The Orbán government transferred hundreds of millions of forints to Hungarian Canadians

The State Secretariat for National Policy of the Prime Minister’s Office has produced a break-down of unprecedented government subsidies provided to Hungarian Canadians between 2014 and 2017, following a query sent to State Secretary Árpád Potápi from our Hungarian-language publication, the Kanadai Magyar Hírlap.

On October 20th, we had specifically asked the State Secretary what measures it had in place to ensure transparency and accountability when funding Hungarian community ventures in Canada, as well as information on subsidies sent to Canada and a confirmation that no Hungarian state funds landed in the private bank accounts of Canadian citizens. As we had not received a response for more than three weeks, on Thursday we published our original query to the State Secretariat.

In under 24 hours, the department of the Prime Minister’s Office reached out to us and asserted that it had sent us the requested information a week prior, noting that perhaps there was a technical glitch and we had not received their response. Gabriella Tóth Debreceni, deputy department head, then added: “The response addressed to you was posted to the Embassy of Hungary in Ottawa’s website days ago.” I looked up the Embassy of Hungary’s website and what I found was a heavily edited version of the letter addressed to me, published in an entirely misleading manner. The Embassy of Hungary in Ottawa published a version of the letter where all references to the fact that this was a response to a query from the Kanadai Magyar Hírlap had been deleted. Moreover, the embassy added a misleading statement to its homepage. It claimed that the reason it was taking the unusual step of publishing a breakdown of subsidised Hungarian Canadian organizations and the letter was because it “wished to inform the Hungarian Canadian community, in light of the upcoming Diaspora Council meeting in Budapest.” This is both deceptive and disingenuous on the part of the embassy.

What do we learn from the letter and the detailed break-down of disclosed subsidies dating back to 2014? First of all, I recommend those who read Hungarian to view the unedited letter and break-down in full here. (The link will open up the original Word file sent to us by the State Secretariat.)

We can see, for instance, that the Hungarian government provided the following subsidies, among many others:

  • 10 million forints to a bi-monthly publication entitled Kalejdoszkóp, or more specifically to a group called the Kalejdoszkóp Hagyományőrző Klub, based in Toronto.
  • 50 million forints to the “Kanadai Magyar Kulturális Tanács” (Canadian Hungarian Cultural Council), a group that does not have a website.
  • 52 million forints to help build the First Hungarian Baptist Church in Toronto.
  • 129 million forints to help build the new Hungarian House, or the Hungarian Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto.
  • 6 million forints to the Rákóczi Foundation.
  • 1.5 million forints to the Hungarian School of Montreal to launch an “experimental kindergarten” (kísérleti óvoda in Hungarian), as well as 700,000 forints to allow children from Montreal to travel to Hungary.
  • 4 million forints for a folk dance ensemble in Vancouver called the “Vancouveri Forrás Magyar Néptáncegyüttesnek.”
  • 2 million forints to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in Toronto.
  • And many more initiatives.

While we are thankful that the State Secretariat disclosed this information to us, remarking that the operational tasks of disbursing, tracking and accounting for these monies falls within the purview of the state-owned Bethlen Gábor Alapkezelő Zrt., we note that we are still unclear as to whether the Hungarian government can confirm that public Hungarian funds have not landed in, or were later disbursed from, private Canadian bank accounts. Moreover, we have concerns and follow-up questions pertaining to the rigours of accountability and transparency demanded and enforced by the State Secretariat. We will follow up within the coming days.

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