On the accusation of being a pseudo-NGO

The past few weeks have been full of the word “pseudo-NGO”. The government and leaders of the governing party have declared organisations critical of them “pseudo-NGOs”. According to more moderate views, they should be much more transparent than they are now, while according to more radical views, they should be completely eliminated. Those who do not agree with these politicians have retorted that it is in fact the foundations, associations and other professional platforms close to the government who are the real pseudo-NGOs. It is well-settled what it means to be an NGO. The definition of a pseudo-NGO, on the other hand, has not been fully explained. This expression is used in various contexts in the current debate. Let’s look at the typology of pseudo-NGOs!

What’s a QUANGO?

The word pseudo-NGO is hardly ever used in this sense in the current political rhetoric. Hungarian QUANGOs don’t usually claim that they are non-governmental, so nobody exposes them as actually being pseudo-NGOs.°QUANGO is the abbreviation of “quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation”. It is used to define organisations which bear the characteristics of both non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and public offices or institutions. These are hybrid organisations, which, from the outside, may look like non-governmental ones (e.g. they are operated in the form of a foundation), but they were created by a public body, they serve a public function, are mainly funded by public resources, and controlled by the state or its bodies, e.g. by state chiefs participating in the decision-making body of the organisation.

Well-known Hungarian QUANGOs include the foundations of the Central Bank of Hungary, the Pallas Athéné Domus Animae Alapítvány (PADA), the Pallas Athéné Domus Scientiae Alapítvány (PADS), the Pallas Athéné Geopolitikai Alapítvány (PAGEO), the Pallas Athéné Domus Concordiae Alapítvány (PADOC), the Pallas Athéné Domus Mentis Alapítvány (PADMA) and the Pallas Athéné Domus Innovationis Alapítvány (PADI). These were founded by the Central Bank of Hungary, are funded by the Central Bank of Hungary, and members of their advisory boards include officials of the Central Bank of Hungary and other public bodies, as well as their relatives. Still, as they are operated in the form of foundations, they are listed in the Registry of Non-governmental Organisations available at birosag.hu. They have not claimed they were NGOs, but what still makes this category worth mentioning is that when government party MP Lajos Kósa said that the funds of the foundations have lost their public nature, he must have been talking about something like this.


Fortunately nobody claims this, and of course, HCLU is not a QUANGO. It was not founded by government bodies or their representatives, its funds do not include any public money obtained via a government decision, and the state is not represented in its decision-making bodies in any way.

What is a GONGO?

GONGO is also an abbreviation that stands for “government-organized non-governmental organization”. These are seemingly non-governmental organisations, which are founded and/or financed and operated by the government or the governing party – in a less visible and obvious way than in the case of QUANGOs – in order to support the political goals of the governing party, and to cooperate in the realisation of the government’s goals under the guise of a non-governmental organisation. In the case of GONGOs, government influence is the most obvious in sponsorship, but it is also a sign if an organisation always agrees with the government about everything. Typically they do not side with the entire government, but only the particular part from which it derives its support. If the government’s standpoint changes, so does the GONGO’s. A significant number of GONGOs are created in non-democratic countries specifically to compromise real non-governmental organisations, so that their statements can be contrasted with a different seemingly “non-governmental” view.


HCLU could hardly be accused of supporting the current government; however, it is sometimes accused of being the GONGO of one of the previous governments. Fortunately, this can be easily refuted, by publicly available data; it is well-known that HCLU was a harsh critic of previous governments, as well, for which the current governing parties wanted to award it (fortunately, this did not happen). HCLU has never accepted any public subsidies from previous governments or from political parties, and continues this policy to this day.

What is a DONGO?

A DONGO is a „donor-organized non-governmental organization”.°These are non-governmental organisations, which in fact realise not their own goals, but those of the institutions sponsoring their activity. Their structure and their activities reflect the influence of their sponsors. They do as the donor says. Sometimes, but not necessarily, representatives of their donors may be included in their decision-making bodies, but if an organisation does not define its goals and the tools necessary to reach these goals by itself, and instead receives them from its sponsor together with money, this  makes it a DONGO. Szilárd Németh was talking about something like this when he said, “He who pays the piper calls the tune”.


This is what the aforementioned Szilárd Németh thinks, and many might believe him, therefore it is useful to elaborate HCLU has been sponsored by numerous donors, but they have never participated in its management. HCLU operates in the form of an association. It was founded by private persons for the realisation of the goals listed in its charter, which states that HCLU was created to “promote the respect, application and acknowledgement of people’s freedoms, so that the freedoms are protected by the power of law”. The assembly composed of all HCLU members elects the Management Board of the union, which may not include representatives of institutions supporting HCLU. The Management Board may decide which programmes HCLU may run, i.e. what aspects of human rights protection it should concentrate on. This is stipulated in the Bylaws, which do not change depending on what the donors would support. Separation is maintained between the Board and the donors, in order to avoid conflicts of interest. The Board appoints staff management for the HCLU work structure. These managers define the union’s strategy together with their colleagues within the framework of the programmes defined in the Bylaws. The General Manager who is primarily responsible for fundraising, who, together with their colleagues at HCLU, works on creating the financial background for the realisation of the tools necessary for reaching the goals set in the strategy. HCLU looks for funding opportunities in order to finance tasks which  further its strategic goals. If it finds funding for a specific project, it reports to its sponsors after the funds have been spent. If it cannot find resources for a given activity, they finance it from private donations. This is why private donations are so important: they make it possible for us to care about a given topic even if no one else supports that activity. HCLU never aligns its standpoint with the donors. They have no say in the way  goals are realised, nor do they want to have one. I can only remember one attempt of a donor to influence a project, when the embassy of a European country wanted us to talk positively about a project financed by them, instead of stating our own opinion, which was not in line with theirs. We did not agree to do so. We dealt with the issue despite the donor’s objections, after we had expressed in every possible way what our view was, and in what way it was different from that of the donor’s. It was a serious conflict, and we still resisted. In conclusion, I can safely say that HCLU is not a DONGO.

Written by: Máté Szabó

Translated by: Kádár Fanni

Lectured by: Joseph Foss


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