“This is no joke! National golden hamster rehabilitation… 1 billion… ,” reads a Hungarian Facebook post shared by more than 1,700 users since 20 March, 2022. An image in the post shows an information poster that appears similar to those obligatory for projects using EU funds.

Multiple users appear to believe that the poster shows a real EU project. “While poor people have nothing to eat, have no firewood? It’s all about stealing, that’s why they ask Brussels for money. Shame!” one user wrote in the comments below a similar post shared 2,500 times on Facebook.

According to the image in the posts, the alleged project received over 1 billion HUF (2.6 million euros) in funding from the European Union and the Hungarian government for the “rehabilitation and artificial insemination of golden hamsters”.

While there have been controversial EU projects in Hungary over the years and the Hungarian government faces accusations of corruption, this poster appears to be satirical. AFP found no trace of such a project in official databases or any evidence of the existence of the company or its address listed on the poster.

The misleading post on Facebook. screenshot taken on 21 March 2023

No trace of the project or company

Looking closely at the poster of the alleged project, some suspicious details emerge.

It says the project was part of the “Új Széchenyi Terv” program, a governmental program for “economic recovery and job creation” that took place between 2011 and 2014. The design of the poster is similar to that of information boards for EU projects in that period. But the text on the poster claims that the project took place between 2019 and 2021, when the legally regulated design of EU projects was different, as can be seen below on the left.

On the left is the official design for information boards for EU-funded projects between 2014 and 2020. On the right is the picture shared on social media using the old design

In addition, the regulatory body named on the poster appears to be fictional. The poster says the project was overseen by the “National Strategic Development Agency” but AFP could not find any trace of such an agency in an online search. There was a government body overseeing EU projects called “National Agency for Development”, but it was abolished in 2014.

A search of a database of projects in Hungary receiving EU funding also did not turn up any matches, even when trying different keyword searches or reading through all EU-funded projects in Nagymaros, where the poster says the alleged company receiving the investment is based. Only a handful of projects in the town were listed as receiving funding over 1 billion HUF and they were road and infrastructure projects — nothing to do with hamsters.

AFP also searched this database of Hungarian companies and found no company with the name of the alleged beneficiary named on the poster: “Rodent Insemination Ltd.”

The alleged company’s address is listed on the poster as “666 Vörösrózsa street, Nagymaros 2626”. While there is a Vadrózsa street in Nagymaros, it does not officially have a building with the number “666”. The number may have been chosen due to its biblical connotation, as it is often associated with evil and the occult in popular culture.

According to the company database, there are seven active companies and private entrepreneurs with an official address on Vadrózsa street in Nagymaros, plus two others which are no longer active. None of them shares a name with the alleged company from the project poster.

Picture shared by a ‘joke party’

A Google search for the name of the project, the name of the company and its address all led to a 2020 Facebook post by the joke party Magyar Kétfarkú Kutyapárt (MKKP) with the same image. MKKP is known for satirising governmental decisions, such as this parody version of the national consultation.

MKKP has created similar mock-ups of such project posters in the past, but on those they clearly named themselves as creators.

When reached for comment by AFP, the party’s co-chair Gergő Kovács confirmed the hamster poster was not their own work.

“As much as we would like to, unfortunately we did not invent this one,” Kovács told AFP by email on 21 March, 2023.

Real concerns about the spending of EU funds in Hungary

While the hamster project appears to be satire, there are real concerns regarding EU funding in Hungary.

Hungary is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the EU, according to Transparency International. As AFP reported in October 2022, the European Commission has voiced concerns about irregularities in the way public tenders are awarded in the country, the unusual number of solitary bids for those contracts, as well as poor oversight of conflicts of interest and bad follow-through on legal action in suspected fraud cases.

In September 2022, the commission suggested that the European Council representing the EU member states suspend 65 percent of financing Hungary was to receive from three programmes, amounting to 7.5 billion euros.

The European Anti-Fraud Office has also found irregularities in the spending of EU funds in Hungary on multiple occasions (here and here for example) and has suggested that the funds should be recovered.

Ede Zaborszky

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