How to waste public funds

Anti-Soros protest in Brussels funded by state-owned energy company

In 2016, the state-owned Hungarian energy giant, MVM donated a huge sum to an NGO favored by the prime minister. Atlatszo has been fighting for access to the documents of the agreement between the two entities for almost a year. Finally, Atlatszo was able to obtain the documents detailing how CÖF-CÖKA, two interconnected NGOs, spent the money. The documents show that they produced four short PR videos and paid for their supporters to go to Brussels and protest in support of Orban.

When it became public that Hungary’s energy company gave €1.7 million to CÖF-CÖKA, the funding begged an explanation. First of all, the amount was excessive, totaling five times more than CÖF’s entire annual operating budget. Also, this was by far the biggest amount that MVM has spent on charitable causes.

Moreover, this is not a regular NGO. CÖF is uncritically supportive of the government. This organization regularly organizes the so-called Peace Marches, mass demonstrations in support of the Orban government.

It was outstanding from another point of view in that, by the time the donation was made, Prime Minister Viktor Orban had been waging a war against NGO’s for more than two years.

The documents obtained by Atlatszo prove that €1.42 million was spent on the production and distribution of four short videos about CÖF-CÖKA.

The videos were produced by a company with ties to the governing Fidesz party. The company is called Magno Studio and even though it is a new arrival at the pro-government advertising scene, it became extremely successful almost overnight. Before the April elections, Magno Studio received the biggest share of the money that the government spent on propaganda.

The CÖF-CÖKA videos ran on TV2, a popular channel owned by Andy Vajna. He is Hungary’s „film tzar” and a businessman with close ties to Viktor Orban. According to the documents that Atlatszo was able to study the ads ran on the channel between April and June this year a total of 350 times.

According to CÖF, the aim of the four videos is to show Hungarians the non-political activities of the organization – the activities that are not yet widely known. These include helping family farming communities and improving awareness for children’s nutrition.

The documents seen by Atlatszo also reveal that CÖF-CÖKA spent €23,000 on sending 66 of its members to Brussels to protest in support of Viktor Orban and against George Soros.

Most of them traveled by bus while a few members of the management flew to the Belgian capital.

The protest took place in front of the European Parliament on April 26, 2017, the day when the European Commission started an infringement procedure against Hungary because of the law nicknamed ’lex CEU.’ According to its critics, this legislation’s aim was to force Soros-founded Central European University out of Hungary.

CÖF-CÖKA protesters were holding signs that said ’Stop Soros’, ’Stop Illegal Migration’ and ’Stop Soros Lobby.’

Belgian police quickly broke up the protest because CÖF-CÖKA had no permit to demonstrate there that day. Police tried to explain to the Hungarian protesters that they had a permit for the next day, but, according to Hungarian reporters on the scene, there was a language barrier and protesters did not understand what was going on.

CÖF used the money donated by state-owned MVM to pay for travel expenses, hotels, and food for its 66 protesters.

Written by Katalin Erdélyi

English version by Anita Kőműves, editing by Clare Humphreys

You can read the original, Hungarian-language stories here and here.

Opening montage: CÖF President László Csizmadia in Brussels. Financed by MVM. Montage created by: Zero