“If the capacity of the police is devoted to confiscating 2 grams of grass, only those criminals can be happy with whom the police have never dealt. There is a point to that. There is no point to raiding a recreational facility.” – Péter Juhász, Chairman, opposition party Együtt (Together)
Some 30 police conducted a drug raid on Saturday at Aurora, a community center in Budapest’s eighth district that runs a nightclub and serves as a home for multiple Hungarian NGOs.
Police spent 14 hours at the scene, as 120 people were each asked to present identification while they were searched for drugs. 15 arrests were made. The Aurora staff, in a statement on Monday, called the mass requests for identification illegal.
The police raid took place as a weed festival was being held at Aurora, with lectures and workshops on the history and various industrial and historic uses of hemp. According to Aurora, there were even some weed products seized that are not considered illegal.
“It is a bit strange that they invested so much money and energy on just catching 15 smokers,” Áron Lukács, Director of Communications at Aurora, told the Budapest Beacon, adding that a similar percentage of party-goers would be in possession of illegal drugs at any other nightclub in the city.
“The police had earlier received multiple complaints from neighbors about drug use,” the police said in a statement posted on its website, along with video footage from the raid.
Aurora serves as a space for a broad range of civil society activity, with frequent cultural activities, lectures, meetings, and workshops. NGOs based at Aurora include Budapest Pride and the Roma Press Center.
“It means something that they came here and not other places in Budapest,” said Lukács. “It’s a lot more than a simple bar […] we provide a platform for NGOs helping Hungarian society.”
The raid took place only days before parliament approved on June 13 a controversial bill on foreign-funded NGOs, which many critics see as an effort to delegitimize independent civil society.
The Aurora community has recently become a target of the far-right. Members of the 64 Counties Movement group arrived at Aurora, putting up anti-George Soros posters and leaving nationalist messages on the sidewalk.
Aurora is run by MAROM, a Hungarian Jewish youth organization that focuses on social justice. The Aurora project is the successor of Sirály, a popular community house that MAROM used to run on Király street in the seventh district.
The eighth district recently adopted a new policy, whereby shops and places of entertainment may not remain open after 10 pm. Aurora is exempt since it had obtained its license before the new policy came into effect. Nevertheless, under the new policy, Aurora could still lose its ability to operate past 10 pm if over 50 percent of its neighbors vote in favor of restrictions.
Aurora’s leadership, however, has emphasized that operations are going on as usual.
“I am optimistic,” said Lukács.