New round of government funding focused on Fidesz-linked, youth-oriented GONGOs
Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party have struggled for years in capturing the support of young voters. The latest results of the Urban Civic Fund aim to increase youth support for the government, as millions of HUFs of public funds were awarded to nominally independent, youth-oriented NGOs with close ties to the governing parties.
Since its creation, Since its creation, the Urban Civic Fund (Városi Civil Alap, VCA) has served as a tool to finance local GONGOs lead by, or assisting the campaign of local Fidesz politicians. The fund was established shortly before the country lost its eligibility for the so-called EEA and Norway Grants.
A replacement for the Norway Fund
However, a dispute started between the donor countries and the Hungarian government, the latter of which claimed that the allocation of funds was politically biased, and wanted full control over who gets the funding. The two parties could not come to an agreement before 2021, which meant Hungary was no longer eligible for the next round of Norway Funds.
In response, the government set up its own NGO-funding program, financed from the state budget, distributed by the publicly owned Bethlen Gábor Fund Management Ltd.
The new ‘Urban Civil Fund’ program however was not nearly free from political bias:
since 2021, large parts of the funding went to NGOs with strong ties to the government parties, many of which are directly presided over by local Fidesz politicians, even NGOs that appeared on ballots, supporting Orbán’s candidates.
GONGOs on the ballot
Among the 2023 winners, we find mostly recurring names that have successfully applied for VCA funds in previous years, such as the ‘Association For Újpest’ (Újpestért Egyesület), which regularly campaigned for Fidesz candidates during elections. Many organization receiving funds are led by local Fidesz officials, many of whom will likely run in the 2024 local elections.
This year, the highest amount of funding available was HUF11 million. A majority (59%) of NGO’s awarded this funding are organizations with proven links to Fidesz.
Besides recurring winners, we can also find new ones – a large part of those are youth organizations. In 2021, the highest awards were given for creating local media (this helped Fidesz to establish local media networks in cities such as Pécs before the parliamentary election of next year. In 2022, a lot of funding was provided for organizing public events just before the voting, increasing Fidesz turnout.
Fidesz youth-wing under different names
In the 2023 election year (municipal and European Parliament elections will be held simultaneously in June), the focus has shifted to targeting young people. This fits in with the recent efforts of the governing parties to improve their standing among young people, exemplified by the establishment of the MCC educational network. As a result, the 2023 round of VCA funding provided millions of HUFs to several new, Fidesz-linked youth organizations.
One such example is the Local Patriotic Association of Buda Youth (Budai Fiatalok Lokálpatrióta Egyesülete), registered in 2023, which immediately received the highest amount of HUF11 million from the VCA.
The association’s vice-president, Levente Fróna, is also an official of Fidelitas, Fidesz’s youth group.
Soon after its foundation, the Buda association started to build the profile of a local Fidesz council member, Kristóf Gergely Gulyás (also a Fidelitas official), who was the main patron of the association’s day camp in June.
Another newcomer on VCA’s list of awards is the Young Conservatives for the Nation Association (Ifjú Konzervatívok a Nemzetért Egyesület), which also received 11 million HUFs. The group is linked to MP Sándor Lezsák’s National Forum Association (Nemzeti Fórum Egyesület – an old political group set up by right-wing politicians who switched their allegiance to Fidesz), serving as its youth wing. The leaders of the youth organisation are also board members of Lezsák’s Forum, which is registered as an official partner of Fidesz.
A slightly smaller grant of HUF 8.9 million was awarded to the One for Another Youth and Community Development Association (Egy-Másért Ifjúsági és Közösségfejlesztő Egyesület).
The organisation is linked to the administration of the town of Mórahalom.
Open-source court documents list László Csányi as its director – Csányi is also a deputy in the town.
This association has existed under various names for a long time, but it underwent a major restructuring in 2022, when the current leadership was elevated. Shortly afterwards, the association was granted public benefit status by the local judiciary.
The VCA has provided a 7 million HUF grant to the Association for Hungarian Youth without Borders (Határtalanul a Magyar Fiatalokért Egyesület), which claims to be “the largest right-wing youth policy umbrella organisation”. The association’s representative, Barna Bagi, is also an official of Fidelitas. Youth Without Borders was involved in mobilizing voters for the 2022 elections, alerting Hungarian citizens abroad and even taking a group to the pro-Fidesz rally in March 2022.
Gaming and media
Another youth group called Next Gen – The Future is Ours (Next Gen – Miénk a Jövő Egyesület) was awared HUF 6.4 million for mysterious purposes. The Debrecen-based organization was founded in 2021, and according to court documents its representative is Tamás Czibere, vice-president of Fidelitas Debrecen.
According to the financial report available on birosag.hu the newly founded association, which had not yet carried out any activities, immediately received a 4 million HUF grant from the government.
Although the group set up a Facebook page and a website which claims they organize various activities for youth, it published no proof of these programs, despite them claiming that ‘digital communication and PR’ is their greatest strength.
Similarly, the Association of Young People for Pécs (Fiatalok Pécsért Egyesület), registered in 2021, has only been active since September last year. The president of the association, Dávid Szklandán, is the head of the dormitory at the elite MCC. Szklandán has also received grants through the VCA: in addition to the Young People for Pécs Association, he is also the head of the Pécs Gamer Association, which received a grant of HUF4 million this year. The latter is one of the two gaming-focused groups besides linked to the Pécs Fidesz organization. The other being the National Gamer Association, another VCA grantee centered around Tamás Dániel Vezér, who was the press officer of the local Fidesz.
Written and translated by Zalán Zubor, the Hungarian version of this story is available here. Cover photo source: Facebook / Határtalanul a Magyar Fiatalokért Egyesület