Yesterday, Figyelő, a pro-Orbán weekly magazine owned by Fidesz-linked historian Mária Schmidt, published an article entitled “The Speculator’s People”, which consisted of a list of people it described as Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros’ “mercenaries.”
The list includes professors at Budapest’s embattled Central European University (CEU), journalists at independent outlets such as the investigative news site Direkt36, and employees of civil society organizations such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Amnesty International, Transparency International, and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ), among others. The individuals named include internationally-awarded researchers, prominent reporters, and the leaders of refugee aid organizations.
Several of these groups have been attacked in various ways by Fidesz in the past several years. The list comes on the heels of the Orbán government’s lengthy series of campaigns targeting George Soros, which have included billboard campaigns, a “National Consultation” on what the government claimed is the “Soros Plan,” and a package of proposed legislation entitled “Stop Soros,” which critics have described as a
deeply disturbing and unjustified assault on civil society.
The attack on CEU educators, in particular, comes at a time when the university’s future in Hungary remains uncertain. Amendments to Hungary’s higher education law, passed in the beginning of April 2017, were seen as deliberately targeting the Central European University, and came to be referred to as “Lex CEU.” The government’s attack on CEU comes amid a larger attack on the university’s founder, George Soros, whom Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party is currently portraying as the enemy of the Hungarian people. And, despite the fact that the university has officially fulfilled the requirements of the new legislation by offering classes on the campus of New York’s Bard College in the United States, and has also seen its Hungarian legal entity (Kozep-europai Egyetem) receive re-accreditation from the Hungarian Accreditation Committee (MAB) following a review, its future remains in doubt, as the Hungarian government has still not signed an agreement with the State of New York that would secure the university’s place in Budapest.
As many have noted, the article also includes the names of several people who have been dead for years (some passed away even before the first Orbán government began in 1998). In addition, the list includes some “critics of the Orbán government” who were formerly close allies of Fidesz, such as economist Attila Chikan, who served as Minister of Economics in the first Orbán government from 1998 to 2002.
Government Plans to Pass ‘Stop Soros’ Bill in May
Figyelő’s list comes on the heels of claims made by Viktor Orbán last month in the lead-up to the parliamentary elections that Soros’
network has some 2,000 paid employees – we could also call them mercenaries – who are working towards the formation of a Hungarian government that will not serve you.
Some critics have argued that the pro-Fidesz magazine’s list is, in fact, an attempt to “prove” Orbán’s claims; they also argue that all of this amounts to yet another attack on civil society and NGOs in Hungary.
Domestic and International Reactions
The Figyelő article made international news and drew strong criticism from multiple institutions.
In a tweet, the US Embassy in Budapest expressed its condemnation of Figyelő’s list, which it described as an attempt to “intimidate” private citizens:
In an article that appeared in, among other newspapers, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Independent, Pablo Gorondi of the Associated Press reported on Figyelő’s article, noting the ways in which it fit with Orbán’s election rhetoric.
In a statement following the article’s publication, Central European University said that it “strongly condemns” Figyelő’s list and emphasized that “the university answers to a 21-member Board of Trustees, not to our founder, George Soros.” The school also condemned “the attempt at intimidation of NGOs, which in a democracy carry out the important work of analysis, awareness-raising and advocacy of societal issues and development of solutions that serve the greater good.”
In addition, university President and Rector Michael Ignatieff argued that
The publication of such a list, in the context of the recent election campaign, is contemptible…This is a flagrant attempt at intimidation that is dangerous for academic freedom and therefore for all of Hungarian academic life.
Figyelő itself has also responded to the controversy generated by its earlier article, claiming in a new post today that their “list is far from complete,” and that they would happily add peoples’ names to the list if they asked; the pro-Orbán magazine also claimed that, if people were “ashamed that we put their names on the Soros list”, they would remove their names as well.
Via figyelo.hu, ceu.edu, index.hu, the New York Times, the AP, the Independent, and the Budapest Beacon
Image via zoom.hu