Today, the Open Society Foundations, a non-profit founded by Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, announced that it would be moving its international operations from Budapest to Berlin due to what it has described as
an increasingly repressive political and legal environment in Hungary.
Rumors about OSF’s departure from Budapest began to swirl late last month; at that time, however, the foundation did not confirm reports of a move to Berlin, saying only that it was “closely watching developments” around the controversial “Stop Soros” bill.
In this morning’s press release, OSF President Patrick Gaspard argued that
The government of Hungary has denigrated and misrepresented our work and repressed civil society for the sake of political gain, using tactics unprecedented in the history of the European Union…the so-called Stop Soros package of laws is only the latest in a series of such attempts. It has become impossible to protect the security of our operations and our staff in Hungary from arbitrary government interference.
Soros-Funded Open Society Foundations “Considering Various Options”, May Leave Budapest
OSF’s press release also noted the Orbán government’s series of billboard campaigns attacking George Soros, which have cost “more than 100 million euros in public funds”, and which the organization described as
a campaign to spread lies about the Foundations and their partners. The government’s hate campaign has included propaganda posters and billboards, invoking anti-Semitic imagery from World War II, and a supposed “national consultation” attacking George Soros, founder and chair of the Open Society Foundations, and Hungarian human rights groups.
The group also pointed to other factors that have influenced its decision to move, including a list of supposed “mercenaries” of Geroge Soros published last month in a pro-government magazine. The list included professors, journalists, and employees of civil society organizations.
While OSF claims that it will continue to support the important work of civil society groups in Hungary on issues such as arts and culture, media freedom, transparency, and education and health care for all Hungarians,” Politico notes that it is unclear how the organization, whose work focuses mainly on grant-making, will continue to be able to support local groups in the light of “Stop Soros” and similar Orbán government legislation.
Government Plans to Pass ‘Stop Soros’ Bill in May
Orbán’s Fidesz Promises “Stop Soros” Law, Further Constitutional Amendments
Speaking to the Hungarian parliament’s justice committee on Monday, cabinet chief Antal Rogán said that the Orbán government will tighten the “Stop Soros” bill and added that this will mean making “appropriate changes to the constitution.”
Rogan said the law would prevent all activities aimed at facilitating the illegal entry of migrants into Hungarian territory, while claiming that organizations “funded from abroad” are aiding migration.
The government will make the necessary arrangements for the “Stop Soros” bill and related constitutional amendments in the next few weeks, and the government will discuss it on May 23 so that a parliamentary debate on the bill can start in early June, he said.
The proposed legislation, which has been “beefed up” in severity since its introduction, is designed to penalize supposed
promoters of illegal migration.
The package would require persons and NGOs that the Orbán government claims are somehow encouraging illegal migration to share data with the authorities, and would have to pay a 25% tax on donations from abroad. Changes since its introduction include forcing organizations “promoting illegal migration” to obtain a special license from the Ministry of the Interior, rather than expecting them to voluntarily register.
The proposed “Stop Soros” legislation 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.”
CEU’s Future Still in Doubt
In addition, the Open Society Foundations’ decision to leave Hungary comes as Central European University’s future in Budapest remains in question. In the wake of the Orbán government’s controversial “Lex CEU” higher education amendments (which you can read more about here), the university announced plans to open a satellite campus in Vienna.
In addition, while CEU has complied with the requirements of the “Lex CEU” legislation, the Orbán government has still not signed an agreement with the State of New York regarding the university’s continued operations in Hungary; in fact, CEU made a point of tweeting about this fact today, noting that
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.
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.
Via politico.eu, dw.com, Reuters, Budapest Business Journal, NPR, and opensocietyfoundations.org
Image via Politico/Getty Images