The alliance between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros is long over. Three decades ago, they both worked to topple communism in their homeland.
Orbán accuses Soros — a Jewish émigré who survived Nazi-occupied Hungary of trying to wrest control of their native country from those elected to office. The prime minister vows to stop the 87-year-old investor and business magnate who is spending most of his fortune promoting liberal and progressive causes around the world, including democracy building in the former Eastern bloc. (Soros’ Open Society Foundations is also a financial supporter of NPR.)
During a speech last November to his right-wing Fidesz Party, Orbán accused Soros of fostering Muslim immigration that he threatens to turn Hungary and Europe into “a mixed population” stripped of its Christian identity. He claimed, the billionaire’s goal is to “sweep away governments which represent national interests, including ours.”
Orbán likened Soros and his nongovernmental organizations to Soviet propagandists. He said, “We old warhorses recognize them by their smell. What we did not tolerate from the Soviet Empire, we shall not tolerate from the Soros empire. We shall defend our borders, we shall stop the Soros plan, and eventually we shall win.”
Orbán declined to be interviewed, but his spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, defended the government attacks on Soros and groups supported by Open Society Foundations. The latest assault involved bills introduced on Feb. 13 in Hungary’s parliament that, if passed, could lead to many foreign-funded NGOs shutting down.
Kovacs said, “These organizations definitely don’t have a democratic mandate because they have never been voted for, nobody elected them, and definitely the only force is the money behind them. And there are going to be sanctions against them if they don’t behave according to the law.”
Soros argues such measures reflect the prime minister’s autocratic ambitions. He accuses Orbán of corruption and tearing down the fledgling democracy they helped bring to Hungary.
He said, “Orbán has been very successful in making the mafia state work efficiently,” the billionaire philanthropist told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in late January. He has got spies in every emerging, clean [party] that could attract the electorate.”
President of Open Society Foundations, Patrick Gaspard rejected the Hungarian government allegations. He said, “The work his boss has done for the past 30 years is strictly limited to building up civil society and democracy. You can’t get more personal than billboards with George Soros’ face all over the country.”
Director of the Open Society Initiative for Europe and director of the Think Tank Fund, Buldioski said , “Orbán’s attacks are of growing concern to Hungarian civil society. This is really playing with dangerous stuff here, especially knowing the history of this country. Let me spell it out — the anti-Semitism. It’s not spoken directly, but the overtones are very, very clear.”