Norway Fund

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.