In Hungary it’s like this; if you’re not friends with the local government, you can’t do anything’ – Veronika Móra, director of Ökotárs

The atmosphere of insecurity in Hungary has a chilling effect on civil society organizations, particularly those in rural areas. Civitates funds projects to strengthen democracy in Europe; for example Hungary’s Civilization coalition, which is ready to spring into action in case civic organizations are under attack.

Veronika Móra, director of Ökotárs, is one of the leaders of the Civilization network in Hungary. The network aims to counter the trend of shrinking civil space and to promote a positive image of CSOs.

How would you describe the current operating environment for civil society in Hungary?
Even though no new legislation targeting civic organizations has recently been passed, the psychological threat is present. This is why the Civilization coalition is on ‘standby’; we maintain readiness in the case of any further harassment of civil society. In order to be able to withstand possible attacks, it is important for us to join forces with as many partners as possible. This is why we try to find organizations in the countryside, in areas where we’ve seen a lower level of civic activism. It has turned out to be quite difficult to find local organizations that are willing to engage with us. The unpredictable environment makes them keep a distance from anything that could be seen as political, as their dependence on local institutions is very strong. If you’re not friends with the local government, it’s basically impossible to do anything. Municipalities and state institutions are also often important employers. So, for example, if your partner works in a school and you do something that the mayor doesn’t like, this could have repercussions, also on the personal level.

Did you succeed in connecting with new organizations active on the national level?
Yes. We organized a joint campaign around the Hungarian 1% Law, whereby a person can assign 1% of his or her personal income taxes from the previous year to support the activities of a non-profit organization without any loss to their earnings. This campaign involved a wide range of organizations, from outside the Civilization coalition, including charities that are collecting significant amounts of the 1% income. As less than half of Hungarian taxpayers currently make use of this opportunity, our campaign encouraged people to give their 1% to civic organizations. The main tool we used was a social media campaign featuring a music video clip, which was unusual and unprecedented for organizations like ours. Our evaluation showed that we managed to cooperate with a large group of organizations and that we should keep working together. There are ideas for continuing this cooperation, and we are discussing which direction to take with the partners.

What is your personal drive to do this work?
I have always liked to enable others to do good stuff. Ökotárs is a good place for that, because that is what we do: provide support and give grants and trainings to enable others to work for the public good, either through community organizing or environmental matters.

What is your dream for Hungary?
That it becomes a country for all: where everyone can stand up for themselves without fear, where everyone can experience and enjoy their freedoms and rights, and where people turn with empathy and solidarity to one another. Of course, in order to achieve this we need a positive political environment instead of the hate and fearmongering that we live among today. And oh yes, a meaningful and implemented climate policy.