Police stormed the office of two Hungarian foundations on September 8 in a massive raid worthy of a mob crackdown. The goal of the audit that even a senior government official found “excessive” was to gather documents on NGOs that received funding from the Norway Grants, an issue that has for some reason been a thorn in the reigning government’s eye for several months now.
Hungarian authorities opened a new chapter in the government’s unwavering efforts to stifle the operation of certain NGOs that have been added to a thirteen-entry blacklist for having earlier received funding from the Norway Grants. On September 8, squads of police officers raided the offices of Ökotárs and Demnet, two foundations that were charged with the distribution of Norwegian money for civic purposes.
The authorities were after documents that could in any way be linked to the distribution of money to these organizations that are already targeted by KEHI, the agency in charge of auditing the operation of government agencies.
The ongoing issue is part of a government campaign against certain NGOs that have benefited from the Norwegian funding, which is distributed among the less wealthy European Union countries, and comes from non-member Norway, which thanks to various partnership agreements nonetheless enjoys a range of benefits otherwise reserved for nations with the bloc. The matter has raised diplomatic tensions and also the suspension of the Norwegian funding as part of the government’s earlier, likewise hostel measures.
These are the “dirty thirteen”
Krétakör – foundation supporting independent art and theater projects and education
K-Monitor – organization focused on bringing transparency to spending public funds
DIA – foundation spreading democratic values among young people
Transparency International – the Hungarian branch of the internationally renowned transparency and anti-corruption advocate
Hungarian Women’s Lobby – Group advocating more active participation of women in politics
Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) – possibly the best-known Hungarian civil liberties group that regularly criticizes legal infringements and also provides free legal representation to underprivileged victims
Asimov Foundation – affiliated with Atlatszo.hu, the foundation’s goal is to create and establish an online portal that provides access to all information that is of social importance
Roma Press Center – focused on instances of racial discrimination targeted at the Roma minority
Labrisz – association for the recognition and acceptance of lesbians
Patent – An “anti-patriarchal” organization founded to raise awareness of gender-based discrimination and physical abuse towards women
LiFE – organization for young people with liberal political views
Budapest Pride – organization founded to represent and promote the interests of the Hungarian LMBTQ community
These 13 organizations are the same as the ones already listed publicly, when the 444.hu news portal asked the government to release the names of the organizations where it suspected something was out of order.
Besides the initial accusations of representing foreign political interests, Ökotárs and the other NGOs were also named as potential suspects of financial fraud, which is why state secretary Nándor Csepreghy said earlier that these groups are liable to face criminal action.
Atlatszo.hu was the outlet to obtain and publish the report that Csepreghy used as the basis of his accusations.
The Ernst & Young report did identify areas of improvement, but overall concluded that the system and the manner in which the funds are distributed is legal and satisfactory. The same Csepreghy called the police’s September 8 raid “excessive.”
The entire issue arose shortly after the reelection of the governing Fidesz party in April 2014, when current Minister in Charge of the Prime Minister’s Office János Lázár expressed outrage that certain NGOs are receiving funding from the Norway Grants, which makes them proxies of foreign interests and through association, the Hungarian political opposition.
Altlatszo.hu raised its voice against attacks civil society in Hungary while also giving a detailed rundown of the background of the story and the government’s efforts.
It called out once again when it too was targeted by the KEHI investigation, since it was also a former recipient of Norwegian funding, which true to its mission statement, it never kept secret in any way. Atlatszo.hu and the Asimov Foundation showed resistance by refusing to comply with the government agency’s instructions to reveal pertinent documents, and instead made them publicly available online.
After news of the police raid spread, a group of 300-400 protesters gathered around the Ökotárs HQ as a show of solidarity and to express outrage over the handling of the matter.