Hungary under fire over ‘hate campaign’ against philanthropist Soros
Viktor Orban and allies claim EU backs ‘Soros plan’ for mass immigration
George Soros: the billionaire liberal philanthropist was born in Budapest. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Hungary’s populist government has launched a new attack on billionaire liberal philanthropist George Soros, with what a major international human rights group called an “official hate campaign” targeting foreigners and civil society.
Prime minister Viktor Orban’s latest publicly funded questionnaire, dubbed a “national consultation”, asks Hungarians for their views on what he claims is the Budapest-born Mr Soros’ ambition to bring at least one million immigrants to Europe annually from the Middle East and Africa.
The government says the European Union wants to implement this “Soros plan” which, among other things, allegedly aims to dismantle Hungary’s anti-migrant border fences, impose “lighter sentences for crimes that (immigrants) commit” and “diminish the importance of the language and culture of European countries in order to make the integration of illegal immigrants happen sooner.”
The seven-point questionnaire is likely to set the tone for the ruling Fidesz party’s bid to retain power in elections due next spring.
Government spokesman Bence Tuzson said that because “we cannot count on the opposition parties in this battle here in Hungary, the government is again turning to the people of Hungary and asking everyone who cares about the country’s independence and sovereignty, and for whom Hungary’s security and national culture is important, to take part in the national consultation on the Soros plan.”
New York-based Human Rights Watch said “Hungary’s new official hate campaign” was “likely to fuel anti-foreigner sentiment” and included questions that were “downright incendiary and false”.
The group, which is partly funded by Mr Soros’ foundation, said the government sought to distract attention from widespread criticism “over its attacks on human rights and the rule of law” and from “pressing domestic issues, including challenges facing the education and health care systems.”
Since taking office in 2010, Mr Orban has concentrated power in his own hands and those of close allies in politics, business and the media, while dismissing EU concerns as the meddling of overbearing foreign bureaucrats.
Citing Russia, China and Turkey as successful examples of the kind of “illiberal” state that he wants to build in Hungary, Mr Orban has led opposition in central Europe to plans to resettle refugees around the EU, and allied with the populist government in Warsaw to resist EU criticism over how Hungary and Poland are run.
Previous national consultations asked Hungarians what they thought of refugees – which Mr Orban calls a threat to Europe’s security, culture and identity – and the EU, in a questionnaire entitled “Let’s stop Brussels!”
Earlier this year, thousands of government-funded posters appeared around Hungary showing a grinning Mr Soros (87) beside a caption saying that 99 per cent of Hungarians oppose illegal immigration and the caption: “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh!”
Some billboards were defaced with the words “stinking Jew” and other graffiti, and Mr Soros – a Holocaust survivor – was among those who accused Hungary’s government of stoking anti-Semitism.
Mr Orban has also introduced laws tightening control over foreign-funded NGOs and education reform, which could force the Soros-funded Central Europe University in Budapest to close.