Storm Brewing Over Plan to Cut Funding for Czech NGOs

Coalition partners are at loggerheads over a new plan to cut public funding for NGOs by billions of crowns.

The party of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, ANO, has proposed to cut state support for NGOs by 3 billion crowns, although its coalition partner, the Social Democrats, is vehemently against the plan.

NGOs under threat

There are currently close to 130,000 NGOs registered in the Czech Republic, to which the state provides approximately 14 billion crowns in financial support each year. In recent months, NGOs have increasingly been a target of criticism, including from President Miloš Zeman, who often takes a swipe at environmental NGOs, the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, the Communist Party and, to some extent, the Civic Democrats.

Now Prime Minister Babiš’s ANO party has said it plans to cut state support for these organizations by 3 billion crowns and has commissioned an analysis of their activities and expenditures in order to figure out where money can be saved.

Social Democrat Member of Parliament Alena Gajdušková said this is not a good idea:

“Trying to save money on NGOs and civic activities is very imprudent, both from the social and economic viewpoints. The NGO sector engages 29 percent of the population – that’s 2 million people. I agree that we need to check up on how the money is used, but to cut funds in an area where people are volunteering or working for relatively small pay to cover areas in which the state does not do enough is neither wise nor good.”

One NGO, two views

The Finance Ministry has already said it does not want to slash support going to NGOs that are engaged in helping handicapped people, seniors and socially vulnerable segments of the population. The prime minister has said he would not be in favor of slashing state support for sporting activities.

So who should lose out? According to the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, it should be any NGO with a "political agenda."

"We differentiate between publicly beneficial NGOs engaged in supporting sporting activities, culture, helping seniors and such – and NGOs with a political agenda," Lubomír Volný, of the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, said. "Take the NGO People in Need, which goes to schools to brainwash our children. It lectures on the subject of real news and fake news. But who gave them the right to judge? So while we do not support blanket cuts in finances for NGOs, we think the money should be taken from political NGOs and used for the benefit of the public elsewhere."

But Social Democrat MP Alena Gajdušková disagreed. "The NGO People in Need is doing a great job, particularly abroad, helping where help is most needed. Its activity helps alleviate problems in the world’s hotspots and in view of the migrant crisis, I am surprised my colleague does not recognize its importance," Gajdušková said. "As for the media education in schools – that is better off in the hands of an NGO than in state hands. We are a democratic country and I hope we stay that way."