It’s almost 6pm in a rundown area of Budapest, and the Aurora community center is shifting into its evening groove.
Young people drink beer under a canopy of fairy lights in the central courtyard. Upstairs, children come tumbling and giggling from their after-school playgroup. Signs advertising yoga and theatre workshops adorn the brightly painted walls.
But beneath the carefree atmosphere, the Aurora is fighting for survival.
Since the right-wing Fidesz party swept into power in 2010, and most recently won a landslide election again in April this year, it has come under increasing fire from the United States and European Union over its crackdowns on democratic institutions and civil society.
At home too, thousands of protesters hit the streets of Budapest earlier this month in week-long demonstrations against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s hardline policies.
Now the Aurora, which rents office space to a handful of NGOs – including LGBTQ and Roma support groups – says it has been pushed to the brink of closure by far-right attacks, police raids and municipality moves to buy the building.
Critics say that in Orban’s self-styled “illiberal democracy” NGOs are routinely attacked through legal measures, criminal investigations and smear campaigns – something the Aurora told CNN it has experienced first-hand.
Aurora’s aim is straightforward, said Adam Schonberger, director of Marom Budapest, the Jewish youth group that founded the community center in 2014.
“We wanted to create a safe environment for civil organizations,” he said.
“By doing this we became a sort of enemy of the state. We didn’t set out to be a political organisation – but this is how we’ve found ourselves,” he added.
Schonberger didn’t think authorities had targeted Aurora because of its Jewish roots. Instead, he put the harassment down to the group’s values of “social inclusion, building civil society and fighting for human rights.”
Tikkum Olam – ‘repairing the world’
Marom was founded by a group of Jewish university students in 2002, with the goal of regenerating and reconnecting with their Jewish culture – an ambition previously unthinkable under communism.
Soon the group of mostly secular Jews began to expand their activities beyond Jewish cultural events, creating alliances with marginalized groups such as the Roma community.
“It’s based on the core Jewish value of tikkun olam – the concept of ‘repairing the world’ or ‘making the world a better place,’” explained Schonberger.
“So although we have a lot of Jewish projects in Marom, the major goal became to create a space for civil society in Hungary.”
To do this, the group needed a building – hence the Aurora.
In the last four years Marom transformed what was a disused office block in Budapest’s Eighth District into a multi-purpose community center – replete with bar, concert stage and office spaces.
Today the Aurora is home to several NGOs – including the Roma Press Center, an independent news agency, and the Invisible School, which assists local disadvantaged children.
Budapest Pride, an LGBTQ support group, moved into the Aurora the very first day it opened. The group has 14 volunteers and uses the building to organize everything from its annual Pride march, to cultural festivals and campaigns for equality.
“This building is a symbol for us – of solidarity, community, peace, where we share our knowledge and equipment,” Budapest Pride spokesperson Kama Peksa told CNN.
And at €200 (around $220) a month, Peksa said a similarly-sized office space elsewhere in the city would cost twice as much.
The building itself is owned by a private landlord in Austria. Most of the €2,000 (around $2,200) monthly rent is generated by the bar and hiring out of office spaces.
Marom has also received some funding from American-Hungarian billionaire philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.