At around 4pm on July 28th , a website close to the Hungarian governing party, Fidesz, broke a story suggesting that the authorities of Budapest’s 8th district would close Auróra, a community centre and bar home to many liberal and left-wing NGOs. One hour later three employees of the local government handed over the official decision that stipulated the temporary closure of the bar. The community centre established in the same building will carry on its work, but the bar constituted its main revenue, so its future survival is in doubt.
Auróra gives home (and office space) to organizations like Budapest Pride, the Roma Press Centre, the School of Public Life, which aims to offer civic education and representation to disenfranchised people, and the ULE, an organization that assists homeless people in their quest for proper housing. All are groups ‘close’ to the hearth of Fidesz.
In recent months Auróra has been targeted by Fidesz and fringe extreme right groups. In March, during a conference entitled ‘Stop Operation Soros’, the former leader of the British National Party, Nick Griffin, made several stigmatizing comments about the place. Later activists of a neo-Nazi youth organization painted ‘Stop Soros’ on the sidewalk in front of Auróra’s building.
On June 10th the police also undertook a bizarre raid of the building. The 30 policemen arriving in the evening were preceded by colleagues dressed in civilian clothes, who took photos of the centre. They were also accompanied by local government personnel. The raid was strange because the police stayed for 14 hours until noon of the next day.
During the raid they arrested 15 people on charges of drug possession, but later it turned out that they only found 2 grams of weed on two people. Nobody was caught in the act of consuming narcotics. But despite all of this, searches were carried out in the homes of all the 15 arrested people, among which one used weed due to his incurable disease.
The people of Auróra say that it would be an exaggeration to draw a connection between recent political declarations and the police raid. But despite this uncertainty, there are several signs that suggest political motivations are behind the bar’s closure.
In the last couple of weeks, amid the government-sponsored campaign against independent NGOs and the Hungarian-American businessman George Soros, Fidesz’s propaganda machine has repeatedly dwelt on Auróra. Several organizations close to the government, and based in the 8th district of Budapest, have formulated open letters and press releases asking for the closure of the centre. All this was apparently carried out ‘in the name of the local residents’ – even though many actual locals expressed their support for Auróra on social media.
Another blog post close to Fidesz claimed that many other NGOs, independent media outlets and opposition parties are the allies of Auróra ‘in the distribution of drugs’.
The claim that Auróra’s closure was a political manoeuvre does not seem so far-fetched.
These attacks also pointed out that Auróra served as campaign headquarters for Márta Bolba, a local Lutheran priest who ran for the local council against the Fidesz candidate in recent by-elections. This fact greatly disturbed the mayor of the district, Máté Kocsis, who was formerly the communications director of the Hungarian governing party.
When all of this information is viewed as a whole, the claim that Auróra’s closure was a political manoeuvre does not seem so far-fetched. It is a political move that is well integrated into the anti-Soros campaign currently underway in Hungary, and it has one singular motive: the stigmatization and destruction of any independent civic or political voice in Hungary.
Featured image courtesy of Aurora.