by | June 19, 2014 | Uncategorized

Growing inequalities in Hungary – is harassment of Hungarian NGOs the right answer?

“One day the poor in Hungary will have nothing left to eat but the rich.” Over a million Hungarians live below the poverty line. As inequalities are on the rise in Hungary, a mock fast food restaurant HUNGER KING® opened its doors in the Hungarian capital, Budapest for 3 weeks, as a protest against the anti-­homeless acts of the Hungarian government. Another worrying trend since the Hungarian government’s re-election, has been the launch of a campaign attacking the credibility of Hungarian NGOs and trying to gain controlling power over their funding, distributed independently from the government.

An international artist opened a spoof fast food restaurant called ‘Hunger King’ in the capital of Hungary, Budapest on 16th June. Hunger King gives out burger boxes full of money for homeless people for three weeks and makes a mockery of the government’s anti-­homeless legislation. The ‘HUNGER KING’ campaign shows how unequally people are treated not just in Hungary, but across Europe. Jani Leinonen, the Finnish artist behind the project, explained that Hungary’s homeless population can now “be fined for being out on the streets, and sent to prison if they fail to pay three fines: it’s basically the criminalisation of homelessness”.[[Recent modifications of both the Hungarian Constitution and the Hungarian Law on Infractions have made homelessness illegal and made possible the creation of homeless-free zones.

Article XXII25 of the Hungarian Constitution states:

“(1) Hungary shall strive to ensure decent housing conditions and access to public services for everyone.

(2) The State and local governments shall also contribute to creating decent housing conditions by striving to ensure accommodation for people without a dwelling.

(3) In order to protect public policy, public security, public health and cultural values, an Act or a local government decree may, with respect to a specific part of public space, provide that staying in public space as a habitual dwelling shall be illegal.”

Growing inequalities in Hungary

Evidence shows that in today’s Hungary, poverty remains one of the most pressing social issues. The number of people living under the subsistence minimum is estimated to be 3.7 million, or nearly 40 percent of the population [[(Központi Statisztikai Hivatal (2011) Létminimum Subsistence minimum, 2010, p. 2)]]. The number of people living in sub-standard and/or extremely overcrowded conditions is thought to be 1.5 million. One million people cannot heat their homes properly and the occurrence of cold-related deaths is ten times higher than in other developed countries [[(Koltai, [Kihűlés és fagyhalál. Gyorsjelentés Hypothermia and cold-related deaths. (Rapid report 2012). 

Homelessness is a serious public health problem

As EPHA recently pointed out, according to estimations from information in Hungary, there are about 11,000 places available at homeless shelters [Éves jelentés a lakhatási szegénységről – 2012 – GYORSJELENTÉS A tanulmány az Nemzeti Együttműködési Alap támogatásával készült, a Városkutatás Kft. műhelyében. A tanulmányt készítette: Hegedüs József – Horváth Vera]] and in Hungary, [preliminary data from the census of 2011 shows that there are at least 17,000 people who live in public spaces or in spaces unsuitable for housing (e.g. huts, cellars, storage rooms). There have also beenreliable scientific studies about homelessness in Hungary (1) (2) , proposals for a Hungarian National Homeless Strategy , and existing Hungarian best practices that may be taken into consideration to develop and implement a policy response to this significant public health challenge in Hungary. Addressing the social determinants that put people into homelessness is crucial: providing homeless people with minimum income, adequate housing, preventive health services , as well as adequate health and social support are core elements of tackling the root causes of homelessness.

Hungarian civil society taking a stand against criminalization

Overall, the criminalisation of homelessness is on the rise in Hungary and evidence presented above shows that the Hungarian legislature could not solve the issue of homelessness as a public health problem. Hungarian NGOs are doing all they can to combat these negative attitudes to homelessness. As recent examples show, while The City is for All (AVM) mobilizes homeless people against criminalization,
the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) provides legal aid and pursues strategic litigation to support homeless people and demonstrate the illegitimacy of the current legislation.  Follow the discussion on Twitter: #HUNGERKING

Government targets Hungarian NGOs

On May 30 2014, the Government also made public the list of 13 grant recipients it considered to be problematic for their “left-leaning” political ties. These were all organisations working on anti-corruption, human rights, gender equality and freedom of speech issues. On the list appear the well-known Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Transparency International and the investigative journal All of these organisations have been receiving grants from Norway Grants, for amounts ranging from 4,000 to 120,000€ each.

Background on the Norway Grants in Hungary and on the harassment of Hungarian civil society

The Norway Financial Mechanism (Norway Grants) is part of an agreement between the EU and Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein about funding projects in less developed European economies.

The Hungarian government launched its attack against the Norwegian Civic Fund (NCTA) at the beginning of April, only a day after its massive re-election victory.

The NCTA is a small portion of the Norway Grants, which is distributed by a consortium of four Hungarian foundations, which have previously administered the grants with great success. The accusation is that through the four foundations, Norway is trying to influence Hungarian politics. Norway firmly denied the accusations and following on from this the Hungarian government sent agents of the Government Control Office (KEHI) to audit the Fund’s administering organisations. The government has led an escalating campaign, accusing the four NGOs of political meddling in helping Norway distribute the grants. It said KEHI would audit Okotars, the consortium leader NGO, but sent KEHI agents to two other partner organisations as well. The foundations were threathened with the suspension of their tax number if refused cooperation. The legal basis of the audit is disputed by the administering organisations of the consortium.

Solidarity of International NGOs with Hungarian Civil Society

While talks between the Norwegian and Hungarian officials is under way, a number of NGOs from around the world, from diverse countries, such as Kenya, Egypt and Slovakia are showing solidarity with Hungarian NGOs by publishing a joint statement on 12 June in support of the Hungarian civil sector’s independence and calling upon politicians to refrain from pressuring NGOs.

Follow the discussion on Twitter: #SpeakUpForHungary

Source of the photos © Hungerking website

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