The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) is a liberal human rights organisation that was founded in Budapest in 1994 to achieve its professional and public goals. Although it claims to be independent of public bodies and parties, i.e., it is a politically and economically autonomous and independent organisation, regarding its financial resources – as shown below – this is not the case.
NGOs linked to George Soros had foreign funds in abundance in 2020 as well
HCLU and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee claim the priority representation of basic human rights – and asylum rights, which, according to some, cannot be separated from them. It is reasonable to ask whether the representation of these rights fills a gap or rather achieves goals that serve other interests. While Hungary and the European Court of Justice agree that the transparency of grants provided for NGOs with a major influence on public life and public debate remains an international and constitutional interest in the future, HCLU and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, as the only anointed defenders of human rights in Hungary, are hiding behind this disguise and use significant foreign funding to carry out anti-government and political activities. Meanwhile, the Hungarian State’s argument is recognised by the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Justice as well.
I. HCLU, or can there be “civic” public representation of international circles outside the world of traditional parties?
From the hands of Soros – the financial balance sheet of HCLU
According to the 2021 simplified annual report of HCLU, the net sales revenue from its core activities was HUF 1.32 million, and the organization’s other revenue was HUF 286.5 million. Of the latter, HUF 283 million came from grants, including HUF 71.3 million from donations. In the reference year, HCLU’s expenditure on public benefit activities amounted to HUF 227.8 million.
According to the 2021 balance sheet of HCLU, its equity was HUF 131.46 million and the value of its current assets was HUF 192.4 million (including funds: HUF 187.9 million).
According to the audit of the HCLU’s report, the corresponding total of assets and resources was HUF 453.32 million, which is about HUF 250 million more than the sum of resources in 2020 (HUF 199.9 million).
According to the report published on birosag.hu, in the reference year (i.e., in 2021), the Open Society Institute (OSI), which belongs to the network of George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, provided HUF 52.66 million in institutional support for the payment of 35 employees of the liberal organization. In addition, it also contributed to covering other operating expenses from this sum (of this support, HCLU used HUF 50.4 million in the reference year).
According to the HCLU’s report, “activities carried out in its project of political freedom, privacy and equality” were realised from the funding. It classifies legal aid, human rights-based monitoring of state activities, research in legal representation, and “legal awareness for citizens” as such activities.
OSI also provided HUF 10.5 million to cover the payment of “the wage costs of employees carrying out legal awareness activities and assistance related to the coronavirus pandemic, tasks related to the protection of the rule of law and the burdens thereof, as well as the commission fees of experts” at the HCLU.
Between 2016 and 2020, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union was awarded a total of HUF 287 million grants by the Open Society Foundations.
Is it a unique way of financing political campaigns?
Considering the HCLU’s listed donors and grants, the question arises as to what international interests the organization’s operation serves, and to what extent it is capable of shaping the internal affairs of a sovereign state through its activities. It is worth looking at examples of this from the past twelve months.
For example, a statement was published on 11 January 2022, which is still available on tasz.hu with the title of “Let’s cast an invalid vote on the government’s ostracising referendum!”. The document, which is also noted by other NGOs in addition to HCLU, begins with the following sentence: “The President of the Republic János Áder announced the date of the government’s hateful referendum ostracising sexual and gender minorities, which will take place on 3 April, the same day as the elections.” The document describes the child protection referendum related to sexual propaganda, which affects minors, as “particularly vile” and encourages invalid votes to be cast on polling day.
At the end of January, HCLU appealed to the Constitutional Court to annul the decision of the Curia regarding the referendum questions and thereby stop the child protection referendum scheduled for 3 April.
An article dated 29 March 2022 is available also on tasz.hu with the title of “Russian disinformation in the public media”, according to which the Civil Liberties Union and the Political Capital “have appealed to the European Commission, because while the EU has banned Russian propaganda from its territory, the corresponding content is spread unhindered by the Hungarian public media”. This clearly meant entering the political struggles on the side of the left-liberal six-party coalition, as it was intended to strengthen their narrative.
At the end of November 2021, HCLU wrote a letter to the left’s candidate for prime minister, Péter Márki-Zay, who has excellent left-liberal relations in the United States, due to legislation on the establishment of residential addresses for voters. The quoted letter from HCLU calling for political action against the legislation was published with the following comment: “We are working to collect these tools and make them familiar to as many citizens as possible. As the leader of the opposition alliance, Péter Márki-Zay is in a position to effectively draw voters’ attention to their options.”
This clearly shows that the foundation network, through the organization that behaves very much like a political actor, has designated whose task it is to enforce the expectations of external economic interests towards power.
A few more HCLU statements from the last campaign: “This is how you can take action against election abuses in Vojvodina”, “Will the ombudsman ever do his job?”, “The new practice of the Constitutional Court is dangerous for the fundamental rights of all of us”, “You can be registered as a foreign voter against your will”, “Distributing potatoes, vandalising posters, politicians in kindergarten”, and dozens of similar ostentatious announcements.
The state also has an ACE in its hands
In addition to active legal and “enlightening” activities, the examples show that in the run-up to election day, HCLU practically joined the campaign of the left-wing opposition, and in an international environment of war threats to our country, it tried to help the left-wing six-party coalition that intended to send weapons and soldiers to Ukraine.
In light of this, however, the monitoring activities of the Hungarian state, i.e., the State Audit Office (SAO), following the elections, can be totally justified. Act XLIX of 2021 on the transparency of civil society organizations carrying out activities capable of influencing public life obliges the SAO to audit the associations and foundations covered by the law according to the criteria of legality. According to the explanatory memorandum to the Act: “Given that the European Court of Justice has confirmed in its judgment that certain non-governmental organizations can exert a significant influence on public life and public debate concerning their goals and the means available, and also taking into account the constitutional and international expectations regarding the transparency of the grants provided for such organization, the National Assembly makes the following law.”
The legislation also designates the range of civil organizations to be inspected, which is specified on the basis of the database of the Hungarian State Treasury and the Central Statistical Office, meaning that there is absolutely no need to think of a political “tailing” behind investigations with a legal purpose. The Civil Liberties Union is also included in those involved.
SAO checks the audited organizations to see if they have the necessary documents and whether they are available to meet the conditions for legal and transparent operation. It is examined whether the relevant documents have been authenticated on the part of the head of the organization and whether their content is in compliance with the legislation.
However, in connection with the past activities of organizations capable of influencing public life, even an outsourced political campaign can be suspected, in which, among other things, HCLU could also participate. And the argument of fitness to influence seems to be valid.
This is also true in relation to the EU environment of our country, since non-governmental organizations (NGOs) financed by the foundation network of George Soros appear as important “professional” actors in connection with EU reports on Hungary and the work of the rapporteurs, which also confirms Soros’s influence and intentions to intervene and put pressure through these organizations.
HCLU, like other similar organizations, aims to spread a tangible political ideology and program. HCLU is not an independent organization either organizationally or financially. It promotes neoliberal and globalist political principles and seeks to represent and interpret human rights issues in the context of its political goals.
The possibility of interference in Hungary’s internal policy by certain financial circles cannot be ruled out, thus, for example, they wanted to, at least partially, influence the outcome of the April 3 election and referendum with tens of millions of forints, through the activities of HCLU, in line with the goals of the “campaign funders”. According to Hungarian legislation, political parties shall not accept financial support from abroad, but at the same time, it is possible for non-governmental organizations, i.e., NGOs, to channel foreign (for example foundation) funds.
Given all this, even if in a limited way, the possibility of the practice remains that organizations capable of influencing public life can participate in de facto election campaigns, for example, with external financial support, as was the case in 2022.
II. Hungarian Helsinki Committee – the “Refugee Committee” of George Soros, proud of its strategic litigation against Hungary
The equity of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, an association founded in 1989, was HUF 309 million in 2021, compared to HUF 247 million in the previous year. Its current assets (i.e., its funds) amounted to HUF 770 million, compared to HUF581 million in 2020.
Behind the increase in the amount of financial assets, it is worth taking into account the grants received last year:
- Foundation Open Society Institute (general support 2021-2022) – HUF 147,455,000,
- Sigrid Rausing Trust (general support) – HUF 113,173,000,
- Oak Foundation (unlimited program support) – HUF 63,700,000,
- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – “Legal assistance for asylum seekers in Hungary” – Legal protection of asylum seekers in Hungary – HUF 5,105,000,
- Swedish Postcode Foundation (beneficiary of Swedish Lottery) - The PHAROS Project (for example, legal assistance to those who have suffered human rights violations) - HUF 4,831,000,
- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – "Raising protection standards through sustainable refugee law education" – HUF 4,682,000,
- United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture – "Legal aid to asylum seekers who have been tortured" – HUF 4,345,000.
A total of HUF 467,718,000 was received by the Helsinki Committee, of which one third came directly from FOSI.
Soros, a generous supporter of the decade of migration
In 2020, the organization received HUF 130.3 million from George Soros's Open Society Institute (OSI) to cover operating costs (as a general grant), and an additional HUF 5.7 million was transferred by OSI under the title of "Justice in the Time of Coronavirus" program. In 2020, two other organizations provided significant funds: the Sigrid Rausing Trust (SRT) provided HUF 58 million and the Oak Foundation (OF) nearly HUF 61 million.
The management of the latter two organizations has personnel overlaps with the Open Society Institute. The Oak Foundation was founded by Alan M. Parker, a former business partner of George Soros, and two senior members of the staff also strengthen the human rights wing of the Open Society Foundations (OSF). One of the leaders of SRT is Chris Stone, who is also the president of the OSF.
The compilation of the activities of the Helsinki Committee in 2021 reveals that 813 persons were provided with free legal assistance in asylum, statelessness, and expulsion, 317 persons in detention and criminal justice, and 635 persons with general legal information and referral to other organizations.
In 2021, the number of participants in the trainings of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee on the topic of asylum, migration and statelessness was 865 people, 95 people on the topic of the rule of law, and 35 people on the topic of criminal justice.
In view of the above, the Helsinki Committee and its main field of activity can be very well profiled. No wonder that in 2019 there was a Freudian slip by George Soros about the organization. Indeed, the elderly American businessman, when he received the Don Ridenhour Courage Award – in recognition of those who have worked all their lives "For the Common Good and Social Justice" – called the Helsinki Committee simply the Refugee Committee in his acceptance speech. Of course, the billionaire philanthropist has long been supporting – and very generously – the Helsinki Committee and other liberal organizations active in the country: for example, in 2015, the Open Society Foundation funded Hungarian applicants with USD 4,111,490, nearly HUF 1.2 billion, and 40 percent of this – i.e., half a billion forints – went to the Helsinki Committee and the HCLU.
Strategic litigation against the nation-state – victory reports
The Helsinki Committee highlights "strategic litigation" at the international level as an essential element of its own activities. As they write, "We take serious human rights violations to court and seek systemic change by selecting cases strategically. We take human rights problems that cannot be remedied in domestic courts to international forums.” Among other things, the infamous prison business trials are also included. They “keep” Hungarian society "informed" of the violations and human rights developments experienced by claiming "awareness raising and communication". They also carry out "legal awareness development", i.e., they help “disadvantaged groups acquire the legal awareness and skills necessary to defend their own rights". Here it is worth mentioning the issue of migration and asylum cases.
They declare that the European Commission's annual Rule of Law Report has "reinforced" several concerns that they have highlighted in their submission to the report. They are also “monitoring” the Article 7 procedure, in which new “negative developments” were highlighted at a hearing.
The Helsinki Committee considers it a success that in April 2021 the government repealed Act LXXVI of 2017, which "stigmatizes" NGOs supported from abroad (in fact, aims to ensure their financial transparency).
The Helsinki Committee also writes about a strategically important litigation victory in connection with the fact that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg found that the long-term placement of an asylum-seeking family in the former border transit zone in Hungary constitutes unlawful detention.
However, regarding the Helsinki Committee's “victory report”, it is worth recalling that in another case at the end of 2019, the Court in Strasbourg – in connection with two asylum seekers – established at second instance that there had been no unlawful detention in the transit zone by the Hungarian authorities.
The current situation has called for stricter regulation
In view of the above, it is no wonder that the Hungarian legislature – and the government empowered by a constitutional majority on behalf of voters for the umpteenth time – reserves the right of Hungary to take action against the political influence, interference and pro-migration activity of organizations funded from abroad, including NGOs funded by George Soros.
In addition, the SAO scrutinizes the legality of the law in designated areas, for example in relation to the operation of the Helsinki Committee.
Act XLIX of 2021 on the Transparency of NGOs carrying out activities capable of influencing public life obliges the SAO to audit these associations and foundations based on the legality criteria in force. This follows the fact that the European Court of Justice has previously confirmed in a separate ruling that certain similar organisations, in view of the objectives pursued by them and the means available, can have a major influence on public life and public debate, and that constitutional and international expectations regarding the transparency of the support provided to such organisations therefore continue to exist in the future.
Recently, evidence has been mounting that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) covering a significant part of their activities from foreign sources intend to gain an ever-increasing influence in the domestic political arena, overshadowing their former, purely human rights function. Similar entities in the United States are treated as foreign agent organizations, and their activity is closely monitored and subject to registration. Századvég Foundation is committed to national sovereignty, legal certainty, and transparency. Therefore, in a monitoring system called NGO-radar, it continuously analyses the operation of the relevant organizations in Hungary.