“How do you still make money?”
It was a question posed to me by an old classmate from university when he learned that I am still making a living, despite being a known liberal. It has been years since Orbán started the scorched earth policy against any opposition and it did filter down to every level. If you still made money, you must have bent the knee.
So when he heard that I was fine, my old friend’s glee turned into disappointed frustration. He anticipated a story of hardship and me begging him to lift me up from my misery, but he had to live with an “I’m fine”. He really didn’t understand how it was possible – an spent the rest of the conversation teasing me to tell him where my income comes from. “Come on, you don’t dare to tell me… Come on, seriously!” He could still score loyalty point with the system if he reports me and sends the tax man.
People who bend the knee are desperate to see others suffer because they need to rationalize. And the only thing they can achieve with their loyalism is not getting attacked. For now. They can’t control whether they get anything positive, like a promotion or an invitation to win a tender. Reporting on others is their only hope to merit a reward from the regime.
Every time the government makes a new rule trying to starve its enemies (the rest of the country), NGOs or the opposition cities, it reminds me of that disappointed frustration of my old classmate. Like the time when foreign donations had to be reported and taxed, and the NGO that received it branded a foreign agent. Abroad is the lifeline of many dissenters. Not just by donations, but by working and moving there, or having an escape route. It is true for every autocracy.
I was also concerned when Orbánists finally managed to get their hands on index.hu, the most influential news site in 2020 and went through journalists’ old emails. It was not a stretch of the imagination that the list of individuals who donated to that newsroom was also perused with hungry greed by spineless loyalists. Any whistleblower from the last 30 years should be worried.
But now it is obvious for everyone that individual donors are also targeted.
The Orbán-government just made a decree that NGOs must list each and every individual who donates to them, even if the donation is domestic, and send the names to the government. If the donor is a company, the names of the beneficial owners must be reported to Orbán.
The decree was presented on Wednesday, entered into force on Thursday.
Pettiness knows no bounds. It is a message to us, donors. It is also a way to drown the NGOs with even more demented paperwork.
It is Orbán’s way of asking “How do you still make money?” from all of us, and a reaction to the embarrassment of seeing the country lining up behind individual newsrooms and civil society when they are attacked. Now they will think twice.
It is also possibly a bargaining chip against Brussels. If they keep pushing, Orbán will generously give up on this plan and let them have a symbolic win – so he can get away with the billions of other things he pushed through before.