As Hungary inches closer to parliamentary elections in spring 2018, the political war between billionaire financier George Soros and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban seems to be escalating. While right-wing figures posit Orban as leading the fight against “European elites,” left-wing leaders, including Soros, have accused Orban of making George Soros and his Open Society Foundation into a political “scapegoat”.
Today, Soros issued a rebuttal to claims made by Orban in the October 9th National Consultation in Hungary, a survey sent out to all 8 million Hungarian voters that asked them about their views on what Orban calls the “Soros Plan.”
According to Orban, the Soros Plan includes a call for the EU to accept 1 million” refugees” a year. Orban has argued that migration is not Soros’ goal, rather the means to his ends. Orban claims these ends include creating a Europe devoid of national identity, borders, or Christianity. Soros rejects Orban’s claims, rebutting the survey point for point, sometimes with quotes and citations, other times by simply stating, “This is a lie.”
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As of this week, the Hungarian government reports that nearly 1.3 million citizens have returned their surveys, which they see as indicative of public concern for and interest in the immigration debate.
Hungarian Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Relations, Zoltan Kovacs wrote a blogpost last week titled, “The European Parliament has Decided to Carry Out the Soros Plan,” opening with the phrase “Hate to say we told you so…” Kovacs points to Soros’ “reliable allies” in Brussels as the culprits behind “pro-immigration” legislation in the European Parliament.
Orban Turning Up the Heat on Soros and Open Society Foundation
Last spring, the political battle between Orban and Soros reached new levels as the Hungarian government announced laws seeming to target Central European University, the graduate institution in Budapest founded and largely funded by George Soros. Despite their financial troubles, the university holds an $880 million endowment from Soros. The government and university are still in talks, but the new education laws could potentially force CEU to relocate to a different country.
Because CEU is technically an American accredited university, the Fidesz government claims they are simply trying to level the playing field between international and domestic universities. Opponents of the legislation have accused Orban of Putin-esque oppressive tactics that serve to threaten academic freedom and Hungary’s liberal democracy.
The government has also increased pressure against NGOs like the Open Society Foundation funded by Soros. Orban, who gained notoriety as an anti-communist student leader, ironically once accepted a scholarship from Soros to study in the UK in 1989.
As Orban was turning up the heat against CEU, his party, Fidesz, also launched a nationwide advertising campaign against Soros. The now infamous posters have been called anti-Semitic by activists and academics. In today’s rebuttal, Soros claims that Orban is using millions of euros of taxpayer money in his anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim ad campaigns. Soros even goes as far as to draw comparison between Orban’s techniques and those used against Jewish people by the Nazis and their affiliate Arrow Cross party in the 1930s. The imagery of Soros as a puppet master used in the political campaign is said to be reminiscent of decades old conspiracy theories that claim Jewish elites clandestinely exercise control over the political and economic arenas.
Hungarian officials claim that the October 9th survey is meant to assess voter views on immigration, not comment on Soros’ heritage.
In October, the aging billionaire imparted 18 billion dollars to his philanthropic organization, the Open Society Foundation, drawing immediate suspicion and criticism from right-wing news outlets and leaders. After the major injection of funds, the Open Society Foundation stands as the third largest charitable institution in the world, active in over 100 countries.
Orban has become somewhat of a respected cult figure in right-wing circles. In the summer of 2016, the Hungarian Prime Minister became the first European leader to endorse Trump, drawing praise from right-wing figures in the US. Recently, Orban has reiterated some of the same rhetoric used by the American right, positioning himself as the defender of the Hungarian people against European elites. George Soros is most often positioned as the face of these so-called elites.
Other right-wing figures have even picked up Orban’s narrative. Last week, speaking before the European Parliament, UKIP MEP, Nigel Farage, called for an investigation into potential collusion between the Open Society Foundation and the European Parliament. Farage also echoes Kovacs’ claims about Soros’ “reliable allies” in the European Parliament, calling for an investigation into the 226 names released by DCLeaks as Soros allies in the Parliament. DC Leaks has been accused by some cyber research firms of serving as a Russian front. The leaked document can be seen here.
Soros, meanwhile, has accused Orban of running a “mafia state” that uses an illusion of democracy to cover up corruption. According to Soros, Orban and his government manipulate the media and judiciary to maintain power.
More Than Meets the Eye
The political rivalry between Orban and Soros is about far more than just immigration, rather it shows a growing divide in European society, in the same way the election of President Trump revealed the chasm between right and left in the US.
The rhetoric on both sides of the aisle seems to be heating up across the board. Orban positions the debate as being between nationalist and globalists, understanding Soros as the public spearhead of wealthy, globalist forces trying to meddle in Hungarian society. This rhetoric has also been used by populist figures from Steve Bannon to Marine Le Pen.
This may all sound like conspiracy theories, but for Hungarians who once again feel betrayed by Europe, the resentment is very real. Orban is careful to stir this resentment, reminding Hungarians of their history of suffering under imperial empires from the Habsburgs to the Soviets. In his remarks this October on the anniversary of the 1956 revolution against the Communist regime, Orban drew clear connections between Soviet oppression, the EU, and the "refugee" crisis, while appealing to a heroic interpretation of Hungarian history:
We have guarded Europe’s borders for a thousand years, and have fought for our national independence... We are not understood in Brussels today, just as we were not understood back then either.
Coming Elections likely to mean more attacks on open society foundation and Soros
While ranges may vary, virtually all Hungarian polling shows Viktor Orban and the Fidesz party leading the parliamentary elections.
With Soros being painted as public enemy number one and elections less than six months away, the political tensions between Soros and Prime Minister Orban can only be expected to increase. One thing is sure, Orban shows no sign of softening his stance against Soros and accepting EU "refugee" quotas.