Last night, the Austrian daily Die Presse claimed that the Open Society Foundations, a non-profit founded by Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, told its staff that it would be relocating its Budapest 100-person office to Berlin.
While the Foundations did not confirm this rumor, it did release a statement that it was examining its options in the light of the Orbán government’s highly controversial “Stop Soros” legislation, which the recently re-elected Fidesz-KDNP coalition has indicated that it intends to push through parliament next month.
The OSF’s statement to the Budapest Business Journal noted that
The Open Society Foundations are closely watching developments around the draft legislation that would dramatically restrict the activities of civil society in Hungary. We are considering various options, as the security of our staff in Budapest and the integrity of our work is of paramount importance.
With the Open Society Foundations’ 30-year legacy of helping Hungarians and encouraging human rights and critical thinking, we are committed to continuing our work in this country.
The Open Society Foundations currently have five hub offices: New York, Washington DC, London, Brussels, and Budapest.
“Stop Soros”, and Other Campaigns
The proposed “Stop Soros” legislation 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.
Hungary’s Ruling Fidesz Party Submits “Stop Soros” Bill to Parliament, Prompting International Criticism
It also comes just a week after a pro-Orbán weekly magazine 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.
Responding to yesterday’s news from Die Presse about the OSF’s potential departure, Viktor Orbán said on the radio that
Listeners will perhaps understand if I don’t cry crocodile tears.
The Hungarian Premier then went on to claim that he expects “conflicts to continue with Soros organisations,” while also defending Figyelő’s widely-condemned list by claiming that the press should “help people to know the truth” and uncover “as many networks and cooperation as possible.”
Pro-Orbán Magazine Publishes List of Professors, Journalists, and Others It Claims are “Soros Mercenaries”
According to its own website, OSF
has been working in Hungary since 1984, when its founder George Soros set up the Hungarian Soros Foundation. Hungary was then still under Communist one-party rule, but the new foundation was able to fund scholarships for Hungarians to travel and study abroad and to provide funding for libraries and academic research.
After the end of Communism in 1989, the Foundation’s funding “expanded to include support for educational and healthcare reform, and helping Hungarians who were struggling with the economic challenges of the new market economy.”
OSF Hungary added that
Today, we continue to support Hungarian partners working on issues that include promoting independent journalism, fighting corruption, supporting civic participation, and combatting discrimination.
An overview of OSF’s Hungarian activities (via opensocietyfoundations.org)
Worldwide, OSF, which was founded in 1979, has had expenditures of over $14 billion, funding a wide range of programs dedicated to issues ranging from press freedom to minority rights to public health.
As Politico notes,
OSF, which functions primarily as a grant-making institution supporting civil society and human rights, was previously banned from Russia in 2015.
Is CEU Next?
Speculation over OSF’s departure from Budapest come as Central European University’s (CEU) future in the Hungarian capital remains in question. Last month, the university, which was founded by Soros, and which has been a subject of prolonged criticism and attack by the Orbán government, announced plans to open a satellite campus in Vienna.
This announcement came in the wake of the year-long “Lex CEU” controversy. The “Lex CEU amendments” require each foreign-based university operating in Hungary to have an ‘intergovernmental’ agreement between their country of origin and Hungary, as well as a campus in the country in which they are based.
Central European University (CEU) Opens Satellite Campus in Vienna
These 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.”
Since last month’s announcement, many have speculated that CEU’s opening of a campus in Vienna was made as a sort of insurance policy of sorts in case the university is ultimately forced out of Hungary by the Orbán government. The school, which has thus far managed to comply with all the requirements of the “Lex CEU” legislation, continues to call on the government “to sign and ratify” an agreement to secure its future in Budapest “as soon as possible.”
Via the Budapest Business Journal, Die Presse, Politico.eu, the Financial Times, MTI, and opensocietyfoundations.org
Images via opensocietyfoundations.org and CNBC