Veronika Móra: Hungarian of the Year, 2014

December 31, 2014

okotars

The Hungarian showing the most grace under pressure in 2014 was Ökotárs Alapítvány (Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation) director Veronika Móra.

Informed in April 2014 that Norway and the other two European Economic Area (EEA) countries were formally suspending payment of EUR 142 million of development grants, Hungary’s Office of the Prime Minister under Chancellor János Lázár retaliated by falsely accusing Norway Civil Fund administrator Ökotárs of channeling funds to opposition party “Politics Can Be Different”, and calling for the suspension of payments to Hungarian NGOs.

Lázár’s message to Norway and the other EEA countries, Iceland and Liechenstein, was clear: either resume payment of development funds to the government of Hungary or we will cut off the flow from the Norway Civil Fund to the NGOs.

When Norway outright refused, Hungary raised the stakes by accusing the beleaguered Ökotárs of malfeasance (even though Norway Civil Fund money is paid directly from Norway to the beneficiary NGOs) and ordering government inspectors to audit Ökotárs and seventeen other “troublesome” beneficiary NGOs, including the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and  Transparency International.  Norway protested, pointing out that this violated international agreements giving Norway the exclusive right to audit the administrator of its civil funds.

On September 8, in an apparent attempt to intimidate NGOs critical of the government, Government Control Office (KEHI) auditors accompanied by some 50 policemen conducted a house search of Ökotárs’ 60-sqm offices, as well as the homes of Móra and several of her colleagues, despite Hungary’s ombudsman for human rights criticizing the government for probing Norway Civil Fund beneficiaries.

Tbough not placed under arrest, Móra was photographed being led away by police.  Through it all she maintained her composure and sense of purpose.

Making numerous television appearances and giving scores of interviews, Móra calmly rejected all government accusations as baseless and politically motivated.

In October, KEHI issued its long-awaited report without first giving Ökotárs the chance to review and comment on it.  To nobody’s surprise, the report concluded that there were grounds for suspecting the NGO of embezzlement, fraud, and “unlawful lending activities”, which KEHI duly reported to authorities.  Widely criticized as being “made to order”, the report based its conclusions on minor instances of alleged double charging and the fact that the beleagued NGO had lent money to benefiiciary NGOs to help cover their equity requirements.  Ökotárs claims that the charges relate to expenses incurred by different part-time employees working on different projects, and that interest charged in the case of loans was below prevailing market rates.

Unfortunately, Móra’s Calvary looks set to continue well into the new year, the Office of the Prime Minister reportedly having ordered a procedure against  Ökotárs on December 16. Despite her continuing persecution by the government, Móra magnanimously consented to an agreement that allows the government to distribute Swiss civil funds to cash -strapped Hungarian NGOs, thereby affirming her commitment to civil society.