János Lázár sends mixed message to Hungarian civil society

February 12, 2015

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János Lázár, the Minister responsible for running the Office of the Prime Minister, has published an open letter to Orsolya Jeney, the director of Amnesty International Hungary. Lazar’s letter was prompted by an 18-page report issued by Amnesty International entitled “Backed into the Corner, Hungarian Civil Society Organizations in the Crosshairs”.

Amnesty’s report provides an in-depth analysis of the Hungarian government’s attack on Hungarian civil society which included unfounded allegations leveled at Norway Civil Fund administrator Ökotárs Alapítvány, unlawful investigation of NGOs by the Government Control Office (KEHI), and unlawful police raids on NGO offices and the homes of staff.  The report explains in detail how the Hungarian government’s disgraceful handling of the whole sordid affair conflicts with internationally accepted principles regarding human and civil rights. The report concludes with concrete recommendations for both the government of Hungary and the European Union.

Amnesty International’s report evidently hit a nerve because the minister opens his letter by writing, “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” a quote Lázár incorrectly attributes to Voltaire.  (It was actually penned by Evelyn Beatrice Hall in a biography of Voltaire under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre and was intended to be illustrative of his ideas on freedom of speech.)

“In fact, I’ll go even further than that. I believe that whoever is against us is actually with us!” adds Lázár.

(The Hungarians have a word for such unscrupulous, two-faced behavior: pofatlantsag, although Fidesz oligarch Lajos Simicska prefers to refer to such shameless individuals as “geci” – ed.)

Lázár believes this statement best characterizes Hungarian civil society’s relationship with the government, because he thinks that civil society’s only purpose is to criticize the government.

“This is precisely why I will do everything in my power as a private citizen and a politician to ensure that civil society fills the purpose that it serves in a modern democracy,” writes Hungary’s Chancellor.

Lázár’s letter continues by accusing certain members of civil society as being completely out of touch with Hungarian society, and that these “career civil society people” exert control over civil society funds and only distribute them amongst one another.  Lázár continues, “We consider these practices to be neither just nor lawful”.

He writes that those organizations which claim to be backed into a corner by the government of Hungary have become the advocates of values and interests which do not “meet” the vital questions facing Hungary.

Lázár claims the government never waged war against civil society, but instead has made sure – and will continue to ensure –  that the law is being equally applied to civil society. He continues by confusing Norwegian public funds with Hungarian public funds.

“Hungarian society is paying the price for the harmful activities being carried out by those organizations which are above the law,” writes the head of the Office of the Prime Minister.

Lázár continues by saying that just because twelve organizations were investigated by KEHI doesn’t mean Hungarian civil society is being backed into a corner. “What I see is that there are over 80,000 NGOs in Hungary and it was the black sheep that were targeted,” he writes.

“Instead of proving their innocence, these organizations made various accusations against the Hungarian government and the independently-operating government agencies trying to do their work. This is unacceptable, not just from a civil society organization, but from anyone.

“I hope you agree with me that not even civil society organizations can stand above the law. The deliverance of justice is taking time, but it is with high probability that this issue will soon reach its end.

“Finally, please allow me to express my appreciation for allowing me an opportunity to understand your position, because in a diverse chorus your voice is just as important to us as every other organization which believes in Hungary’s democratic future,” Lázár concludes.

Referenced in this article:

SAROKBA SZORÍTVA CÉLPONTBAN A MAGYAR CIVIL SZERVEZETEK, amnesty.hu; February 2015.

Lázár “megélhetési civilekről” írt az Amnestynek, 11 February 2015.