645,240 received help last year: Civil society holds protest picnic at Parliament

May 30, 2017

Photo: Budapest Beacon, Ádám Lestyánszky

After the April protest which drew more than 10,000 to Budapest’s Heroes’ Square, the Civilizáció group organized a second demonstration Monday at Kossuth Square in front of Parliament. The event, advertised as a picnic involving more than 50 civil organizations, was in protest of the Fidesz-sponsored bill which would crack down on NGOs operating in Hungary, but drew only a small fraction of the attendees present at the earlier Heroes’ Veto demonstration.

Several hundred people gathered at Kossuth Square Monday afternoon, including groups and individuals from civil society who aimed to demonstrate to the government the societal value of their work. Among them was member of the education reform group Tanitanék (“I Would Teach”) Katalin Törley, CEU student and activist Daniel Berg, Zugló mayor and prime-ministerial candidate Gergely Karácsony, and independent MP Zoltán Kész.

“Civil groups do the work that the government, unfortunately, doesn’t,” Kész told the Budapest Beacon, adding that the country would incur a great loss if the government were to stigmatize NGOs with the Fidesz-sponsored bill, or worse, shut them down. “They’ve got to hear our voices better,” he said of the government.

Several speakers addressed the crowd, beginning with Ökotárs Foundation director Veronika Móra, who has been an advocate and familiar face at solidarity demonstrations for NGOs for more than two years. Móra specified functions civil society plays in Hungarian society, from caring for the homeless to environmental protection.

Móra acknowledged that it is difficult to quantify the value civil organizations add to society: how much is a grateful smile or gained skills worth, or not having to go to bed hungry, and feeling oneself a useful member of society?, she asked. But a team of 83 civil organizations assembled data on how many people had turned to them for assistance, had lodged applications for help, participated in NGO-sponsored training, acquired food or housing assistance, etc. in the last year.

The groups found that 645,240 such individuals had been served in the last year.

Photo: Budapest Beacon, Ádám Lestyánszky

The NGO bill endangers this work and this result, Móra said, and threatens “to undermine the credibility built over many years by every Hungarian civil organization.”

Annamária Gyurácz, director of the Csongrád County Multiple Sclerosis Association, said that while the tabled bill does not currently affect her organization, she stands in solidarity with the organizations put under threat because the bill could fall upon anyone at any time.

Gyurácz said she can’t differentiate between NGOs based on where they receive their funding, because “all the NGOs are struggling for a more livable, better world.” Civil society is composed of people for whom empathy, tolerance, self-reflection and justice are important values, she said.

After a number of other speakers took the stage, and the picnic reached its end, the demonstration disbursed quietly. A phalanx of police stood on the stairs of the Parliament, and a few dozen officers stood in wait under the arcades along the side of the building, should the picnic become unruly,

Budapest Beacon writer Ádám Lestyánszky contributed to this report.