Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Odd news from Hungary

A couple of years ago I was on a visit to Budapest and, naturally enough, discussed the Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, with people who have known him for some time. At least one person expressed the view that he is not quite sane. I did not pay much attention to that and, to be fair, neither have the people of Hungary, who have re-elected his party Fidesz with a spectacular majority.

Nevertheless, one begins to wonder what exactly goes on in his head. I have not yet read the notorious speech in which he announced his intention to make Hungary into an illiberal country and until I do so I cannot comment on what he meant by that. The notion that you can be in the EU and be illiberal does not shock me particularly as several member states and, above all, the European Union itself, are just that. No reason why Hungary should not be that, except for the fact that illiberal regimes in that country did not achieve anything good and tended to leave the country in a worse state than before.

His apparent ambition to imitate Russia and Turkey (I really need to read that speech) also flies in the face of everything that many Hungarians value about themselves. Both those countries have  been conquerors of the Hungarian land and neither is considered to be anything but a backward state.

It seems that the Fidesz government is serious in its intentions to emulate President Putin's and has already designated various NGOs that receive foreign money as being "foreign agents". For a government and a party that is obsessed with extirpating what they see as the Communist past that particular expression is an odd one to use. Have they forgotten what Laszlo Rajk and his co-defendants were accused of? Have they forgotten the trials of other political and social organizations that preceded the Rajk trial?

Perhaps they have. Perhaps their knowledge of recent Hungarian history is not quite as good as they sometimes pretend. In any case, the Hungarian police (who must still have some officers trained in the Soviet Union) have been raiding foreign NGOs, in this case Norwegian ones, on very spurious excuses, and confiscating everything they can lay their hands on.
Hungarian police on Monday (9 September) raided the offices of Norway-backed NGOs Okotars and Demnet, escalating the government’s campaign against civil society.

Norway reacted by saying the moves were "unacceptable" and represent "harassment" of civil organisations.

A large number of police and investigators raided the offices, taking laptops, copying documents, and forbidding staff from making phone calls, local media reported.

Police said the action was taken because the NGOs were suspected of embezzlement and unauthorised financial activities. It follows similar raids on NGOs in June.

On Monday evening, several hundred people demonstrated in Budapest in protest.

The Hungarian government has accused the Oslo-backed NGOs of secretly channelling money to political opposition groups and in June ordered an investigation. Fifty-eight NGOs were called into question and ordered to hand over documents related to the projects.

The NGOs raided on Monday were in charge of distributing money from Norway Grants, an agreement between the EU and Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein on funding projects in less developed EU countries which, among other things, strengthen civil rights groups and transparency.

The NGOs deny having any links to political parties. Funded groups include Transparency International, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, and the investigative journalism portal,
It is entirely possible that what the Hungarian authorities object to is being called a less developed EU country (should that not be a member state?) and one can sympathize with that. Is a police raid and confiscation of laptops quite the way to go about it? Oh and what happened to the notion that East European countries would become mature democracies when they join the European Union?


  1. On the face of it, Norwegian NGOs seem to be well off target in order of priority. On the other hand, you have to start somewhere.

    NGOs, campaign groups and fake charities, drawing sustenance from national government or EU funds from outside their countries of operation are, by and large, fraudulent - a fake of any real "civil society"

    We have many in the UK which should, at least, be compelled to state their sponsors on all their communications.

  2. So far as I can tell these NGOs made their sponsors clear. One can, of course, simply ban NGOs though I doubt if Fidesz will want to do that, sponsoring as they do a number of them. Nevertheless, police raids and references to "foreign agents" do not inspire sympathy, however much one may disapprove of NGOs. My enemy's enemy is most definitely not my friend in every case.