2 October, 2016
In April 2014, just two days after the general election which brought the repeated victory of the right-conservative government of Fidesz, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office announced that he would initiate the re-negotiation of how funding is provided by EEA countries – Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – to Hungarian civil society organisations (CSOs). This signaled the start of a series of unprecedented governmental attacks and harassment of independent civic groups, especially those engaged in human rights, anti-corruption, women’s and LBGT rights.
My foundation, Ökotars Alapitvany, as the head of the grantmaking consortium which managed the EEA/Norwegian NGO Programme in Hungary found itself in the centre of the conflict, which started at first as a media smear campaign orchestrated by the government. High ranking officials, e.g. deputy state secretaries, accused us as being politically biased, oppositional “cheating nobodies”. However, this was soon followed by official inspections: in late May, the Prime Minister’s Office had announced publicly that the so-called Governmental Control Office (GCO) were to audit the use of the EEA/Norwegian funding – over which, according to lawyers, they clearly had no jurisdiction. It was also quite characteristic of the whole process that we learnt everything from government-friendly media first – official notifications came only after information had been broadcast widely. Although they never answered our repeated requests to clarify the legal basis of the audit, we were forced to cooperate due to the GCO’s wide ranging sanctioning powers. We also found that documents not previously in the public domain, but handed over to GCO by us during the course of the audit, somehow quickly found their way into government-friendly media – always in a damning context. MORE