As a member of the European Foundation Centre together with more than 60 members of the EFC – including major philanthropic organisations from across Europe and the United States – we have joined a larger coalition in issuing a statement in support of Hungarian civil society in this challenging moment.
Civil society is under increasing attack in many parts of the world – and perhaps nowhere as publicly in this hour as in Hungary. Over the past month, the Hungarian government has adopted a law designed to expel Central European University from Budapest and is currently considering a law that would restrict NGO activity in the country. If enacted, the measure will depress investment from both international and local philanthropic organisations, and starve NGOs of resources necessary to provide key services and meet basic human needs.
In response, the European Foundation Centre has joined the efforts of the Open Society Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to push back against these attempts to restrict and prevent the vital work of NGOs in Hungary. More than 60 members of the EFC – including major philanthropic organisations from across Europe and the United States – have joined a larger coalition in issuing a statement in support of Hungarian civil society in this challenging moment.
The statement, which is being widely disseminated, outlines the philanthropy sector’s serious concerns regarding the effect the Hungarian government’s position is having on the NGO sector, and it condemns tactics such as the government’s public information campaigns that are undermining the public’s trust in civil society. Philanthropic organisations will continue to monitor and speak out on the situation in Hungary.
STATEMENT SUPPORTING NGOs IN HUNGARY
As the leaders of private philanthropies in the United States and Europe, we are greatly concerned by the repeated efforts of the Hungarian government to restrict and stigmatize nongovernmental organizations operating in the public interest. This includes actions in recent years that have threatened the existence of organizations supported by Norwegian civil society grants and, more recently, steps that may force the closure of the Central European University. We are especially concerned with efforts to require entities that receive even modest international financial support to register as foreign-funded organizations and list this designation on their website and all publications, or face fines and potential closure.
We support transparency in the public, private, and social sectors and the reasonable regulation of civil society organizations, but some of the proposals currently under consideration go well beyond what is reasonable and would have the effect of discriminating against certain organizations and stigmatizing those that operate at world-class levels and are able to attract financial support from private foundations in Europe and globally. Hungarian law already requires all civil society organizations to report their sources of income and other support to the National Office for the Judiciary. We oppose public communications campaigns that undermine public trust in civil society organizations, falsely implying that such organizations in general, and those receiving foreign funding in particular, may be more prone to engaging in illegitimate activities than others. We are especially concerned that listing NGOs in a special registry of foreign-funded organizations may open the door to further, discriminatory treatment of these NGOs.
The ability to source funding from international donors is an important signal of the international quality and competitiveness of Hungarian NGOs, and it reflects Hungary’s solidarity with the European commitment to civil society. We hope the Hungarian government will honor the country’s and Europe’s commitment to the freedom of its citizens to form organizations, debate the issues of the day, and seek financial support from all legitimate sources.