During the interview he talked about the composition of the new Orbán government, the role of the Christian Democratic party, the preponderance of Protestants in the government, and, of all things, homosexuality. According to Semjén, “a small, yet loud interest group that wants to force this deviant behavior receives serious assistance from Brussels.” Actually, he used the word “brutális támogatás” instead of “serious assistance” where “brutális” nowadays is used to indicate something large and concentrated. As for same-sex marriage, Semjén opined that if two men can get married, “why not three?” A rather odd idea that popped into his head which he, I’m sure, finds hilarious. I assume the huge assistance from Brussels refers to the Norway Fund’s two recipients, the Labrisz Leszbikus Egyesület which received €62,436 and Szivárvány Misszió Alapítvány, a mere €4,163.

The Hungarian Liberal Party’s youth organization wrote an open letter to Zsolt Semjén in which they accused him of discrimination, which is unacceptable in a real democracy. But the problem is that we have to face the fact that Hungary is no longer a democracy and if the Norway Fund gives in on this score, it will acquiesce in Hungarian democracy’s systematic dismemberment.

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24 comments

  1. “…Hungarian democracy’s systematic dismemberment.”

    Our fearless leader has made his presence known at the World Cup by sprinkling some Hungarian ethos here and there: and so, the coach of the Uruguayan soccer team on his
    star player’s *alleged, biting of an opponent: “We will see how to defend him. This is a football World Cup, not about cheap morality.”

    Cheap Morality!

    Now there’s a Hungaricum for ya…

  2. The sentimental conservative souls who support Fidesz, do it from a fear that the communists will return if orban is kicked out.

    I do not want to continue this subject because it is so painful.

  3. @Eva, a bit OT:

    I’m curious – one of the NGOs is called “Asimov Alapítvány”. Is there any connection to the famous science fiction writer Isaac Asimov there?

    And even more OT: He wrote a novel “The gods themselves” – the title is based on a saying by our German Friedrich Schiller:

    Against stupidity the gods themselves fight in vain,

    Every time I read about Hungarian politics this comes to my mind …

  4. “Now let’s move on to the NGOs that the government finds objectionable. 444 got hold of the government’s list of thirteen NGOs which are, so to speak, black-listed. The government objects to”

    So 444 published this list, correct? Do you think that site is a reliable source? Or that anything new was discovered by them?

    The truth is that the Norway Fund political activities were known for more than a year from many different news sources regardless of what lists 444 decides to make up.

    Roger Scruton, the famous philosopher said a year ago that the Norway Fund is simply part of the “Soros network” which we all know is all about political activism. Radical political activism is not something negative in itself, but lying about it and pretending to be simple NGO-s is quite disgusting.

    ” be they RTL Klub or TASZ, will be crushed one way or the other.”

    How is RTL crushed? Because they have to pay a small tax (about 2 million dollars this year??) How is TASZ crushed? By an auditor asking to look at documents? That is crushing? This is just too funny. A simple financial auditor is “crushing”.

    By the way TASZ is so “non-political” and so “independent” that as a 2013 article explains they produced a leftist political party’s chairman from within their own ranks: “A Heti Válasz Soros fő kedvezményezettjeként a TASZ-t említi, melynek soraiból kikerült az E2014 társelnöke, Juhász Péter ”

    http://index.hu/belfold/2013/08/14/soros_gyorgy_tartja_ki_a_civil_ellenzeket/

    They are a fake-NGO. In reality a political organization like most others who get Norway Fund money. Real NGO organizations never churn-out party chairmen, presidents and other high politicians from their own ranks, simply because that’s not something they are interested in.

  5. @ NG: Since you are so keen to scrutinize the NGO world, I look forward to your critical analysis of the Civil Összefogás Fórum, it’s funding, it’s political independence, and so on.

  6. Bowen, you shouldn’t expect too much from some “constipation theorist” like NG who relies on a right wing loonie like “Roger Scruton, the famous philosopher” – he gave himself away by that immediately ..

    PS:

    I’d call Scruton “infamous” !

  7. Today cink.hu a liberal site wrote about the Norway Fund financing a political demonstration against a Hungarian govt member.

    http://cink.hu/a-norveg-alap-penzebol-tuntettek-a-civilek-lazar-ellen-1595613020

    but more intrestingly a commenter to this above article wrote that András Schiffer attacked the Norway Fund on Facebook for the same reason. Which is really strange If true

    Schiffer is the leader of LMP an opposition party so why would he care if attacks against the govt get more funding? He should be quite happy about that, unless he has an understanding??

  8. OT:

    There used to be a quote button near everyone’s posts so you could reply easily. Does anyone know how can I get it back, it disappeared for me.

  9. OT:There used to be a quote button near everyone’s posts so you could reply easily. Does anyone know how can I get it back, it disappeared for me.

    The quote button seems to be lost, but all you need to do is copy/paste the quote preceded and followed by [blockquote] but instead of “[” and “]” put less-than symbol and greater-than symbol, i.e. : “”.

  10. as expected, when I tried to quote the less-than symbol and greater-than symbol, I could not do it because the wordpress software interprets it as an html symbol. The symbols are the ones that look like /_ and _/…

  11. The conservative nimble souls reported to blog-work again this morning.
    While most conservative pioneers have had a good carrier in kadar’s gulash socialism,
    their new fear of communism, and I add some free masons, or Soros type of activists, drives them to a passionate love.
    They love orban, lazar, kover, semjen who are already in the dock of history’s court.
    Most of the decent Hungarians can leave their fatherland, because conservative forces do not like to share the stage with anyone.
    I hope Norway will open its door to our refugees.

  12. Does anyone know if this information is authentic?

    “Foltányi Zsuzsa, LMP party politician and LMP candidate for
    Parliament. LMP candidate for the European Parliament. Founder of an NGO
    which won over 7000 euros from the Norway Fund (coincidence…)

    Herpainé Márkus Ágnes, LMP party politician LMP candidate for the
    position of mayor in Budapest district XIX. One of the 2013 deciders of
    the Norway fund

    Matiszlovicsné Horváth Éva– MSZP party politician, MSZP leading
    figure in Hatvan, previously she was elected MSZP politician to Hatvan
    city council. Also Judging Committee member of the Norway Fund

    Kaufer Virág LMP party politician, leading figure in LMP party, LMP
    member of Parliament from the 2010 election, she judged how good the
    tenders were for the Norway Fund

    Móra Veronika advisor to an NGO that also received over 100 000 EUR
    from the Norway Fund. Mora Veronika was also nominated to an important
    position by Szabo Timea of LMP ”

    source is politics.hu

  13. Not too much OT:

    We’re just watching RTL news (my wife said that M1 etc aka North Korean State TV have become unbearable now …) and they’re really aggressive, full of news that shows Fidesz in a bad light …

    Normally we switch on the news only once or twice a week, but my wife says it’s really interesting right now – though we’re already into the silly season aka cucumber season …

    And the Fidesz trolls are working hard everywhere – even in the German press (like die WELT – thanks Eva!). The funny thing is:

    They all sound the same, same writing style, same texts …

    In Germany we would say:

    Gleichgeschaltet …

    This is obviously the aim of Fidesz: Die gleichgeschalteten Medien!

  14. Having had contact with the Soros Foundation/ Open Society Foundation over the years I have little doubt that a number of Hungarian individuals attracted to the politics of LMP would also be attracted to organizations funded by Norway’s Civil Fund or by Soros. As I recall Soros funded part of Orban’s education at one point in time too and I doubt that merits a KEHI investigation. In no way does the political linkages of individuals employed by grant recipients appear to be a crime under Hungarian law being utilized by KEHI, the Hungarian government’s auditing office controlling the allocation of public funds.

    What has been claimed by Secretary of State Janos Lazar in his letter written a letter to the head of Norway’s Civil Fund was as far as I can read it is a claim that the Fund is providing funding to organizations directly linked to the LMP. The direct link or political authority of LMP in relation to these groups has not and will not be established. Atlatszo.hu is not a front group controlled by the LMP, the claim is simply absurd. Are there a lack of Fidesz or Jobbik supporters working for these groups, you bet there are. Ideologically supporters of these conservative and right wing organizations have no commonality with the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ), the Refuge Foundation, or other funded organizations. Similarly how many LMP supporters would be on the Board of the Ferenc Puskás Academy, Veritas Historical Institute, or Hungarian Language Strategical Institute supervised by Lázár?

    Deputy State Secretary Nandor Csepreghy, told on-line daily mno.hu that Janos Lazar expects the Norwegian Civil Fund to consult with the Hungarian government on future disbursements. According to Csepreghy the government of Hungary would prefer for Norway’s Civil Fund to provide financial support through Hungary’s governmental organizations whose “legitimacy comes from society and the voters”. Csepreghy believes it is in the public interest that the use of development funds be administered and guaranteed by the Hungarian government. He says it is unacceptable that a civil organization with ties to a political party gets to distribute funds appropriated by the government of Norway for the purposes of supporting civil society.

    Csepreghy also told mno.hu that public funds [from other countries] cannot be distributed among private organizations in Hungary because the public benefit of these funds is “questionable”. He says that if the Norway Civil Fund refuses to be the Hungarian government’s partner in this matter, the latter may interpret this to mean that Norway’s government is directly involved in a quasi-interference in Hungary’s internal political affairs.

    I have real reservations about the Norway Fund’s position on cooperating with the European Union in the framework of an agreement with the European Commission where they contribute to the development of the 15 least developed countries of the European Union, including Hungary because it has a deep free market open trade basis to it. But the Civil Fund has honestly done nothing but fund very reasonable democratic type things even including the rights of disabled people in Hungary.

    The Ökotárs Foundation’s chief executive Veronika Mora which distributes money from the Fund gave a very good interview to the Budapest Beacon and she made this very excellent point: “People might wrongly interpret the actions of our organization as ‘politicizing’ because we deal with issues that are often the subject of political debate, This entire discussion is really about the place between politics and policy”. Conceptually for Fidesz and the Jobbik such a place between politics and policy simply does not exist.

  15. Istvan: “Having had contact with the Soros Foundation/ Open Society Foundation over the years I have little doubt that a number of Hungarian individuals attracted to the politics of LMP would also be attracted to organizations funded by Norway’s Civil Fund or by Soros.”

    That’s exactly what I wanted to say. LMP is a green party and no wonder that a lot of these people have been in one way or another in contact with different NGOs interested in the environment. LMP grew out one of these NGOs, the Védegylet.

  16. Wolfi, no wonder that I couldn’t find the names mentioned by our newest troll in politics.hu. Actually, the first comment is simply the English translation of the communique given out by the Hungarian government. These are accusations coming from the prime minister’s office.

  17. The quote button seems to be lost, but all you need to do is copy/paste the quote preceded and followed by [blockquote] but instead of “[” and “]” put less-than symbol and greater-than symbol

    That should of course have been “preceded by [blockquote] and followed by [/blockquote] but…”

  18. decodinghungary
    June 24, 2014 at 10:17 pm
    The sentimental conservative souls who support Fidesz, do it from a fear that the communists will return if orban is kicked out.

    I hope it does not come as a shock to you, but Orban is the communist those “sentimental conservative souls” are afraid of. Didn’t you read the news about the new State Secretary handpicked by Orban? Tasnadi had operated as an agent at the Interior Ministry’s III/II state security department. Tasnadi also said at a press conference that he had not informed on anybody unless they were “suspected of espionage or terrorism” before 1989. BEFORE 1989! He was working fore the communists. Now he will be working for them again.

  19. NG,

    You wrote: “which we all know is all about political activism”

    I would heartily disagree. The organisations that he has supported are apolitical, and meant to strengthen civil society. That is something that is deemed worthy by people in all areas of the political spectrum, but not by extremists who don’t think that there should be any conceivable opposition to the state (which I assume you are one).

    You mention that Roger Scruton is a “famous philosopher” (though he might only be famous to you and your friends in Britain), but you neglect to mention that he is on the extreme conservative fringe of philosophical and political thought, which is not an ad hominem attack, merely a bit of background. He is quoted as believing that freedom “requires a habit of obedience, as much as anything else.” Just what you might expect Orbán to say when talking about any organisation that is outside his control. Also, Mr. Scruton was exposed as a secret shill for the tobacco industry, which caused him to lose his job as a columnist for the Financial Times. That shows, to me, that he is not guided purely by morality.

    You also wrote; “How is RTL crushed? Because they have to pay a small tax?”

    The tax will be a large percentage of their profits, since it is based on revenue, not profit, and could cause them to operate at a loss. If I told you I am imposing a 40% tax on your gross income, in addition to the other taxes you pay and your costs of living, I’m sure you would be singing a very different tune.

    You also wrote: “A simple financial auditor is ‘crushing’”.

    Again, if I told you that the Kádár government were coming to your house in 20 minutes to look through everything you own, even though they have no legal basis for doing so, I’m sure you would be screaming about dictatorship and your human rights, and rightly so. Such a government would be looking for any information they can use to attack you, whether illegal in nature or not, and may decide to persecute anyone you have associated with. Now Orbán is using the same tactics used by governments of police states.

    You also wrote: “they produced a leftist political party’s chairman from within their own ranks”

    So NGO’s should forbid their employees from engaging in politics? I’m sure that if an NGO produced a rightist political party’s chairman, you would have no problem with that. The fact remains that an organisation can remain apolitical while employing people who are politically-minded, especially when they employ people from all parts of the spectrum. Of course, there might not be as many right-wing people who are interested in working for a gay-rights organisation, but that doesn’t mean that they are not welcome to do so. I have met people who are both very conservative and openly homosexual, but not in Hungary. That may have something to do with the hostility they face from almost all conservatives here.

    You also wrote: “Real NGO organizations never churn-out party chairmen, presidents and other high politicians from their own ranks, simply because that’s not something they are interested in.”

    You are, frankly, very ignorant or willfully misrespresenting reality. That is not at all a precondition for being a “real” NGO. If it were, would CÖF be considered one? Do you even know what an NGO is? Also, what do you mean by “churn out”? That implies that these organisations regularly create a large number of such party officials, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at all.

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