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The USA’s own Norwegian Fund problem

October 25th, 2014

Pro-government commentators find it strange that while Washington sees Hungarian moves to investigate Norwegian funded projects as a serious attack on civil society, the United States has its own problems with Norwegian financed think tanks posing as independent research institutions.

In Magyar Nemzet,  Gábor László Zord thinks the United States is putting “unprecedented pressure” on Hungary because “its protégés have proven incapable of overturning the Hungarian government despite a large amount of ‘civic’ support”. As a result, he continues, “American diplomacy doesn’t hesitate to take over the role of the discredited Hungarian opposition.” This is how Zord sees the background to the sharp criticism by leading American officials, including President Obama himself, of the decision of the Hungarian authorities to check the procedures of those NGOs which run the Norwegian funded “civil society projects”. (See BudaPost, May through September) In the latest development of the controversy on Wednesday, the authorities reported irregularities in 61 out of the 63 projects examined. Meanwhile, however, a few oil producing countries, including Norway, have hired prestigious American think tanks to represent their interests in their reports. Quoting a fact-finding article in the New York Times, Zord says that instead of hiring lobbyists, Norway engaged organisations who pretended to be independent and as a result, a new bipartisan initiative would require think tanks to disclose foreign funding. Since then the Attorney General has been urged by a senior House lawmaker to investigate the matter as a potential violation of federal law (namely a 1938 regulation requiring foreign agents to register with the authorities). Hungary should be left alone, Zord concludes, for “it would be rather foolish to reproach us for opposing something the Americans themselves rightly disapprove of.”

In a parody of statements by critics of the Hungarian government on Válasz, András Bódis writes “an unbearable and inhuman dictatorship, what’s more, a Putin-type dictatorship is in the making in the United States”. “Civic think tanks are on the verge of being persecuted” and are accused of being “political activists trying to represent foreign interests, rather than NGOs”, (a direct quote from a remark by PM Viktor Orbán, see BudaPost, July 29). If the US were a member of the European Union, Bódis continues, parodying an article by the Washington Post about Hungary, “we should have to write an editorial urging the Union” to act and “would even raise the idea of expelling the US from the Union in defense of European values”. If the US refuses to change its anti-NGO course, Bódis concludes mockingly, the Hungarian government should ponder throwing all its weight behind independent organizations standing in the way of the spread of Putinist methods in America”.

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