George Soros isn’t the most popular person in the world. That’s doubly true in his own home country, Hungary.
In the wake of Hungarian strongman (and Soros’ bête noire) Viktor Orban winning a commanding supermajority in recent elections, Soros’ Open Society Foundations is moving its staff from Soros’ native Budapest to Berlin.
“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,” said Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations.
Orban’s Fidesz party captured a massive 133 seats out of 199 possible parliamentary seats in the election last month, according to Reuters, and he quickly made it clear that things were going to get a lot tougher for his political adversaries, going as far as to declare “liberal democracy” in Hungary a thing of the past.
“We have replaced a shipwrecked liberal democracy with a 21st-century Christian democracy, which guarantees people’s freedom, security,” Orban said during his acceptance speech, according to Deutsche Welle. (It’s worth noting for American readers that “liberal,” in a European context, usually means limited government and greater freedom — quite the opposite of what it means in the American political milieu.)
This isn’t exactly the most inspiring note to start on, particularly given that Orban has grown more autocratic over his first two terms in office. Now, his first move seems to be going after non-governmental organizations like the Open Society Foundations. Orban has always seen the OSF as an meddler in Hungary’s internal politics, and one he would gladly be rid of.
“We are going to reaffirm those elements of our sovereignty which are under attack,” a statement from Orban spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said. “The will of the people is going to rule the political arena.”
And it’s not just talk, either. According to the London Guardian, the Hungarian parliament is considering what’s being called a “Stop Soros” law, which would levy a 25 percent tax on foreign donations to any organization that encourages migration to Hungary. You can probably guess what foundation would be hit the hardest by this.
The Guardian reports the bill also “allows the interior ministry to reject groups that work on migration-related issues on a national security basis after vetting by security agencies.”
OSF currently employs 100 people in Budapest. Last month, they said that they were “closely watching developments around draft legislation that would dramatically restrict the activities of civil society in Hungary.”
Before you start feeling bad for Soros, keep in mind that ol’ moneybags is part of the reason why Orban is so entrenched in the first place. Let’s start with the fact that one of the few accurate things Orban has said about Soros thus far is that he’s influenced politics in the country. Considering that Hungary is relatively small and the OSF tentacles have a very long reach, it’s pretty understandable that a strongman — or any other politician — would want Soros to cut it out. Unless, of course, they were on his side.
Soros was also one of the biggest supporters of unchecked illegal immigration into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa. Orban made headlines as one of the few EU leaders willing to stand up and refuse to take the migrants or let them into the country. Thus, Soros’ campaign helped entrench one of Europe’s most rebarbative leaders.
While this may have caused a furor among EU nations, Orban was able to claim hero status at home, painting himself as a champion of law and order. There was simply no choice for Hungarians between EU-imposed quotas on migrants or a complete rejection of them. With no middle ground, the Hungarians seem to have chosen the latter — even if the man carrying that plan out is an unctuous autocrat.
This is what Soros doesn’t seem to get: Outside of Davos, his policies aren’t terribly popular. He is to conservatives what the Koch brothers are to liberals. And come to think of it, most liberals aren’t terribly fond of his brand of globalism, either. There is a very specific subset of people that think Soros makes sense, and I would wager a not-insignificant percentage of them have George Clooney on their contacts list.
Appraised of the news that Soros was taking his football and going home (or moving away from it), the thuggish Orban was predictably Orban-ish.
“You might understand if I don’t cry my eyes out,” the Hungarian dictator said in a radio interview.
He doesn’t have much reason to. Orban’s party controls the necessary seats to make changes to the constitution, which you can imagine probably won’t end in a freer, more open Hungary. Soros is partially to thank for that, considering how hard and how long he’s been pushing for insanely unpopular policies.
I’m not actually celebrating the fact that Soros got kicked out of his own country by a low-level autarch. Instead, I can only pray that Soros leaving Hungary offers some optimism for a freer country.
Soros has provided a legitimate bogeyman for Orban’s Fidesz hooligans to point to in order to win votes. I’m sure he’ll find another political phantasm to cast his rage at, as political strongmen are wont to do. However, there aren’t a whole lot of them that can raise the ire of the electorate quite like Soros can. With Soros temporarily in self-imposed exile, perhaps there’s a glimmer of hope that the hoodlums of Fidesz will finally fade away into the history books.
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