Regime officials, supporters coordinate messaging on troubling police raids

There seems to be broad agreement among supporters and officials of the Orbán regime on how to communicate Monday’s politically-motivated police raids against a handful of NGOs, including Ökotárs. These non-profits are perceived to have a liberal or left-leaning bias and are thus targets of Hungary’s right-wing authoritarian government . On Monday evening, Gergely Huth, the assistant publisher of the pro-Fidesz Pesti Srácok blog, appeared in ATV’s Hírvita program, in which he debated Népszabadság journalist Péter Pető. Right off the bat, Mr. Huth observed that police and investigators used excessive force when raiding the offices of Ökopolisz and when detaining the NGO’s director, Veronika Móra. But then he quickly added that detectives probably have good reason to investigate the foundation which, Huth lamented, has a track record of supporting liberal and left-leaning projects and leaving “Christian, right-wing” initiatives out in the cold. Mr. Huth also believes that aid from the Norwegian Civil Fund constitutes “public funds,” and that these too were distributed in a politically biased manner to left-wing groups and individuals.

Demonstration on Monday evening, in front of Ökotárs' offices. Nearly 1,000 supporters of the NGO came out in solidarity following the raids. Photo:

Demonstration on Monday evening, in front of Ökotárs’ offices. Nearly 1,000 supporters of the NGO came out in solidarity following the raids. Photo:

Yet on the surface, Monday’s police action had nothing to do with the granting policies and practices of so-called “left-leaning” NGOs, but rather with the accusation that Ökotárs had inappropriately provided groups with “loans.” These, in fact, were not loans but one-time advances, so that a small handful of non-profit organizations are able to continue their programs and projects.

Huth’s logic Monday night was identical to that expressed this morning by deputy state secretary Nándor Csepreghy, who referred to the raids as “excessive.”

“Having heard about the police action in the news, I personally find what occurred to have been excessive, especially in light of the people involved,” observed Mr. Csepreghy. The deputy state secretary’s reference to the people involved has to do with the fact that the nature of the raid was more becoming of police action against armed drug lords, rather than directors and employees of NGOs. Yet much like Mr. Huth, Mr. Csepreghy also added that monies from the Norwegian Civil Fund represent “public funds,” and as such authorities must investigate how these are being used. “I don’t think that we need to prove our commitment to pluralistic democracy by turning a blind eye to irregularities, simply because the groups involved oppose the current government,” added Mr. Csepreghy.

The Norwegian government, however, issued a sharply-worded condemnation of Monday’s raids, published on the Norwegian embassy’s website. “Monday’s raids demonstrate that the Hungarian government has departed from the shared European values of democracy and the respect of human rights,” observed Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s minister in charge of European Unioon affairs. The Norwegian Civil Fund had earlier suspended 129.8 million euros in aid to Hungary, after the Orbán government tried to intervene in how these funds were distributed.

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