Saturday

13th Apr 2024

Hungary raids Norway-backed NGOs

  • Orban - the PM's actions have led to many past clashes with Brussels (Photo: kormany.hu)

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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, atlatszo.hu.

"Yesterday's police action is unacceptable and shows that the Hungarian government aims to discredit the non-governmental organisations critical of the government. It also indicates that the Hungarian government moved away from the common European values based on democracy and respect for human rights," Vidar Helgesen, Norwegian minister for EU affairs, said in a statement.

Helgesen recently called on the EU to act. "I am puzzled and disappointed that a response from the EU institutions has been largely lacking,” he wrote in an article last month in the Financial Times.

Meanwhile, Janos Lazar, the PM’s chief of staff, said on Tuesday that Hungary is considering asking Brussels to settle the dispute.

"Probably we need to turn to the European Commission and ask Brussels to solve it", Lazar was quoted by MTI news agency as saying. He did not specify how the EU could help.

The Hungarian government denies that a crackdown on NGOs is taking place. But prime minister Viktor Orban has made no secret of his mistrust of the Norway set-up.

During the summer he said that civil society organisations receiving funding from abroad are agents of foreign powers.

“We’re not dealing with civil society members but paid political activists who are trying to help foreign interests here,” Orban said in July.

The pugilistic leader, who has been criticised by the EU for curbing press freedom and the independence of the judiciary, said in the same speech that Hungry is building an "illiberal state" and cited Russia and Turkey as models of statehood.

“I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations,” he said.

In the current financing period, Hungary is eligible for €153 million, but Norway has suspended almost €130 million of that because of the dispute, only allowing civil society organisations to benefit from the remaining €13.5 million.

The EU, for its part, says it cannot interfere or have a position because the funds backing the NGOs are Norwegian.

"I confirm that we are aware of the developments and we are following them closely, but, as the EU funds are not involved, we are not a party in the ongoing Hungarian investigation over the use of the funds and we can’t take any specific position regarding this specific case," European Commission spokesperson Cezary Lewanowicz said in an email on Thursday.

Article was updated at 10:08 on 11.09.2014 to reflect the EU's official response

US diplomat lashes out at Hungary's Orban

Victoria Nuland, the US' top diplomat on Europe, has indirectly criticised Hungarian leader Viktor Orban for the “cancer” of “democratic backsliding”.

Culture MEPs rebel against Juncker

A handful of Liberal, Green, leftist and anti-establishment MEPs dealing with culture have called for a boycott against the Juncker commission because of his Hungarian nominee.

UK-EU deal on Gibraltar only 'weeks away'

EU and UK negotiators said that a new post-Brexit settlement for Gibraltar was just weeks away from completion following four-way talks in Brussels on Friday (12 April).

Opinion

Calling time on Amazon's monopolism and exploitation

As Amazon's founder Jeff Bezos just reclaimed the title of the richest person on Earth, its workers cannot even take a bathroom break under the pressure of meeting inhumane performance targets.

Opinion

The Bolsonaro-Orbán far-right nexus

Defeated far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has given various reasons for sheltering at the Hungarian embassy in Brasilia — none of them make sense.

Latest News

  1. UK-EU deal on Gibraltar only 'weeks away'
  2. Belgium declares war on MEPs who took Russian 'cash'
  3. Brussels Dispatches: Foreign interference in the spotlight
  4. Calling time on Amazon's monopolism and exploitation
  5. Resist backlash on deforestation law, green groups tell EU
  6. China's high-quality development brings opportunities to the world
  7. Ukraine tops aid list again, but EU spending slumps
  8. Who did Russia pay? MEPs urge spies to give names

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us